Month: November 2012

A Random Assortment of Things

  It has been a long week.  Monday was exhausting and embarrassing and frustrating.  I had to take it easy the few days after to make sure I didn’t faint again, and so I didn’t get much of anything accomplished, and now I have some nonsense that’s causing me to spike a fever.

  I’m officially done with November.  Don’t expect to hear from me tomorrow, because rather than writing I plan on spending today hiding under the covers making sure nothing else can go wrong.
  That being said, today’s post is a couple of little projects I’ve been doing lately.  Nothing terribly involved or special, but little things I’ve gotten done.
  My first project was these gold sheer curtains for my dining room.
  Our neighbor’s garage windows are right across from our dining room windows and the new people who moved in this summer have opened the curtains that our old neighbors always kept closed.  …and the new people seem to like hanging out in the garage with their friends instead of parking their cars in there.  And frankly it kind of weirded me out sitting down to dinner directly across from their garage party.  Plus, with winter being here, extra insulation (even as little as sheers give) is always a bonus.
  So, you know, multi-purpose curtains.  Insulation and a bit of a visual break because I’m snotty and judgmental about other people’s garage usage.
  They’re a little gaudy.  The opaque curtains I have in there are taffeta, so I already have shiny going on, and more shiny is a bit much…but it’s the holidays.  I can look for something cream colored come January.  And these are really pretty when the setting sun hits them.
  For my other project, I found these super cute arctic animal templates and used them to make a rabbit and fox for G’s felt board.  …too bad they make my original animals look totally amateur!  This is a really good example of how great your felt pieces can turn out when you start with a coloring page though!
  …there are a couple other things I’ve been stitching on this week, but, unfortunately they’re all gifts, so I can’t exactly share them here for a bit.
  Hope everybody else has had a less eventful week than I did, and I’ll see you Monday!

Cheesy Beef and Tomato Casserole (Pasta Free)

  …somebody took one of my favorite side dishes (Zucchini and Cheese) and turned it into an entree.  And they didn’t even dump a pound of pasta into it like would be my first inclination!
  Here’s what we’re making:
  Here’s what you need:
1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
3/4 cup uncooked white rice*
1 cup water
1 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/4″ slices
1 large tomato, chopped
1 can Progresso┬« Vegetable Classics tomato basil soup**
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
*We substituted white lentils for rice.  If you do the same, you may want to let them soak in hot water a touch before putting them in the casserole dish as these were a bit firmer than we liked.
**I hate recipes that call for a specific brand anything, but I’m not sure there are too many other tomato basil soups out there.  I expect normal tomato soup wouldn’t ruin it…you want 19 oz.
  Start by saute-ing your beef and onions in a skillet over medium heat.  Cook until the meat is entirely done, drain the excess fat and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  While doing this, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  Grease a 9″x13″ baking dish and mix the rice and water, spreading them across the bottom.  Layer your beef, zucchini and tomato on top of the rice and top with soup.  Cover with tinfoil and cook for 40 minutes.
  After 40 minutes, remove the foil, top with cheese and return to oven (uncovered) for another 10-15 minutes to allow the cheese to melt and brown.
  This is really good.  Since the ingredients were purchased during my ill-fated grocery trip, I wasn’t paying attention and accidentally bought the abomination that is low fat mozzarella.  Yes, I know there’s probably something wrong with me that I refused to let my Mr. take me to the hospital before he went through the check out to buy the groceries I’d already collected, but there we are.  I’m stubborn and intolerable.  He is such a lucky man.  Regardless, even fake cheese didn’t ruin this.  When we make this again next time, we do plan on trying a variation with sausage rather than ground beef, just to kick up the flavor a notch, but it’s perfectly wonderful as-is if you’re not neurotic about messing with things like we are.
  G took a little bit of coaxing to convince that he wanted to try this, but enjoyed it once we got those first few bites in his mouth.  Apparently in his 2 year old brain the zucchini had to be eaten in a very specific order or the bowl would explode in a fiery inferno, and it took us a little bit to catch on.  What silly parents we are.

How to Make a Lariat/Bolero Necklace

  Break out the needle nose pliers guys, we’re making jewelry.
  I wish I could tell you exactly where the inspiration for this necklace came from.  I know that it’s at least partly because of a true bolero necklace I have that I’ve been wearing to pieces, but that one looks like a zipper, and most certainly has neither pearl nor pearlescent tooth thingie.
  Regardless, the idea for this popped into my head and I couldn’t shake it until I’d made it.
  I’m not entirely sure if I should classify this as a lariat or a bolero necklace, as it functions like a lariat but wears more like a bolero.  Either way, I’m rather happy with how it turned out.
  If you want to make your own version (snaggle tooth or not), here’s what you’ll need:
Long chain (mine is 24″ and barely fits over my head)
Jump rings (must fit through the chain and smaller looks better)
Minimum 2 beads (should be somewhat similar in weight)
Head/Eye pins for attaching beads
Jewelry tools (needle nose pliers, ect)
  The first step you must take is determining how far your necklace is going to need to open to fit over your head.  This is where you will put your joining point (where the two halves of the chain meet and the bottom portion of the “Y” shape begins).  The furthest up my chain I was able to place it and still fit the necklace over my head was about an inch and a half.  Slide a small jump ring through your chain and close it.  This will be your more stationary half of the necklace.  Attach one of your beads to the bottom of this side of the chain.
  Next, thread the second half of the chain through the jump ring you attached and finish the necklace by attaching your second bead to the remaining chain end.
  Confused?  I made a drawing…it may help:
  I commented in the “ingredient” list above that your beads should be somewhat similar in weight.  That’s because while the jump ring keeps the chains from drifting apart, it does NOT stop them from shifting length in regards to one another.  If one of your beads weighs significantly more than the other you’re going to wind up with either your mobile chain yanked all the way up to the jump ring and no difference in length (besides the distance between the jump ring and 1st bead) or your whole necklace wrapped tightly around your neck while the second bead swings to your navel. 
 Neither is really the look we’re going for.
  So long as your beads are pretty close to the same weight they will move freely, but more or less stay where you put them.
  Have any questions?  Send me an email or leave a comment and I’ll do my best to clear them up!

I’m an Annoyingly Delicate Flower

  So I had a post planned out.  I made myself a lariat necklace and was going to share the how-to for this post…I just needed to take a picture of it when the light was good.

  Then I wound up in the hospital instead.
  The good news is, after a battery of tests, both me and 2.0 seem to be in more or less perfect health.  The bad news is, despite being in more or less perfect health, I fainted in the middle of my grocery shopping.  The best guess as to why is that I may have been dehydrated.
  Either way, needless to say, I didn’t get my picture.
  I’ll attempt to get the pic taken and write up the tutorial at some point this week, but I feel like this is kind of a not-so-subtle hint to me that I need to slow down a bit.  I feel like I keep saying that to you guys, and I don’t want to cut back on posts any more than I have to, but clearly if I’m losing consciousness in public places I need to take a few steps back and recognize that maybe I need to be babying myself a touch more.
  I’m a tough, stubborn broad as well as a creative one, so this is annoying to me to no end, but when it comes down to it, my health and 2.0’s health have to come first.
  Thanks for sticking with me guys…I have lots of projects that I’m working on that I can’t wait to share with you (especially once gifts are given out around xmas and I won’t be spoiling anybody’s surprises) I just have to have the time, energy and decent enough light to finish, photograph and write them up.
  …here’s to more creative posts soon and less of this “falling over for no good reason” nonsense!

Baked Chicken Taquitos

  Today’s recipe almost didn’t happen.  Everybody say thank you to my Mr. for figuring out how to work around my flaked out pregnancy brain.
  Here’s what we’re making:
  Here’s what you need:
4 small chicken breasts (or 2 large), chopped small
1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese
4 oz can chopped green chilies
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp paprika
12- 6″ flour tortillas*
Optional: sour cream and salsa or guacamole, to serve
*This is the part I jacked up.  I wasn’t paying attention and got corn tortillas.
  Start by pre-heating a bit of oil in a skillet and cooking your chicken pieces.  Season it with a bit of salt and pepper and continue cooking until cooked through.  Dump the pieces into a large bowl with your cheese, chilies, green onion and seasonings.  Mix everything together until it is completely combined.
  Grease a cookie sheet with a bit of olive oil and begin rolling your taquitos.  If like me, you accidentally bought corn tortillas instead of flour, do your best to stifle your swearing in front of any small children you may have when they break into a billion pieces when you roll them.  We’ll come back and address that problem in a minute.  If you managed to come home with the correct tortillas, spoon 3 Tbsp of your chicken mixture into the center, roll them up, brush them with a bit of oil and place them (seam side down) on the cookie sheet.
  Alright, fellow oblivious tortilla shoppers, all hope is not lost.  My Mr. found that dipping the corn tortillas in water and then heating them in a hot cast iron skillet for about 30 seconds on each side made them nice and pliable so they could be wrapped around the filling without breaking.**
  Once your taquitos are wrapped and placed on the cookie sheet, cook them in a 425 degree oven for about 10 minutes.
  These are delicious.  Obviously I can’t vouch for the flour tortilla version just yet, but the corn ones we made were to die for.  One of the toppings the original recipe suggests is an avocado salsa, and guacamole is incredible.  We had plenty for dinner and they warmed up nicely the next day for our lunch as well.  They’ll absolutely be going on our menu again in the future.
** If you still have questions, check out this video: http://www.seriouseats.com/2011/10/video-the-right-way-to-warm-corn-tortillas.html

Printable Desktop Calendar

  Today I’m going to share something I actually meant to share last year but discovered too late.  The blog My Owl Barn puts out a free, printable owl themed mini-calendar each year and it’s absolutely adorable.
  Last year, I didn’t discover it until a week or two into January, but this time around I’m finding it right after it came out.
  Huge numbers of artists collaborate on this project and create beautiful, unique pieces of work, all featuring owls.  The site has two options for setting up your calendar: use their pre-formatted version, or set the pictures you select for specific months.
  I always pick my pictures myself, but it’s not easy!  With 43 different images to choose from, there are always 2 or 3 I want for each month!
Owl Lover 2013 Calendar
  I print mine out onto cardstock, cut the individual months out and then use a scrapbooking tool to round my corners.  The finished product is about the size of a 4″x 6″ photo and is utterly charming next to my computer.
  With all the craziness of the holidays yet ahead of us, it’s so nice to be able to check “2013 Calendar” off the list, and in such a cute, free way too!

How to Make Upholstered, Padded Cushions for a Wood Chair

  So Tuesday I showed you this chair that I scored on Craigslist and mentioned that I was going to be creating cushions for it.

  Someone had attempted a bit of padding..that tan square is microfiber stapled over a foam pad…but it’s not great.  After my meddling, the chair looks like this:
  Muuuuuch more comfortable.  And honestly, really not that hard to do.
  This is the second glider I’ve recovered, though with the first one I didn’t need to create the cushions from scratch.  If you have a glider with old, out-of-date fabric on the cushions you’ll want to skip down past the foam steps, but if you have an uncomfortable wood chair with no cushions at all that you’re looking to soften up a bit, lets talk about where to start.
  The very first thing you’re going to need to do is to take some measurements.  You’re going to need to buy some foam and obviously, before you can do that, you need to know how much you need.  If your chair has arms like mine does, keep in mind that the widest part of your seat will be the portion out in front of those arms.  Measure across this and from the front to the back and write those numbers down.  If you’re creating a back piece do the same.  Don’t worry about fine tuning measurements at this point.  Obviously your pieces are unlikely to be perfectly square (or rectangular for that matter), but that’s how most stores sell the foam, so you just want to get close so you’re not wasting a ton.  The best deal for me was to buy two 22″x22″ squares.  I’m a big fan of the super dense foam for seats, but for backs, the cheaper stuff is just fine in my opinion.
  Once you have your foam, I’ve found that the easiest way to create a pattern for yourself is to use a large piece of paper, cut to the starting size of your foam, and then cutting and folding it until it fits the seat properly.  Once you’ve created your paper pattern, lay it on top of your foam and trace it with a Sharpie.  Cut your foam on the lines.  An electric knife works really well for getting nice, clean cuts…but we don’t actually own one, so I just saw at mine with a bread knife.  The edges aren’t pretty when I’m done, but they’re just getting stuffed inside of fabric anyhow, so who really cares what they look like?
  Rounded corners are essentially impossible to do in the actual foam, but if you cut off sharp corners, it’s pretty easy to squish them round when you make your fabric covering.  That’s our next step.
  People who already have cushions, start reading HERE!
  Cut two pieces of fabric in approximately the same shape as your foam cushion, adding 3″ or 4″ to each edge.  Sandwich your foam between these two pieces, with the right side of your fabric facing in towards the foam.  Break out your safety pins and pin your fabric together around the foam as tightly as possible, rounding any corners desired while pinning.  You will have to leave a portion of your pillow casing unpinned so you’ll be able to remove the foam to sew it.  I suggest a straight edge along the back or bottom edge if at all possible.
  Once your fabric is pinned around your foam, remove the foam, leaving the pins in place.  If you didn’t use safety pins, this is the part where your pins are probably going to pop out and you’re going to swear a lot.  If you pinned your fabric tightly enough to get a nice, smooth cushion, you’re going to have to wrestle that foam.
  When the fabric is off of the foam, sew your pinned edges, using the pins as a guide but smoothing out the lines as you go.  It may be helpful to sketch where you want to stitch onto the fabric before starting if you’re new to making things up as you go.  Make certain to back stitch at the start and end of your seam as we’re going to be really yanking on those parts when we wrestle the foam back in.
  Turn your pillow casing right side out, do any ironing you feel is necessary and jam that foam back inside.  Now you have to decide just what kind of person you are.
  Wait, what?
  Yeah, we’re going to get a little soul-searchy here for a minute.
  I, personally, am a terrible, slovenly person.  Also, lazy.  Despite the fact that I’m clearly a crazy woman in that I’m putting essentially white cushions in a small boy’s room, I’m also a crazy woman in the other direction in admitting, up front, I’m never gonna wash em.  Spot treating if necessary?  Sure.  Actually removing the cushion covers and throwing them in the wash?  Nah.  So my covers are permanently attached to my cushions, that remaining opening hand stitched shut.  No turning back on these babies… expect to hear me refer to any stains as part of their “patina”.
  If the idea of not being able to wash your covers horrifies you, you’re going to have to put in a zipper.  Actually, if you want a zipper, you’ll need to put one in and THEN do the other edges, if you want to do it “right”.  Either way, more work than I was willing to do.
  Unnecessary work I was willing to do though…the canvas I was working with had that big, lovely rustic looking seam you can see on the back cushion running through a portion of it.  I loved the rougher feel it gave the cushion and wanted to have the seat cushion have a little texture too.
  I ran a faux flat-felled seam across my fabric before I started pinning it a
round my foam to toughen it up a little and give it more of a “sail cloth” feel, instead of “pristine white field of snow, begging for a little boy to mess it up” feel.  I also found that with fabric this light I needed two layers to keep the green of the super-dense foam from showing through.
  This chair is crazy comfortable now, and rather more attractive if you ask me.  G keeps kicking me out of “his” chair.  It’s a great addition to his room and a wonderful place to read stories together.
  As always, if you’re doing this project and find that I’ve forgotten something or am not being particularly clear, please, please email or leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help you through it!

Chili-Cheese Dog Enchiladas

  It’s another horrifying recipe that I’m embarrassed to admit we liked…weeee!  Happy Thanksgiving everybody!
  Here’s what we’re making:
  Yes, I did purposely put it on the china…I’m just hilarious like that.
  Here’s what you need:
2 -15 oz cans chili with beans 
1 package hot dogs
10 -8″  flour tortillas
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
  Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Spread one can of chili beans in the bottom of a 9″x13″ baking dish.  Roll your hot dogs in your tortillas and place, seam side down, on top of the beans in the dish.  Top with the second can of chili and sprinkle cheese on top.  Cover your dish with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Serve with your favorite chili dog toppings.
  I’m on the fence as to if I’ll be making this again.  It was good, and G loved being able to help by rolling the hot dogs in the tortillas, but chili dogs are one of those things that you can only eat so much of in one sitting…and the leftovers didn’t wind up getting eaten.  I’m thinking “really good party food, not so good for dinners.”  I just don’t think the flavor ultimately winds up being all that different from a plain ol chili dog to make the extra work and time worth it unless you’re feeding a crowd.  That being said, this would be fabulous for Super Bowl parties and the like.

How to Find Great Deals on Craigslist

  As 2.0 gets closer to being born, we’re pushing to get G into his new room as far ahead of time as possible.  Ideally we want to get him at least sleeping in there (if not all set up) by the end of this week.
  I spent a lot of time assembling the nursery before G was born, so I didn’t really want to cannibalize any of the furniture out of there.  It all works together rather well…I even reupholstered the glider to match the curtains.  Basically, I just didn’t want to mess with what worked.  That meant I needed to find furniture for G’s new room.
  Now, G is a little boy.  He’s going to beat up anything we put in his room, so we weren’t about to go out and drop loads of money on expensive pieces, but I also wasn’t really digging the idea of a Fisher Price-themed, going-to-have-to-be-updated-in-a-few-years-because-it’s-so-juvenile type room either.  Thank God for Craigslist.
  Craigslist can be a bit…overwhelming when you first start using it, and I find a lot of people are shocked by the deals I find on there because of the sheer amount of junk you have to wade through to find them.  It’s best to have a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for (but not to the point of a brand and model number!) and not do too much browsing if you don’t want to feel swamped.
  My shopping list for G’s room included a twin sized bed, a chair that we’d be able to sit in together to read stories, and a dresser.  I got it into my head that I wanted the room to have a “British naval Captain’s quarters” feel to it.  So far I’ve found a bed and a glider and have spent less than $60 total.
  Now, I’m not going to lie and say that it doesn’t help to have some handyman skills to help fix up pieces if you want to get really good deals (I’ll be sharing my process for creating upholstered cushions for this chair on Friday), but even if you’re looking for something in pristine, ready to use condition, this approach will work.
  The main thing is patience.
  •   Find your local Craigslist and in the search bar enter what you’re looking for.
    •   Try a few different terms to see what brings the most results.  You may call it an armoire, but other people might refer to it as an entertainment center. 
  •  Next, get real honest with yourself about money.
    •   If you don’t find anything on the site that you like before you have to have it, what will you be willing to spend in a store?  Enter that amount in the “maximum” price box.
  • Select “has image” to cull the herd.
    • You don’t need to waste your time with sellers who aren’t serious enough to provide you an image of what you might be buying.
  • Check back daily.
    • This is the one that kind of sucks.  You probably aren’t going to find something you love immediately.  I did with the bed, but the glider took more than a month and I’m still looking for a dresser.  Craigslist shopping isn’t good for immediate gratification for sure, but if you can force yourself to be patient, you can find amazing deals.
  •   Make sure, as you’re doing all this browsing, that you’re keeping in mind the size of vehicle you have access to.
    •   I’m really glad that my Mr. traded in his old, falling apart little truck for a more reliable vehicle, but the size of furniture I can search for is now much smaller.
  •   Try to keep in perspective how quickly you actually need what you’re looking for.
    •   If you’re looking for furniture, it’s fairly likely that you’ll know well in advance and can browse for a while.  If you’re looking for something that has a shorter time table, recognize that it may be worth paying a few extra dollars at the store to avoid the stress of not being sure if you’ll have it on time.
  •   Don’t be afraid to haggle…but don’t feel like you have to either.
    • I hate bartering.  Hate, hate, hate it.  I want a set price and I’ll decide if something is worth it to me or not based on that.  My friend Megan’s husband on the other hand, lives to barter.  Both of us do just fine on Craigslist.  Keep in mind, if you are a “hates to bargain” type like me though, many sellers are willing to be flexible on price.  Craigslist is a great way to get a few bucks for stuff that’s taking up space in your basement that you’d otherwise have to pay to have hauled off by the trash man, so more than one seller puts up an item thinking to themselves “If nobody bites, I’ll put it in the “free” section next month”.  It may be worth stepping outside your comfort zone and venturing a slightly lower price.

  I’ve found all sorts of things using this method.  The two pieces I have pictures of in this post, an antique dresser that we use to store board games and linens in, a hiking backpack that is also a child carrier, a nearly-new, hardwood armoire with lighted side cabinets that we got for 10% of what the people had paid for it at the store a year before… Good luck, and if you have any questions about how I go about looking for stuff, let me know!

Dijon Chicken with Mushrooms and Almonds

  Our little man has been on a huge mushroom kick lately.  Any time he sees them as part of our dinner he gasps and exclaims “OH, I LOVE mushrooms!” before digging in.  A big mushroom fan myself, I am all about encouraging his new-found love, so when I stumbled upon this recipe, I put it onto my menu immediately.
  Here’s what we’re making:
  What you need:
350 gram package fresh linguine, cooked*
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup chanterelle mushrooms**
3 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced 
Salt and pepper to season
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
4 oz dry white wine
2 cups whipping cream
3 tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
*I had a hard time finding out what 350 grams of pasta was, so just cooked our “usual” amount
**These weren’t in season, so I used plain button mushrooms
  Start by heating your olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan.  Cook your chicken (seasoned with salt and pepper) and your garlic over medium low heat until the chicken is cooked through.  Remove from the pan, set to the side and keep warm.
  Add your wine to the same pan, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom and simmering until the liquid reduces by half.  Add your whipping cream, mustard and any further salt and pepper you want and cook, stirring until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Return the chicken to the sauce and add your mushrooms, cooking for 2 minutes.  Serve over cooked pasta, garnished with sprinkled sliced almonds.
  I was a touch disappointed in this.  It wasn’t bad, but there was just something not quite letting it live up to its potential.  It was teetering on the edge of really delicious…which made the fact that it wasn’t all the more frustrating.  Perhaps if I’d used chanterelle mushrooms the under-cooking would have been less of an issue, but as it was, it just seemed…off.  Next time I’ll definitely saute the mushrooms along with the chicken and garlic.  More salt and pepper will probably get used too.  I also didn’t have a dry white wine on hand and used a sweet one…I think the dry would have been better suited.  All in all, a worth while recipe, but one that needs a couple of personal tweaks for sure!