Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Crazy Crafts: Nativity Advent Calendar

One of the biggest excitements for my brother and I at Christmas time was the Advent Calendar. We used to love opening up each of the little boxes on the one my mom had and listening to her read us a portion of the story of Jesus' birth.

As we got older, my mom started buying the chocolate Advent calendars that are available in stores. My mom would have us alternate who got the chocolate that day. Trust me, to a 10 year old having to share with her 7 year old brother, those off days were torture!

Pretty sure we bought this one at least once while I was growing up
I decided to try and alleviate that frustration for my future children by creating a calendar for each of them and filling the pockets with little trinkets, coins, cash, candy, etc. Since Penelope is the only child as of yet, she gets to be the guinea pig. This was originally going to be cat shaped, but didn't look Christmas-y at all, and just looked stupid, so it got turned into a nativity.

Crazy Craft: Nativity Advent Calendar

1 yard light brown felt
*Red felt
*Green felt
*Dark brown felt
*Golden yellow felt
*Bright yellow felt
*Blue felt
*Black felt
*Flesh colored felt
White fabric paint
Craft glue (I used Aleene's Tacky Glue)
Heavy books (textbooks work great!)
Sewing machine (optional)
3/4" Wooden dowel

*Walmart sells felt in 20 sheet variety packages that contain all these colors for $4. I used sheets from both the primary set and the bright colors set.

1. Light brown felt: 23" x 25.5" rectangle. Round a short edge if desired.
2. Red felt: Cut 2" x 3" rectangles (12 of them)
3. Green felt: Cut 2' x 3' rectangles (12 of them)
4. **Dark brown felt: Cut 1" x 23" strips (2 of them) and 1" by 19" strips (2 of them): Cut 2" by 3" rectangle
5. ***Golden yellow felt: Cut 23" x 4.5" rectangle; Cut an oval shape that fits inside the small dark brown rectangle
6. Bright yellow felt: Cut a star shape
7. Blue felt: Cut into a 3" tall shape of Mary kneeling
8. Black felt: Cut 2" by 12" rectangles (2 of them)
9. Flesh colored felt: Cut into a 3.5" tall shape of Joseph standing and praying; Cut a small circle for Baby Jesus' head

** If using the felt packs from Walmart: the felt pieces aren't long enough to satisfy the full 23" (they're only 12" long), so you'll have to cut extra 1" strips to match the length.
***If using the felt packs from Walmart: the felt pieces aren't long enough to satisfy the full 23" (they're only 12" long), so cut 4.5" x 12" (2 of them)

1.  Fold and pin a 1.5" edge on the short edge (opposite the rounding if you rounded) and sew near the edge of the fabric. This creates a casing for the dowel for hanging

2. Position the golden yellow felt on the opposite edge from the dowel casing (rounded edge if rounded).

3. Lay the 1x19" strips of dark brown felt at the casing seam line so that the outer edges are at 5.5 inches and 17 inches. This divides the top into fourths. Remove the golden yellow felt, and glue the dark brown felt in place. Place books (textbooks work great!) on top and let dry overnight. Also, glue golden yellow oval to dark brown rectangle, and glue small flesh colored circle to golden yellow oval towards the top to create a manger. Place a textbook on top and let dry overnight.
Step 3
  4. Reposition golden yellow felt on the opposite edge of the casing. It should overlap the dark brown strips by approximately 0.5". Pin and sew into place. If you rounded the edges, after sewing, trim the excess yellow felt to match the curve of the light brown felt. If using the felt from the Walmart packs, line up the edges in the middle and sew both into place. Run a little bit of glue down the center seam. This will help to keep the edges down.
Step 4

 5. Position 1"x 23" strips of dark brown felt along outer edges, starting at the bottom edge of the golden yellow felt and ending at the casing seam. It's ok if it doesn't quite make it to the casing seam. It will be hidden. Glue into place, folding the corners over if you rounded the edge. Place a book on top of the outer "beams" (and the center golden yellow seam if using Walmart pack) and allow to dry overnight.
Step 5

6. This step lets you place and pin things to make sure everything will fit right. Place black rectangles at the casing seam and angle them so that the bottom corners meet in the middle. Place the star in the center. Place the red and green rectangles, alternating colors, in between the dark brown "beams." You should be able to get 5 in each of the outer sections and 10 in the middle section. Place Baby Jesus in the center of the "straw" and place Mary and Joseph around Him. Place the remaining 4 red and green rectangles around them. Play with the arrangement until you're happy with how it looks and pin the rectangles in place.
Step 6 minus the Holy Family

7. Remove the black strips and the star, and sew each rectangle into place, sewing along the left, right and bottom edges, creating a pocket. Reposition the black rectangles, making sure not to cover any of the pockets, and glue into place. Reposition and glue the star into place so that it covers the seam between the black rectangles. Reposition Baby Jesus and sew the left, right, and bottom edges, making a pocket. Reposition Mary and Joseph, and glue into place. Place textbooks over the black rectangles, stars, and Holy Family. Allow to dry overnight.
Step 7

8. Using white fabric paint, write a number on each pocket (1-24; Baby Jesus is pocket number 25). You can go across or down, either way will work. If desired, write the child's name along the roof in fabric paint. Allow fabric paint to dry overnight.

9. Cut the wooden dowel so that its approximately 29 inches long. You want about 3 inches of dowel sticking out on either side.  Tie your ribbon to the ends of the dowel leaving enough of of a tail that you can wrap around the knot to hide it. Make sure you leave enough slack between the knots so you can hang it. If you give more slack, the calendar will hang lower.
Step 8 and 9

 10. Fill with treats, toys, coins, candy, whatever! The possibilities are endless!
Step 10
I hope you enjoy this tutorial. Please let me know if anything is confusing. This is my first time writing a craft tutorial! Thanks!

Merry Christmas!!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Recipe Review: Chocolate Cream Pie II

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Happy Thanksgiving!! I hope you all had a wonderful day of cooking and eating and turkey comas! I know we did! Travis and I host Thanksgiving at our house every year, and it usually includes just my parents and my brother. This year, my aunt and uncle were able to make the trip and we had a fantastic time hanging out (especially since it was 66 degrees yesterday afternoon!)

Our Thanksgiving menu usually consists of a turkey (HUGE 22lb turkey this year!), stuffing, Memere's noodles, corn, rolls, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce (which we made and then forgot all about this year!). For dessert, we typically do a chocolate cream pie. This year, I decided to make the chocolate cream pie from scratch. I found a recipe on allrecipes.com that looked pretty good and decided to give it a go!

The Recipe: Chocolate Cream Pie II

The Procedure:
First of all, let me say that I am always nervous about making new recipes for guests. Especially with ones like this. I like to make the recipe ahead of time so that I know what I'm doing when I make it for guests and I know that its gonna taste good. My family tend to be guinea pigs for a lot of my recipe endeavors. :-) 

For the crust, I bought a premade Keebler graham cracker crusts. I baked the pie crusts per the directions on the package (brush with eggs and bake for 5 minutes at 375). I pulled them out, put them on cookie sheets, and let them cool.

The steps to make the filling of the pie, which is essentially pudding, are pretty simple. I beat 3 egg yolks, added the sugar and stirred until well mixed. Then I added in the cocoa, salt and cornstarch. The recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of cornstarch, but all the reviews I read recommended using 4 tablespoons, so I followed the recommendations of the reviewers and used 4. I slowly added the milk (I used 1.5 cups whole and 1.5 cups skim) and stirred until about half of the dry mixture had dissolved. I poured it into a large pot over medium heat and began stirring until it boiled. It thickened almost immediately upon boiling. After removing the pot from the heat, I stirred in the butter and the vanilla and let it sit for a few minutes to cool. I then poured it into the pie crust, let it cool more, and put it in the fridge to set overnight. The next day I topped it with aerosol whipped cream and it looked so pretty...until the cream sorta deflated and then it wasn't as pretty.
Before the whipped cream deflated

The Verdict:
The filing was fantastic! It was rich and super chocolately, and almost tasted like cake batter. WAY better than anything you could get at your grocery store. The problem was the pie didn't set. It was more like chocolate cream soup. It was still a a hit (I made 2 and there was only half of a pie left), but I was pretty bummed it didn't set right.

The Low-down:
Make at least a day in advanced and allow to set in the refrigerator overnight - maybe even try the freezer. Definitely add more cornstarch, even more than 4 tablespoons.

Since it was so tasty, but needs some work, this one gets 3 out of 5 stitches

Friday, November 18, 2011

Recipe Review: Pumpkin Ravioli with Gorgonzola Sauce

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I really had to keep an open mind with this one. I don't like an overwhelming pumpkin flavor, and there was enough spices in the pumpkin mixture that I thought it would mask it enough. I also am not a fan of bleu cheese and did not realize Gorgonzola cheese was a bleu cheese until the day I made it. I'm 95% sure I've had Gorgonzola before and liked it.

I found this recipe in my Cooking Light Cookbook I received for Christmas a few years ago. I like butternut squash ravioli, and thought that maybe this would taste similar. I decided since I was trying new recipes that I would be open minded and give this one a shot.

The Recipe: Pumpkin Ravioli with Gorgonzola Sauce

The Procedure:
I was surprised at how easy these were to make. I spread the pumpkin on a paper towel covered with paper towels to remove excess moisture. (Don't worry. It doesn't make them dry) Then I scraped the pumpkin into a bowl and added the bread crumbs, cheese, salt, pepper, sage, and nutmeg. At this point, I took a little taste and it was pretty tasty. I was pretty hopeful.

I placed 2 tsp of the pumpkin mixture in the middle of each wonton wrapper (mine were square) and folded it up to form little triangles. I was only able to make 20 ravioli, even though the recipe claims to make 30. I placed them in a pot of hot water for 4-5 minutes (until they floated), removed them and kept them warm.

To make the sauce, I combined the milk and flour in a small pot and let it simmer until it thickened (about a minute). Then I stirred in the butter and gorgonzola cheese.

The entire process, start to finish, took about an hour.

The Verdict: No bueno. Let me start by reiterating that I am not a fan of overwhelming pumpkin flavors, but this didn't have much pumpkin flavor at all. I expected it to be sweet, but it was quite salty, probably from the Parmesan cheese and the salt. The wonton wrappers were all soggy and floppy and just didn't taste ravioli-y. And the sauce was the biggest disappointment. All I could taste was the bleu-ness of the cheese.

The Low-down: Although this was really easy and pretty quick to make, the flavors just didn't blend right. If I were to make this again (which I won't), I probably wouldn't add the salt to the pumpkin mixture. There's enough saltiness from the cheese. If you like pumpkin and Gorgonzola, you may just like this recipe.

For us, this gets 1 out of 5 stitches

Craft Experiment: Turkey Shirt

I recently joined Pinterest and have been introduced to the wonderful world of "things I plan to do someday". A friend of mine had pinned a really cute turkey shirt a couple of weeks ago, and after finding it again, we decided to make shirts for our daughters who are 3 months apart.

We gathered our supplies (t-shirt, ribbon, felt, thread), and we worked on the shirts while the girls chased each other, and the dog around the house.

The shirts were SUPER easy to make. We took a tupperware container and a small juice glass, and drew the turkey shape on the back of a piece of tan felt. We cut out the turkey, and hand stitched two buttons for eyes, and a small piece of orange felt for the beak

After the turkey was cut, we centered him on the t-shirt, and began pinning the ribbons underneath him to  make the turkey plumage.

Once the ribbons all seemed to be in place, we sewed around the ends of the ribbon to hold them in place.

After the ribbons were sewn in place, we placed the turkey in the center, and stitched him on. My friend hand stitched hers, and I used my machine. I started to hand stitch it, but I wasn't happy with how it was coming out, so I decided to use my sewing machine. Then we ironed on the girls names and viola! Turkey day shirts!

Isn't it cute? It was SEW easy! (ok. ok. I know. I'm lame)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recipe Review: Baklava

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My great-grandfather was from Greece, and because of this, my grandmother used to serve all sorts of yummy Greek and Mediterranean foods. I fell in love with lamb at an early age, and now its one of my favorite meats. I also, fell in love with, a super yummy, sticky, sweet dessert - baklava. I've attempted it in the past and ended up with a casserole dish of icky sticky runny mess with no shape or crisp.

I've been wanting to conquer baklava, and it's always been in the back of my mind. I usually make a chocolate trifle for Christmas and was thinking about doing something different this year.

I did a search for recipes and found a TON! Some were like I had tried in the past, and some seemed a little amateur, and that made me leery. I finally tried MyRecipes.com and found one that they had tried in their test kitchen. I tend to trust "test kitchen" recipes because they're professionals, and if they're happy with how a recipe turns out, its gotta be a good one.

The Recipe: Baklava

The Process:
Making baklava is an art. There is a lot that goes into it, and its impossible to make a quick baklava (Trust me, I've tried). The recipe says 90 minutes of prep, and that's spot on. It took me an hour and half to get this thing put together and in the oven. I chopped up the nuts (forgot to rinse the pistachios) to make my filling and rolled out my phyllo dough. I trimmed my phyllo dough to fit in my 9x13 pan that I sprayed with baking spray. I melted my butter (2.5 sticks! EEK!) and began brushing each layer of dough as I layed each sheet down. 8 sheets later, it was time to put my filling in. I spread a heaping 1/3 cup of filling and then did two layers of dough.
Why yes, on the right, that is 2.5 sticks of butter melted...and I used IT ALL!
I think there ended up being 5 or 6 layers. Then I finished off with the rest of the phyllo dough, then put in the freezer for 10 minutes. It REALLY helped with cutting it. You cut it before so that the syrup gets all in it and it can soak it up. Then in the oven it went! Per the directions, I put a cookie sheet with water in it on the rack underneath the baklava (still not quite sure what that does?) After about an hour, I made the syrup. I was a little short on the honey, but I'm not really sure it made that much of a difference (I had 2/3 cup, and needed 3/4 cup). It was thinner than I expected, but still smelled and tasted yummy. Once the baklava came out of the oven, I poured the syrup on the baklava (it filled the pan!), let it cool a bit, and then covered it with foil to sit overnight. This morning, we had baklava for breakfast (ok, only one piece each, but still!). I used a spatula, and very carefully pulled each piece out and put them in muffin cups. The top layer is crispy and flaky, and all the syrup has been soaked up. The pieces aren't even, but oh well. Martha Stewart I am not :-)
42 pieces

The Verdict: There is nothing better than fresh, homemade baklava...and this is perfect. It is so tasty, flaky and gooey all at the same time. I believe I can now say I have conquered baklava.

The Lowdown: Make at least one day before. It takes awhile to make and prep, so make sure you've got plenty of time. Put your phyllo dough in the fridge the day before you make it so it can thaw.

This one definitely gets 5 out of 5 stitches
Baklava = 5/5

Friday, November 11, 2011

Recipe Review: Quick Pizza Margherita

We've been trying to eat more at home, but our recipes have been getting kinda boring. We tend to eat the same recipes over and over again. So for the month of November, I've been trying to add a new recipe each week for us to try. We both really like pizza, but don't like the cost (financial and nutritional) of having it delivered. Plus, we'd like something healthier for Penelope than Domino's.

I had a made a Tex-Mex Pizza last week (YUM BTW), and had a leftover pizza crust. I kept it in the fridge and decided that this week I was going to try this Quick Pizza Margherita that I found online. We both really like Margherita pizza so I figured it was worth a shot.

First off, here's the recipe: Quick Pizza Margherita

The recipe calls for pizza dough, but I used a premade refrigerated pizza crust I had picked up from Kroger last week. The outer crust was a little dry (my fault), but it was definitely still useable. Because of this, I was able to skip the first step of prebaking the pizza. I took the garlic, sliced it in half, and rubbed it all over my pizza, but I have to admit, I wasn't really sure how well the garlic flavor would come through (I LOVE garlic!). After slicing up the tomatoes, I layered them on my pizza dough, sprinkled on the cheese, and popped it in the oven. While the pizza was baking, I mixed together the oil and vinegar, and sliced my basil. The pizza smelled amazing while it was baking!

After it was finished, I pulled it out of the oven, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and basil, and drizzled the oil/vinegar mixture. I'm not very good at drizzling small amounts of liquid, so I didn't get as a good of coverage of the mixture as I would have liked. Either way, it smelled really good.

The verdict: OMG amazing! It tasted very fresh, and was super cheesy and satisfying. Plus, the flavors blended so well together that one flavor didn't overwhelm the entire recipe...and you could totally taste the garlic! :-) We will definitely be making this one again! I wasn't able to take any pictures because we ate it so fast!


The lowdown: Get a prebaked pizza dough and save yourself the first step. Fresh basil is also a must for this recipe. This one gets 5 out of 5 stitches!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Another Finish

Boy, this has been a great week for finishes for me! I finished Penelope's P tonight! Woot! And tomorrow I frame shop!

Oooo! Sparkly!

 So what's next? Here's the rotation schedule that I jump into tomorrow:

RT1: Fractal 154
RT2: Quietude
RT3: John Wayne

Wish me luck!!