Monday, October 31, 2011

Spiders, Witches and Eyes, oh my!

I was so excited to be able to make cupcakes for my daughter's kindergarten Halloween party this year.  It was a great party and well organized.  The parents and teacher did a great job and the kids had tons of fun.  I admire kindergarten teachers on a tall pedestal level.  They have to wear dozens of hats from lovable and creative, to authoritative and organized - and everything in between.  I can't imagine what it takes to do this job, but I know I don't have the skills.  My daughter's teacher is amazing and we love her.  Every interaction I have with her makes me more thankful she is part of my daughter's life.

Ok, enough sappy gushing, let's talk about ME!  Here are the cupcakes I made for the occasion.  It was fun watching the kids' reactions.  "Oh, gross!  You're eating an eyeball?!"  I forgot that most kids don't care about the cake, they just want the frosting, so most of them ate the icing off and put the rest in a ziplock to take home.  The kids loved them, so that's all that matters, right?

(chocolate cakes with red raspberry cream filling and purple buttercream)

(Pistachio cupcakes with pistachio cream filling and electric green buttercream)

(Chocolate cupcakes with electric green buttercream)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

reclaiming my chair

I have a strange problem that when I think of a project I want to do, I need to do it now - not tomorrow morning, not later today, but now.  Last night after dinner I decided I was tired of looking at my dirty, faded and marker/pen colored chair, so it was time to recover it.  Because I needed to do it now, I had to use fabric from my stash.  I found some leopard print decorator fabric that I once bought to make a table cloth.  Since the table cloth never came to be...

I bought a chair at a thrift store about 10 years ago.  It's a very basic chrome kitchen chair, but I loved it.  It was gross and dirty and had nasty orange plaid vinyl on it.  I recovered it with red vinyl and used it in my kitchen for a few years, then recovered it again with a purple cabana striped canvas and used it in my office.

The sun and my daughters have since destroyed the stripes and so I spent about an hour recovering it.  My husband thought I was crazy, as always, but I came away with a pretty cute little chair and when I get sick of looking at it like this, I'll change it again later.

 Notice the lovely artwork from my youngest daughter

Step 1:  Remove the seats and back from the frame.

Step 2: Remove old fabric.  This is a step process since my chair has the back tacked on, I had to take those off first.
 With a flathead screwdriver and needle nose pliers, remove staples.
 Pay attention to how the fabric is pleated, so you can put the new fabric on in a similar way.

Step 3:  Using old cover as a pattern, cut roughly the same dimensions and shape for the new fabric.
I'm sure the chair had been this dirty for a LONG time, but I refused to notice it until the marker showed up.

Step 4: Pull fabric around the seat (and back) evenly and tack in place with an electric staple gun (or a manual one will work if you're strong enough...which I am not).  Tack one side, then the opposite, then the adjacent sides.  Pull fabric around each corner to make small pleats (as in the "before" picture above), and tack in place.  Make sure the top is smoothly covered and taut.  Repeat with remaining seat back pieces.
 You should consider me armed and dangerous with a staple gun.

Step 5: Replace the back with upholstery tacks and reattach the seat and back to the frame.

and VOILA!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's alive!

Well, I've been talking about it for two years now and I finally did it!  I opened up my Etsy store, and I'm starting with custom dolls!

View Etsy listing here!

These dolls are 100% Cotton with Acrylic yarn hair.

Each doll come with your choice of 5 skin colors, custom eye and hair color and a dress or nightgown. They can be made to look like your child and will eventually be able to be ordered with a suitcase full of clothes!

They're made to order, so if you want your little girl to have a completely soft snuggly little look-alike of her in time for Christmas, order one now!

Also for sale is the ever-popular Rosie Ballerina bib from my company's old store front, Hattie Rose Designs. Other designs will be for sale soon!

Now you may shower me with congratulatory statements and such for finally doing what I've said I would for 2 solid years.

Friday, October 21, 2011

because I don't have enough hobbies

I recently took a trip to our pediatrician and had the most wonderful conversation about knitting.  Our favorite NP, Nancy told me she would knit me a felted purse if I sewed and finished some of her knitting projects for her.  I was SO excited.  She introduced me to and I was even more excited!  She casually said, "I bet you could learn to knit."

Another good friend of mine has a hand-knit Etsy store where she sells some pretty cute stuff.  It's called the Pknit Gallery, which is, of course, the cutest name ever for a knitting boutique (go check it out!).  I figured I would try to teach myself to knit a basic stitch online and then ask my friend for help if I got stuck.  YouTube has some good tutorials, so I went to work learning a new hobby.

I decided that I could at least make a scarf for my youngest daughter.  She picked out the orange yarn, and I went to work.  It turned out just fine, but it was full of mistakes here and there.  You wouldn't know it at a glance, and she certainly doesn't care!  She's just happy to have something orange around her neck.  My older daughter asked for a purple hat.  I picked up a book called Felted Knits from the library and decided to make her a felted hat out of wool.  It couldn't be that hard, right?

I started with the beret.  I started, I re-started and I re-started.  I'd get about 12 rows and it would all be completely off.  I think I gave it a good 7 tries.  In a fit of frustration I finally took it out for the last time and moved on to something a little less annoying...a rimmed hat.  That one went swimmingly.  I had mistakes, of course, but I didn't get off count.  And the best part is that the mistakes didn't matter one bit since the whole thing was felted.  I was completely thrown off by terms like "k2tog" and "ssk" and "wrap & turn" as well as pretty much everything besides "purl" and "knit" so I would google the term for a how-to video or look at the glossary in the back of my books.  Turns out they're not that hard, but for a knitting idiot, it was.

When I finished the knitting part, the hat was so big that it looked like a sack.  When I picked my daughter up from school, I tossed her the hat and snapped this picture with my phone:

Then I went home and hand felted it until it was the right size, and I'm loving how it turned out!
drying on some towels

Now I plan to add some flowers, but I need to get to the store to get more yarn colors.  

Monday, October 10, 2011

Shiny Happy Cookies

One of my favorite cake and candy supply stores, Sweet Celebrations, went out of business a few years ago.  I shopped there from 1999 until 2008.  The first time I was there drooling over all the cookie cutters and cake supplies, I brought home a catalogue.  In this catalogue I found a recipe for cookie icing that has provided me and some friends and family with years of sugar cookie happiness.  Today, I share my happiness with you.

My girls and I made sugar cookies to celebrate fall.  I am still a little stuck up about how we decorate cookies, so I only gave my daughters 5 cookies each to decorate.  It was all they needed.

I certainly can't claim this idea or the recipes as my own and I know that it's not a new technique as a friend of mine grew up making these with her family.  I just don't see it very often. You start with a basic sugar cookie cutout recipe.  You can use your favorite or this one.  What I love best about this particular cookie recipe is that it's a basic sugar cookie, but doesn't have to be refrigerated for hours before rolling them out and it holds it's original shape well.  I think this recipe actually originally came off of a cheap cookie cutter set and I added almond to add a little interest to it.

The only thing I ask is that you use real vanilla, real almond (unless you are allergic) and please use real butter, not butter flavored shortening, not margarine and certainly not "I can't believe it tastes nothing like butter" or whatever they call that nasty stuff. 

Basic sugar cookie recipe:
1 cup cold butter (salted, or add 1/8 tsp salt to the recipe)

1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2-3 drops almond extract (optional, but I recommend it)
2 tsp. baking powder
3 cup flour

With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together.  Beat in egg, vanilla and almond.  Stir together flour and baking powder and add one cup at a time, mixing well between additions.  Do not refrigerate.  Roll out on a floured smooth surface to between ⅛" and ¼" thickness and cut desired shapes.  Remix scraps only once or it gets too dry.  Bake on un-greased cookie sheet at 400°F for 8-10 minutes.  Do not let brown.  Place on rack to cool.

Shiny Cookie Icing:
4 tsp corn syrup
4 tsp milk
½ tsp vanilla extract
2-3 drops almond extract
1⅛ cup powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients together until smooth.  The consistency should be of a medium thickness, not runny, but not  terribly thick.  You are going to pipe around the edges of each cookie, so it needs to hold up.  If it's too thick, it will be hard to pipe.

Place icing in a pastry bag.  Using a No. 4 round tip (or cutting a similar sized hole in the tip of a disposable pastry bag), pipe around the edges of each cookie.  This is tedious, but necessary, and it doesn't have to be perfect.  You'll get faster as you go.  If the icing is really hard to pipe, take it out and add a little more milk.  If it doesn't maintain its basic shape, add more sugar.

Mix up another recipe (or two) of the icing, this time reducing the powdered sugar to a cup and adding an extra tsp of milk.  Make sure it's a little bit more runny.  Add milk and powdered sugar to achieve desired consistency.  Divide into the number of colors you want, and mix in food coloring (I recommend Americolor gel).  Using a knife, spread the colored icing on each cookie inside the outlines.  The outline will keep the icing contained and it's not necessary to avoid getting icing on the outline itself (that'll make you go crazy) - just spread.

To add interest, as with the multicolored leaves, add another color in the middle and spread it through with a toothpick.  Do this before the base color sets up.  Add polka dots or stripes by dipping a toothpick and dropping or pulling through the base color.  You can also add sprinkles.  I was going to add chocolate sprinkles to the caps of my acorns, but I didn't have any on hand, so I just did a darker brown.

The best part about the appearance of these cookies is the icing.  It takes about 12 hours to fully set up, so have a big area of clean counter space or cookie racks set up to spread them all out overnight.  I usually freeze the finished cookies for my family, but they do develop some foggy spots, so if you're going to give them away as gifts, I suggest doing them a day ahead with instructions to freeze if they're not eaten within a couple days.

Have fun!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Free Supplement to Drivers' Education!

I know it's been a while since I added a bit of snark to my blog.  I've mostly been bragging about all my projects, and don't get me wrong.  I do love to brag!  But I'm letting my readers down (all 5 of you) by not being all that snarky.

There is a fine line between being snarky and just complaining.  I thought that today would be a rant of complaining.  I sit in traffic for much too long at 9am every morning now for a month and I feel that I'm given ample reason to complain.  However, I will not complain.  I will reorganize my rant into a simple list of traffic reminders.

Some days I feel like I'm the only one who knows how to drive.  (And this coming from a total space cadet driver!)  I know there may be a couple more of you out there, but I share with you my vast store of wisdom today in

"Jill's Common Sense Supplement to Drivers' Ed."

1. When sitting at a red light waiting to turn left, one does not have the right-of-way.  And for goodness sake, one really should not give the finger to another driver when he or she nearly hits said driver while turning at the same time without yielding.  It's not her fault for having the right-of-way.

2. Try not to mistake the yield sign for a stop sign when on any on-ramp.

3. There is not a need to analyze why there is a stopped car on the shoulder of oncoming interstate traffic.  There is no need to slow to a crawl and gawk.  It's very unlikely that it's someone you know, so you don't have to figure out who was in the car.  If it's serious, it'll probably be on the six o'clock news.

4. When passing an electronic alert sign that reads something along the lines of "crash ahead on a road that you're not driving on," or "utility work 50 yards from the shoulder expected next week," one does not need to slow down in anticipation of such "delay."  Nor does one need to slow down to simply read the sign.

5. When entering an interstate, remember that there is a yield sign for those entering, not for those already on the interstate.  Nor is there a sign that says, "when entering from an on-ramp, cut someone off and then honk at them angrily when they don't (or cannot) yield to you."

6. When 3 lanes of traffic is cut down to 2, remember that the law does not say "merge one mile ahead of the lane closure" or "drive really slowly in the merging lane to play traffic cop."  There is no need to swerve in front of those passing you or even pretend to swerve to "scare" them into slowing down.  Sometimes I think playing traffic cop and driving slowly MUST be a written rule in Minnesota, since so many people do it.  Oh?  It's not?  Interesting.

7. When driving by or passing a police officer, there is no need to slow from 62 to 45mph even though the limit is 60mph.  Driving way below the limit does not give one better odds at not getting pulled over.

8. Slower traffic keep right.  Even if the driver in the left lane feels entitled to be there going whatever speed he pleases, the rule still exists.  And when said driver (who is clearly the product of our societal entitlement), is passed on the right, the problem is not solved by speeding up so he can't be passed.  Don't get mad that someone else is in a hurry.

9. If you absolutely have an uncontrollable compulsion to litter by tossing your cigarettes out of the window, please make sure you put them out first.  It makes the people driving behind you nervous to see the red sparks bounce their way under their cars.

10. Mind your own business.  We need not get involved in someone else's decision to be in a hurry or talk on the phone or get their kid a sippy cup.  If we are not in direct danger, it's not our problem when someone is safely weaving through traffic.

Bonus: A free bit of wisdom to pedestrians and bicyclists:  Bikes ride WITH traffic, pedestrians walk AGAINST traffic.  And please remember that cars are bigger than you and come to a stop much more slowly.

There you have it.  Jill's top ten road rules.  I'm not complaining, but I swear I could have shouted all these rules today on my way to drop my daughter off at school.