Friday, December 31, 2010

Ben's Grandma's Sloppy Joes

  • 1 1/2 lbs Hamburger
  • 1 Large Onion, chopped
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper, chopped
  • 3/4 cup Ketchup
  • 2 Tbs Sugar
  • 2 Tbs Yellow Mustard
  • 1 Tbs Vinegar

Steps (serves 6)
Brown meet over stove.
Add onion and green pepper.
Mix rest of ingredients.
Add to meat and simmer 30 mins.
Serve with buns.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Homemade Candy Treats

What better to bring to your office during the week before Christmas than candy!

Caramel Marshmallow Balls
I got the recipe from here but my recommendation is to only use 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks). Also, be careful not to let the caramel burn.

Oreo Balls
Bob go the recipe from here.
Sugar-Free Chocolate Dipped Fruit & Pretzels
Stacy's recipe is here. Note that adding agave will make the chocolate more stiff/crumbly and less spreadable. The sweetness of the apples counters the slight bitterness of the sugar-free chocolate well, but pretzels are probably best left saved for regular chocolate only.
For more candy ideas, try:
Fudge and more

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sugar Cookie Gingerbread Sculptures/Houses

Stacy and I baked sugar cookies. They baked up a lot wider and rounder than expected.

  • To make the red and black cookies we used gel food coloring. We used liquid food coloring for the green cookies.
  • For the pine trees, we made 2 trees, cut one in half, and spackled with icing.
  • For the black tree, we made a small circle cookie, cut it in half, and used it as a tree stand.
  • For the Charlie Brown and Lucy cookies, we dyed white icing with food coloring to get yellow, blue, black and pink.
  • For our mortar/icing, we used white Betty Crocker Easy Squeeze Decorating Icing

Note: We'll add shaved coconut for snow to the Snoopy display. We use cake-takers to transport the cookies.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Homemade Ornaments

We used yarn, ribbon, sewing pins and Styrofoam balls
to make these ornaments at a holiday party!
For design #1: Use thick ribbon, tie into 6 knots, close the loop, and add a bell.
For design #2: Pin pieces of three colors of ribbon into place on ball.
For design #3: Wrap three colors of yarn around Styrofoam ball.
For design #4: Wrap yarn around a paper ornament form.
For design #5: Wrap yarn around ball and secure with pins at top and bottom. Add extra pins and wrap yarn around them on side of ornament.
For design #6: Wrap ribbon around Styrofoam ball, securing with hot glue as needed, and finish with pins on top and bottom.
For design #7: Wrap thick ribbon vertically around ball and wrap a thinner ribbon around it.
For design #8: Use small design pins to secure a small bead and a sequin all over ball.

For more inspiration see this example and this other example.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Home-Printed Cards

Steps to create these cards:
  1. Do a watercolor painting for the card's front, i.e. poinsettias.
  2. Scan the painting.
  3. Import the picture into Microsoft PowerPoint, resize to fit onto blank cards, and add a red outline*.
  4. Design a message for the interior of the card, i.e. "Happy Holidays"
  5. Print and cut out cover and card's interior. Secure to blank cards with a glue stick.
  6. Print out address labels if desired.
*Note: Outlining makes designs easier to cut out and apply evenly to the card.

    Monday, December 6, 2010

    Gifts Post - Gifts in a Jar, Pet Portraits, and Decorated Candles!

    Tonight was a choose-your-own-adventure night of crafts.

    Gifts-In-A-Jar by Stacy
    1-Pint jars she made:
    1-Quart jars she made:

    Candles by Bob
    She bought flameless candles** - just as great-smelling as regular candles but zero mess, zero stress. She decorated them by hot-gluing a thicker ribbon and then a thinner ribbon around the candles, finishing with a bow.

    Pet Portraits by Jess
    The portraits were created using watercolor paint. You can see them by clicking here.

    UPDATE: Jess finally made her gifts-in-a-jar too! It took 3 hours (surprisingly long).

    *Mexican Hot Cocoa Recipe for Pint-Size Jars
    • Ingredients to make 3 jars:
      • 5 cups powdered milk
      • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
      • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
      • 3 tsp powdered vanilla non-dairy creamer
      • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • To fill gift jars:
      • Mix all ingredients and divide equally among three pint-sized jars
      • Use tulle or other fabric on lid of jar and tie on a decorative bow
    • To make hot cocoa:
      • Combine 2 1/2 tbsp mix per 1 cup boiling water and stir
      • Each pint-size jar makes about 6 servings of hot cocoa

    For more gift-in-a-jar ideas, see this example and this other example and this further example and yet another example.

    **Note: "Flameless candles" are also called "electric candles" or "battery-operated candles." They have an LED light instead of a flame.

      Monday, November 29, 2010

      Holiday Wreaths

      For Stacy's Wreath
      See this example from Martha Stewart.
      Steps: Get a foam wreath shape and wrap it with green ribbon, securing ribbon with hot glue. Then make flowers with red ribbon - cut three strips and secure them together in the middle with floral wire to create a six-petaled flower. Hot-glue the flowers to the wreath and use white straight pins for the stamen. Afterwards, wrap small white ribbon around the entire wreath. Using larger ribbon, make three large loops and secure in the middle to make a large bow. To finish, tie three bells in the center of the bow.

      For Bob's Wreath*
      See this example from Eddie Ross.
      Steps: Open a wire clothes hanger. String copious amounts of ornaments onto the wire. Use smaller ornaments to fill in gaps. Finish with a bow like Stacy's.
      Optional: Before stringing ornaments, use hot glue to secure each ornament's metal hanger to its ball so the ornament cannot pop off. Wait until the glue is dry before stringing.

      For Jess' Wreath*
      See this YouTube example. Jess' wreath is similar to Bob's except it has a smaller circle (less ornaments) and it has a long metal and ribbon hanger.
      Steps: Thread medium-sized ornaments onto circle made from clothes hanger. Tie on smaller ornaments. Wrap large white ribbon around wire. Tie on more ornaments where needed for fullness using floral wire. Wrap white feather boa around wreath (you can use tinsel instead). Wrap ribbon around rest of hanger to form vertical wreath hanger and secure ribbon with hot glue. To finish, make a bow by forming two loops and use a small piece of ribbon to bind them in the middle.

      *Notes on Ball Ornament Wreaths:
      1) The Dollar Store is a great source for inexpensive ornaments.
      2) Consider getting Styrofoam ornaments because they can't shatter when dropped.
      3) Jess' wreath used 27 medium-sized and 20 small-sized ornaments. Bob's used at least 50 ornaments.

      Sunday, November 28, 2010

      Healthier Blueberry Scones Recipe

      Stacy, Jen and I had a post-Thanksgiving meal (a "friends Thanksgiving") and I brought scones. Here's how I made them.
      Dry Ingredients
      • 1 cup white flour
      • 1 cup wheat flour*
      • 1/4 cup sugar
      • 1 tbs baking powder
      • 1/4 tsp salt
      • 1/4 tsp baking soda
      Wet Ingredients
      • 1/4 cup butter
      • 3/4 cup + 2 tbs low fat buttermilk
      • 1 egg
      • 1 tsp + 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
      • 1/4 tsp almond extract (can omit)
      • 1/4 tsp orange extract**
      • Zest of half a lemon (can use orange zest instead)
      • 1 cup blueberries***
      Instructions - Makes 8 scones
      1. Preheat oven to 400 deg. F.
      2. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.
      3. Cut butter into dry mix using a pastry blender.
      4. Mix the remaining wet ingredients except for the berries in another bowl.
      5. Add the wet mix to the dry mix and stir to mix them together.
      6. Fold in the blueberries.
      7. Drop by large spoonfuls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.****
      8. Bake for 18 minutes.
      *Instead of using 2 cups white flour, I used 1 cup of white and 1 cup of wheat to make these scones more healthy.
      **Instead of using orange extract, you can squeeze a little orange or lemon juice in and reduce the amount of buttermilk.
      ***If using frozen blueberries, warm them to room temp by running warm water over them.
      ****Be gentle with this kind of dough - over-working it will make it tough.

      Thursday, November 25, 2010

      Easy Thanksgiving Pies

      Here's how to make both a pumpkin and an apple pie and have them cook in the oven simultaneously.

      Single Crust (for pumpkin pie)
      • 1 1/3 cup flour
      • 1/2 tsp salt
      • 1/2 cup Crisco*
      • 3 tbs water
      Double Crust (for apple pie)
      • 2 cups flour
      • 1 tsp salt
      • 3/4 cup Crisco*
      • 1/4 cup water
      Apple Filling
      • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled
      • 4 Macintosh apples, peeled
      • 1/2 of a lemon
      • 2/3 cup sugar
      • 1/4 + 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
      • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
      Pumpkin Pie Filling
      • 1 (15 oz) can pure pumpkin puree
      • 1 (14 oz) can fat free sweetened condensed milk
      • 3 egg whites, lightly beaten
      • 1/2 tsp salt
      • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
      • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
      • 1/4 tsp ground ginger

      1. Combine ingredients for pie crusts using a pastry blender and form into balls (1 ball for pumpkin pie, 1 ball for bottom of apple pie, 1 smaller ball for top of apple pie).
      2. Chill pie crust in refrigerator for one hour.
      3. For pumpkin pie: Combine all pumpkin pie filling ingredients.
      4. For apple pie: Slice apples into 10-12 pieces per apple, squeeze with lemon juice to keep fresh and combine sugar with cinnamon and nutmeg in a separate bowl.
      5. Remove bottom pie crusts from refrigerator and place into pie tins.
      6. For pumpkin pie: Add pie fillings.
      7. For apple pie: Add 1/2 of apple slices, add 1/2 of sugar mixture, add rest of apples, add rest of sugar mixture.
      8. For apple pie: Place top crust piece over pie and use beaten egg or cold water to attach it to bottom crust, then cut top crust to vent.
      9. Brush pie crusts with beaten egg or melted butter to encourage browning.
      10. Place both pies in 425 degree oven for 15 minutes. Next, bake both pies in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
      11. For pumpkin pie: Remove from oven - knife inserted in center should come out clean. Cool on wire rack. Store in refrigerator when cool.
      12. For apple pie: Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for 10 minutes - Crust should be golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

      *Note 1: Use the bars of Crisco for easier measuring
      **Note 2: I actually baked these pies both at 375 degrees for 10 mins, then at 425 degrees for 15 mins, then at 350 degrees for 23 mins, removed the pumpkin pie, then baked the apple pie at 375 degrees for 10 mins to finish it off - the recipe above is easier.

      Monday, November 22, 2010

      Handmade Books

      • Bookbinding glue (can use any white glue)
      • Foam brushes (to spread glue)
      • Cardstock paper (for book pages and covers)
      • Scrapbook paper (for covers)
      • Paper-cutter and cutting mat (scissors work but are much slower)
      • Xacto knife (a box-cutter will work)
      • Book (to use as a base for drilling holes)
      • Electric drill
      • Ribbon (to bind book pages together)
      • Yarn needle
      • Stickers (optional)
      • Cut letter-size paper or cardstock in half horizontally with the paper cutter to make your pages
      • To make your front cover, take a piece of letter-size cardstock and cut it in half. Then apply glue to it and wrap your decorative scrapbook paper around it. Secure your folded scrapbook paper with glue. Cover the inside of your cover with another sheet of cardstock and glue down for a finished look. Do the same for your back cover.
      • To attach all the pages together, drill three holes through the entire stack. Put a phonebook or other disposable book underneath to avoid drilling through your table.
      • Use the ribbon to tie everything together and finish with a bow.
      • Place the entire book under something heavy until it is completely dry, then crease the front cover so you can open your book easily.

      Photos: Jessica's (top), Jen's (middle), Stacy's (bottom)

      Tuesday, November 16, 2010

      Thanksgiving Turkey-Shaped Candies

      These were a lot of fun to make! Supplies:
      • Oreo Double-Stuffed Cookies
      • Tube of White Icing (use to hold candies together and for eyes)
      • Reeses Mini Peanutbutter Cups (use as tummies)
      • Milk Duds (use as heads)
      • Candy Corn (use whole candies as tail feathers and wings and trim candies to make beaks)
      Helpful Link: We got the idea from this Oreo Turkeys website.

      (Left) Turkey by Itself;
      (Right) Katie and Stacy w/ Turkeys

      Monday, November 15, 2010

      Easy DIY Greeting Cards

      With just your home computer, standard 8.5x11" paper and Microsoft Powerpoint you can create fast and easy cards. You can use photos and graphics off the web as long as you don't market your cards*. I like putting a big design on the front and a tiny design on the back of the card. Just print cards, fold them in half twice, and you're done!

      If you want your fold on top, click on this template.
      If you want your fold on the bottom, like I did for my Thanksgiving card, click on this template.

      *Note: If you profit in any way from your cards or use them commercially, using someone else's artwork is copyright infringement.

      Table Runners

      We sewed table runners for Thanksgiving!

      Table Runners
      For mine (left), I used one strip of about 1 1/4 yeards of heavy fabric cut 16 inches wide (2 of those inches were for seam allowances). I simply folded down where I was going to hem the edges with an iron and then sewed away.
      For Jen's, she used two different fabrics to make a revisible Thanksgiving/Winter table runner. She simply sewed the fabric right-sides together along three edges, turned the fabric right-side out, and hand-sewed the fourth edge.
      For Stacy's (bottom), she used two different fabrics too, but to make her runner extra long, she joined her fabric at the middle of her runner and sewed it together on the bias to make the seam less obvious.

      Simple Valance (to go with the Table Runner)
      I basically hemmed a rectangle then folded one long side over and sewed it to make a pocket for the rod to go through.

      Note: For heavy fabric, you may have to adjust/increase the tension on your sewing machine.

      Helpful link: Table Runner Tutorial

      Sunday, October 24, 2010

      Carving Halloween Pumpkins

      Procedure: We carved pumpkins. First we carved around the stems with a large knife, entered our pumpkins, then removed their seeds and gooey insides with a pumpkin-carving spoon. I lightly drew my design on my pumpkin with a brown marker, then cut it out with thin pumpkin-carving knives. Stacy printed her design out on her printer, traced her design by pricking through the paper, then cut out where she'd pinned with a pumpkin-carving knife.

      Pumpkins 4

      Design Credits:
      From left top row: T-Fighter Spacecraft by Neuralclone and AGirlCalledBob, Gotham City Skyline by Stacy, Ghost and Tombstone, Jack Skellington by Mox_E, Scary Cat by Jess, Batman by Nick

      Cat Credits: It's the notorious Froy from!

      Tuesday, October 19, 2010

      Outdoor Halloween Decorations

      Stacy and Nick went all out with a Batman-themed house! You could modify their procedures to make a custom sign and projector image for any holiday.

      Arkham Sign: Make a template - you could use Adobe Illustrator software to print your template out in tile mode. Trace your template onto a styrofoam-like surface - Nick used a sheet of foam insulation from the hardware store. Next, cut your sign using foam-carving knives (the kind used to carve foam pumpkins). Finally, spray paint black. Be sure to use acetone-free spray paint or it will eat through your work (spray-test a small corner first). Even regular spray paint will eat up the foam a little. An alternative is painting the sign with tinted primer (tint regular primer with black paint) and then painting it black. Afix your sign to PVC pipe and secure pipe to the ground by sliding it over embedded rebar.

      Batman Symbol
      Easy Way: Use a high-powered lantern and foamcore board. Cut your design out of the foamcore and place in front of the lantern. Black out the other three sides of the lantern.

      Nick's Way (uses a projector, music and DVD authoring software): He made an Adobe Illustrator file of the bat signal and laid it down on a video track in Adobe Encore*. Then he placed his music (the score from the first Batman movie) on an audio track underneath it. He added a jumpback action at the timeline's end to go to the first chapter marker, thus keeping the 13-minute long video looping. He burned his new DVD and played it through a home TV projector via a DVD player that was contained in a cardboard construct. The player and projector were both set on a stool and plugged into an attached multi-adapter.

      *Note: Adobe Encore is a DVD authoring suite that comes with the CS4 Production Bundle. You could do the DVD step with iDVD on a Mac or the Windows equivalent.

      Sunday, October 17, 2010

      Spooky Halloween Curtains

      You will need: Muslin or similar white fabric, white chiffon or tulle, and black paint. We used Acrylic paint, but you could use indoor latex house paint. We also used a dropcloth underneath to catch paint that seeped through the fabric.

      Procedure: First, cut and hem muslin to fit your window. Next, paint your ghost or other shape onto muslin. Stacy used Adobe Illustrator software to print her design on paper in tile mode, traced her design onto her curtain with a Sharpie, and then filled it in with paint. I free-handed my designs directly onto my curtains with black paint.

      After your designs are completely dry, cut and hem the chiffon to fit your window and sew it to the muslin, layering it so that the chiffon goes over the painted side of your muslin. Attach your project to a curtain rod in any way you choose (you could use clips; I sewed tie-ribbons to mine; Stacy sewed a rod pocket into hers). Hang with the chiffon side facing out for a great spooky display your neighbors can see and appreciate.

      Sunday, October 10, 2010

      Cake Decorating with Fondant

      Making a Rose Flower with Fondant: Pull the fondant with your hands to warm it. Then make a small ball the size of a marble. Form it into a cone. That will be the center of your flower. Then make a ball half the size of your first ball. Place the ball between saran wrap and press into a circle with your fingers. This will be your first petal. Attach it at the bottom of your cone and wrap it around, leaving it open at the top. Do a second petal and wrap it around the cone's other side. You are now done with your first row of petals! For your second row, use three petals. For your third row, use four or five. Bend the petals slightly outward and away from the tip of the cone. Cut the bottom of the flower at an angle so it will lay pretty on the top of your cake. Make leaves or more flowers as you like.

      Leveling a Round Cake and Preparing it for Fondant: Remove the cake from its cake pan; we used a pound cake. Use a long, non-serrated or very mildly serrated knife to cut off the unlevel, dome portion of the cake. Start cutting at the lowest part and go across. If you don’t get it completely level, don’t worry. Now flip the cake over. You always want the seared side up.

      Take a buttercream icing and a long icing spatula and apply the icing to the sides of the cake, then the top. Do not worry about making it look good. Now take flat wide tool (such as a chop) and scoop most of the icing off the sides, and then the top. You just want a level surface for your fondant, even if it’s a thin layer and the cake shows through. Don’t use too much icing or your fondant will bubble.

      Applying the Fondant: Use two long wide spatulas to move the cake to your cake serving plate. Stick both spatulas with downward pressure under your cake, move to the cake plate, and push down as you quickly move the spatulas out from underneath the cake one at a time. If you remove the spatulas slowly your cake will crumble.

      Now it’s time for fondant! Use confectioner’s sugar to dust your rolling surface. Pull the fondant with your hands to warm it and then roll it into a large ball. Place it on your rolling surface and roll it out. If you want to pick it up and turn it 90 degrees, add a little more powdered sugar underneath. When it’s big enough to cover your whole cake, drape it once over your rolling pin and carry it to your cake.

      Now it’s time to put the fondant on your cake! Start unrolling the fondant over the cake at the side closest to you and drape it over the rest. Set the rolling pin aside. Tap the fondant down around your cake. The fondant is like rubber, so pull and stretch it to get it to do what you want; don’t fold it. Tap it down around the base of your cake. If you get a fold, pull and stretch the fondant away from the cake, then tap it down. Cut the excess fondant away from the cake with the pointy tip of a knife.

      Piping the Trim: Use a Ziploc bag with a princess piping tip and your buttercream icing. Pipe the icing in small dots/dollops around the base of your cake. Pipe a tiny bit of icing on top of your cake to secure your fondant flower to your cake. You could also use Vodka to secure two pieces of fondant to each other.

      Note: If you are trying to cover a square cake the process is different. For a square cake, cut out one square of fondant for the top and four rectangles for the sides. Apply them to your cake and seal the edges with piped icing.

      Sunday, September 26, 2010

      Sewing Night: Fleece Socks/Slippers

      Socks/Slippers Project: Buy an easy fleece sock/slipper pattern. Alternatively, cut out for each slipper:
      • A) Sole - Piece for around the bottom of your foot
      • B) Heel - Piece going frombottom of your heel to 4 inches above your ankle
      • C) Top - Piece for over the top of your foot going from the tip of your toes to 4 inches above your ankle

      Be sure to cut out the pieces so the direction of most stretch runs across them, not top-to-bottom. Now sew the sole piece to the heel piece, right-sides together, along the base of the heel. Next, turn the seam allowances in towards the heel piece and sew, this time using a zigzag stitch. Now, unfold the sole-heel combination and pin to the top piece with wrong-sides facing out. Sew all the way around the outside of the slipper leaving an opening at the top for your foot to enter. Turn the slipper right-side out. The only thing left is sewing the cuff - Fold about one inch of the cuff inside the slipper and sew all the way around the cuff once. Done!

      For those who do not know how to load a sewing machine: Here are some general instructions – you will still need your sewing machine’s manual. Turn your machine on. Load thread onto a bobbin using the bobbin-winder on the top of your machine. Now, load the bobbin into the chamber underneath your machine. Next, load your spool of thread on top of your machine and follow your manual’s directions to get it to come out near the sewing needle. For my machine, the thread has to be caught by a little hook at the top of the machine, and then feed down and around a knob, then up and through a hook, then down and through another hook. Next thread your sewing needle from front to back and hook the thread throug the foot. To get the thread from the bobbin underneath up, turn the knob on the side of your machine until the needle comes down and hooks and loops that thread. Keep turning the knob and it will bring up the thread. Pull both of the threads (the one coming from the top and the one coming from underneath) up and away from you and your machine so they won’t slip away. Place the foot down to clamp your fabric under the needle. Begin sewing!

      Sunday, September 19, 2010

      Stepping Stones with Pawprints

      You could do this project with pawprints, handprints, or any other kind of print.

      Procedure: First, mix cement with water in a large bucket. We got a 60-pound bag of cement from Home Depot. We used a long thick-diameter wooden dowel and a trowel to mix the cement with the water. Then we coated our molds with cooking spray to prevent sticking and poured the cement into them. You can use pie dishes or any disposable plastic or aluminum container. The mixture should be difficult to smooth, but not so grainy that you can’t smooth it all together and get rid of air pockets. Excess water rises to the top, so place a paper towel on top of the freshly laid and smoothed concrete and blot it. Then we firmly pressed each toe of the animal’s paw into the wet concrete. After making a print, we thoroughly washed the animal’s paw. We added glass marbles to our design which are best to add when the concrete is rather wet, so that the stones can be properly nestled into the concrete. We also added letters to our stepping stones using stamps.

      Tip: The letters were best to add when the concrete was a little drier in order to avoid water pooling in the cavities of the freshly stamped letters.