Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving Treat Troubles

I have a confession to make. I haven't done any prep-work or planning for Thanksgiving or Christmas yet. None.

So if you're anything like me and just now trying to figure out some last minute ideas, I thought I'd put a few together for you out of submissions we've received.

The first Pinstrosity submission was submitted from a craft day where they tried to do 4 different DIY projects. One of their attempts was to make this cornocopia treat. This could be used as a treat for kids, or even dressed up to be cute place cards for Thanksgiving place settings, or even a great centerpiece or decor item.

Photo and Tutorial by The Craft Patch
We were told in the submission that "If you wet the cones too long, they got too soggy. Not long enough, they wouldn't curl! If you microwaved them just 20 seconds as the site recommends, they broke when you tried to curl them! If you microwaved them longer, they were too hot to handle!"

The first place I go anymore for troubleshooting a tutorial is the comments section of the original post. Those are goldmines! This one was no different. From perusing the comments there were people that had the exact same troubles with this cute craft, and some that tried tweaks and found things that worked. Here's what I learned from others' experiences:
  • Differences in microwave powers made a difference. Not every microwave runs on the same default power setting. Start with a lower power setting to keep the cone from getting as hot, but allowing it to be in the microwave for longer (to allow for more softening). Think of a piece of bread in the microwave vs the oven. In the oven it gets dried out and hard. In the microwave it gets soggy and limp. You want that softening! 
    • These still may get pretty warm or hot...wearing oven mitts would be hard to work in but they could help you get the results you want. 
  • Some people found greater success with the sugar cones in shape of waffle cones rather than with real waffle cones. 
  • Some found that the brand of cone you used made a difference, but I didn't see any consistency with brand recommendations. Some had the name brands work better, some had the store brands work better. It may be less of a brand issue and more of a batch or age of the product issue. 

This 2nd Pinstrosity submission could be a fun treat, or even paired with a tag for a cute name card/place setting! 

Photo and Tutorial by Seventh House on the Left
Often we paraphrase submissions or just give one or two liner quotes, but this is one that you need to read the original of (I did split it into smaller paragraphs, but the words are all original!) as Morgan wrote this up so perfectly and humorously!
"This is a tale of Thanksgiving treat gone awry.  My boyfriend's parents were coming to visit my parents for the very first time around Thanksgiving.  I decided it would be fun to make something for everyone to enjoy and show off my creative and Martha-Stewart-like kitchen abilities.  I found this adorable link on pinterest and decided to go for it."  

"As you can see, I had everything except the chocolate wafers (even the Betty Crocker Cookie icing AND I even worked out which would be the limiting ingredient so as to buy enough of the rest of the ingredients), but it's just the structural base, so a sturdier cookie could work just as well seeing as how I had NO IDEA where to find Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers CookIes.  Plus, my cookie had a hole in the middle so the Nutter Butter was even MORE supported (I'm an engineer and I worry about the stability of my cookies). "Hunt them down" they said…right like the state of Kentucky has these fancy-pants cookies.  And "order them off the internet" you say?  It wasn't THAT important."

"Anyway, I was so excited to start working that I began when my mother put the turkey in the oven.  Here is where I encountered my first and most important mistake.  You know what happens when four women are all bustling about cooking Thanksgiving dinner in a kitchen the size of a college dorm room?  It gets HOT.  I should have worked on these in an industrial grade deep-freeze.  The temperature of the room was obviously way too hot for the "glue" aka the white cookie icing to harden enough for these suckers to set up.  They just kept falling apart like sad little cartoons having massive strokes."  

"My second mistake was not realizing how much TIME it would take to put all of these together.  I mean, I set aside at least 3 hours to do this!  Also, as it turns out, I don't have a whole lot of patience or skill when it comes to delicate cookie decorating.  What ended up happening is my boyfriend's mother (who is super crafty and has the patience of Mother Theresa) helped me assemble them.  She would put one together and I would put it in my deep-set pan and put it directly in the freezer.  I really felt like I was running a sweat shop and she was my poorly paid with no benefits employee."  

"As you can see, they turned out…..ok-ish.  I had my fill of pies, so I didn't actually try them, but the men-folk REALLY enjoyed them.  My boyfriend said that you wouldn't think they would taste good at all, but they flavors actually went well together, but it basically induces a diabetic coma.  I learned my lesson and probably will make them again in the future because they are just so cute, but will certainly work in a colder climate, put each in the freezer as soon as they are done, and take a muscle relaxer, listen to massage music, and drink some herbal tea while working on them."

And today's final Pinstrosity submission. These individual pie cups would be perfect for parties, kids, or even those large extended family plus their neighbors Thanksgivings.

Photo and Tutorial by Make and Takes
"Everything was going pretty well until it came time to take the finished pies out of my - admittedly vintage - muffin tins.  As you can see, they didn't.  Probably 20% of the crust stayed behind, firmly adhered to the metal.  What a mess!  Of course, they still tasted fine, but hardly the adorable little snacks I'd been hoping for!"

"I used an all-shortening pie crust recipe, but I don't think that was the problem.  It was clearly my tins.  Yes, I sprayed them with cooking spray, but I could have used more. But different tins would have been a better solution. Silicone "tins" would probably have been idea, since they're less sticky to begin with and can be deformed to un-mold.  In fact, if I'd just bought the disposable aluminum ones they probably would have worked better, because again they could have been deformed.  Or, as Mom pointed out as she was trying to help get the silly things out, I could have simply used cupcake papers.  >>face palm!<< Why didn't *I* think of that?!"

This is a pin that I have actually done! Well...not this pin exactly. There are a ton of mini-pies made in cupcake tin pins. I read a few and realized that all different types of pie crust recipe were being used and it didn't seem to make a difference, so I just used my normal all-shortening recipe from my Mom that I LOVE, and then followed the instructions on the can of pumpkin for pumpkin pie filling. As the crust to filling ratio is quite different with these than a normal pie they do bake up a little different. I made mine a few years ago so I don't remember exact details, but I do believe I made my crusts just slightly thinner than normal.

Sticking can definitely be a problem with these, more than with a normal pie. For my normal pies I can lay the crust in the pan and just gently press it in enough to get the right shape, but for these you do have to really press it in quite a bit to get it to mold to the cupcake shape of the pan and to get the creases pressed together. With all the extra pressing of the dough against the pan the chances for there to be sticking is much higher. My first pan of these mini pies stuck a little, so for the second pan instead of my normal Pam spray, I went to the "old fashioned" shortening and flour solution. 

Using a paper towel, a napkin, or your fingers, coat the cups up the cupcake tin. You don't want globs of shortening left, you want a smooth layer over the pan. Once you have that sprinkle some flour over the pan and shake it around to get an even dusting of flour stuck to the shortening. Then press in your pie crusts. This will help prevent extra sticking from having to press the creases and mold the dough!

I love the original ideas of each of these pins and the attempts made at them! Reading their submissions and then reading comments on the original sites just helps reinforce that "Life isn't Pinterest Perfect, but that's okay!" These 3 projects are not impossible projects, but they may take some tweaking sometimes as we all have different situations going on in our homes! If you give one of these a try, let us know how it turned out! 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Twin Project: Potato Stamping

Hello friends!
Marquette and I are missing each other something fierce this week (living a whole days drive apart from each other stinks) so we decided we wanted to do something in solidarity even though we are so far apart. We decided that we would each attempt the same pin, using the same directions and see how our results differed, because if there is one thing we know from Pinterest, it's that nothing is an exact copy.
Marquette found this pin and we both thought we could do something fun with it. This involves creating your own fabric stamp out of a potato and essentially making your own print on fabric. Easy-peasy right??
(photo and tutorial by This Little Miggy Stayed Home)

Emilee's Experience:
I had a bunch of fun stuff planned out for this, I thought it would be something I could whip up in twenty minutes like I thought the original had done. Why am I always so optimistic?? lol
I got all of my materials for $10.59 (tax included in that)I was pretty happy with that. I decided I wanted to do scarves so I thought I would cut out the middle man, saving me from dragging my sewing machine out of the closet I bought already made scarves. I was planning on just regular scarves but I found two packs of infinity scarves in the material I liked for $3 a piece, so I bought two packs in the colors I wanted. I also got paint (cranberry and fuchsia pink), sponge brushes and some potatoes. I guess I forgot that the original used fabric paint, but I just bought regular acrylic paint and  I am really happy with how it performed.
I used the blue and white scarves for this project.
I decided on a fleur-de-lis' design for the first try, I didn't think it would be too hard to cut out and I thought it would be elegant (this one was supposed to go to my sister after I finished).
It took me probably 40 min to get the design traced and cut out because of all the flowing edges and getting the remaining potato off was HARD! Am I just not an expert carver?? lol

The next issue was that the center had some how been carved out too much, I didn't think it would be too much of a big deal, but it was...the 'hole' left a missing piece in the print.

That large white piece in the center is lacking potato as seen above. 
I finished the scarf anyways thinking it wouldn't be too bad, and when I finished I realized it just looked like a bloody bandage...oops!! Gory!

It just wasn't the elegant fleur-de-lis' I was hoping for. Scrap it.
Next I tried just a basic flower on a blue scarf...let's see my free hand carving skills (look Ma, no stencil!)
Not entirely even, but not awful.
I found it was easiest to remove the large portion of the potato as I went instead of after, as seen below.
I put newspaper between the layers of scarf and I think it worked really well.
I think this one turned out much better.
 And just in case that looks too nice...here is my house after I finished and what was really happening while trying to take pictures lol

All in all I was a little underwhelmed with this, I like the possibility of being able to do any stamp you want, but it took longer than anticipated and it was just kind of 'eh' when I finished. I'm not sure I will do this one again.

Marquette's Experience: 
I was excited to do this. Potato Stamping was completely new to me and I was sure this would be a cheap and easy project. Expectations for this were high. I was going to rock this! 

And then I got to Hobby Lobby and the fabric paint was $4 a tube!! What?! And, they didn't even have the colors I wanted for what I planned and I didn't want to buy a ton of tubes and attempt to mix the color. So I picked out copper (my favorite metallic for years!) and a teal to go with it and figured I'd think of something else other than cute peach flying piggies and silver clouds (I'm not into the big feathers and arrow graphic trend...I wanted something a little different). Next time. 

So I went home, bought my sweet potato to have one really large stamp possibility and figured the small potatoes in our cupboard would be my backup. But this looked simple. I wasn't going to need backup, right? (Oh the pride that gets us into Pinstrosity trouble).  I found a few graphics of flying birds and decided that would be cute and to go with the idea of a flock of teal and copper flying bird silhouettes. 

I went with four different bird silhouettes in various stages of flight, so I needed four potato halves. Done. 

I drew a rough sketch of the birds on the potatoes and then it was carving time. Of course then when I went to my craft drawer I couldn't find my Xacto knife! Did I toss that in the move? Surely not! Oh well. I dug a paring knife out of my kitchen drawer and used that. It worked fine.

 See, my flying birds. Not as beautiful as the original graphics, but I still had high hopes.

I dipped the first one in the paint and did a test dab on a piece of paper and realized that the dipping method was going to give me wayyyy to much paint on the potato. So I used my finger to spread a thin and even layer of paint on the stencil each time.

And I stamped, and stamped, and stamped...and at first really loved the watercolorish look to the birds (especially when I did a 2nd stamp without applying fresh paint). But it just was missing something. The birds looked small on the fabric and my random pattern looked a little goofy. It needed something big. So I caved to the trend because it fit the rest of the design and added in a feather. That helped fill it in more. It definitely needed the bigger graphic in there.

So it was better, but still just meh. I didn't hate it, but I don't love it. I think if I did these particular stamps again I'd try to make it look more like a flock flying and less just random stamps all over.

So, since I had enough fabric for 2 blankets I thought I'd try again. This time I decided to do a checkerboard pattern with a sunburst and a little cursive "i {heart} u". It looked so adorable in my head.

Apparently my head and my hands weren't really communicating that day, because this still just came out kinda meh. First I got my "i {heart} u" stamp made and got ready to start stamping and realized I hadn't written it backwards so it was going to say "u {heart} i" instead. Sliced that off the potato and recarved it. Now I was good to go. Smeared paint on it with my finger and got to stamping.

No matter how hard I tried I couldn't get a really good clear stamp that made the "words" show up really great! It was so cute when I wrote it on paper, but the stamp just wasn't working. This is the best one I got:

But I hoped maybe it'd look watercolorish and that the sunburst would pull it together. The sunburst did help, but I think I should have made it smaller, and then either done a really aligned checkerboard pattern, or a completely random one, not the wonky checkerboard I thought would look good.

So, overall it was a fun project and one I want to play with more because I think I could get something that I LOVE with the potato stamping idea instead of just "Meh." My lessons learned: 

  • At least one larger graphic helps fill up the fabric and make it look better. 
  • If using words, make them thick and large so that they show up well. 
  • If you don't LOVE the colors when you buy the paint, you won't LOVE them on the fabric either. 
  • Don't wear good jeans no matter how careful you assure yourself you'll be because you're very carefully drop the potato on your leg somewhere in the process. 
Obviously Marquette was more adventurous than I, but I think our feeling of the project and our results were similar. Just kind of underwhelmed by our results and not exactly what we had envisioned. Maybe with more practice this would be better. I like that we could try the same pin on the same day and see each others results even though we are so far apart, it kind of made me feel closer to her, giggling at our fails and nodding our heads in unison to the things we each thought needed work.

Has anyone tried this extensively and had great end results? Share them with us! We would love to see them!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Nacho Potato Soup

We’ve all heard the saying, “Never trust a skinny cook.” However the new movement towards healthier eating and foods has made that a little less popular or true. I think instead it should be “Never trust a recipe on a clean cook book page.”

You can tell my favorite recipes in my recipe box or in one of my cookbooks because it has splatters, spills, and crumbs stuck to it. Those are the recipes I’ve gone back to time and time again.

When you find grandma’s cookbook in your box of keepsakes, the first recipes you want to try are the ones she obviously loved and used…the well worn pages!

Today I want to share with you one of the well-splattered and oft-used recipes from my cookbook cupboard. This cookbook and the actual recipe itself both came from my Mother-in-Law! It is a staple in our house all through the cold months. I may or may not be eating a bowl of it as I type this up. 

Nacho Potato Soup

  • 1 lb sausage (our favorite is the Jimmy Dean Sage sausage, it gives the whole soup such a nice flavor!)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 medium potatoes, cubed
  • 1 can whole kernel corn, do not drain (I’ve used frozen corn in some water too when we haven’t had canned corn on hand)
  • 1 can cream-style corn
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (4-oz) can diced green chili 
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained
  • 2 c. grated cheddar cheese
  • and then either
    • -1 large can evaporated milk
    • 2 c. milk + ½ c. instant potato flakes
  • optional: We sometimes add in a few shakes of garlic powder, salt, pepper, and sometimes even hot sauce.

  1. In a large pot, fry the sausage with chopped onion until sausage is no longer pink.
  2. Add potatoes and enough water just to cover.
  3. Bring to a boil and reduce heat.
  4. Simmer until potatoes are tender.
  5. Add remaining ingredients.
  6. Reheat and simmer for 5 minutes.

This is excellent on the first day, but we really really love this soup the 2nd day after all the flavors have really meshed together!

Optional garnishes for this could be green onions, sour cream, or hot sauce! 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fighting the Green-Eyed Monster

I just wanted to leave you with a little bit of Monday Motivation. Partly because I know I need it and I'm sure there's at least one of you out there who need it. 

Anyone else battling with the Green-Eyed Monster in your life lately? He keeps coming and barging in my life and getting in my way and I just can't seem to let him know that he's really not welcome.

In this month that is supposed to be extra focused on gratitude and thanks, I finding myself feeling quite ungrateful. And this has got to stop. 

It's so easy to look around and to wish for what we don't have, and then the comparison truly does rob us of joy.  

We'll never make ourselves happy by focusing on what we are "lacking" or missing out on. 

I was going to make this sign for our Keeping Up Appearances project and didn't end up getting to it. I'm wishing I had and I think this needs to be a project for me ASAP. 

Sign by Aimee Weaver Designs
There isn't a quick fix to banning the Green Eyed Monster from your life. Or at least I haven't found it yet. If anyone knows the secret, let me know! Do they make mouse traps for him? 

I think maybe the best thing is to follow advice Bryant Hinckley gave to his son when he was feeling discouraged: "I have only one suggestion: forget yourself and go to work." I need to get to work and put my energy into the things in my life that matter and that I love. If I can't learn to be grateful for what I have now, how am I supposed to expect to suddenly be grateful later? I need to find and show gratitude for the blessings I already have in my life. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Getting the Most Out of Our Short New York Trip

We aren't your normal vacationers or tourists. We do enjoy seeing some of the touristy locations, but for us we really love to see the "real" side that a place has to offer. Having friends out in New York that could take us around and give us "insider info" was perfect for us. 

We definitely wanted to see the city, but wanted to do more than just go down the checklist of "must see" spots. For only having 2 real days in New York (1 day flying out and arriving at sunset, 2 full days, and a fourth day flying back home), I feel like we got our time's worth!

So let me show you a small snapshot of what we did, with "tips" (not sure what else to call them) on how we vacation and get the most life out of our trips! 

We flew into Newark on a Thursday evening and our friend picked us up at the door and then drove us down through Jersey City to Liberty Park. I didn't get pictures of Jersey City because I was too busy loving just sticking my head against the window and looking at everything I could. For this Southwest country girl, even the side roads in Jersey City  were fun to look at!! Tip#1, which is weird coming from a photographer, don't try to document everything. Sometimes you just need to enjoy! 

We got to Liberty Park just after sunset and got to watch the light change on the sky line. Honestly, I think that was my favorite view of the city! It's spectacular!! 

We stayed until dark and then drove to their home in New York.

The next morning we were on our own as our friends had work and their kids were in school. Some of our favorite vacation memories over the years have been the times when we've been on our own and had to wander an area on foot. You get a whole different feel and taste of the area!
So, Tip #2...hoof it for a few hours just exploring!

After wandering a bit we were hungry and decided to pick a restaurant at random and go eat. And here's Tip #3. We go for the "Mom & Pop" looking places, the local dives, the un-advertised. Those are usually the best places and have such a fun atmosphere to them! Those are where you get a true flavor of a place! Chains and the norm are good, but following this tip has helped us make some wonderful memories on our vacations. Eat somewhere and/or something you can't back home!

The Muddy Brook Cafe was perfect. We had no idea when we picked it at random that it was a little Irish Cafe!! It was delicious and we couldn't get enough of the accents of everyone in there (workers and clientele).

Being Southwestern Desert Rats, the fall colors were spectacular. At least to us. We missed the peak week, but still they were pretty awesome to us! Darrow thought the piles of leaves were just fabulous!

And, oh my gosh...the water! So much water! Everywhere! We went out to Piermont to the old Ferry landing in the middle of the river. This was the view back to the close side of the shore!! We have lakes out here that aren't that wide! And that's a RIVER! It's just amazing.

Just driving around and seeing the country side was so fun. Beautiful homes, fun neighborhoods, great old buildings. It was fabulous!

Probably one of our favorite stops was the Rockland Bakery in Nanuet, NY. We've never seen anything like this! You grab your bag and your gloves and can go get fresh bread of the racks and racks and racks they have lined in there. Or, even grab a hot loaf straight from the conveyor belt! The smell was indescribable. Why don't they make candles that smell like baking bread?!?!

 Hehe, I just noticed the typo on their sign. 

So Tip #4 would be to not just stick to the normal tourist locations. This place isn't a tourist stop, but it should be!

In preparing for this trip, Cameron read and listened to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Of course at that point we had to go see Sleepy Hollow. We did, but pulled into town just as the cemetery was closing, and it all still felt quite touristy and done up. Just beyond though was farm land and old estates, so our friends took us out to see those. It was beautiful! And it gave us so much more of a feel for the right setting for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow than the actual town did with the tours, and over priced entry fees to the mill (which we didn't do because of time).

On the way home we stopped for some authentic New York Pizza. Again, you find a place that isn't packed with tourists. You want to find a place the locals go. We definitely had locals. Locals as in I swear it was an Italian mob boss that came in and sat down and got immediate service and extra care. It was great! The pizza sure hit the spot, but the atmosphere was just as much a part of the fun. So, Tip #5 is similar to tip #3, but just enough different that I'll state it out: Eat where the locals eat!

We hit up the Rockland Bakery on the way home to pick up an Italian Cheesecake for the adults and some cupcakes to celebrate Darrow's 2nd birthday. Not that this really has much interest to you all, but it's a Mommy Milestone and I think he's pretty awesome. He won't remember his 2nd birthday, but we will!
Trying to blow out the candles. 
The next day was New York City day! Think of all the normal places people hit up when they visit NYC...we probably didn't stop and visit them. Mostly that was just out of sheer lack of time. How do you do NYC in half a day?! You get a driving tour! Our friends drove us down the west side of the island, and back up the other side. We got to see a lot that way, and they gave us so much awesome information about the different buildings, areas, and sites. Things we would never have learned just going on our own! That was really fun!

Just a few shots from the car as we drove around:

I LOVED all the little shops we passed. They were simple but seemed so artistic compared to our grocery stores here.

We did get out to see the American Museum of Natural History, and then went to Central Park to take family photos of our friends. This of course was Darrow's favorite place that day.

Well, it was his favorite until Cameron let go of the balloons on accident and they flew away. Oh the face of a kid when they lose balloons for the first time! 

There was just so much there in that little corner of Central Park that we could have looked at for days. The trees, the paths, the colors, the statues, the architecture, all of it! Tip #6 would have to be, take time just to look and soak it in. Too often I think we try to cram so much into vacations that we don't get time to actually take it all in.

That night was Halloween, and once again Cameron, Darrow, and I were on our own. Our friends were given some tickets to a sold out event, so they very understandably went to that and had a good time. So we got Darrow dressed up and went Trick-or-Treating around their neighborhood. We didn't know if Darrow would get the idea at all or not, but it only took the first house giving him a full size pack of M&M's for him to realize how it all worked. "More Trick-or-Treat?!"

His Buddy the Elf costume my cousin helped me make was a huge hit, and he had a ball. Still today if we ask him what we did in New York he says "Trick-or-Treat! MMs!" That was a pretty awesome thing in his mind!

And that was our vacation! We flew home the next day, bummed we had to leave and bummed to come back to real life. But as soon as we started seeing the mountains in the airplane window, and when we stepped out into the beautiful Southwestern air, we were glad to be back home as well. But, our appetites have been wet. We want more of New York!
Darrow and I "argued" all the way over and all the way home whether that is a wing or a cloud. He has declared it is a cloud and there was no convincing him otherwise. Only 2, and we already know we have our work cut out for us with this one!