Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Cookies

"Christmas cookies are like the zucchini of December," said a good friend who helped me make all these cookies.  I sent her home with a couple boxes, and kept most of them (because I had more things to do with them, hence the quote).  In truth, I didn't have too much trouble getting rid of my share.  I gave a bag to each friend I saw one night, as well as to a party.  Hubby took a bunch to his friend's party and they were gone.  In fact, we didn't have enough.  Next year, I might have to make more.

My friend and I made five different kinds of cookies: gingerbread, sugar, jam sandwich, peanut, chocolate, and Mexican Wedding Cakes.  They were all great.  I think the sandwich cookies won my vote for the best.  They had jam in the middle and looked amazing when finished.  Somehow I didn't get a photo before they were all gone.

The gingerbread dough was brought by my friend.  She made this recipe from her family coffers, it is actually for a ginger bread house, but we made cookies and made sure they were kept in air tight containers so they didn't get too hard.  We had so much fun decorating these guys.

We also made the traditional peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses.

These cookies are SO MUCH fun to make.  I loved pressing in the kisses right at the end.  Next time I will have to be careful not to mix the dough too much (I got a little mix happy with the stand mixer.  Can I just tell you how much I love my stand mixer?  It is amazing, and it made making all these cookies so much easier.).

These Wedding Cookies melt in your mouth.  They are so good.  I tired to make them more round, but that did not work.  To speed up the sugar coating step I put them in a big zip-lock bag and shook.

We took a break for some egg nog and rum.  This is a very important step.

This is the only picture I have of the sandwich cookies.  I sprinkled the top ones (with the holes) with powdered sugar and put a bit of jam in the middle.  The jam shows through the window.  They look great.  They were also so yummy.

Organizing a Cookie Party

Lots of people host cookies swaps, but I like to host a cookie baking party.  There is something fun about actually making the cookies together and decorating them with a friend.  Just be prepared to spend a long time cooking.  We took six hours.  

I had my friend bake a couple double batches of her favorite cookie dough.  I did the same.  A third friend was supposed to come but could not make it at the last moment (this is the story of my life this year).

I provided the icing and sprinkles.  My friend brought some decorating supplies too.

I did have a plan to make chicken soup and have it ready for when we needed to eat something besides cookie dough, but this fell through after the first cookie party date was canceled because hubby was sick.  So instead we had re-fried Chinese food (it was still yummy).  Point is (I'm getting there), having snacks are a good idea.

Drinks are also good.  We had egg nog, water, and apple cider...and tea, I always have tea.  

Finally, have boxes and bags ready for the end of the party.  You want your guests to have a way to take all their hard work home.  Next year I plan to head to the dollar store and buy a bunch of tins.  I did bags this year and they just don't keep the cookies fresh.  

So, instead of swapping cookies and making them home alone, bake some with a good friend and have some fun.  

I gave a bunch of cookies to some friends who are bachelors and don't get a lot of home baked goods.  They were so happy to have a nice little gesture from me.  It felt really good to share some Christmas cheer.     

So have cookie party and spread the year.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Love Olioboard

First it was blogs, then Pinterest, now Olioboards.  I love making design boards for various rooms I want or dream of.  I could spend all day making them, and some people have.  I'm just beginning to stretch my design  imagination.  There are so many possibilities.

Olioboards are great because you can upload any picture you want and use it on the board.  I know many people make design boards on PhotoShop, but that program is so confusing for me.  I'm really quite overwhelmed by PhotoShop.  The Olioboard software is super easy to use and understand.

Now, I have an ulterior motive for introducing you to this great little website.  I want you to vote for my designs (hehe).  Go HERE.  Just be warned that they make you create a user profile.  I know I'm not going to win, but if you like either of my designs which I submitted to the current contest, please head over and vote.  Or not.  That is ok too.

While you are there, you could also follow me.  But, to be honest, I am more interested in creating boards than having followers.  These are all my boards so you won't see anything new right now, but it is a fun site if you are a creatively inclined.

Have you heard of Olioboard?  Do you use it?  Would you use it?

I really want to take a design course at the local Community College, but I'm afraid they will make me use paper and glue.  I hate the idea of making design boards in real life, I only like to make virtual design boards.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Designed Guest Room

I'm not a very consistent person.  I like to live in lots of different places.  I like to eat lots of different food, and, I like to decorate with lots of different colors and styles.  So just as I get my house settled into one style or color scheme I usually change my mind and want something totally new.  It drives my husband crazy, but I think it is also why he loves me.

As an historian, this reminds me of the Victorian era, when it was the style to redecorate all the time.  It was a symbol of affluence to have the most updated interior design.  I'm not sure much has changed, actually.

My newest obsession is with grey, teal and white.  My husband teases me that any time I want to change something I usually just paint it white.  He is right.  Right now, I want everything to be white, clean and modern.

So when my in-laws got a new house and told me I could decorate the guest room any way I wanted, I felt like I had just won the in-law lottery.  What fun.  I get to design a room just as I want, and I don't have to pay for it.  I'm so lucky to have such great family.

I knew I wanted something light, airy, clean, and calm for the bedroom we were going to sleep in when we visited.  We got the white furniture at Ikea and the bedding at Bed Bath & Beyond.

With all that set, I decided to make a design board for the rest of the room.  That is what you see above.

The bedding has a bit of off white to it.  I have since seen some bedding I prefer (see, changing already) but that is just unreasonable to change the bedding after we have used it a total of twice.  I'm not that crazy, I swear.

This dresser is huge, and now I want one for my own house.

I decided I wanted to add a pop of color.  The color of my new dress was just what was needed.

The walls are a blue/grey color.  I love them.  I'm not a big "white wall" person.  I think white walls are boring and uninspired.  That's just me.

I figure I will do the artwork myself.  I really like the idea of four canvases with a damask design on them.  I also plan to make the headboard.  I made one for my own guest room (here, and here) so why not for the in-laws?  I'm really looking froward to making a headboard with some nail hardware edging.  It should be fun.  There are a lot of great printables I'm also thinking of framing to add color and interest.

So, I have my work cut out for me.  Not sure when 'm going to get this all done, but it will be a fun side project.

Do you change your style preferences or are you committed to a color/style and stick with it?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

DIY Wine Tote: AKA Booze Bag

A dear friend of mine had a great bag.  She was shopping for wine in Canada and when she got to the register she discovered that the store did not provide bags, you were expected to bring your own.  Lucky for her, and her husband, they also sold reusable bags for $2.  So they bought a four wine bottle reusable bag and went back to their hotel room with four bottles of wine and a great little bag.

When I saw her Booze Bag, I thought: Now that is a good idea, I want one.

So we got together, got out our sewing machines and got to work.  Now, I'm not a great seamstress.  My mom taught me how to sew a straight line, gather, and top stitch.  Everything else I have learned on my own.  But my friend, she is great, she can sew just about anything she sets her mind to.  So, she helped me make my own Booze Bag.

Six hours later, and two glasses of light egg-nog, and we were done.  We figured it was probably cheaper and easier to drive to Canada (five hours from here) and buy a Booze Bag next time.  But, we did have fun.  Now we have two matching Booze Bags in these fun colors and I know how to do it again if I ever want to.

I didn't bring my camera, and we didn't even think to record our steps until half way through, but this may help you if you are further away from Canada, or just crazy enough to try.  

How to make a Wine Tote (or Booze Bag)


Fabric, not much more than a yard or two, you can also use two differnt kinds of fabric like we did (I used a large defective Ikea pillowcase and got two bags with a separate piece of fabric for the interior and handles)  you can use your scraps for this, which is great, because you don't need a lot of large pieces.

General Sewing Supplies (you know ... thread, needles, pins, scissors)

Patience (bring lots of that)


1.  Cut two side pieces (like image above) 14" x 9 1/2" (this includes a 2" seam allowance at top and 1/2" at bottom).  The side pieces are curved on the bottom.  Then cut one long rectangle to attach them, 7" x 32" (includes a 1/2" seam allowance on sides and a 1" seam allowance on the short ends).  It has to be the full length around three sides of the smaller, rounded side pieces.  You will end up with a bag with two pieces on the side and a long band in between.

See how the side pieces are flat and they are attached by one long piece?  The rectangle piece goes from the top down, along the bottom, and back up.  I'm not sure how else to explain it.  Hope that makes sense.

2. Sew the top of all three pieces over twice.  That means for the long rectangular piece you will sew both short ends.  Top stitch along the folded edge and the other side of the folded fabric to add strength.

3. Make the handles by cutting a two inch wide by 16" length strip of fabric.  Sew together with front of fabric facing inward along the length of the fabric and turn right side out.  Then top stitch both edges just like above.

4. Pin handles to the inside of each side of the two curved pieces.

5. Stitch handles with "X" pattern.

6. To make the dividers in the bag, cut two rectangles of fabric about the size of your smaller (rounded) pieces 11" x 10".  Finish the top and bottom of these pieces.  We added a decorative stitch at the top for fun.  Then pin the two pieces together and stitch right down the middle.  The dividers do not attach to the bag at the bottom, so they can be shorter than the bag itself.

Now comes the hard part.

7. Pin the long rectangle piece to the two smaller side pieces with one edge of the divider fabric in between on both sides.  Make sure you have the correct flap of the divider fabric attached to each side of the curved outer bag fabric.  In the end you want an nice "X" dividing the bag into fours with the complete divider fabric parallel to the wider side of the bag. You will be sewing three pieces of fabric together at this point.  Be sure to gather some of the long rectangular fabric as you go around the curved edges.  You will be pinning the long rectangle along three sides of the smaller piece, and the divider fabric alone the two edges.

We pinned one side, then sewed it.  Pin and sew the front of the fabric facing outward.   You will later cover the seam with fabric so it is ok that you will have the seam on the outside of the bag.  Then we pinned the next side and sewed that side too.  At this point the shape of the bag will be complete.

8. Cut a strip of fabric 34" long and 1 1/2" wide to cover the exposed edges on the outside of the bag.   Fold both long edges inward to create about a 1/4" or 1/2" "cover" to go around the exposed edge.  Iron these folds in place, it will help.  If you do not have a long enough scrap of fabric you can cut multiple strips and sew together by cutting the strip at a 45 degree angle and sewing together.

9. Sew your edging over the exposed seam with a top stitch.  We cut off any extra fabric outside the seam of the bag to make as much room as possible for the "cover."  We only had a 1/4" edging so it was very tight.  Needless to say, my friend did the sewing on this part.  Sew this top stitch as close to the inner edge of the seam cover as you can.  We literally had about 1/16" space between the stitch and the edge of the seam cover.  In the name of ease we left the top of the "cover" edging raw.  You could also fold it inward and stitch it closed. (I know there is a name for the cover of the bag edge that I am describing over and over again, but I just can't think of it or find in on google.  That is the problem with google, if you don't know the name it is very hard to find it.)

10.  Cut any stray strings of thread and admire your handiwork.  We had to go back and sew any spots where the stitching strayed from the covering edge.

I really want to make more of these.  I might alter the height and make one for the glass milk bottles I buy (from a local milk company) and need to return weekly.  The pockets are big enough that you can fit more than just wine.  Need four half gallons of milk or juice?  It will fit.

What do you think?  Is the United States ready for liquor stores to stop giving out bags?  Do you use reusable bags or is it too much trouble?  (We often forget them at home, hehe)

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Quick Sketch

Most of you don't know this about me, but I went to art school for a short time when I was young.  In high school, I spent every free moment in the art room painting and sketching.  Then, when it was time to apply to colleges I applied to an art school, and got in.  So I went down to NYC, completed a summer prerequisite course, and went to art school for a whole six weeks.

I was enrolled at Parson's School of Design but I made a lot of mistakes.  I heard later that Parson's freshman courses are designed to weed out week artists   They call it "Boot Camp" for designers.  Guess I was just not cut out for that life.  Sometimes I wish I had stuck with it.

I'm not  great sketcher, but I want to do it more.  This is my most recent sketch.  In fact, my only sketch in a long time.

For some unknown reason I like to sketch rolls of toilet paper.  I have a bunch of them.  I like the shape they have.

So, that is my story, and my sketch.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Simple Tiramisu

There is something amazing about Tiramisu.  The soft cookies, the creamy layers and the light bite of alcohol.  Oh it just makes my mouth water.  My husband especially loves it, so I made some tiramisu for him.

My recipe is super easy, and has very little waste.  It also does not have any raw egg.  I once poisoned myself with raw egg and have grown quite careful since that sleepless night. 


1 cup of coffee (cool)
2 shot of espresso (cool)
1 oz Frangelico mini
1 oz Baileys Irish Cream
8 oz mascarpone cheese at room tempterature whipped
8 oz heavy cream whipped with a little sugar and vanilla
1 pack lady fingers
unsweetened coco powder

To make the tiramisu you whip up the heavy cream with a little sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla until it forms stiff peeks.  In a separate bowl whip up the room temperature mascarpone.  Then you fold in the whipped mascarpone cheese into the whipped cream. 

Mix the coffee, espresso, and mini alcohols in a tall glass.

Dip each lady finger in the coffee mixture for two seconds then lay down on a 9 x 9 pan.  Once the pan is full add half the whipped mixture in a layer.  Spread half the whipped cream and mascarpone with a rubber spatula.
Add a second layer of dipped lady fingers.  If you need more coffee (it depends on how long you dip the lady fingers) you can always make more coffee and espresso and just add a splash of alcohol (I like to use rum or almeretto in a pinch).
Cover your second layer of lady fingers with the rest of the cream mixture.  Top with a dusting of coco (I used unsweetened).  The tiramisu improves with age, so store it in the refrigerator with cut straws or toothpicks holding the saran wrap above the coco layer.  I like to let it sit for a couple of hours.  This is a great make ahead recipe as it tastes great on the second day.

This tiramisu is absolutely delicious.  It cuts well and it is safe from a salmonella poisoning. 

What deserts do you like to eat and make? 

Monday, November 26, 2012

DIY Roman Shade Fail

OMG I have had so much trouble with this roman shade.  All I wanted was a beautiful Roman Shade for my kitchen.  I had dreams of making this first one and then making more for other rooms in the house.

But NO, this was not to be.  My attempt to make a roman shade failed miserably. 

First of all, I don't know if you are aware of this, some of you might be, but there really are no good roman shade tutorial out there on the net (if you know of one please link it to my comments section).

I thought I had a good one.  The tutorial looks simple and did not require a whole bunch of supplies.  So try I did. 

Roman Shade Attempt One

I tried to make the roman shade using only little round brads.  This was my first mistake.  it took me hours to hand stich the little brads on, and then when i put up may shade this is what happened.  It got all bunched up.

The theory was good, but in practice, the shade did not have enough thickness and weight to hold it's shape.

After months of looking at my miserable shade (I don't open or close it much), I decided to try to fix my poor shade.

I figured that what my shade needed was something to hold the creases and folds in place.  So I bought some dowels and glued them to the shade right next to my little brads.

The problem was that my dowels were too small for the width of my shade.  I also had faulty glue and made a big mess.

This is what I got.  A bit of an improvement, but not perfect.

What I'm going to have to do is make a whole new shade.  It needs to be a little shorter in width, and i will use proper wood pieces on each layer.  I'm thinking of lining the shade and creating little pockets for the wood or dowels (the dowels might work just need a shorter curtain.

I'm  not sure if you can tell but I stenciled the fabric and attached the ribbon.  I really had a lot invested in this shade.  It is a sad day when I will finally get rid of this project and do it again.  I think I might just buy some red fabric.  I do like the ribbon though, it just needs to be a little closer together.

I can live with my shade like this for now.  Maybe i will keep an eye on the sales and get some red fabric when I see it is on sale.

Any of you had any luck with roman shades?  Please, any advice is greatly appreciated.

Monday, November 19, 2012

DIY iPhone 5 Charging carrier

I got my iPhone a couple of weeks ago.  I love it, and I tend to answer my phone a little more now.  I also use it for keeping grocery lists, my calender and all that.  I probably could use it a lot more.  But I was charging it on my kitchen counter, and I have to admit, it got a little messy.  So I made this little carrier for my phone. 

One thing I love about Apple products is how simple they are.  The designers keep the look light and clean.  I wanted my iPhone carrier to reflect that same look.  It was so convincing that when my husband came home he asked where I bought my it. 

Here is what I did.

I took an empty body wash bottle.  (Can I just take a moment to say I love this body wash?  It is super moisturizing and smells great.  I have to get more.) 

After washing it, I noticed that the writing on the container was just a sticker.  So with a little pulling and a lot of patience I got the sticker off. 
I then took a wax pencil (left over from my art school days) and made a line where I wanted to cut. 

With a sharp box cutter I cut the bottle to create an opening for the phone and a hole in the back for it to fit over the plug. 
The back swoops upward and has a small square where the iPhone plug holds up the whole carrier.  You can also see the remnants of the wax pencil. 

I then rubbed off the wax pencil marks, washed the bottle again, because my dirty hands has smudged it, and applied my little Apple sticker that came with the iPhone. 

And see, all done!
The fit is a little snug with the iPhone and chords, but it works well for now.  I hope to get a real charging station to go on my sideboard for Christmas.  I have one all picked out. 

Here you can see my iPhone carrier hanging off the kitchen counter plug.  I love this plug.  It is the most useful plug in the house.  I'm not always happy with the work my contractor did on my house, but this plug was a winner. 

Now, I'm sure you, my wonderful readers, know a lot of great stuff about the iPhone or any smart phone for that matter.  do you have any tips for apps I can download or programs that are good to use?  I need help.  I want to use my phone but not sure what it can do. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Weight Loss Update

I went in to Weight Watchers last week and got really good news.  I have lost 10.2 lbs so far.  So in about ten weeks I have lost ten pounds.

                                                      Before                 After

I go to the Weight Watchers meetings every week and I know people look at me and wonder why I'm there at all.  But we each have our own journey and I really did have weight to lose.  I know those two pictures are very different side by side, but if you look closely you can see the difference in my weight.  The one difference that jumps out for me is my muffin top.  The second picture has a much decreased bulge at the waist line of my pants. 

I have five more pounds to go to my goal, but I might stretch it to another ten.  If I lose ten pounds I will be the weight I was when I got married.  That would be perfect.  Even more important than losing weight is keeping it off.  I have to watch that I don't just gain it all back.  I'm tired of the yo-yo thing.  I want to lose it and keep it off.

A lot of us struggle with our weight.  Lets share some tips for how to lose weight and keep it off!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Huricane Sandy

I live in NY and I really feel that I have to write about Hurricane Sandy.  My home is in the Hudson Valley (pretty far up north) so we were not affected more than the inconvienance of having no electricty for three days.  But many people in my state and nearby were affected greatly.  My heart goes out to these families and I pray that they will be able to build their lives back again soon.

Last year around this time the upstate area was hit pretty hard.  With Hurricane Irene we had no power for eight days and my town was flooded with many families loosing their homes.  I understand what it is like to go through such hardship.

I don't mean to compare my problems to those who lost their homes, cars, or even loved ones.  I just thought I would tell my story.
We take our electricity for granted in this country.  My time living in India has shown me that not everybody knows what it is like to have power twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  In Goa, we used to have brown outs and loss of electricty all the time.  We would sigh, unplug the t.v (I didn't have a computer yet) and pick up and candle and a book.

But here, in the US, my husband and I rely on the electric, and the internet, for everything.  We have internet phone, and only watch streaming t.v.  So when our power went out we had no phone, no t.v. and no internet.  We didn't even have a battery operated radio.  My husband had to drive ten minutes away just to find out if we had to go to work on Tuesday and Wednesday. We have no cell phone reception.

We also had no water because our well pump runs on ... you guessed it...electricity. Oh, and our heat is started with electric too, so no heat either. 

Everything in our refrigerator went bad. 

The good thing about my house in a storm, is that it is a stucco house with cinderblock walls.  The only way we could even tell that the wind was strong was by looking at the trees out our window.  The house did not creek, move, or make any sounds at all.  In fact, last year for Irene, I literally slept though the whole storm, and this year, Jeff slept through Sandy. 

For three days my husband and I hung around the house reading books and magazines.  I got really tired of my magazines.  At first, I was all excited.  I got my big stack of unread magazines and climbed into my warm bed.  But after about three hours of that I got bored.  There are only so many food recipes you can read before you get hungry and want more than warm yogurt or cold soup.

My husband was sick.  The poor guy had a fever and chills.  I tried to get him some cold medicine but it was too late when I went to the pharmacy (they sell the cold medicine only behind the pharmacy counter and the pharmacy was closed).  He also does not believe in anything herbal, so my family home remedies were strictly rejected.  I bundled him up and left him alone.   Once in a while I would make him a  cup of tea to try to get some liquids in him. 

This is what our living room looked like: 
We had plenty of candles and the big down comforter to keep us warm.  It looks like that lamp is on, but it isn't.  The candle under it is lighting up the shade. 
Our stove is gas, so we had that.  I boiled water and made tea at least a couple of times.  We stopped using real plates and cups and switched to paper and foam.  What a treat it is to have a nice hot cup tea when it is cold and dark in your home. 

Wednesday morning was the worst.   We had work (we both work in the same district) and had to get up at 4:45 AM in the dark.   We still had no electricity.  Lucky for me, I had gone to the gym the day before and taken a shower, but my husband was not so lucky.  He boiled a pot of water and took a sponge bath. 

When we got home from work the electricity was back.  We were soooo happy.  It took a little longer to get the internet back but it was nice to have heat, water, you know, all the stuff us privileged Americans are used to. 

What was your experience of hurricane Sandy?  (Or any other hurricane for that matter.)  I do plan to do a little more prep for the next one.  I need a battery operated radio, another flashlight (we only had one), more water jugs, more canned soup and other non-perishables, and maybe a couple of lamps (and a lot less yogurt).  What do you buy when inclement weather is predicted? 

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