Monday, June 30, 2008

Great Printable Invitation Site

My sons birthday party is also sneaking up on me. Because it's in July it requires a little advanced planning to get invitations out to the kids at school before the end of the year. After struggling to come up with a theme for his water slide party I settled on a beach theme. I have printed invitations up from some free online printables sites, but this year I happened upon the most awesome site for printing invitations. It's called Invitationland, and you simply MUST go there and check it out!!!! They have a free sampling of invitations to choose from, and you can save your file as a pfd once your done so you can print more a later date without having to worry about typing it all in again. I am so very pleased with this site I decided to use it again a few days later to make up invitations to a neighbourhood potluck. They have a uber cute little bird and bird house up in a tree that is so cute. The coolest thing, besides their image quality and design (two thumbs up for those), is the fact that the colours used are customizable by you immediately as you are creating the invite. If you decide to purchase the annual subscription to their service, you then get access to the full range of designs, and the ability to make thank you notes and gift tags as well. The price tag is quite reasonable I thought at only $10 for the year. As I mentioned, I have now used it twice as the free samples seemed to fit with my invitation needs. Very pleased with the product so far. For the invitations pictured above, I mounted the cut images (which were sized 4 to an 81/2X11 page) onto some red card stock to thicken them up a bit. For the neighbourhood potluck, I am leaving them on plain paper and printing them up 2 per sheet to leave in the neighbourhood mail boxes.
As a bonus, I believe they also had some printable shower games, which would be super duper handy if your wanting to plan a shower.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Another Teachers Gift....

End of the school year today! Wow that went fast. It seems that the end of the year always seems to just creep up on me, even when I think I'm so prepared. As is usual for me, everything got done just in time. This year, my sons grade one teacher is retiring and today was her very last day of work. She is getting set to move away, so we needed to think of something small and hopefully useful for her to take on her move. Since my favourite craft at the moment is covering those little tape measures, I went on and made one for her.......until 1:00am last night! I think she does like to be crafty now and again, and she will hopefully have the time for it now. I hope she likes it! Also in the package, from my son, I included a packet of Forget Me Not flowers. Although, for better or worse, I really don't think that is going to be a problem. I threw in an Ann Taintor luggage tag (she had not yet decided whether to use her powers for good or evil) and a little chocolate and some coloured tissue and we were done like dinner.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Felting is so Popular Now

Another felt covered tape measure finished and on it's way to it's new home. This is my new favourite fabric craft (I think). It's fairly quick, darned cute and very least I think so. Felt work is quite popular now, or so it seems to me, and there are many cute projects ideas out there. It's an ideal fabric to hand sew with, since it will not fray. This also makes it suitable for seaming with blanket stitch. Felt is easily available in acrylic, wool and wool blends. The wool and wool blends are more difficult to find but much nicer to work with and will wear better over time; while the acrylics are super easy to find, inexpensive and available in a wide variety of colours. There is also the option for you hard core crafters to make your own wool felt from wool roving.
You can also make your own felt material by washing 100% wool knits or wovens in hot soapy water. Once it has been washed and 'shrunk' enough it will be a felt fabric. For example there are many projects made by recycling old wool sweaters into felt fabric and them cutting the felt to make new projects. There is a free pattern available online for the teacup version of the Betz White cupcake pincushion which is adorable, and if you can follow the pattern, it is easily translatable into the super cute cupcake pattern or you can purchase the book mentioned on the Betz White site. There are numerous uber cute project ideas if you are looking for felted sweater project ideas on the Betz White Blog, that are well worth your time to check out. I highly recommend it! The few things I have made out of red felt such as the little duck, little red monster, red felt brooch and the red felt pincushion have been made out of a felted red wool blanket. Because it originated as a woven item, the felt produced is stiffer than if it had been made from a knitted wool sweater.

Another felt crafting option is knitting items with wool yarn and then felting them in the wash until the felt fabric is formed and the item is the appropriate size. You must keep in mind that when something is knit and felted that the item will become quite a bit smaller and thicker as a result of the felting process. There are many good books with great patterns on this subject. And many free patterns available online as well. Also of course the same kind of results can be had with crocheting with wool as well.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Musical Fruit

I remember my dad singing the 'Musical Fruit' jingle too many times growing up. You know how the 777th time you hear it, it's really not as funny as the first time?? (By the way Dad, when I was little I thought they were hilarious, so keep 'em coming) Well fortunately for him, with my son......he has a fresh new audience for all his corn ball lines. And it's an audience that will quite likely split a gut laughing over some of Grampas Gems. I will silently hope that he does not train Ike to answer the phone by saying "City Morgue........You Stab 'em, We Slab 'em". My dad still thinks this one's a side slapper......even after 40 years, and actually used it to the surprise of the sales girl at "The Bay" who called my home with a pick up message earlier this year. I guess the really Golden ones are always gold. After 3 weeks at Grama and Grampas, Ike's sure to come home with some interesting stories. He has an amazing time each year at my parents cabin. There are a lot of renovations taking place this year and Ike has expressed concern that Grampa should be following Ike's advice on how the camp should be laid out. Where I come from Camp=Cabin for those of you who don't know. It's a very nice place to spend time with lots of things to interest a 6 year old and a 60 year old for that matter. One of Ike's favourite activities to do there (of which there are many) is to feed the chipmunks. This photo is from a previous summer, and he is already talking about it for his upcoming trip. He'll be in for a real treat as Grampa tells me that there is a family of rabbits that come right into his workshop, they are getting so tame. This will probably mean lots on chicken wire around the garden this year too!

Well my point here is.....the July issue of Fine cooking had me thinking about making beans. After soaking over night and a long and slow cook in the oven, this is what we have. Lots of beans! Surprisingly, I was not happy with the recipe at all and had to make extreme modifications for it to be paletable for me. I found the sherry and perhaps the thyme left far too much of a sharp bitter taste I did not enjoy. But some molasses, ketchup and liquid smoke helped it out quite a bit.......and it gave me a chance to use my bean crock. They just look so appropriate for baked beans don't you think?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

More Cakes...This Time..... Chocolate

Third Wilton cake decorating class out of the way now. I chose to do cupcakes this time since I thought it would be quicker than making a whole cake. Not sure if it saved me any time, but cupcakes sure are cute. I made a different butter cream this time, since the taste of the Wilton "practice icing' was so unappealing and it was quite a bit softer. Too soft in fact to make one of the Wilton clowns that we worked on this week. They turned out very cute (even for creepy clowns), but with the bumpy drive home after class and all the shaking, they would have fallen over looking like drunk passed out clowns due to the soft icing. Plus, each one amounted to about 1/4 cup of icing, and no one needs to eat that much icing on a cupcake. Especially not my 6 year old!
I don't think it shows well in the photo, but the icing colour on the cupcake is a pale lavender and actually looked pretty nice. I made the fudgy chocolate cake recipe from the Cake Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum which is a fantastic, must have book for anyone wanting to make cakes. The recipe was very easy, and the cupcake was very chocolaty. I had no real concept of all the baking and prep time required to take this course when I signed up.......... still, it has been well worth the effort. More cake to the neighbours to eat. I dropped these off next door after my lesson and they all still seem to be alive. So good, or at least good enough.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fried Plantain

We have very cute little cafe in town which is fairly new..... a little over a year now, I think. It is called Cafe Africa and as you may have already guessed, it's menu is Africa inspired. When I go there, I order a bowl of African Borshch, and a side of fried plantain which they serve up with a side of sour cream. The Borshch is a regular item, and contains the usual vegetable components, minus the beets (which is kind of weird...but what ever), and has a little more spice in it. Next time I'll pay closer attention to the flavour, but it's on the very slightest sweet side of things and maybe a bit of cardamom, coriander, cumin type blend. In any case, it's darned good and filling with all the potato in it too. I also liked the fried plantain which I had never tried before. After reading up a bit on the internet about the different ways to prepare it, I found that the restaurant was preparing ripe (yellow with black spots) plantains as opposed to the green ones. The plantains can be prepared at any stage of ripeness, but as with a banana, the plantain become sweeter and more 'banana' flavoured as it ripens. They also apparently become easier and easier to peel as they ripen as well. The ones I tried in the restaurant were mildly sweet with a hint of banana flavour, so I allowed the green plantains I purchased at my neighbourhood grocery store to ripen to the yellow with black spots stage, before preparing them. This took about 3-4 days. Once ripe enough, I peeled and cut them into 1/4 inch slices and fried them in oil until golden, about 3 minutes, turning 1/2 through the cooking time. Here is the recipe I tried. I enjoyed them with the sour cream, and thought they would have been good too with an Ancho Chipotle Ranch dressing like some restaurants are serving yam fries with now. I'll try that next time. I discovered in my internet search, that when the plantain are green, you can also fry them, but as they are firmer and less ripe at that time they would be less sweet. At this green stage, the deep fried plantain is called a 'tostone', and it requires an initial quick fry, to make them a bit golden, followed by removal from the oil, a quick squishing to make them thinner (you start out with a thicker cut with these ones too), and another minute or two back in the hot oil to complete the cooking. All of this of course, followed by draining on paper towels to absorb the excess grease. There are hundreds of tostone recipes available on the internet, so I won't reinvent the the wheel for you here. It sounds like the tostones are a little more savoury, less sweet, and a bit more crisp than the fried sweet plantain I've tried.
While I realize I am blathering on last comment on the banana family. Have you ever tried Jufran Banana Ketchup? I was introduced to it 20 years ago by a Philippino girl friend. Her family used it instead of tomato ketchup. It comes in a regular and a spicy variety. My preference is the spicy, but today I bought regular thinking it the better choice for my 6 year old. They sell it here in town in Superstore in imported foods section along with other Philippino products and I think in the Chinese food store too. It's a good should try it!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sweet Somethings

Just for my own curiosity, I've started to take the Wilton cake decorating classes offered by Michaels. We finally got a Michaels and now was my big chance to take the classes I always wanted to take. It has been very basic so far, but I have learned some new things, and mostly it's just nice to have someone there to watch what you're doing and answer any question you might think of. I tried a new border that I'd never done, and we very quickly went over the Wilton rose, but I didn't quite have the icing texture quite right, but I'm getting there. It's just too bad their icing is so awfully sweet. For me the single biggest problem has been getting the proper icing consistency and it's been good to have someone show you rather than just tell you what is right and what isn't. Now my problem is what to do with all these cakes!! My neighbours will be subjected to a lot of sampling over the next two weeks I think.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Amazingly Tender Velveted Chicken

I had wondered for many many years how Chinese restaurants got their meat to be so tender. Anyone who tells you that briefly stir frying your meat will give you that restaurant tender result is totally out to lunch. On close inspection of many chicken stir fries it dawned on me that the meat appeared to be poached rather than fried as the chicken itself had no fry marks on it, and it's free flowing shape really seemed to point towards poaching. A few years back now, I chanced upon a recipe book that mentioned the technique of velveting, and this technique really seemed to fit in perfectly with the characteristics I had observed in many a Chinese chicken dish. This 'velveting' is a technique used to partially precook chicken, shrimp and beef. What happens is the meat is briefly marinated in egg whites and cornstarch, then the meat is cooked briefly in low temperature oil. I believe the temperature was 275 F. The meat was again only briefly cooked so that it would be still pink on the inside, and have no browning visible on the outside. I was not super enthused about essentially deep frying my stir fry meat prior to cooking. But as I read on I saw that the same technique could be used using water instead of the oil when the meat involved was chicken or shrimp. I was much happier with this option both because I didn't like the hassle of deep frying nor the copious amount of oil it might add to my stir fry dish. Sadly, I think the only way to copy the melt in your mouth tenderness of Chinese restaurant beef dishes is to try the oil velveting method, and I have yet to try this. There are quite a few online sources for the velveting technique for oil velveting and some for the water method. Here is the one I use for all my chicken stir fry recipes. Once the chicken is velveted, it is ready to use in your favourite stir fry recipe and needs only to be added in the last few minutes of cooking to finish off the cooking process and to thoroughly heat it. I usually throw it in just before I thicken the sauce with tapioca or corn starch. As a caution, make certain to only lightly beat the egg white because if you beat it to the point of foaming it may not stay adhered to the chicken, but may break off during the velveting process. When I velvet my chicken I usually just add in the meat to the boiling water and count to 30, then remove it with my mesh scoop and set it aside in a strainer till my stir fry is ready for it. I have read that using this water method with chicken, that the meat can be refrigerated until ready to use, which is not the case when using the oil method. Anyway, the recipe is posted and feel free to Google to your hearts content on the subject as there is lots of information on it out there.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Father's Day Origami Shirt

Look what my friend Jeannie made:) I'm going to get off the computer right now and try it out. What a great idea to incorporate into a Father's day gift. You can go to her blog to see more cool card making creations, and she has a link to the instructions for making these adorable shirts, and other projects too. She's just getting into card making and has made some really cute things. I snagged the photo above straight off her blog.....I hope that's ok......but it's easier to get forgiveness than permission right. Also Jeannie is an absolutely awesome photographer. Take the link to her blog above, and at the top left of the main page click on View My Complete Profile, and then click on contact my web page. You'll see how absolutely beautiful her photo's are. I'm not exagerating here at all. I've actually sat down with a cup of tea to look at them. They are skillfully composed in my opinion. She sends me a calendar each year made of photographs she's taken and I am always amazed at how beautiful her pictures are.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Best Coleslaw I Ever Made

A fairly lofty claim for the goodness of such a recipe....... But considering it is the only one I've ever made,......not so much. It is however a really good coleslaw recipe and I have made it three times now in the past month. It's easy peasy, and very yummy. It is supposed to be just like the KFC recipe, but I think it's even better, because I went out and bought a cup of the KFC to do a taste test...... so I know it is. The difference being, that the KFC recipe contains no carrot, and does contain some creamy horseradish. A word of caution.......add only the onion amount called for and not more or it will quickly be too strong on onion flavour. I used my handy dandy Borner Slicer with the julienne attatchment and it made very quick work of the cabbage and carrot. The onion, I minced very well with a Tupperware onioin chopper. Any way, here it is. It was delicious with pulled pork on a bun and also with back ribs.......

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Vintage Goodness

I must admit, I think that I have a button problem. A year ago, I hosted a tea party for a bridal shower for a friend of mine, and one of the games we played was guess the number of buttons in my button jar. The total I recall was around 1300 at the time and I'm certain my collection has easily tripled since then. These are some of my more recent snags. One of the thrift stores here in town removes all the buttons from the damaged clothes they receive and have volunteers sew them on to cardboard to sell as matched sets. They then cut up the damaged clothes and sell them as rags to local garages. I thought this was such a nice recycling idea and it makes for some really cool button opportunities. Sadly, this store is uping their pricing as it seems more and more thrift stores seem to be in the business of making money rather than offering affordable options for those needing those options. Certainly, for myself, I cannot complain as I am not in need for anything......... but to my mind, these stores should be there to cater to those who do. It seems to be a trend started by the big box thrift stores in town who operate at a huge profit giving very little money to the charities they support for the free donations left with them. I have issue with that and refuse to give my donations to big box thrift shops and will go out of my way to donate to the ones still operating in what I feel is a more ethical manner.
I did manage to find some cool patterns recently, and these are a few of them. I snagged about ten Mackintosh petite point kits and patterns...some one must have been house cleaning and wanted them out. Nothing quite like a super deal to make my day! The smocked pillow pattern caught my eye as I remember my grama having the round pillow as well as at a few other households come to think of it. Underneath it all is a cool set of 4 vintage 100% Irish Linen new with tags, place mats just waiting to find the right home. The colour does not work for my house, so I'm just waiting to find the right recipient.....maybe in a swap some day.
Another addiction is vintage china. I'm afraid my cupboard are straining under the weight of it all and quite honestly I'm running out of room. But I found this cute little set of 12 Royal Doulton serving plates which at 99cent each, I could not pass up. You just never know when 11 of your closest friends might stop in for tea and cake?? The etiquette book was also such a hoot I couldn't pass it up. Who knew Canadians were so up tight they needed a "complete dictionary of etiquette"?? I've certainly got my monies worth on that one in laughter alone.
Lastly is my big china splurge. I've wanted one of these Royal Winton tea sets for a while now. And after much ebay perseverance she's all mine. I have yet to try it out

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Apron Angst :(

As is typical for me, I left my apron swap to the bitter end. Send date June 10th = Completion and Mailing date. I knew it would go down this way....... I'm just happy to have it out on time. Whenever I have a project, whether it be a craft of something for work, that I feel will be difficult, I put it off. And put it off.......And put it off. I have had a crazy busy past month, in my defense and had set aside time on the weekend to work on and hopefully complete the apron project for my Swapbot swap. I did accomplish what I needed to Sunday night and did manage to finish off the remaining bit the next night. Just making the mailing deadline on time...... Whew!

I tossed around apron patterns in my head for quite some time before settling on the pattern I eventually chose. I went with a McCalls Pattern 3979 for an "American Diner" style apron. My partner claims to like pink, vintage style apron, and is a size 14-16 in people sizes, not funky pattern sizes. The "American Diner" apron looked to be fairly one size fits allish in it's design so I figured it was a pretty safe bet as far as fit goes. The pattern is a vintage reproduction of an old McCalls pattern and I was fortunate enough to hit the $1.99 McCalls Pattern sale at the local Fabricland. Also lucky enough to find the fabric which I just LOVE both for its pattern and just the feel of it. It is 100% cotton, but must be a highly polished one as it is very smooth to the touch compared with most quilting cotton. Better yet, it just happened to be on for 75% off at the same sale. You know, or maybe you don't...... I LOVE a sale! I was so taken by the way the whole project went, I may just make another one. I sure hope my partner likes it, because I really do.

The thing I liked the most about the pattern was its use of 1/4 inch double fold binding. I have only used binding to finish the outside edge of an item. I was very intrigued at its use in this pattern. The seams in all cases were sewn wrong sides together, and then the binding was used to bind and disguise the cut edges. It was a very functional and decorative use of the binding and certainly has a very vintage look about it. It also has the additional fabulousness of leaving you with a finished back side since those seams were all sewn wrong sides together. I am contemplating making another apron from the same pattern which also uses copious amounts of this bias binding. Although before such an exercise, I will bring my machine in for a tune up as this project was bit of a head ache since my feed dogs are not running properly........ or so it seems. Could be that I just needed to change my needle. What would grama say?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Etsy......More Computer Shopping

As I have finally done some crocheting, and accumulated yarns, thread, and hooks....mostly from thrift shops.........I got tired of watching the hooks rolling around in my drawer and decided they needed a home. One of the very talented swappers from swapbot has an Etsy shop where she sells very nicely made crochet hook cases. You can go here to see her shop. Etsy is a place like eBay where you can buy specifically handcrafted items or in some cases the supplies to make things. It is a great source for fabrics that are a bit different from what I typically have access to in the small community I live in. So far, I have bought only fabrics from various Etsy shops and this great "tuck and roll" hook organizer from Coyote Craft. My Etsy purchasing experience has been very positive so far, but you must as a Canadian buyer be mindful of the shipping prices before diving in. Some sellers do their shipping through paypal which makes the shipping charge astronomically unaffordable.
I don't honestly know if the amount of crochet work I put out warrants the purchase of a hook organizer, but they were so darned cute.....I couldn't stop myself. The hardest thing was trying to decide which one to buy! Have a look and see if you can pick just one. She periodically has other random cuteness for sale too. Also stop by her blog which is filled with recipes and random crafty goodness. Now is the time to do it since she's running a little draw for some very cute handmade goodness until June 16th. Go on, click the blog link above........check it out! On a related topic.....if you like online shopping (like I do) and have an interest in sporting wear or goods have a look at steepandcheap. I warn you's addictive.