Saturday, December 8, 2012

Holiday Crafting: Advent Calendar

Some of our holiday decorations (and only a little of my crafting mess)

I knew my Christmas decorations wouldn't have been complete without a Christmas countdown or Advent calendar of some kind. 

While I am definitely the crafting half of my household, I wanted A to have a stake in our first holiday decorations together as well. Luckily, he has a serious penchant for covering the chalkboard surfaces in our kitchen with sweet and silly drawings. We (I) decided that he would come up with a picture idea for each day in December leading up to the big day and draw them in little cards for me to open. He loved (complied with) the idea and I made the cards from some red construction paper and plain newsprint (if you're shopping online at all for the holidays, you'll probably wind up with as much plain newsprint as your heart could desire as packing material in boxes). I used tape instead of glue to stick the number squares and inner drawing squares to the cards since the newsprint was so thin (I think it still looks pretty good unless you get too close). A drew his ideas in the cards and we stuck them on the edge of the kitchen-living room wall. 

The drawings I've opened so far have been adorable and funny, just what I wanted. I love to surprise him with new decorations and crafts, so it's sweet to have some surprises of my own!

Advent calendars usually stop at 24, but I decided that for us, Christmas Day itself needed a card. We both have to work on Boxing Day this year, and coming home from our family celebration on Christmas night is always such a huge letdown. This year I'll have one last surprise to look forward to! 

Advent calendars are a great way for the less crafty partner to be involved in creating the holiday decorations. You could fill the cards with pictures like ours, love notes, messages of faith, or anything your heart desires!

Some of the links in this post have been provided by Amazon under the Amazon Affiliate program. Cantabridgette is not compensated solely for posting the links.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holiday Crafting: Christmas Card Holder

I love the look of burlap for holiday decorating! I had the idea a while back to use a ribbon and clothespins for a Christmas card holder, so when it came time to order crafting supplies, I knew I needed some burlap ribbon. 

This wire edged burlap ribbon was perfect--the color and texture I was looking for with a finished edge. Some natural and red mini clothespins were the only other necessary supplies. 

I cut the ribbon to the right length to wrap around the door of a cabinet in our living room, "finished" the ends with packing tape so they wouldn't unravel, and taped it tightly in place (if nobody can see them, who cares how nice the structural parts are?). Spacing the clothespins along the edge completed our card holder. 

This was definitely my quickest holiday craft!

Some of the links in this post have been provided by Amazon under the Amazon Affiliate program. Cantabridgette is not compensated solely for posting the links.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Holiday Crafting: Cinnamon-stick Candles

While searching Pinterest for holiday decorating ideas I came across an adorable candle craft that I had to make. I don't burn candles often but I knew these would look great with my holiday greenery. 

I assembled my supplies: 

  1. Five natural beeswax candles from an adorable shop on Etsy (the other two are in my red Ikea lanterns); 
  2. A whole lot of cinnamon sticks (if you buy a big bag, you can make mulled cider all winter); 
  3. My trusty thin jute string; and 
  4. Some maple log candle holders (I liked the rustic look). 

The assembly was really simple once I realized that I needed an adhesive to hold the cinnamon sticks to the candle while I was putting them together. If I were a craftier person and owned a glue gun, I would have run a thread of hot glue around the candle near the bottom. I am not that person (yet?), so I used double-sided tape around the bottom of the candle. If I do burn the candles, I'll make sure to stop above the tape line. 

When the sticks were in place, I first tied them up with a thicker jute twine, but decided I liked the jute string look better. 

They fit perfectly on the half wall between the living room and kitchen!

Some of the links in this post have been provided by Amazon under the Amazon Affiliate program. Cantabridgette is not compensated solely for posting the links.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Holiday Crafting: Paper Snowflakes

On the first weekend of November, the temperature dipped and I started to think about the holidays. After one evening of furious holiday pinning I was inspired to craft lots of decorations for our little home. We have a big opening between our kitchen and living room and a high ceiling, so my first decorating task was to fill some of that space. 

 I saw a couple of snowflake templates on Pinterest and was inspired to create some falling snowflakes in my doorway!

First I ordered my ingredients:
  1. 500 pack of thin white origami paper (the thinner the better to help make intricate cuts and avoid carpal tunnel--I've made over 100 snowflakes so far);
  2. A roll of thin jute (burlap) string (you could try fishing line or unwaxed dental floss, but the jute holds glue really well and it matches my overall Christmas decor strategy);
  3. A bottle of clear gel glue; and
  4. Little 3M hooks that match my walls.
I held off on decorating until the weekend before November. I like to observe the "no Christmas til after Thanksgiving" rule, but I figured a few snowflakes wouldn't violate the spirit of the rule.

I haven't made snowflakes in years, so I brushed up on the six point fold and got to snipping!

The only rule is to leave as little paper on the snowflake as possible!

I laid the snowflakes under the string and dotted glue where the string would lay. For at least a few of the glue spots on each flake I used a tiny scrap of paper to sandwich the string for extra security.

The hardest part of the whole project is to measure and space out the hooks and the lengths of the string. A measuring tape is your friend here. Since my ceiling is so high I alternated strings of three and two.

This project only took a few hours (approximately five episodes of The West Wing). It was easy enough that when I finished, I thought, "Why not cut 60 more snowflakes for each windowpane on the long side of our apartment (and 48 more for some friends)?"At the end of the latter process, I was ready to be done with snowflakes for a while. Luckily, all of my snowflakes have lasted the two weeks since they went up, and I'm confident that at least the garlands will last the season to be packed away for next year!

Some of the links in this post have been provided by Amazon under the Amazon Affiliate program. Cantabridgette is not compensated solely for posting the links.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Halloween Cookies

After a day spent working from home (thanks for staying on, power) and listening to the wind, I got a little stir crazy and decided that I needed to make cookies, immediately. There was a chocolate chip cookie recipe I've been dying to try (her qualifications for the ultimate cookie intersect perfectly with mine), so I assessed my existing supplies. 

I haven't purchased chocolate chips for a really long time, but we had just bought three huge bags of Halloween candy (and had a random disc of Taza salt & pepper hanging around). I had no cake/pastry flour, but I did have APF and cornstarch. The recipe called for a pound of butter, so I figured halving the recipe would be a more reasonable batch size for random evening cookies. I did some quick conversions (if you're ever going to bake anything, you need a kitchen scale. Trust.) and made some necessary adjustments (I've never met a chocolate chip cookie recipe that couldn't benefit from extra salt, double vanilla, and some espresso powder). Twenty-five minutes later, I had a new favorite cookie recipe (that actually closely approximates the Momofuku Milk Bar Compost Cookie--next time I'll be adding pretzels).   

Ridiculously Good Halloween Candy Cookies
adapted from A Tender Crumb 

{makes two half sheet pans full of cookies}

--one block European-style butter (I think it really impacts the texture, but if you don't have it, use two sticks of American)
--3/4 C granulated sugar
--1 1/4 C packed brown sugar (sugar isn't as finicky as flour so it doesn't need to be weighed)

--2 eggs
--1 tsp vanilla extract

--180g bread flour (substitute APF if you don't have it, but if you do don't skip it)
--142g all purpose flour
--20g cornstarch (the APF + cornstarch approximates pastry flour for perfect cookie texture)
--2 tsp table salt
--1 tsp baking powder
--1 tsp baking soda

--~8-10 oz of chopped chocolate (I used eight mini Snickers and two discs of Taza salt & pepper dark chocolate)
--1 Tbsp espresso powder (I don't drink coffee, but noticed that lots of chocolate recipes call for it. I ground about 1/2C of coffee beans at the grocery store on the finest setting and keep it in the freezer)
--handful of thin pretzels, roughly chopped (I'm completely certain this will work)

1. It's ok if the butter is in the fridge (or probably even the freezer). Take it out and cut it into tiny cubes and place in a big bowl. 

2. Measure out the dry ingredients with your handy kitchen scale in a smaller bowl; set aside. 

3. The butter should be softish by now; if not, wait a few more minutes. Add the sugars and whack the mixture around with a wooden spoon for a while til it's evenly combined. 

4. Add the eggs and stir a lot with the spoon. The eggs make it much easier to stir, so try to get some air involved at this point. Feel superior to all of those cool people with their stand mixers. Also add in the vanilla and stir for a while more. 

5. Add the flour and stir til thoroughly combined. 

6. Stir in the espresso, chocolate, Snickers, and pretzels. 

7. Set the oven to 350 and put the bowl of dough in the fridge. Eat kind of a lot of it. The mild stomachache is totally worth it. 

8. After about 10 minutes, pull out the dough and fill a greased half sheet pan (I'm out of parchment paper too!) with about half of the dough. You can go large or small here, the thickness of the cookies will wind up about the same either way. 

9. Bake for around 9 minutes (for small cookies) or 15 minutes (or large cookies). Keep an eye on them and pull out when the cookies around the edges get browned at the edges (they'll still be puffy and pale in the middle). They will inevitably have expanded to run into each other, which is ok. They'll just be square. Still super delicious.

10. Cool on the pan. Cook the rest of the cookies in the same manner. Eat them. You're really going to want to eat all of them, but it's better to have some left for tomorrow. You're going to want some tomorrow. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

Fall is here in earnest, so it's time to make some heartier dinners! Pumpkin Mac & Cheese perfectly fits the bill. 

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

Adapted from Taste and Tell's excellent version. I made hers last year and loved it but wanted to pump up the flavor of the spices, among a few other tweaks. Rotini is just so perfect for catching every drop of this amazing sauce, so I have to recommend it over penne.

16 oz whole wheat rotini

2 slices crusty artisan bread
1 Tbsp dried sage
2 Tbsp butter

4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp flour
1 C stock
2 C milk

1 tsp allspice
2 tsp ground mustard
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
2 tsp nutmeg (grated is best)
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp ground black pepper

2 C pumpkin puree (a little more than a can; you can probably just do one 15 oz can and be fine)
2 Tbsp honey

4 oz fontina, shredded (keeps the sauce from breaking)
4 oz extra sharp cheddar, shredded (this is the flavor; you could try a flavorful gruyere instead)
2 oz other flavorful cheese (I used Toscano)

Cook the rotini a couple of minutes shy of the box time (quite al dente). Drain and set aside in the strainer. 

Process the bread into crumbs. If you don't have a food processor, dice the bread into the smallest cubes that you can manage. If you do use a processor, grate the cheese in it after the bread. No processor--grating 10 oz of cheese by hand won't take too long.

Melt the 2 Tbsp of butter in a large skillet and toast the crumbs/cubes and sage in the butter until golden. Set aside. 

In the skillet, melt the 4 Tbsp of butter over medium heat until golden brown. Add the flour and whisk like mad. Don't be afraid to let it brown--when it comes to a roux, color is flavor. My roux was quite brown, just short of almost burnt, and it tasted great and nutty in the final product. Stir in the stock and whisk until smooth, cooking down a bit, and then whisk in the milk. 

Whisk in the seasonings and let the sauce cook down until thick (coating the back of a wooden spoon). Stir in the pumpkin and honey and cook it down about two minutes more.

Turn off the heat and add 2 cups (8 oz) of the combined shredded cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted fully into the sauce.

Place rotini into a 10x13 baking dish or pan. Pour the sauce over it and stir to combine. Sprinkle first the remaining shredded cheese and then the breadcrumbs over the top. Place under the broiler until the cheese on top is melted (set alarms for yourself at maximum 2 minute intervals--the broiler acts fast!).

Don't be alarmed--it's not burnt. The bread I used had a very dark crust. Make sure to watch your broiler!

This recipe serves at least 8--the whole wheat pasta and pumpkin cheese sauce are very filling. It's amazing as leftovers!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Apple Feature: Pink Lady, Mutsu, and Jonagold

 Fall is my very favorite season, especially here in New England. It's just not the same in New York :)  

The farmers' market this weekend was bursting with perfectly crisp apples in over a dozen varieties. I decided to grab two new-to-me kinds (Jonagold and Mutsu) and an old favorite that I haven't had in a couple of years (Pink Lady).

I had almost 10 pounds of perfectly crisp apples, so I decided to do a head-to-head tasting and then a little baking (stay tuned for my favorite pie recipe). I made sure to choose apples that were recommended for both eating and baking.

First up: the Mutsu. 

All three of the varieties were deliciously crisp, but the Mutsu might have taken the crispness crown. It had a good balance between tart and sweet. 

Behind crispness, tartness is my second most important apple factor. In the offseason, if the Honeycrisps are gone I will only buy Granny Smith (no mealy apples allowed!). 

The second contender: the Jonagold. 

The Jonagold was the sweetest apple in the mix, with definite honey notes. If you like a sweeter apple, Jonagold is almost as sweet as Red Delicious, but still edible (Red Delicious are probably my least favorite apple). 

The final variety: Pink Lady. 

The Pink Lady is perfectly tart with a dense crunch. I liked the Mutsu a lot, but Pink Lady and Honeycrisp are still my favorite eating apples. The Pink Lady was a great afternoon snack with fresh buffalo mozzarella (thanks to a Costco run in the morning). Fall caprese!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Flying Caballos Ranch, San Luis Obispo: Part Two

Flying Caballos Ranch didn't just have beautiful buildings; it was really the details that made the experience. 

This old-school seesaw was a lot of fun as well as a great design element in the farmhouse yard.

Old machinery parts are perfect against weathered wood. Somehow not pictured (really, I'm not sure how I missed taking one picture of it): the hot tub on the raised deck--you can see the bottom of the deck at the above right. 

I want these barstools in my house. 

These great lightbulbs are strung all over the farmhouse yard. 

Couch swing in the guesthouse yard. Only in California. 

The steps from the tower down to the horse paddock. I want these in my dream house yard. Speaking of horses...

They know how photogenic they are. 

Just like the ranch itself. Seriously.