Friday, October 31, 2008

This is Halloween

We carved our pumpkins on Wednesday night. My children were disgusted that I went for a traditional look with my pumpkin. My son dismissed it as "boring and unimaginative." Humph. In years past I have carved more elaborate designs. This year I was in a get-it-done-quick mood!

Here are the children's designs, son's on the top, daughter's on the bottom. (I did a cat face last year on my pumpkin, but my daughter refuses to give me credit for her inspiration this year!)

Last night at 8:00 p.m. my son informed me that he should bring Halloween treats to school if possible. Thank you for all the forewarning, son! I was going to tell him sorry, no can do, but then I counted the candy corn cookies and realized I had enough for both children to take to school if I divided the batch in half. So divide them I did, and I put the container of carefully counted cookies in his backpack. I was eager for his report after school today. Did the kids like the cookies? Were they a hit? "Oh, oops, I forgot to take them out of my backpack." ARGH!!!! That kid! At least the cookies survived their trip to school and back. Not a single one was broken.
My daughter dressed up as Hermione. Last night before bed I put her hair in 10 little braids all over her head, and today she had Hermione hair!
Weeks and weeks ago my son declared he wanted to be Gilligan for Halloween, but two days ago he changed his mind and said he wanted to be Artemis Fowl instead. Since I'd already put a Gilligan costume together for him, I told him he was on his own. He rummaged around in his closet and managed to pull something together. I doubt anyone knew who he was, but he was happy with his look, and I was impressed he did it all by himself.
We had a first this year: my son went trick-or-treating with two friends, unaccompanied by an adult. It was weird, but at the same time, it seemed right. They waited until it was almost dark to set out. As they were leaving, I reminded them of the rules:
Look both ways, twice, before crossing the street.
Don't get in anyone's car.
Don't go in anyone's house.
And don't take any candy from strangers!
They didn't get my joke with that last one.


Both kids came home, happy with their haul. My son brought home a lot less candy than I expected, but he said they quit when they thought they had a reasonable amount. They figured there was no reason to collect more candy than they want to eat. I really like these boys.
My son hates these:



He gives them all to me. I'll eat one, my once-a-year peanut butter cup, and the rest, along with all of our other candy leftovers, will go to my husband's office on Monday for the receptionist's candy jar.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Got our pumpkins

My daughter's school sells pumpkins every year as a fund raiser, so we always buy our pumpkins there. My ideal would be to drive out to a farm stand to pick out pumpkins (and maybe buy some cider and donuts while we're there!), but I like to support the school. At least it's easy and convenient to pull the pumpkins home in our wagon when we buy them from school.

We hope to carve jack-o-lanterns tonight. I'm going to save one of the small pumpkins to attempt making this for dinner on Halloween, although I will substitute brown rice for the wild rice because I'm afraid my daughter won't like the texture of wild rice (she's extremely picky about food textures, and "little bits" are a problem for her).

I baked another batch of candy corn cookies for my daughter's classroom and I plan to make pumpkin chocolate chip muffins today for her classroom. Her costume is mostly set. She is going to dress up as Hermione. We have a Hogwarts robe, so she just needs to decide what she'll wear underneath and we'll be good to go. Nice and simple, but I'm sure she'll manage to find a way to make a crisis situation for me anyway.

My son wanted to go as Gilligan, so we have everything for that, but yesterday he told me he wants to be Artemis Fowl instead. I said he might have to wait until next year for that! Sheesh.

I'm still not used to this middle school stuff. The teachers don't send notes home anymore, relying on the kids to tell the parents things we need to know. My son is not so good at relaying information. He did mention that they'll be having snacks in a couple of his classes on Friday. I asked him if we need to send in money or snack donations, and he said "I don't think so." So, who's paying for the food? It's just weird for me not to be sending stuff in when I know there will be a party. And at the same time, kind of nice!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Garlic, and some foliage

I tried to get some housework done last week. Things were getting really out of hand around here and even I couldn't stand it any more. I ended up turning the computer completely off for most of one day to avoid the distraction.

Everything is scrubbed, dusted, and vacuumed now, and some of the clutter is gone, but I'm afraid that I will never live in a completely clutter-free home. When you have four people living in a home, some (or all) of whom read, craft, draw, write, play music, cook, and bake, there will be messes. It's a fact of life. I try to keep the "permanent" clutter confined to one or two areas of the house, but clutter is infectious. It spreads. Right now things are looking good, but I know it won't last more than a day or two.

I did get two Christmas presents done over the weekend. The recipients don't read my blog, so it's safe to share.

Meet the garlic tea towel!

When I saw this pattern from Sublime Stitching, I literally laughed out loud. My late father-in-law was notorious for his garlic consumption. He ate raw garlic every day, a fact which escaped no one's notice! I stitched two towels in his honor, one for each of my husband's sisters. I like this little garlic so much I might have to make a third towel for us.
I'm a wee bit nervous about stitching on a towel. I've never embroidered anything that was actually going to be used. I tend to treat my stitched items like museum pieces. It is weird to think that Garlic will be wiping up spills and getting thrown in the laundry like a common dish towel!
The foliage around here is absolutely glowing. I am trying to look and look and look at it, really soak it all in, because soon the trees will be bare, and winter drags on forever in these parts. These photos were taken the other morning as I walked home after dropping my daughter off at school.











Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Halloween Lanterns

I realized yesterday that if I want to make tin can lanterns for Halloween this year, I need to start saving my cans now. Depending on how I cook for the next 10 days, it may already be too late for me to get more than just a couple. Maybe I'll have to make my famous 6-can chili for dinner--twice!

Start with a rinsed out can. I find that 14-16 oz cans work best. The 10 oz soup cans will also work, but it's harder to get the candle inside once you've made the lantern, so you may want to place the candle inside the can before you make the holes.
Using a can piercer (one of these things) punch holes around the rim of the can.
Those points are SHARP, so be very careful with these! Drop a tealight or votive inside, scatter your lanterns on your walkway and in your yard, and light the candles with a long-nose lighter. You'll shred your hand if you try to use regular matches. This picture doesn't look like much, but you all know how candles are magical outside at night.

To avoid the trash-strewn-all-over-the-lawn look, I put these out on Halloween night just as it's getting dark, and in the morning I scoop them all into the recycling bin.

I don't know if Martha Stewart would find tin can lanterns elegant enough for her home, but they work for me.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Candy Corn Cookies

I tried a recipe today for bite-sized candy corn shortbread cookies. They were really fun and easy to do, and they turned out perfect! Last year a mom brought these to my daughter's classroom Halloween party. I thought they were so cute and so yummy. She was kind enough to share the recipe with me. I found it online, too, but I'll type it out here so I can share my tips. I think I will share this batch with my nephews and my neighbors, and make another batch next week for my daughter's classroom Halloween party.


Sparkling Candy Corn Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 T orange juice
2 tsp freshly grated orange peel
1/8 tsp salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda

red and yellow liquid food coloring (OR orange paste or gel food color , and yellow paste or gel food color)

1/2 cup sugar (optional)

Line bottom and sides of a 9x5 inch loaf pan with waxed paper or plastic wrap. Set aside.

Combine butter and 1 cup sugar in large bowl; beat at medium speed until creamy. Add egg, orange juice, orange peel and salt. Continue beating until well mixed. Reduce speed to low; add flour and baking soda. Beat until well mixed.

Divide dough into thirds. Press one third of white dough evenly into bottom of prepared pan. Place another one-third dough back into mixing bowl. Add yellow food color, one drop at a time, mixing until the color is well-blended. Add a drop at a time until you have a shade pleasing to you. Remove the yellow dough from the mixing bowl and set aside. Place remaining one-third of dough into the mixing bowl. Add red and yellow food color, one drop at a time, alternating colors, mixing until well-blended. Alternate red and yellow until you achieve an orange color in a shade pleasing to you.

Press the orange dough evenly into the loaf pan on top of the white dough. Press the yellow dough evenly on top of the orange. Cover with wax paper or plastic food wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 375 F. Invert loaf pan onto a cutting surface to remove the dough. Peel off the waxed paper. With a sharp knife, cut the loaf crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide slices (as if you were cutting slices of bread). Trim edges if necessary. Cut each slice into wedges (see photos below). Place wedges 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes or until the edges are firm and the bottoms are very lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheet for one minute, then remove to a cooling rack. (The original recipe states to cool for one minute on cookie sheet, then roll each cookie in a bowl filled with 1/2 cup sugar, then move to a cooling rack, but I found the extra sugar to be an unnecessary step).

Cool completely. Store in loosely covered container. The cookies can be made ahead and stored in a freezer for up to one month. Recipe yields about 15 dozen bite-sized cookies.

Notes: I find my stand mixer indispensable for baking projects like this. The colors blended quickly and evenly, and the resulting dough was wonderful to work with.

The original recipe says to use paste or gel food color to get vibrant colors, but I used the liquid drops, which resulted in pretty, muted colors.

I refrigerated the layered dough overnight, and it was perfect to work with this morning. I had no issues with it crumbling or falling apart.

Here are photos of the process.

Dough layered in the loaf pan:

Dough ready to be cut.

Slicing the dough.
Cutting the wedges:

I did roll one baked cookie in sugar per the recipe's instructions, just to try it, but they are plenty sweet and tasty without the extra sugar. They don't sparkle without the extra sugar, though, so I should probably drop the word "sparkling" from the recipe title!

The orange gives them a nice citrusy flavor. Flavor-wise they remind me a lot of the scones my friend over at Jonski Blogski makes. Check out her recipe. I heart those scones, too!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Undecided

No, not undecided about my vote. I am trying to get Christmas gifts planned so I can get started on them, but I am struggling this year in deciding what to make. I like to give handmade gifts because I enjoy the creating process so much. Usually by this time of year I am well under way, but I find myself spinning in circles this year, paralyzed by too many promising choices.

Should I make something inspired by ideas in these books? Or should I go with a Christmas theme and make ornaments out of this new Just Cross Stitch issue? There are some gorgeous designs in here, but I've done ornaments before... Or maybe I need to try some lacy crochet.
I did start one of the projects in this book, a little bowl crocheted in the round, but the base will not lay flat for me. I am having a hard time getting even tension with the little hook and the thin, slippery thread. I don't want to give ill-made gifts. Can I get the technique down quickly enough for this to be a realistic possibility for Christmas?

In addition to gifts for others, I like to make things for our household. Here's another alphabet sampler I have my eye on. I love the pointy-hat elf and the birds on either end.
I've also got this Christmas Elf Fairy started, but I don't know if I'll get her done in time.
I need to make a stocking for my husband, too. I have a crocheted stocking my aunt made for me when I was a child, and my children have stockings knit for them by another aunt of mine. My husband is the only one of us without a handmade stocking. Must fix that situation.
I also have a couple of these ornament kits in my craft cupboard. I've had them several years. I need to make a decision: stitch them, or donate the kits?
While I think and think and think some more about Christmas projects, I have kept my hands busy making things for the current season:


I have always wanted a toy candy corn!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pumpkins

(Apologies for the spacing in the recipe. I don't know why blogger does this to me! I tried to space it to be more user-friendly, but I'm not getting much cooperation.)

Our attempt to grow pumpkins this year failed miserably. The vine developed plenty of promising flowers (and, in fact, the vine is still flowering!), but no pumpkins ever formed. If I want pumpkins in the house I guess I'll just have to crochet a few. This pumpkin is teeny, about 3 inches tall, including the stem. I bought the pattern from this seller on Etsy. Amigurumi fruits and vegetables crack me up. The rest of my family thinks I'm nuts. I didn't put a face on this little pumpkin because I wanted something more realistic.

Here is another teeny pumpkin, which I cross stitched a couple years ago.
It's stitched over one thread on 28 count linen. The finished design is one inch, so it's really tiny! I can't remember who the pattern designer is. I'll try to find out so I can share that information. (Found it! It's Itty Bitty Pumpkin by Twisted Threads.)
My family loves to eat pumpkin foods. We make pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pancakes, and, my daughter's favorite, Pumpkin Custard. I got this recipe from an online friend a couple years ago. If you love pumpkin, but you don't have ramekins , go buy some. It's worth it for this custard!
Pumpkin Custard (from Moosewood Low-fat Favorites)
2 cups cooked pumpkin (a 16 oz can)
12 oz can evaporated skim milk
2 eggs
3 egg whites
3/4 cup pure maple syrup OR packed brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare eight 6-oz custard cups or ramekins with a light coating of cooking spray. Arrange the cups in a shallow, flat-bottomed baking pan. Bring a kettle of water to a boil.
Puree all the ingredients in a blender until smooth. Pour the custard equally into the baking cups. Pour the boiling water into the baking pan, around the custard cups, to about a 2 inch depth. (You may want to put the pan into the oven first, then pour the boiling water while the pan is in the oven.)
Bake for 45-60 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the cups from the water, cool at room temperature, then refrigerate.
It tastes a lot like pumpkin pie.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ghosties

It's that witchy, pumpkiny, ghosty time of year again. I like cute Halloween decorations to celebrate the season, not the gory stuff that seems to be getting more and more popular. My daughter and I oh-so-innocently went into a party supply store the other day, looking for festive paper plates for her classroom, and thought we'd mistakenly stepped into a house of horrors. Yuck. My daughter is not very squeamish, but even she wanted to get out of there, pronto!

My kids and I made the above salt dough ghosts two years ago, following instructions from one of my favorite sources, Family Fun. We only made a half a batch of dough, and got 3 palm-sized ghosts out of it. Can you guess who made which ghost?

When I was a child I loved to make ghosts out of Kleenex. I'd wad one tissue up into a ball, place it in the center of an unfolded tissue, gather the open tissue around the ball, and secure it at the neck with a rubber band. It occurred to me last year that I could make ghosts out of fabric. Duh. Fabric ghosts don't shred like tissue ones do.
Cut a square of white fabric with pinking shears. Your square size depends on how big you want your ghost, but I think 6 inches would be about the smallest size that would make a proportionate ghost. The one in this picture is made with a 12 inch square. Wad some polyester fiber fill or wool stuffing into a small ball (size depends on how big you want the ghost's head to be), put the ball into the center of the fabric square, gather the square around the ball, and secure at the neck with white thread. If you want to hang your ghost, thread some monofilament or fishing line through the top of the head. Draw on eyes with a Sharpie or other permanent marker.

I know this seems like a really obvious craft, and I'm sure it's been done a million times, but trust me, it took 40 years for it to occur to me to make them this way, so there ya go. We now have pet ghosties hanging all over the house.

I think the Halloween goblins are already in full force around here, because last night my latest Netflix DVD went missing and I could not find it anywhere. It came in the mail yesterday, and all day I was looking forward to the moment when the kids would be tucked in and I could settle down for 45 minutes with my new show and a bit of needlework. Instead, I spent 45 futile minutes turning the house upside down looking for the DVD while my cup of tea went cold. How depressing! Today I thought about how I'd hauled out the Halloween decorations yesterday, so as a last desperate measure I went to the basement and took the box out again. Woo hoo, there was my DVD! I must have accidentally scooped it up with all the packing tissue yesterday. Either that or I've unleashed a boggart in the house.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Witches and Fairies

I'm on an embroidery roll these days. Annieoakleaves posted this cute witch drawing on flickr here. I printed it at 50% original size and traced it to make an embroidery transfer pattern. I plan to make a small wall hanging out of her.

Here is an embroidered fairy, drawn by my daughter, stitched by me. My daughter selected the thread colors for her dress, hair, and wings.

She wants me to use her as a square in a simple patchwork pillow for her bedroom. (update 10/24: the pillow is now done! click here to see it.) This fairy is one of my favorite things, ever! I think I will have to use this design to make some small ornaments, too. You can't have too many fairies flitting around your house!

Here is the original drawing.

The stitched image is reversed from the original drawing because I used tracing paper and an iron transfer pen to make the transfer, and when you iron the design onto your fabric, you get a mirror image.

My daughter reports that they are talking about fact vs. fantasy in school right now. She had a worksheet where she had to circle whether statements were fact or fantasy. One of the statements was "A fairy flew in through the window." This was a conundrum for my daughter. "I know they want me to think it's fantasy, mom, but I know fairies are real!" She circled fact.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Instant Oatmeal

We've been eating steel cut oats for breakfast lately, but I haven't been standing over the stove all morning. How is this possible? With my slow cooker! I have a one-quart slow cooker (or maybe it's one-and-a-half?), which is perfect for making a family-sized batch of creamy oatmeal. I've seen all kinds of recipes for slow cooked steel cut oats that call for butter or milk or other ingredients, but all you really need is one cup of steel cut oats, 4.5 cups of water, and 6-8 hours on low in the slow cooker to yield one quart of cooked oatmeal.

You could set this up at night before you go to bed, but I personally am not comfortable leaving things plugged in and cooking overnight, so I make mine during the day and then put the oatmeal, crock and all, in the refrigerator. In the morning, we spoon out a serving into a bowl, cover the bowl with a silicone lid, and microwave on high for one minute. Sprinkle with brown sugar, add walnuts or blueberries if you like, and there you have it: oatmeal in an instant! One quart of oatmeal goes a long way, and it keeps in the fridge for a few days.

Other things happening at home today:

Yes, that is clean laundry. This is what I get for not immediately folding it and putting it away!