Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Better to give than to receive

I have been wanting to post more photos of gifts we gave from Christmas because I was really happy with the items we picked out for everyone. Now that Christmas is over and I finally can post them, I realized I forgot to take pictures of a number of them. Oops! Here's a few though:

These adorable coasters were for my mom and came from Little Coaster Gnome on Etsy.

This isn't the exact witch ball I gave my mom, but it's close. Her's had purple in it too. The one I bought is hand blown by local artist. 

The general idea behind the witch ball is to keep bad or evil spirits from your home. There are strands of glass that sort of make a web on the inside, and when the ball is hung in a doorway or window, it traps the bad energy inside instead of letting it get in your home. I have a pretty red, purple and pink one hanging above my kitchen sink, in front of the window.

Another gift for my mom, again not the exact one. It's a red, blown glass hummingbird feeder with metal and glass decorative work. 

We don't get a lot of hummingbirds where we live, but down at my parents' lake house, there are quite a few. Hanging the feeders in the trees off the patio gets them fairly close and they are so interesting to watch.

My dad is a griller and gets really into his seasonings, so we got him the Steak Seasonings Gift Box from Penzey's.

Penzey's is a company out of Wisconsin that has stores in 24 states, but you can shop via their catalogue too. There is a store in Des Moines and it is so cool. The only thing they sell are spices (over 250 spices and seasonings!) and cook books. They have samples of each spice in jars so you can smell them. I could spend all day in there. This gift box, which has seasonings not just for steak but chicken, pork and fish too, includes a recipe book with recipes for each spice. It is packaged so nice with pretty bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and nutmeg. The recipe book even has recipes for those so you don't waste the pretty presentation pieces. They have gift sets for baking, salt-free diets and everything under the sun, or you can build your own set by picking each spice individually. Highly recommend Penzey's to the foodies out there or for gifts for those foodies.

Jim Shore "Wicked Ride" for my MIL. 

Jim Shore "Spellbound" which we got for my MIL last year.

We bought her the "Spellbound" witch for Christmas last year and "Wicked Ride" this year. Halloween was really the first thing I bonded with my mother-in-law on - it's our favorite holiday. I am not a huge Jim Shore fan, but I really do love his Halloween pieces.

There are a few more gifts we gave that I want to show you, but I have to find photos and a couple we haven't given yet, so those will come later.


I got this very cute metal water bottle in my stocking from my parents. I think it's from Gordman's.

This beautiful pashmina came from my friend Michelle. It is super soft and warm for days like today, when it's snowing AGAIN!

 There are a couple more gifts I want to take photos of to show you but haven't had a chance yet. Anyone receive a really special gift this year?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thank you!

Here are some more great gifts I got for Christmas. I must have been good this year! I promise to get some more gifts we gave posted here soon.

Vintage Glam - desert sunset crystal necklace from ERMoriginals on Etsy. It is so stunning in person.

Jack Skellington "head in hand" lamp. 

Wouldn't be Chrimstmas if I didn't receive some Halloween things! I got this book from my sister.

Cable knit scarf in mustard from my brother.

I got the Sookie Stackhouse series of books (1-8) from my in-laws.

Thanks so much to our family and friends who were so generous this year. We love everything!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Bechamel sauce, mmm

We just had an amazing dinner that took us less than 20 minutes - start to finish. None of the Rachel Ray crap, where she says it takes 30 minutes but that's if all your ingredients are pre-chopped and measured and the oven is already heated.

I started with jumbo seafood ravioli from our local Italian grocery store, Graziano Bros. Whenever I hear someone say something like "local Italian grocery store" I immediately think "we don't have a local Italian grocery store." If Des Moines has a local Italian grocery store, then I'd bet your city has one too. We lived here for years not knowing it was there and then for another couple of years knowing about it but never going. We missed out for a long time. But we finally made it there this summer and everything we have bought has been amazing.

Anyway, back to the recipe. We tried a couple of different sauces (some with really terrible results) before I found a recipe for b├ęchamel sauce that goes great with the seafood pasta. Here it is (with my own changes and contributions):

4 Tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons grated onion
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half (or milk)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 pinch dried thyme
1 pinch ground cayenne pepper

1. In a small saucepan, melt butter and stir in the onion. Cook for about a minute then add flour, salt and pepper.
2. Add cold half-and-half (or milk) and COLD chicken broth all at once. Stir well.
3. Cook, stirring frequently, at medium heat until thick. Remove from heat and stir in seasoning.

The great thing is, if you use milk instead of half and half, it is all ingredients you always have on hand. With milk, I found that letting the sauce cool for a bit before serving will help it thicken up. We had breadsticks with the pasta and it was perfect.

I am reading Julie and Julia - about the woman who spends a year cooking all the recipes from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I attribute my eventual success with the french sauce to the book.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The loot

As always, our friends and family spoiled us this year. Here are a few things I have had time to take photos of:

Bat coffee sleeve from my mother-in-law from BatGirl93 on Etsy.

Ampersands necklace from my mother-in-law from Isette on Etsy. 

Owl coasters from my in-laws from QueenBe on Etsy. 

Mittens and necklace, both from Target, from my sweetie. 

Necklace from my best friend.

There are lots more gifts, but I haven't had time to take pictures yet, but I will post them when I have time.

I went to Target this morning around 8:30 thinking I'd beat the return and Sunday morning rush and it really worked. I shopped for about half an hour and only saw one other customer. It was so nice and peaceful, but sort of creepy. When I checked out, the cashier asked me if I knew what was going on and why no one was in the store. I was the first customer she'd check out in the entire hour she'd been there.

While I was there I picked up a few necessities and two fun things. I bought the game Quelf, which I have heard is hilarious. We'll play it on New Year's Eve and I'll let you know if it's fun. The other non-necessity (depending on who you ask!) was a bottle of Seven Deadly Zins wine. We had it a while back at a bar and really loved it. It was on sale so it brought the price down into our normal price per bottle that I am willing to pay. Mmmm.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Gifts, gifts and more gifts

We had friends over last night and exchanged some gifts so I can finally post a few more here. These were all purchased on Etsy. I was really happy with all the gifts!

Ornaments/sun catchers and bookmarks made from computer mother boards from Debby Arem Designs

Mozzarella & Ricotta cheese making kit from Urban Cheesecraft. Yes, I am obsessed with this place!

Tiny leather bound journal necklace from Bandon Hill

Purple Rain black borosilicate glass pendant with purple dichroic window from Newman Glass.

Nerdy totes

I made these three totes for my friend who is a social media guru who loves Domo (the bottom tote). He seemed like he really liked them. The fabric on all three of these was a little weird. I think the Facebook dark blue was meant to outdoor fabric because its really waxy-like. The lighter blue for the Twitter bag was super stiff and hard to work with. The Domo tote is made from thick felt. I loved how they turned out but they were a pain! Totally worth it though. Thanks for stopping by tonight C&S.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

These are a few of my favorite blogs

I never was really into reading blogs before I started blogging myself. Slowly I've been finding blogs that I love to read written by women I either know and love or would love to know. These seven seem to be the ones I like the most. They are the ones I notice when they don't post on any given day or week. I highly recommend them and here they are, in no particular order:

Staci at Reyn on Fashion. Staci is that girl friend who knows how to pronounce all those crazy designer names but still buys some products at the drugstore. She's fun and funky and a little daring when it comes to fashion. Her blog is mostly fashion and products, but she puts enough of herself into it that the blog is interesting and easy to read. Thanks, Staci!

Andrea the Kitchen Witch is new to the blogging world and has stormed in with great recipes and beautiful photos. She's the girl who attempts (or invents) the crazy recipes you're too scared to try - until she gives you step-by-step instructions with great photos. What she does in the kitchen is truly magical. Her three guarantees make every recipe family friendly: 1. NO HFCS - high fructose corn syrup 2. NO PHO's - partially hydrogenated oils 3. It will be delicious. Thanks, Andrea!

Jen at Vietti View is one of the most bubbly, upbeat bloggers I've found (but not in that sickening fake sweet way.) Her blog is mostly about her and her family and their adventures. Her kids are so cute they look like they should be on stage. She's crafty and creative and her pictures always make me smile. This is a great blog to read when you're feeling grinchy - like I am today. Thanks, Jen!

Nichole at Little Brown Pen. She's who I want to be when I grow up. She is so creative, an amazing photographer and travels the world. She writes about a lot of different topics, but my favorite is her photos. She has an eye for seeing beauty in things the rest of us have a tendency not to even notice. Thanks, Nichole!

Sweet Harvey Letterpress is another favorite. They are also in Des Moines and its fun to have someone local. The designs are simple and sweet and always beautiful but a little quirky. Right up my alley. This is where I got the recipe for the filled red velvet cupcakes. Mmmm. Thanks, Sweet Harvey!

Valerie at Cabin + Cub is another creative, unique woman who writes a very interesting blog. She lives in Vancouver, somewhere I'd love to visit - in the summer. Her blog includes her designs and Etsy items, recipes and posts about her family. Thanks, Valerie!

Maya at Maya*Made is an eco-friendly artist and mother who inspires me to be less wasteful and more creative. She is so original and can make cute things out of things we all throw out or recycle like toilet paper rolls. She uses burlap coffee sacks to make beautiful things like baskets, stockings and holiday decorations. Maya is also a printmaker who carves her own gorgeous designs and you'll be amazed at the things she makes from security envelopes.

Check out these fun, creative ladies and their blogs. I'm sure you'll find at least a couple you'll want to bookmark.

White Christmas

Two weeks ago we got dumped on with a foot and a half of snow, guaranteeing a white Christmas. That was plenty for the entire winter in my opinion. Looks like we're in for it again right in time for the holidays only this time we're getting ice too. Boo.

The weather lady is saying just rain during the day tomorrow, so that will be the best time to travel, before it freezes to ice and gets covered in snow. The problem is that we are trying to make it to my parents' house as well as my in-laws' home, which requires driving on Christmas Day. We are now debating on whether to just stay home and get stuck here or to go to my parents house tomorrow with the hopes of being able to make it to my in-laws on Friday and possibly get stuck there. Personally, I'd rather be in Jamaica. Don't get me wrong, I love my family and my in-laws very much, but I really, really hate winter and the snow and ice that comes along with it. Can't we just move Christmas to next week? No? Darn. I guess we'll figure it out and hopefully not spend Christmas day in a ditch.

Last year we had a lot of ice right after Christmas. On our way home, we ended up spending over 5 hours stuck on a closed interstate with a sick cat in the car. Thankfully Winston is amazingly tolerant and relaxed. We set up the litter box in the back seat and put cat food in a cup holder and he was just fine. I think having the cat in the car actually calmed us down and we spent most of the time laughing instead of angry about the situation. Thanks, Winston.

Now I will attempt to stop being a grinch. 

Monday, December 21, 2009

1st peek at Christmas gifts

When I first started making totes for Etsy, my best friend commented on multiple occasions that she'd like totes for either Christmas or her birthday, which is in December. She's fun and cute and a little crazy - in a good way - so I wanted to make her totes that reflected that. I gave her them yesterday so I can finally post them here!

This one is made from Ikea's Annamoa fabric. I love the hot pink pears.

Lindsay's favorite color is pink so I made her one of these hot pink totes with yellow leaves.

These are the back and front of the same tote, also made from Ikea fabric.

I filled them with fun groceries from World Market like chocolate lace cookies, Italian soda and pocky sticks. I think she really liked them. I am giving three more gifts on Wednesday night that I am excited to post here too - finally!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Seeing red

I'm a red head. Again. Over the years I've had about every color of hair there is to have. I really like red, especially in the fall and winter. What do you think?

Along the red hair topic, I went to see Annie at the Des Moines Playhouse last night. I took a friend for her birthday. We both have loved the movie version since we were little girls and can sing every song and say every line. I've been wanting to see it on stage for a long time, but I was very skeptical that I'd like it as much as the movie. I know no one could ever play Miss Hannigan as well as Carol Burnett or Daddy Warbucks better than Albert Finney so I was afraid I'd be disappointed in the stage production. I wasn't at all. It was very good. The girls that played Annie and the other orphans were fantastic.

Before going to the musical, we went to dinner at Le Jardin, a fairly new french restaurant near the Playhouse. It was delicious. I wasn't very impressed with my wine, but I had a mushroom omlet for dinner and it was amazing. Here's the menu description: A folded omlet made with Sheeder Farm organic eggs stuffed with a wild mushroom blend of procini, oyster, ivory portabella and crimini mushrooms, topped with white truffle oil and parmesan served with a petite salad mesclun. Yum. We had pound cake with a pear sauce for dessert, also very good. I would recomment Le Jardin for sure.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

So goat cheesy

I finally got around to trying out my Urban Cheesecraft goat cheese kit. Most of the hold up was that I couldn't find goat milk that hadn't been ULTRA-pasteurized, but I finally found Poplar Hill milk at Campbell's Nutrition. I'd say the cheese turned out pretty well for a first try. Here's what I did last night:

Boiling the utensils before use.

My makeshift double boiler filled with milk, cheese salt and citric acid. 

Reaching the necessary 180 degrees.

Cooling. The curds and whey have started to separate. You can see the whey in the upper left of the picture. It's sort of yellowish. 

Straining the cheese.

Seasoning the cheese. I just used cracked black pepper and Hawaiian sea salt so I could still really taste the cheese to see if I need to change anything for next time. 

Scooping the cheese into the molds. 

One final draining before putting them in the fridge.

Not so pretty, but very tasty. I think I didn't let them sit in the molds long enough. 

It was really fun and I was so proud of myself when I finished. I can't wait to try again. Next time I am going to make a firmer cheese that is more like feta. Mmmm.


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