Wednesday, February 29, 2012

for the love of marshmallows

I don't know what it is about marshmallows, but I could take pictures of them all day long.

shoot. I dropped one.

Here's my favourite marshmallow recipe.

Instead of vanilla extract, try something different like mint or cinnamon.

Here're some ideas on what to do with your marshmallows:

stand's toasted marshmallow milkshake (this is pretty good, though more vanilla tasting than marshmallow -- but it gives you another excuse to toast them cuz homemade marshmallows toasted? I can't even describe it)
cut up into cookies or brownies
rice krispie squares
float them in hot chocolate or tea (I made them to try the tea idea, but I didn't like it). I also find that homemade marshmallows don't melt as quickly as store-bought. fyi
dip 'em in chocolate
cut 'em up small and roll them into a nutella filled crepe or with chocolate chips in a pancake
or just eat 'em out of the bag cuz once you've had homemade marshmallows it'll make it hard to buy them ever again.

Extra credit: I've gotta be completely nuts in the head to want to make my own crispy cereal marshmallows, but I do.

Monday, February 27, 2012

DIY: make your own designs

This is really truly all thanks to Idle Husband who encouraged me to download Inkscape and follow along with some tutorials on how to make game characters. If it wasn't for him, I would never have realized I could make exactly what I wanted to make just by using simple squares and circles.

Case in point: Remember that sriracha card I found? Well, after a lot of thought and a lot of lost time, I realized that it was really the most perfect card for Idle Husband on Valentine's day. By that time, it was obviously the day before Valentine's day, so buying it through Etsy or even trying to find one in town was impossible. Naturally, that's when I wondered if I could do it myself and I remembered about Inkscape and decided to give it a try. Besides, I like recreating things I've spotted in a store. It's terribly rewarding when it comes out pretty near close to the original when I've made it myself plus I get to pat myself on the back for having spent zero dollars and almost no time at all to make something someone else is selling. It's terrible, but I'm cheap and crafty, so there you have it.

So while my sriracha bottle probably could have used a bit more tinkering, I was extremely happy with the results and promptly added my cutesy saying and formatted it into a little postcard (those are my favourite types of cards, in case you were wondering. A picture, a place to write, no envelope required = perfection).

I pondered doing my own tutorial on how to make the bottle, but since I originally used these tutorials from Gamasutra, part one and part two, to learn the very basics of using Inkscape, I think they're probably the better tutorials to follow. You can then apply what you've learned to whatever it is you want to create.

To make the sriracha bottle, all I did was combine a few differently sized rectangles. I adjusted the angles and corners with a little free-form distortion to make curves where necessary, and then I just stuck them all together.

The words and the heart were added in Photoshop Elements. I matched the words more to the actual sriracha font found on the bottle rather than the original card and they were applied using the warped text button. The heart was drawn with the shape tool set on heart (couldn't be more simple, right?). I also adjusted the colour in Photoshop as Inkscape didn't have the orange-y red I wanted (it probably does, but I couldn't figure out how to get it so this was easier for me).

I thought I'd share this program with you and give you an idea of what it's capable of. And despite the Gamasutra tutorials being for game character creation (say, if you're developing an app), you can really apply it to so many other ideas. If you're artistic (and even if you're not), Inkscape might be worth downloading (for free!) so you, too, can make cards or characters or anything your little brain can think up. It's actually quite a lot of fun once you get the hang of it!

Friday, February 24, 2012

friday fixations: music edition

I made this tiny mix of songs that always make me feel like I'm in a music video and/or make me wanna dance while I'm walking. Of course, I remind myself that I probably shouldn't do either cuz I'm outside and people can see me. But then I figure, who cares? We should all dance like nobody's watching, shouldn't we?

I also want to include this song

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

crockpot applesauce

I'm going to admit something here. I've never been a fan of applesauce. I mean, I liked it okay, but it wasn't something I'd choose for myself. I'd much rather have canned peaches or mandarins and I'd always make sure to get all of the cherries from the mixed fruit cans. There might have been one time back in my university days where I found myself purchasing some snack sized containers of applesauce thinking it'd be a great healthy snack for lunch. But those little tubs sat in the fridge for ages until I finally forced myself to eat them just to get rid of them. 

Years later, after harvesting a load of apples from mom's apple tree, I agreed that plain old applesauce would be the best route to take and went about slicing and coring a ton of mini apples (mini apples don't work very well with my whirly apple corer unfortunately). These apples went into a pot on the stove where I spent the better part of a day stirring them as they cooked down. At the time, I was sharing the batch with a friend who wanted plain applesauce so she could use it for baking sugar-free. The resulting batch had no sugar, no cinnamon, no lemon juice, no nothing, and I could tell. The applesauce was terrible and it further turned me off the idea of applesauce. It not only lacked sugar, but it lacked brightness and it just... it just wasn't good. It really was only fit for baking as the idea of even licking off the spoon made me wince in horror. This time, I couldn't force myself to use it, so the majority reluctantly went in the trash.

So why am I back to applesauce? It's mainly because of a certain cookie that I was determined to make for Christmas. Little low fat gingerbread men that looked as delicious as they sounded. But in order to make them, I'd need applesauce. I really intended to buy just enough premade sauce for the recipe since I hated it so much, but as luck would have it, I accidentally purchased a five pound bag of apples instead of a two pound bag (the size can be really deceptive when they're not actually side-by-side). So there I was with a bunch of apples going rotten faster than I could eat them. 

And then the thought occurred to me that if I'm using the crock pot to make stock, why can't I use it to make applesauce? One thing about jam making is the constant stirring and watching and I wasn't really in the mood to stand over a pot all day. Funnily enough, the same gal who inspired me with her gingerbread men, inspired the applesauce. It's got a small amount of sugar (relatively speaking), is brightened by lemon juice, and has a nice (but not overwhelming) kick of cinnamon. But truly the best part of the whole recipe is that it's all done in the crock pot.

After my first batch, I quickly realized what the lesser applesauces were lacking (yes, even store-bought applesauces). My applesauce was blended into a delicate puree with my handy immersion blender and once I'd tried that smooth as silk applesauce puree, I realized that it wasn't enough to put the apples through a food mill or squish them down with a potato masher. Both options left too many ragged choppy, oddly textured apples in the sauce. As weird as that sounds, I think the key to a really great tasting applesauce is to puree the apples. Perhaps I'm just a texture gal, but this is definitely the way to finish applesauce.

This is the second batch I've made. You wouldn't believe this (because I barely do), but I had eaten the first batch of applesauce plain with a spoon from the jar. If that's not a testament to its deliciousness, I don't know what is. This batch includes two pears (sadly being neglected) in place of two apples. I don't find it very noticeable which is why I'm not calling this apple-pearsauce. If you wanted a bigger hit of pear, you'd probably have to substitute at least half of the apples. Maybe the pears lend a little more of a kick, but otherwise, the sauce is almost exactly the same.

{crock pot applesauce}

12 medium apples (or 10 and 2 pears but you won't notice it at all)
7 teaspoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 whole cinnamon stick, snapped in half

Peel, core, and slice the apples. Dump them in a crock pot. Add the sugar, juice, and cinnamon.

Set the crock pot to low and let cook for about 8 hours or until the apples are nice and mushy. I try not to open the lid on a crock pot while it's cooking (the whole point of them is to keep moisture in) but I do like to open it about halfway through so I can give the mixture a stir to make sure the sugar and cinnamon get evenly distributed.

Once it's finished cooking, puree with an immersion blender or (and I would totally go this far if I had to. A potato masher or food mill will not do) carefully ladle into a blender and puree that way (just be uber careful as the mixture is super hot). Jar and let cool. This should make about 3 medium sized jars.

So what can you do with applesauce besides eat it with a spoon?

I made Gina's Skinny Recipes' low fat gingerbread cookies as heart shaped Valentine's day cookies to send to Idle Husband's work. They're such a perfect cookie (to me) because they're cake like and gingery and oh so moist and delicious. You really have to make them. This isn't a suggestion. It's a command.

My first design idea was lace hearts, but a funny thing happens when I have leftover icing. I start scheming of other things I can frost on. So that's when I thought it might be cute to convert them into conversation hearts instead.

I started out writing dumb things like "B MINE" and "UR CUTE" only to realize that that probably wouldn't be appropriate for an office full of men. It was only as a last minute thought that I looked up some gamer words to make nerdy conversation hearts.

So I saved a few cookies to try out my new idea and I decorated them more like conversation hearts (I would have flooded them better, but I was working with limited icing at that point so I just smeared the icing around with an offset spatula). With white icing, I wrote phrases any gamer should know like, "FTW" (for the win), "HP" (health points), "1 UP", "LEET" (elite), "NOOB" (new guy), "GG" (good game), and more. Just cheeky things that would make sense on a heart shaped cookie. Perhaps next year, I'll do the same thing but I'll execute it a little better. 

I do have to share with you one of my new favourite tricks for filling an icing bag. If you do this with any frequency or even if you just frost cookies or cakes once a year, this is so worth knowing and doing. I can't even describe to you how happy I am that I found this video. Watch it watch it watch it. If you do this, you won't have to wash a piping bag ever again!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Friday, February 17, 2012

friday fixations

{domino mag} I started reading this one at its very start, so I was pretty crushed when it folded (I still have all of the issues and I'll never part with them). Imagine my excitement when I heard that Domino is issuing a special quick fixes edition in April! I'm putting that one on my calendar (and it sure as hell better be available in Canada at that time).

{strawberry syrup} I was trying to think up cute little Valentine's day ideas last week, so I thought it might be fun to squirt a bit of strawberry syrup in the shape of a heart into a bowl of oatmeal. Kinda like a healthy breakfast but cute with a pink tinge and then I could photograph the hell out of it and make a foodie post. Anyway, the heart wouldn't stay and oatmeal on its own is pretty much the worst thing in the world to shoot, but the resulting flavour was delicious! Happy mishap! I don't know if you remember the myriads of strawberry flavoured cereals that used to be on the market (I miss Strawberry Shortcake cereal with these exact sentiments), but there was also strawberries and cream instant oatmeal available (it had weird little freeze dried bits of strawberry in it), and this tasted almost exactly like it. Maybe even more strawberry-ish. It was a really nice change from usual oatmeal flavours, you should try it!

{what size am I?} I think this chart from Darkgreener is fantastic! I just wish it had more stores on it.

{heart shaped food} Instead of making a fancy meal for Valentine's day, I cut everything into hearts. It was a pretty standard every-day meal, but with heart-shaped everything which made it pretty special. We had heart cucumbers (from Save-On foods) in the greek salad; a heart-shaped watermelon, feta, mint, and balsamic vinegar salad (so good!); and almost heart shaped pitas (that was difficult!). I love eating heart shaped foods!

{stenciled roses} We had our last home visit from the builders this month and in it, they had the drywaller go round the house and fix all the popped screws (well, the one's I'd already spotted). I think I'm going to do a tutorial one of these days on how to fix popped screws because now that I know how, I'm so friggin' angry I let the drywaller do all of the ones I'd spotted. I should have learned from one and kicked him out after that. What a mess. I'm no professional, but I can definitely do better. Anyway, I was going around painting all the little dots and cleaning up all the dust so I thought I might as well paint the master bathroom since I was going to paint it anyway. I had cut out this rose stencil a while ago for something else but decided not to use it, so I thought I'd use it in the bathroom instead. What I'm wondering now is if I should do some leaves in between the roses or maybe a smaller flower. I have a lot of leftover paint at my disposal (two different greens among them). But once I start stenciling, it's really hard to stop which is why I'm asking, cuz I can go overboard way too easily when it comes to this stuff.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

quickie DIY: snow hearts

You need: spray bottle | red food colouring | water | cardboard heart template (not paper! It's getting wet)

You do: set the template on the snow | spray the red water over the heart (aim close)

You get: little snow trails dotted with hearts

You'll note: the hearts pink up as the water is absorbed into the snow, so if you want them darker, use more food colouring

Inspired by: these grass heart attacks from Oh Happy Day (except we're not blessed with grass in February)

(p.s. I promise it looks so much cuter in person. this is not a good day for photography)

Monday, February 13, 2012

DIY: pop-up love card

Making a pop-up card only looks super hard. It's actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Thankfully, I drew out about four prototypes on scrap paper before using card stock and I suggest you do the same. My first two cards were really just a lesson in block letters because as soon as I went to cut out the letters, I actually cut them out or I cut the tops or bottoms wrong. Sometimes I like cutting with an exacto knife so much, I forget to stop cutting!

I was inspired by these two card tutorials, and using them, I figured out what would work best for me. Here ya go!

I started by lightly folding the card stock in half and only creasing the edges. I didn't want the letters to have a fold in them. Then I wrote out, in block lettering, the word, LOVE, making sure that the letters would fall somewhere in the middle of the "fold" (cuz I haven't actually folded the card yet, I just marked where it would be folded). I've highlighted my pencil marks on the computer so you can see them better. Don't actually make them this heavy or you won't be able to erase them cleanly!

Then I used a ruler to mark a line just above and below the word (in orange here so you can see, but again,  in reality, it's a really light pencil line) so that I could extend the tops of the letters out to give them tabs and line up the bottoms of the letters so they'd fold straight.

Then I started cutting away the paper from around the letters. Leave the tops of the tabs and the bottom of the letters attached to the paper. I also cut out a portion from around the L and the E to help them pop out.

Folding the letters is probably the trickiest part. You've got to do each one separately making sure the main letter doesn't get folded. I find it helps a bit to fold the card almost in half and then press, fold, and adjust the tabs so the letters pop out properly.

As you can see, I also cut out the I and U. I was going to write them, but I thought this would have more punch. You can do this, too, if you want or just write something else in ("My love" or "Love forever" or "I love lamp" you get the idea). Then pick out a piece of paper for the back of the card. It can be any colour or pattern you want. This is a thicker tissue paper that I liked for the pattern, unexpected colours, and the fact that the pattern shows up in a lighter version on the back-side. Cut the paper down so it's just larger than the card and glue it onto the back of your pop-up. Make sure to push out any bubbles (because of the cut out letters, mine looks a little bubbly, but it's not a big deal. Handmade card! Hello!). Trim off the excess around the edges if you have any.

I opted to colour the letters so they stand out a bit more, but you don't really have to.

Once you get the hang of cutting the letters out properly, this isn't a time consuming project at all and should only take you about 20 minutes to finish one card. Don't forget that you can write whatever you like in the card and pop it out. You don't have to do the love thing. Personalize it or change it completely for a birthday or thank you card. Easy!

I really like the look of handwritten letters, but I also spotted this free pop-up font which you could use if you're a little nervous about drawing the letters yourself.

Friday, February 10, 2012

friday fixations

Here are 14 of my favourite pins for February 14th:

I just want something simple to make
{lace tape} Use this to embellish cards, envelopes, or candies.
{love bugs} Because boys need Valentines, too. (The jar card is a free printable!)
{scratch off lottery tickets} Combine this with the love coupons (below) or use it to send a secret message. I had no idea it would work but apparently, you can paint the scratch off paint right onto a picture. Of your choosing. A picture... get where I'm going with this?

I've got the whole weekend to scheme
{couch picnic} I love the idea of having a picnic on the couch. It's just about our most favourite place -- he even asked me to marry him on it. It's that perfect.
{heart warmer} The basement is a little cooler than the rest of the house, so I think it would be super cute to have this around for our toes. It would be even better if a hot water bottle were involved instead (I'm kicking myself for not buying one when I saw them at Christmas).

But I do own a printer and I like free stuff...
{watercolour pink} I love this shade of pink. It's almost like melon.
{pink bird} This love bird card also comes with a matching envelope.
{valentine labels} These were designed to wrap around envelopes, but I think it would make more sense to wrap them around a chocolate bar or a package of candy.
{owls} And other cute school-style Valentine's cards. It was really hard choosing just one to pin (the banana card is calling my name, too)!
10 {love coupons} Hasn't everyone made coupon gifts before? If you haven't, now's your chance (plus these are a little more stylish than the crayon and construction paper ones of my youth). This also comes with a matching card.

I'm out of colour ink and have no time!
11 {sriracha card} Idle Husband loves this stuff. I just love the slogan.
12 {geeky cards} I'm really liking the retro styling on these. Maybe it's because I've started watching Mad Men.
13 {pocket animals} If your loved one has a favourite animal, you might find it here. (I can't find our animal! Extra credit: sculpt your own using air drying clay.)
14 {pink domo} I love his nerdy glasses and colour. Don't worry about ordering online. I spotted these at Urban Outfitters, too.

As usual, you can find tons more ideas (especially DIY ideas and more free printables) over on Pinterest!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

DIY: chocolate bar wrappers

This is mostly just to give you some ideas for easy chocolate bar wraps. It's not really a DIY because what could be more simple than rewrapping a chocolate bar? There's just about zero effort involved, but the cuteness factor is pretty huge.

I started with Caramilk bars because they were the only chocolate bars I could find that had a removable wrapper. I thought there'd be more variety in this area but apparently not (not like I'm bemoaning Caramilk! That bar is kinda tops on our list!). If you can't find chocolate bars with a removable sleeve, don't worry. I would take off the offending wrapper and wrap the chocolate lightly in aluminum foil, parchment paper, or waxed paper and then decorate. Any of these options would look just as pretty and it's a quick solution to an annoying problem.

Remember all the hearts I cut out earlier? Well, I kept the pieces of paper (cuz that's what I do. I'm a paper hoarder), trimmed up the edges to straighten them, and wrapped them around a bar.

I thought it looked nice with the gold foil, but you could also make a quick sleeve from coloured or patterned tissue paper and then top it with the heart cut outs.

To make a sleeve, choose your paper, then use the original sleeve as a guide and trace around it and cut it out.

Gently bend the paper and crease it around the chocolate bar then glue the ends together. Don't wrap it too tightly or it'll be difficult to remove later. For the eating. You have to ensure easy access to eating.

I also found this package of cute Valentine's tape at Superstore for $2! I thought that was a pretty good deal for five rolls of tape plus I can definitely use it throughout the year (hello polka dots!) And just so you know, this tape isn't washi tape, it's plastic.

But look at how cute it is! Gah.

You can use the tape to embellish the wrapper however you want. And if you're one of the lucky ones you've got some washi tape, consider using it. It doesn't have to be pink with hearts. Just know that as soon as it goes on, it's not coming off! You will rip the foil.

That's it! Pretty easy stuff, right? It's just another Valentine's day option that anyone can pull off with limited time and supplies.