Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Monogrammed Fall Wreath

As much as I love spending time outdoors in the summer with all of the sunshine and swimming, I LOVE, love, love fall. It has been my favorite season as long as I can remember. I love how the light changes in the sky, how the air just starts to crisp, how my recipe repertoire makes a perceptible shift toward the more hearty. I just love fall. Cheesy, but true!

I love decorating for fall, too. I don't really "decorate" for the summer or spring. I throw up a few St. Patty's decos in March, but not much more. Fall is another story. I love to have pumpkins, leaves, candles, and more to ring in the fall. I also think it's fun that fall decorations can stay up until the Christmas decorations come out! That does make for a sad time in January when ALL the decorations go back in their boxes....but January's a long way away.

I saw this idea for a Monogrammed Fall Wreath on Purple Lemon Design's blog, which is another that I really like. She has such cute ideas, including this one, which I changed up a tiny bit. I am including some more detail on execution for you based on what I learned (ie Hot Glue is SUPER hot!)! This project was very easy, fairly fast (less than 2 hours) and very affordable.

I completed the project for less than $7 total, and I think it would cost much more if ordered somewhere like Pottery Barn! Here's the cost breakdown:
$3.50 for the Styrofoam with Joanne's Coupon
$2 for 2 bags of leaves at the dollar store ( I go to Dollar Tree--90 leaves for $1!)
$1 for the fabric on the back
$0 for the hot glue and ribbon I already had!

Here are the items you'll need.

Styrofoam Rectangle, lots of leaves, fabric approximately the same size as your letter, hot glue, ribbon, tacks, also a marker, scissors, letter template, hot glue gun, sharp serrated knife (I used a bread knife).

To start off, you'll need to determine what shape to make. I wanted a monogram, but I think a rectangle or square shaped wreath would be fun and unusual, too.

I printed off a few letters and free hand drew the shape onto the styrofoam using a sharpie. I did an "F" and tried to fill up as much of the styrofoam as I could while still looking nice. On the tutorial, she enlarged her letter to fit an 11"x14" sized paper, but I didn't have that and just decided to "wing it."

After tracing your shape, you'll have to cut it out. I used a serrated bread knife after remembering that I'd seen "The Pros" on HGTV use an electric serrated knife to cut foam and thought it would do the trick well. I was right!

I found it was easier to cut the vertical lines if I cut in horizontally first---peek at the picture and it will make more sense.

With the horizontal "notches" in place, the shape cut out fairly quickly. However, I got overzealous and in a hurry and accidentally hacked off a piece. Luckily, it still "fit" within the "F" shape and looked okay. I tried to add text to the photo, but it's not quite large enough. Look for the little arrows to see how I did the horizontal cut lines.

Once the cutting was done, I deviated again from the original tutorial. Instead of using ribbon to cover the back ( which you'll want to do if you'll see the back side at all), I bought a remnant of brown fabric for fifty scents. I traced the "F" onto the fabric using the shape as a template, then hot glued it into place. Very easy!

Now, the fun begins! Start gluing on your leaves. Carefully. I have a cute new blister on my middle finger that will likely further hinder my hand modeling career. Shucks.

After a bit of trial and error, I found it was easier to put the hot glue on the leaves rather than the styrofoam. Take care when pressing down as (I know, repetitive, but true) the glue is super hot. Also, too much glue will melt the styrofoam and make your wreath look ugly.

*Be careful when you wrap the glue around the sides! I can't say it enough: "Hot Glue is HOT glue."

The gluing process is the most time consuming. It took me about an hour or so. I did put leaves over most of the back so it would look cool from the back if it was in front of a mirror, but I didn't try to cover the entire back.

After the gluing was done, I found some 1 1/2" satin ribbon that I'd gotten at Michael's for $1 to use for making the wreath hanger and some thumbtacks to help adhere it.

First, I cut the ribbon to length and then burned the edges a teensy bit to help prevent fraying. Please excuse the crappy & blurry photo!

Next, I made a large blobby pile (that's a technical term) of hot glue and pressed the ribbons down.

After that, I made a small dot of hot glue and stuck the tacks in there, through the glue and the ribbon. Hopefully the hot glue helps anchor the tack. These tacks aren't the most lovely, but I don't have plans to display the wreath on a glass door.

Finally, I tied a loose knot at the top and it was done! Ready for display!

Or how about in front of a mirror (that really needs to be cleaned!) on a fireplace?
I love how it turned out! Thanks to Purple Lemon for the great idea! I hope you try it!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Sneak Peak

I'm going to post a tutorial that I've been working on for a cute fall decoration. Here's a sneak peak.

The project was based on a project I saw online. I tried it and love how it turned out. The hot glue gun burns? Not so much. I always forget how freaking HOT hot glue is....seems obvious, but it's hotter than Hades, I tell you!

Check back tomorrow & I'll have the tutorial!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Falling in love with Fall: A Recipe for Apple Crisp

As you may have seen in my previous post, I'm already madly in love with fall. But I fall in love with it even more as I begin to cook my fall "go-to" recipes.

Here is one that I adore, that is easy, delicious and impossible to mess up.

Apple Crisp

Team Apple Crisp features the stellar stylings of apples (duh!), Craisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, kosher salt, butter, water or cider, flour, and oatmeal.

Start with 1 1/2- 2 cups Craisins (we love 'em so I use 2 cups) and cover with 1/4 cup of water. This time I used apple cider since I had some on hand. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and bring to a low simmer, rehydrating the dried cranberries. Then set aside to cool.

For the "Crisp" part, combine flour, oats, the rest of the cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar.

PS I use freshly ground nutmeg exclusively. Martha Stewart told me to. It tastes so much more fresh.  And I feel very "chef-y" when I use my Microplaner to zest it up. Try it. You'll see!

Chop the cold butter and toss it in the mix. Using two knives or your pastry cutter, cut butter in until the mixture is crumbly.

Place half of the mixture into your 9x13 baking dish that you've already sprayed with cooking spray. Press it down. Then lick your fingers. Then wash your hands.

Oops. Forgot to tell you. The oven is supposed to be preheated to 350.

Combine the apple slices with the cooled Craisins. Add lemon juice if desired. I forgot this time. You can also see that I can't be bothered with peeling the apples. I don't mind them in here, but if you do, by all means, peel away. I'm too lazy.

Cover the crumbs with the apple mixture. Isn't it pretty?

Then top with the remaining crumb mixture and press down gently. Repeat the finger licking-hand washing if desired.

Toss in the oven at 350 degrees and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the apples or tender.

PPS I made a half recipe this time as I am highly tempted to eat the whole thing myself and just can't justify that.

This recipe is great made the day before and reheated, too, for company. Try it! Tell them you slaved all day, then laugh to yourself at how easy it was!

Apple Crisp by Mostly Mom
2 Cups Craisins
1/4 cup water or apple cider
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, less if using table salt
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cups) butter
2 quarts cored and sliced apples of your favorite variety
additional butter and lemon juice, if desired

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 9 x 13" baking dish, spraying with cooking spray.
2. In a saucepan over low heat, combine Craisins and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, along with the apple cider or water. Bring to a low simmer to rehydrate the dried cranberries. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, oatmeal, nutmeg, salt, remaining cinnamon and brown sugar. Cut butter into mixture until crumbly.
4. Divide mixture in two; press first half into baking pan with firm pressure to create a crust.
5. Combine apple slices with Craisin mixture and a teaspoon or so of lemon juice (optional). Pour over the top of pressed crumb crust.
6. Top the apples with remaining crumb mixture. Press down gently. I sometimes put a few dots of butter on the top.
7. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes until apples are tender. Can be made in advance and reheated in the oven at 200 degrees for 10 minutes. Serve with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.

Fun with Applique

I discovered how FUN applique was earlier this year when working on a pair of cupcake birthday tees for Little Miss Pink and her dear friend for their first birthdays. Since then, I think it's my new favorite birthday gift for a younger child! My best friend's little boy turned one last week and, in our gift, we included this super fun "ONE" shirt for the little guy! The shirt was so easy to make! And fun, too. I cut out my number, ironed and fused it on using this product, sewed around it and, voila! birthday fun!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

My Recipe Wish List

I often get asked if I prefer one type of cooking or one region for my inspiration. The answer is no, and no. I like a lot of different types of food and I love to try new things.

It was about a year ago that I discovered the "blogosphere" as it referred to cooking and crafting. Previously, I'd look for recipes on Epicurious, Allrecipes, and in my stacks of cookbooks and cooking magazines (I like Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Cooking Light, even Family Fun!). One night late last fall, I was up waaaaay too late after my newborn had refused to go to bed. I stumbled upon the Pioneer Woman. And my cooking hasn't been the same since!

Ever since then, I have kept bookmarks for some recipes I'd really like to try!

Here are just a few:
Caramelized Onion and Butternut Squash Galette from Smitten Kitchen
Grilled Ribeye with an Onion Blue Cheese Sauce from Pioneer Woman
This and This pizza from Smitten Kitchen
Baked Doughnuts from 101 Cookbooks
Zuni Roasted Chicken from The Kitchen Sink
Beef Bourgugnion (after seeing Julie and Julia, of course) from Purse Full of Cheerios
Chocolate Croissants in a jiffy from Joy the Baker
These mouth-watering pancakes from Bakerella

So, there you have it. Just a sneak peek of my culinary "to do" list.

I will try and tackle one soon. And post a review, too.

Happy Weekending!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Too cool for (Mom at) School

My Irish hubby and I got married right out of college and were the among the first of all our high school and college friends to have kids. We are now among the first of our friends to send our kids off to preschool and kindergarten. Hopefully our dear friends don't think we overload them with advice and tips and "wisdom" from our parenting experience. I try my best to avoid the annoying mom rants on sleeping, diet, etc. However, one thing I know I say too often to my friends with kids younger than ours is, "They grow up sooooo fast."

Such a clichéd phrase! But it couldn't be more true. The passing of time once you have children borders on the obscene and ridiculous. It.just.flies.

All of a sudden, we find ourselves the parents of a KINDERGARTNER. It seems wrong! I swear that, in the blink of an eye, they go from tiny to toddler to pre-teen. Thankfully, we're not at the pre-teen phase yet.

While adults may be slow to change, the adjustment to kindergarten has gone incredibly smooth for Little Man. He loves it and can't wait to go back at the end of each day. He loves riding the bus and his first day on the bus was effortless. He hopped right on without turning his back. Loved the experience.

His mother, however, found the experience to be a mite bit on the traumatic side. Darling hubby decided to capture said trauma on film in extreme close up. Note the tears in eyes; ignore the wrinkles:

Now that Little Man is three weeks into kindergarten, he has definitely "transformed" into an elementary student. The other day, I happened to drop him off for school and bring in some supplies. Last year, we would always walk into preschool hand in hand. On this morning, Little Man hopped out of the car and let me grab his hand, walking up from the parking lot.

As SOON as we hit the sidewalk, he dropped my hand and slowed down. Not even thinking about the "cool" factor, I reached for his hand again. Little Man pronounced, in a matter of fact tone, "Kindergartners don't hold their moms' hands anymore."

And there you have it. Word to the wise: They grow up SO fast! Hold little hands as often as you can! Now, Little Man is super sweet and I know I'll have some hand holding moments in the future. But gone, I'm certain, are the days of the unabashed hand holding, the unaware grasping for my hand as we walk.

I'm mourning that loss a little bit, but I'm so proud of Little Man. Of the Little Man he is becoming day by day. I am blessed to be his mama and am excited to see what God has in store for his Little Life.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Holy Guacamole!

Tacos were one of the meals that my mom often served when I was growing up. She even served guacamole, which was always a favorite with my little bro. All things considered, it was very exotic of my beloved mom to try guacamole on her picky kids! Especially circa 1988! She made the guacamole using packaged mix that she'd add to mashed avocados. I was never really wild about the guac. Now I know why.

May I introduce you to one of my very best friends? Guacamole, meet my friends. Friends, guacamole. If you haven't ever made guacamole from scratch, it's ridiculously easy (almost as easy as making it like my beloved mom did) and so good that you'll want to eat it for breakfast!

Here are the players on Team Guac.

Avocados, Roma tomatoes, onion, lovely cilantro, garlic, kosher salt, lime, a teensy bit of cayenne, and (oops, forgot to place it in the picture) garlic.

First off, you'll need to mash your avocados. To do so, slice them in half down the middle and chop at the pit with your knife (carefully!) to "grab" it out of the avocado half. Discard.

Use a normal spoon to scoop out the avocado. Instead of mashing by hand, I use a potato masher. It helps if you place the avocados in a bowl or dish with a flat surface, like this Pyrex one I used.

Mash away, but not too much. Guacamole tastes better with a bit of texture, but leave it as smooth or chunky as you desire. Juice half the lime, reserving the juice. Add 2 teaspoons of the juice to the avocado, along with 3/4 teaspoon of kosher salt. Mix in thoroughly. You may add more salt and/or lime juice later if needed. We don't want the guacamole to get soupy.

Next, you'll need to get chopping. I started with cilantro. Grab a nice big handful---I use about 4-5 tablespoons total. And I use a mezzaluna to chop herbs. Makes life much easier.

Get to work chopping the onion in a fairly fine dice, and then the tomatoes, making sure to get all the seeds/membrane or it will make your final product too wet.

Add the cilantro, onion and tomatoes to the game.

Then toss in 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic. Don't tell anyone; I almost always use this minced garlic in a bottle because I'm lazy and can't be bothered with a garlic press.

Team Guacamole is in the final inning. At this point, I add a couple gentle shakes of cayenne pepper. I don't like things hot, so a couple shakes (less than a pinch, really) just adds depth of flavor. If you fall into the "Some Like it Hot" category, add more. Or chop up your favorite hot pepper and add it to the mix. Then taste your creation. Add more lime juice or salt if needed.

And there you have it!

I promise that, if you make this guacamole, you won't regret it!

Holy Guacamole
by Mostly Mom
3-4 ripe avocados
3/4 - 1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 lime, juice reserved
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 medium onion, about 1/2 cup finely diced
4-5 TB Cilantro, chopped roughly
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
Cayenne Pepper, to taste (I use less than a pinch!)

Pit and mash 3 avocados with a potato masher into a course mash. Add 3/4 tsp. salt and 1-2 tsp. of the lime juice. Mix gently. Chop the cilantro, then dice the tomatoes and onion. Add to the avocado mixture, along with the 1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic. If desired, add cayenne pepper. Taste. Add more salt and/or lime juice as needed. Serve quickly. If not serving immediately, cover tightly with plastic wrap stuck directly to the surface of the guacamole. Best if used within a few hours, if it lasts that long!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Homemade Laundry Detergent 101

We've been reading the Little House series of books in our house. We've finished Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie and are in the last chapter of Farmer Boy, which is about Laura's future husband, Almanzo. Our boys love these books (we even got to see two Little House towns on our big summer trip; I'll share about that another time soon) and, truth be told, I love them, too.

There is a great deal of the difficult, yet hands-on nature of the lives of the characters that I find incredibly appealing. The Ingalls and the Wilder families had to work hard for everything they enjoyed in life and seemed to take little or nothing for granted. The lives of the mothers in the stories seem exhausting, but so fulfilling.

I love the way that the Ingalls and Wilder families made, caught or grew nearly everything they used in daily existence, like clothing, homes, tools, candles, and even soap.  Reading the books has made me think about going "off the grid" ---this says the "blogger"!--- and living off the land. After a few moments, I recall that I can't really sew, I don't have the stomach to carve up the "dinner" that my hubby hunts, and I can barely keep basil alive for the summer. Alas, I have aspirations to be more thrifty, more conscious of wastefulness, and better at finding simple solutions for household needs.

One way I've done that is by making my some of my own cleaning products of late. Thankfully, I don't have to be like Ma Ingalls and make soap using lye and animal fat. However, I do like the idea that the products I'm using aren't chemical-y (add it to the Mostly Mom lexicon! It's a word now!) and stinky. I like the idea that they do the job without endangering me or my family. I got the recipe from a sorority sister at her adorable and fun blog, Monkeys on the Bed. My FAVORITE product is the Frosting Scrub that replaces Soft Scrub. It works very well and is so gentle on the skin.

After using these products for a while, I decided I'd like to tackle making my own laundry soap. Again, I'm not going Ma Ingalls here, since they used the same soap for just about every job. But from all I'd read, homemade laundry detergent is more economical, more gentle and less sudsy (see previous post) in the washing machine, too!

Making the soap was very easy and I can say that it works very, very well!

Let's make it!

The supplies you'll need are as follows:

Borax, Washing Soda, and a bar of gentle soap (I used Fels Naptha).

I did a little hunting to find out how the powdered ingredients work. The Borax (which has other AMAZING cleaning abilities, read the box!) works by turning some water molecules into the powerful cleaning agent, hydrogen peroxide, and also disinfects and kills germs/pests. The Washing Soda is highly alkaline, so it behaves like a solvent and a non-chlorine bleach. It can also be very helpful for those with hard water. It's chemical name is Sodium Carbonate, which is different from Sodium BiCarbonate, or Baking Soda.

ALL of these products are readily available. I got mine at Cub, our local grocery store. I have also purchased Borax at Target or Wal-Mart. The Borax was $3.99, Washing Soda was $2.59 and the Fels Naptha was $1.89. I will get many, many batches out of the washing soda and Borax as the boxes are quite large.

First, you'll need to use a box grater or food processor to grind up/shave your bar soap.  I cut up the bar of soap, then had my handsome assistant, Littlest Man, feed it carefully into the chute of the food processor under the closest of supervision! The recipe that I detail below is for one batch. We made several batches at once, as I thought it would be easier to do so. We also make a whole heckuvalot of laundry around here.

After Littlest Man and I fed the soap through the food processor using a fine grater disk, I ran it through the regular food processor using the chopper part (I don't know the technical term) so it would be more fine and "chopped up". I'm sure the bar could easily be grated using a box grater in front of, say, and episode of "Barefoot Contessa."

The next steps are easy as can be! Simply measure out the required amounts of Borax and Washing Soda (again, I made a big batch, so pictured amounts are much greater than the recipe below).

Mix the ingredients well, or have your handsome assistant do the work while you finish your nonfat mocha, listen to your favorite tunes and successfully avoid emptying the dishwasher.
And that is it! Once you're done, store the detergent in a sealed container. I re-purposed a gallon ice cream container, but I'm on the lookout for a better (and more attractive!) container.  I labeled the top and used it right away! I think the soap works really well. It requires only 1 TB per load, or 2 TB for heavily soiled loads. I have no complaints thus far! I find it dissolves well and gets the job done for a lot less $!

Homemade Laundry Detergent

   1 cup soap flakes  (Ivory, Fels Naptha, or other gentle soap)
   1/2 cup washing soda
   1/2 cup Borax

Mix well and store in a sealed container. Use 1-2 TB per load.

Note, this same recipe can be made as a liquid detergent, as follows.
   1 cup soap flakes *
   1/2 cup washing soda
   1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax

Mix the soap flakes in a pan with 3 pints of water over medium heat, until it all dissolves, roughly 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the washing soda and Borax. Mix until everything thickens, another 3 minutes or so, then remove from heat. Put 1 quart of hot water in a 2 gallon bucket, then add the soap mixture you just made. Mix well.
Now fill the bucket with the mixture with cold water. Stir until well blended. It will thicken and separate as it cools. Stir or shake well before using. Use 1/2 cup for each load, or more for very dirty items.
*Fels Naptha, Ivory, etc.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Laundry Blues

I wonder how many of you own or are considering the purchase of a High Efficiency Washing machine.

I love the size of the machine and how many items I can cram in there. It definitely has a large capacity and does a decent job of getting my mountains of laundry clean. It does take a bit longer to complete a load than a regular front loading, old school machine, but does an admirable job for the most part. I do have one major complaint though. I grumble about the way it washes towels, or rather, fails to rinse them fully.

The failure to fully rinse the towels isn't noticeable at first. However, after months of using the high efficiency machine, I noticed that the towels would seem clean after being washed & dried. But AS SOON as they were wet after a shower/bath, the towel would smell moldy and mildew-y. I began washing more frequently (2-3x/week for towels), used more Tide (my previous brand of choice) and even added vinegar, Oxy Clean, you name it! The problem was still happening, and SO gross! If I dried my face on the towel, the smell would transfer. So icky. And odd. The towels would smell Tide and Downy fresh upon departure from the dryer, but stinky as soon as they did their toweling job!

So, I thought I'd do a bit of research. I hunted a bunch on the internet. Sad, but true. I found that a LOT of people had this problem (which was good as I was seriously thinking I was just a bad little washer woman!). Here is a summary of what I found:

1) Simply using HE detergent isn't enough. Even HE detergents instruct the user to use WAY too much detergent, particularly liquid detergents.
2) The HE models use an insufficient amount of water for successful rinsing of heavy or highly absorbent laundry items, resulting in an incomplete rinsing of excess soap from the laundry, particularly the towels.

This discovery made sense! Extra soap + Super Absorbent Towels + Not enough water to rinse = Mildew that would grow/build up over a long period of time!

Basically, the mildew takes a while to really grow, so the smell wasn't obvious right away. And the towels seemed clean at first, but adding dampness made the smell obvious. Ta da! I kept on reading to find out about how to solve the problem and prevent it in the future.

Here is a little of what I learned:
1) The cleaning formula for liquid vs. powdered detergents is not the same. Powdered Tide, from what I read, has a different chemical makeup and can do a better job of cleaning
2) Mildew and Mold like HE washers. Make sure you check the front "lip/seal" of rubber on your machine. I wipe mine often and, about once a month, do a load of just hot water with bleach to kill anything growing. Vinegar works, too. Make sure you leave the door open after washing, too, to let the machine air out.
3) Use LESS! Whether you choose liquid or powdered detergent, most sites I saw recommended using 1/4 to 1/2 of the amount recommended by the manufacturers to get your clothes clean.

Now that I knew what was causing the problem, I read on to find out what to do to fix it. Would I have to buy all new towels? Thank goodness, no! In order to tackle the problem of stinky towels, first I washed the towels over and over and over with no detergent at all. Even though I didn't use detergent, suds kept coming out of the towels, even after 3 washes. I think I ended up washing them 4 or 5 times to completely get rid of the soap build-up inside the towels.

Next, I did decide to switch to a powdered version of Tide HE. I later switched to the Kirkland Brand from Costco. Now I have begun making my own powdered laundry detergent as it is cheaper, less sudsy (which helps with the rinsing because less water is present) and very gentle. More on that another day.

I also read that using too much fabric softener adds to the problem, so I always water mine down a bit and use less.

So there you have it. A laundry mystery debunked. Kind of sad that I'd be so excited about it, but what can I say? I lead a sheltered life. I'll share the recipe I use for laundry detergent another day. It's easy, affordable and fun for the whole family. That last line may be a bit of an exaggeration.

***photos courtesy of Creative Commons on Flickr