Friday, December 30, 2011

Go Forth...and Shop!

I don't know about you, but I know I will have to buy at least five "dirty Santa" gifts each year. They are all fun parties, but not always fun to buy gifts for. You never know who the recipient will be, whether they will like it, or if it will just end up re-gifted at that person's next party. By now almost every store has clearanced their items to half-off, but if you can just hold out a little longer you can save 75% or more for those crazy gifts that must be bought for next Christmas. Please do not misread this as "go out and buy some crappy cheap gift that no one wants just so that next year you will not be empty handed". I admit there is seemingly a brief amount of insanity involved here, but if this were left to my husband we would be picking up the gift on the way to the party, over paying (as he gripes about over paying), then having to pay for wrapping and showing up to the party in a bad mood! This is why I do not leave it up to him.

Find some empty space in a closet or preferably in a place you store some of your other Christmas items...such as wrapping paper. Over the next couple weeks when you have time to fight the maddening shoppers and loitering teenagers packing the malls keep mental notes of who will be on your Christmas list for the coming year and pick up things that people would want. For instance, I have not found one this year, but my Mom loves hummingbirds. When I see a hummingbird feeder that she would like on sale I go ahead and get it to stash away in my gift closet. I make a little note of whom the gift is intended and by Black Friday I have completed a good portion of my Christmas shopping with meaningful, welcome gifts for that year's Christmas presents.   

A couple things to keep in mind are: is this a gift I would not mind receiving and does it expire...CHECK FOR DATES!

Voila! Go shop! Go Save! out Santa Clause

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Perfect Pots of Fudge

Well, this merry time of year is coming to a close. If someone unexpectedly brought you a gift or you still have a gift you need to give here is a quick idea that will also be useful in the spring. 

You will need: 
  • Mini pots or vases 
  • Parchment paper squares 
  • Treat bags 
  • Cookies, brownies or other goodies 
Place a couple folds in either side of a parchment paper square. Push the paper down into the pot. 

Cut, in this case, fudge into small cubes. Separate each piece with a small square of parchment or wax paper...this gives your gift a purchased quality about it. 

For the bow, you will need: 
  • A snip of evergreen 
  • Wide wired ribbon 
  • Small ribbon 
  • Twist tie 
Fold the large wired ribbon unevenly on itself. Layer the “fresh, real” greenery on next. I snipped 2-3” pieces from a bush at my house...yes, it is that easy to add a lovely touch of live greenery. Lastly, place your smaller ribbon on top. If you look closely you can see this ribbon has a “thank you” tag attached. This would be exceptionally nice given as a thank you for one of those above and beyond gifts you were not expecting. 

Wrap the twist tie over the top of all three pieces. 

Voila! A pretty gift that says, “thank you”, “merry Christmas”, “your special”, etc!...and a pot for planting seeds in the spring.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mom’s Oreo bon-bons

These are one of the biggest Christmas party hits ever! I set some of these and a small assortment of other chocolates out at a progressive dinner. Our neighbors had brought other desserts and I had set out a cheesecake...and the bon-bons were wiped out by the end of the evening. This is actually not my recipe...I will give my Mom credit...though she was not the original author. It is crazy simple... 

You will need: 
  • 1 Brick low fat Philadelphia cream cheese 
  • 1 Stick butter (melted) 
  • Box of Oreo cookies (coarsely chopped) 
  • Bag of dark chocolate Hershey’s chips 

In a mixing bowl combine softened cream cheese, melted butter and coarsely chopped Oreo’s with filling inside. 

Roll into about 3/4” balls, cover and freeze. 

Melt chocolate chips in a double broiler. Coat the frozen Oreo balls in the melted chocolate. 

Keep cool until serving. If you want to make the batter in advance wrap them tight and freeze them until you are ready to dip. 

Easy, Easy, Easy...Yummy, Yummy, Yummy!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Defeat the Decorative Mesh

I have to be honest, this stuff is intimidating! I thought this wide ribbon mesh would be super simple to work with, and I will not say it was difficult, just that the mesh intended to win the fight once I unrolled it. It has pokey edges around the perimeter that catch on everything, including itself. Knowing this information would have been helpful before I began. As you can see I used the ribbon mesh in a couple of places: the typical spiral around the tree and the not so typical fluff around the base. 

I would assume that draping the ribbon mesh around the tree is pretty self explanatory, but if it is not, here is a quick run down. Pick your path around the tree, every couple rows of branches or so. Starting at the top loosely mash and twist the mesh together poking it slightly into tree as you wind it around. The key is to think very little about how and what you are doing as you work with this stuff. This is a six foot tree and it used every bit of a roll of ribbon mesh...just FYI. 

To make the fluff at the bottom of the tree start by accordion pleating the ribbon mesh. Make a fold about every eight to ten inches. 

Make several folds until you have a large stack of pleats. 

Thread a twist tie down through the middle of the pleats and twist it closed. 

When the twist tie is in place and the mesh is released it should look like this, resembling those hard Christmas ribbon candies. 

Grab those spiky edges and roll them under creating a soft bubbled edge. 

After rolling the edges under you should have this. 

Wrap the puff around the base of the tree. 

I was not finished with the tree when I took this picture, but there is no rule that says you have to use a tree skirt or set your tree on the floor. I actually do not use a tree skirt on either tree. Once your presents are around the tree you will only see little bits of the skirt anyway. Raising the tree allows you to use a less expensive tree in a taller room and easily stack taller presents beneath. 

I have listed several Christmas tree decorating ideas. I hope you find them helpful (if you have not decorated yet). 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Potholders - Out of the Kitchen

My great aunt and my grandmother worked many time-consuming hours on these pretty little potholders. They are intricate, delicate and I certainly do not want to dirty them. Considering my fear of using them the way they were intended I found an alternate way that really saved me from a bind when I ran out of ribbon. 

I had spent at least an hour scaling my three tall breakfast nook windows and dangling from a ladder to hang garland around them. Each room has a different Christmas-time look with the kitchen and breakfast nook dressed in a more antique, home-made, cabin style feel. The ribbon that had been wound just so with the same amount of loops on either side to my shock and disgust was about 2 feet short of the middle. My eyes darted around the remaining decorations for a solution. I was out of ribbon with nothing to match! Then I remembered the potholders. A little creative ribbon negotiation, some twist-ties, a floral pick with a bell, and three potholders later I had an attractive and appropriate centerpiece for my breakfast window garland.    

Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Shawls and Wraps...for You or the Furniture

We all know that from year to year holiday party fashions change. I am very cold natured, so, I have accumulated various wraps to match various dresses over the years. I just wanted to share a quick idea with you as you make your home festive this holiday season.

Table runners and toppers can really add up, especially when you just want to add a splash of color or protect your wooden pieces from some tipsy holiday cheer. Before you run out to buy something at the interiors store see if you might have a wrap you are not wearing this season that may better adorn your furniture than yourself.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Helpful Notes to Begin Holiday Decorating

I try to be cognizant of the things I just do that other people do not come upon naturally. It occurred to me while decorating my trees this year that I decorate sometimes without an end result in mind, but still in a very rhythmic pattern. 

Let me try to explain. Well, we all know when all the dusty boxes come down from the attic and the initial joy of open each box has worn off you are left with an overwhelming sense of AHHH, look at all this stuff, now how did I have it all last year? Keep your head. Begin with the things you know, like the lights. They must go on the tree first. Personally, I really dislike stringing lights. My size does not help anything...when I am up and down the ladder and moving it two to three times for every wrap of the strand. The last couple years I have gone minimal on the lights. I found a larger pearlized bulb that I like and I mix it with some tiny white lights. It generates plenty of light with a lot less work. 

Now that the lights are on do not start randomly pulling and hanging things on the tree. Have you ever seen the professors demonstration about how to fill a jar? You start with the big stuff...the rocks, then eventually you end with the sand. This is the same process, not just with you tree but all your home decor. 

Let's stay with the tree for now. I like ribbons and fabric pieces on my tree. I do not drape them the same every year. Sometimes they go diagonal, sometimes criss-cross, sometimes straight down. It does not matter what they do as long as you find some uniformity that fits your look. Play with it! You can because you have not put any ornaments on the tree yet to knock off in your rearranging of the ribbons. 

Next start with your larger ornaments especially those in sets. Place them in diagonals, x's, diamond patterns across the tree. You will notice as you do this the tree fills up quickly and keeps a balanced look. 

Lastly, add all of your special little ornaments. If you or your friends have little ones with little sticky, snatchy hands place the breakables up top and the plastics at the bottom. If you have photo frames or other special pieces you want people to see make sure to save a spot for them at eye level viewing. Remember, not all of the ornaments have to go on the tree. If you have some great ornaments, for instance, purple ornaments and an all white tree, try adding a grouping of clear glass vases in another room full of your pretty purple ornaments. Use all the ornaments you want, just consider their groupings.      

My husband says I am the crazy Target commercial lady at Christmas and with this next statement you may agree, but oh, well. It may only be one of those unconscious things your mind notices but does not put together why you like it, but I like to wrap the presents beneath the tree according to the color scheme of the room. To far? Well, possibly. But it looks really nice! I decided to do ALL white in the living room this year. I even hid the stockings because they had red on them. I have had an all white tree for years, but never the whole room. This was not an easy task, but it turned out lovely! Back to the presents, I wanted to keep with the white theme, so, other than a very few red ribbons I kept the packages black, white, and green for the most part. It sounds obsessive, but really allows the room to shine and not distract your eye to the gifts versus your mantle.

Speaking of mantle...I want to pass along an idea from Mary Carol Garrity, our guest speaker at a luncheon I co-chaired a couple months back. She said she places a piece of ply-wood that matches the color and shape of her mantle on top of her mantle. This protects your mantle from scratches and allows you to hammer a small nail or staple right into the ply-wood veneer. When your decorations are up it appears as if the ply-wood were your actual mantle, yet your mantle has been protected. As you can see below I have tried this on my own mantle.    

Monday, December 5, 2011

Caramel Apple Pie-lettes

I have recently been going through my Grandmother's recipe book. I was having a tremendous urge to make a fruit pie, but the problem for a few years now has been that my husband claims to hate cooked fruit, yet, he always takes a gigantic bite from my Taco Bell caramel apple empanada every time I get one. So I set out to achieve that caramel apple empanada taste, but in apple pie form. 

We do not have a very big family. To attempt not having a huge amount of leftover pie I decided to just make everyone their own personal miniature pies. I found a package of eight frozen tartlet shells and bought a package of roll-out dough to cut into circles to cover the apple filling. This recipe will work the same for a single 9" pie, but these little ones are just so cute! I stacked them on a covered glass cake plate. It kept them warm while we ate and made for a nice presentation.   

Another good use for making mini pies is to give as gifts. Think of all the singles and couples with no children at home that would love to receive baked goods but not in massive sizes. One batch of these and voila! Eight gifts for neighbors, friends, co-workers, the Grinch, whomever! 

  • 6-8 apples (I used McIntosh) 
  • 1 cup apple cider 
  • 1tsp.cornstarch 
  • 1/4 c. butter 
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar (packed) 
  • 1 Tbs. reserved cider 
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice 
  • 1 tsp. vanilla 
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon 
  • pinch of nutmeg and all-spice 
  • 1/8 tsp. salt 
  • frozen mini pie shells and rolled pie dough 

Peel, core, and cube apples. *Note: If someone in your house has an aversion to cooked fruit try cutting the pieces into smaller chunks so that when the apples cook down into more of a mush the texture is lost but the taste remains.  

Mix cornstarch in cider until dissolved. Bring cider to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Add apples, reduce heat and cook uncovered about 8 minutes. Drain cider from apples reserving 1 tablespoon cider. 

Melt butter (on medium) in a medium-large skillet and add brown sugar. Stir until well mixed. Turn down heat and add drained apples, reserved cider, lemon juice, vanilla, spices and salt. When all are mixed pour into either one 9” pie shell or 8 mini pie shells. Cut rolled pie dough to cover the pie. Wipe edges with water and crimp pie dough together. Cut four small slits in the center of the top sheet of dough to vent. Brush top dough with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. 

Bake 400 degrees F for 40 minutes.

Serve with a dollop of vanilla frozen yogurt. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

From Old to New and Summer to Winter

First of all, my apologies for skipping a couple of my regular blog days. Hopefully, I can pack this blog with enough information to make it worth the wait. So, as we begin the holidays I want to help you shop your closet for old, new outfits to wear to the multitude of gatherings that are about to fill your calendar and help you decide what pieces you may want to pick up on Black Friday to spice up and existing ensemble. I have been making mental notes the last couple of months over some simple wardrobe transitions into fall and winter using existing pieces from your closet. I am listing several examples, not to be redundant or narcissistic, but from having a non-visualizing husband, I have learned the more examples the more likely to relate ideas from my artsy, imaginative mind to a practical application for someone else. 

Let’s begin with a few summer dresses. From left to right I have a boutique dress, a Target dress, a dress from about 1998, and a homemade dress (one you may also have made if you have been following my blog). There is enough variety that you should be able to relate. Notice the similarities first. They are all summer dresses, light weight fabrics, and non-season specific colors. The last point is the most important! Whether you are shopping for a piece to achieve maximum wear for your money or sorting through your closet for a summer piece to transition to winter think about the versatility of the color. 

Also, when shopping, consider whether it is a staple or a trend piece? Examples of a staple are that basic black dress or perfect fit trench coat that you wear holes in before it goes out of style. Do not feel bad about spending a little more on a quality want it to last. Trends can be any number of things from how we wear something to the piece itself...skinny jeans, tall boots over the pants, belts, scarves, feathers in our hair, etc... This is not where you want to dump your money.

I bet you additionally have a few of these fall/winter time pieces in your closet too. 

Now let’s look at the different dresses (and a few more) one by one. 

The flesh-tone boutique dress. 

The flirty ruffles and sheer fabric at first look would appear impossible to lend to cozy cold weather apparel, but add a darker-colored blazer for seasonability and contrast, a trendy pop of color in a winter-weight scarf, tights that mimic your blazer color and low topped boots and you have a very equestrian inspired ensemble. I want to make a note about the low boots. I chose a low boot because I am short. The length and width of this dress are not particularly flattering to my frame. Since I liked the dress so much I chose to purchase it and accessorize it to create a flattering silhouette. By choosing a short topped (these are actually my design) high heeled boot. I could create a vertical thread between the hem and my feet. Pumps would work just as well. The boots serve a second purpose too. Because there is horizontal space between my lower calf and the boot top it creates the illusion that my legs are thinner than they actually are. With the help of the dark colored tight this also makes them appear longer. Allowing the scarf ends to hang in line with my legs brings head to toe elongation to a dress that can easily appear very wide. This is a great polished look for many occasions. Belting at the waist over the jacket is another option. 

The striped, A-line, short Target dress 

Again we are dealing with a flared bottom. But this one is bias cut so it hangs a little less rigid and more flattering to the body. Similarly to the first set of images I have added a color-pop loose-ended scarf, tights that match the jacket, and wide topped boots. Though it is hard to tell in the picture the jacket is double breasted with banded ribbing at the hem. What I chose not to do is leave the jacket completely open. Buttoning the solid fabric over the stripes helps notate the location of my waist and creates some distance to my feet. This is a very comfy option for an errand-running look. These are one of the few flats I wear (one of my favorite winter staples). I love them and I will get them re-soled until they completely fall apart. 

The 1990’s short green dress 

If you have not grown height-wise in the last 10 years you have a few old dresses in your closet. I found this one in my closet at my parent’s house this summer. It still fits, it is still flattering, just not particularly trending at the moment. But, some of the asymmetric cut-out’s of the 90’s resemble the same seam angles of the current color-blocking designs. Additionally, the diagonal neckline aides in confusing the eye to bounce around the outfit and creates a slimming effect to what could easily become a very harsh, wide horizontal line across the shoulders. Whether you have wide or narrow shoulders this combination will work. The combination of the sweater neckline, dress neckline, tie at the waist, and the repetitive continuity of the colors above and below the waist allow the outfit to form curves while slenderizing. Stay away from pairing a bulky, nearly off-the-shoulder sweater with a boat neck top if you do not want your shoulders to appear wider. This is a super look for a casual holiday party. 

The homemade t-shirt maxi 
If you do not remember this dress scroll back through some of my “wearable fashion” posts from the summer. I walk you through creating a pattern and construction. I would assume that many of you have more than one maxi dress in your closet considering they have been in vogue for a few years. I have noticed this look continuously creeping into the various fashion magazines and really all it consists of are a couple items you already have in your closet. Select a comfy sweater in the same color family as the print of your straight maxi dress. Important: a straight maxi dress paired with a moderately tailored (and not overly long) sweater achieves the best results. You can make this ensemble as warm as you would like by adding a heavier sweater and tights beneath. Considering these photos were all shot out-of-town (in very warm 80 degree November SW Oklahoma) with a limited number of pieces I tossed in a suitcase the shoes are negotiable. I am not one for flats that are not tennis-shoes or my treasured mukluks so the ballet flats shown are actually some old costume shoes. However, if I owned a pair of ballet flats they would pair nicely with this outfit. Whatever shoe choice you make this is not the time for statement shoes. The idea is elongating the body with the clothing not distracting the focus to your shoes. This is perfect airport attire for your holiday travels, layered, comfortable, and cute. 

Here are a few extra ideas for pieces you probably already have. 

Animal prints 
To my dismay animal prints have clawed their way back to another season. This is another old dress from about the 2002 era (when I was really wild about animal print). With the resurgence of knee-length (and below) pencil silhouettes, thanks to “Mad Men” and “Pan-Am” and undying leopard prints this dress is totally recyclable. Pairing it with a long, solid dark brown wrap sweater, dark brown leggings and dark brown boots keeps the look modern and inhibits the animal print from taking over the apparel. Keeping the pieces (aside from the animal print) the same color will keep the look from appearing too loud. 

Speaking of loud...the bright orange tweed suit! 

The designs come and go, but you can always find some form of tweed suiting. If you do not have an old tweed suit check the back of your mom/mother-in-law’s closets...and they are pretty prevalent in thrift stores too. As we know gold and coppery tones have been making a come-back and these old suits already have the gold buttons attached. Turn up the sleeves and belt it for a current look. I wanted to show that you do not have to be across the board trendy to dabble in some new looks. This is very fitting for an older crowd. You do not have to do the skinny jeans and just move the belt from the loops to the waist over the jacket. Simple, minor changes that rock trends without appearing like you robbed your daughter or granddaughter’s closet. 

The 4 years ago retro smock 

This piece was on my garage sale chopping block this summer. It feels a little maternity...tailored at the top and loose over the tummy. But I found that little glimmer of life left in it when I unbuttoned the top and let it fall to a more natural position. I then belted it in place and it added some nice monotone texture. A contrasting belt cinches the waist and the matching boots complete the outfit. This is always my general fall back look, I love black. Which makes my wardrobe really easy to work with. 

Alright, last looks and switching to white. 

This is another look that can work for different age groups. The first sweater style may jive better with a slightly older crowd and the second young adult to middle age. All of the pieces you see below are all separates, including the fur collar. The fur collars are easy to find. If you do not have grandma’s somewhere stashed away in a dress-up drawer from childhood check your local thrift or antique stores. Pin it to your favorite long sweater, preferably your long sweater that just happens to be the same color as the fur and the dress. Belt below the sweater for a defined waist, but less trendy look. 

For a fun’s back to the back of the closet or the thrift store. Yes, at one time this faux fur vest had zip-off sleeves. If the vest has a rib-knit band like this one you may feel more comfortable folding it under...out of sight....and pinning it. Layer the ensemble the same as above but without the fur collar and place belt over the top layer. Puff the chest area out of the vest above the belt to an even width with the peplum. You do not want the top to be stuck down tight to your chest and the bottom creating unnaturally large hips. Skins are huge this season so toss a piece into your wardrobe like this snake skin belt below. 

And I will wrap this closet shopping spree with an outfit I find most comfortable. Choose a head-to-toe, form-fitting solid color with high contrast to your oversized vest. I tend to trend hipsy, so the oversized vest in a lighter color helps slim my lower half. If you are uncomfortable in spandex denim works too. 

Most importantly seek out trends you can incorporate into your wardrobe and still retain a sense of self. Self confidence makes an outfit a hit or a costume. 

In the spirit of thanksgiving I have a few thank you’s to mention. 

I would like to thank my Mom for helping me with the pictures for this post. It is so much easier and beneficial when I can bring you real examples from my own closet without attempting self-portraits or dressing dress forms. 

My next shout-out goes to Jeremiah at Maaco on the Broadway extension in Oklahoma City. He was so gracious toward my helplessness in replacing my taillight. He was helpful, quick and even shared a remedy for removing pet hair from my car seats. Great people...go see them for your car service needs! 

And, of course, I am thankful for all of you that I am able to share my ideas. This blog brings me no gain other than a creative outlet. I love your comments and messages that let me know someone finds them useful.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Serve Mixed Drinks - Bartender not included

I don’t know about you, but hiring someone to bar-tend a party is an added expense that I think I can do without. Not that it is not a good idea and a nice addition to a "grown-up" party, but when you are hosting things on a smaller scale and want to give your guests a cocktail selection without having to mix it themselves this is a pretty good repurposed idea. 

I removed the labels (with alcohol or “Goo Gone”) and sterilized used Bertolli spaghetti sauce jars. I would venture to say most households have at least one bottled product they use on a regular basis. Contemplate the glass jars you throw out...or hopefully recycle. I began saving the spaghetti jars because they were aesthetically pleasing and a convenient size for leftovers. 

Find one or more cocktail recipes that you can mix a few hours in advance of your party. I would post the mojito recipe we used, me you would not want it. Regardless, of the concoction the container idea was worth posting. Print, by hand or by printer, the name of the cocktail on a small square of paper covered with a piece of clear packing tape. Then add your labeled cocktail jars in with the wine or beer bottles chilling in your ice tubs. This saves you from bringing out drink dispensers that you would not want to place a label, cluttering your refrigerator with pitchers, or you or your guests bar-tending the party.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Polka Dot Cake Decorating

This idea was born purely out of having no idea how I was going to decorate this cake, a complete lack of time, and the fact that I had already sent my husband to the grocery store. 

Every time I change regular buttercream over to chocolate butter cream it changes the density just enough to become difficult to work with. Therefore, I had used my spare decorating time just trying to execute the seemingly easy step of icing the cake. I needed something else at the store that I had managed to also run out of time to pick up so my husband was headed out the door for a different set of items when I said just pick up some Oreo’s too. I had remembered seeing a cute polka dot cake earlier in the week and I knew my mind was on to something that I would work out as soon as I had the Oreo’s in hand. 

Ice any cake with any flavor icing you like. Smooth the icing flat with a hand-held icing spatula. I used a chocolate buttercream icing to top this white cake with peanut butter nougat filling. 

Once you have iced your cake consider the flavors in your cake, filling, and icing before choosing the flavor of Oreo or like sandwich cookie. Remove the wafers from the filling of the cookie. Dust off as many of the crumbs from the filling as you can. 

Firmly place the filling centers in a controlled random pattern. 

Continue pressing the filling centers into the icing until covering the cake. 

Voila! A very fun decorated cake without rolling or cutting any fondant. 

Save your Oreo wafers to make cheesecake or pie crusts later!