Thursday, August 6, 2009

Box Stilts

Here's a fun little craft the kids can help make and even play with outside too.

All the supplies needed: 2 Juice cartons, string, a pen or pencil, newspaper, scissors, and tape.

Start by punching a hole on the side near the top with your pen or pencil. Make another hole on the other side. Then string a string through the holes and tie (should be about child's waist height).

Stuff the box full of newspaper. The more you put in the better. After it was finished we had to reopen one box to put more newspaper in.

Tape the ends closed and ta da he is now four inches taller.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Who doesn't love strawberry freezer jam?  I didn't even know this stuff existed til after I was married and over at my in-laws home.  It is so yummy on toast, peanut butter sandwiches, homemade bread, and biscuits.  I even used it for the filling in a birthday cake I made a few days ago.  The best part is it is "uber" easy to make.

I wait til there is a really good sale on strawberries, then buy a whole bunch.  They were 99cents for a 1 lb container- that's better than I ever saw last year.  First step: wash and core all the berries.  (Note: you have to use the recipe that comes with the pectin you buy but the basic steps are all the same)

I was excited to find this no sugar needed pectin.  Normal pectin calls for about 4 cups of sugar to 3 cups of berries.  With this pectin you can use apple or cranberry juice in stead (I used the apple).  You can also add a little sugar or splenda to make it a little sweeter.  I used 1 c. of sugar, it was still just a little tart.  Next time I'll use 2 c. of sugar which is still better than 4c. with regular pectin, right?

Second step: Mash your berries.  The box suggested using a potato masher.  I find it is much quicker to use the chopper in my food processer and to pulsate so it's not completely mush.  You want some chunks of berry in there.

Third step:  Boil the pectin with the apple juice.  You have to make sure you bring it to a full rolling boil- as seen below.

Fourth step: Mix it all together and pour into tupperwares to freeze.

Ta da!  I think the whole process took me about 1 hour.  This is how much jam I got using one box of pecting (and 4 lbs of strawberries).  

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Cake Decorating 101

Decorating cakes is one of my favorite things to do.  I don't do it very often though, pretty much just for my kids birthdays.  It's a good thing I keep having kids so I can have more opportunities to make cakes.  Most everything I know about cake decorating I learned from my Mother-in-law who is a professional cake decorator and has been doing it for many years.  I think the real key to learning to decorate cakes is just doing it.  The more you do it, the better you'll get.

The best way to do it is to bake the cake one day, freeze it, and decorate it the next day.  So it is about a two day process.  I make the cake with a mix and bake it according to directions.  Be sure to grease and flour your baking pan well so it will come out all in one piece.  After baking let it cool then remove the cake from the pan.  I put the cake on a cutting board covered in tinfoil, you could also cover cardboard in tinfoil.  Then cover with a large (new and clean) garbage bag and put it in the freezer.

The next day I will make the frosting.  Good frosting is essential- I use buttercream frosting.  Be sure to get the right consistency so it will hold it's shape.  When you pull a spoon from the frosting it should form a little peak that stays up.

Next, I cut the cake out (if I'm going to make it a shape other than the shape of the cake pan).  I am not the best artist in the world so I sometimes print out a picture of what I want the cake to be and use that as a template to cut out the cake.

The next step is to apply a crumb frosting.  You just thinly coat on frosting to cover the entire cake- it's ok if some crumbs get mixed in and show on this layer.  Then you put another layer of frosting over it and make this layer smooth and pretty.
If you need black frosting you can buy it in gel form from a craft store.  Gels are nice because they won't dilute your frosting and make it runny  (also great for red).
These white connectors are the best!  You can also get them at the craft store.  By using the connectors you and switch tips and use the same color frosting without needing multiple bags for that one color.
Finally, add any decorations you desire.  It's always a good idea to make a border around the base of the cake to hide the frosting that gets on the board around the bottom.
Have fun and be creative!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Box Car Racer

I know, a box car isn't a new or overly novel idea but sometimes we need to be reminded of the classics.  My four year old and I were trying to think of something fun to do together while the younger one was sleeping.  This is what we came up with.  I think pretty much anything having to do with cars is a winner with little boys.

We started out by spray painting our box.  You don't have to paint it; we just had the paint on hand and thought it would be fun.  You should really let the paint dry over night or it will rub off on everything it touches.

Next we needed to make our steering wheel, headlights, tailights, and wheels.  For the steering wheel we used a paper plate.  My boy had fun decorating everything by coloring them.  For the wheels we cut out the middles of the paper plates so they would be roughly porportionate to the box.  The headlights were orange construction paper circles and the tail lights were red construction paper circles.

To attach the steering wheel you poke a small hole through the plate and box.  Then attach the plate with a brad.  I let the boy glue on the wheels and lights.

Here he is taking the car for a spin.  This was a fun craft for us to do together; not too time consuming and we used only things that were already on hand around the house.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hair Bow Board

We are getting pretty excited in our house to have a girl joining the family. We have two little boys and a big daddy. So I've probably been going a little overboard with all the girly stuff for this baby, she is so spoiled already and not even born yet. I've seen a few of these bow boards for sale online and thought I'd give it a shot myself. I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out.

Here's how to do it:

I started with a picture frame I picked up at the local thrift store. (I am a thrift store junky, just love getting stuff for cheap) This is the frame I picked up for $5. You'll want to make sure and get one that is big enough to hold your bow collection.

Then I took out the glass and back and painted the frame. I used wall paint leftover from painting the nursery. You can use any kind of acrylic paint or wall paint. I gave it two coats so the black wouldn't show through.

Once the paint was completely dry I used sand paper to roughen up the edges and give it that crafty antique look. The next step is to take a little wood stain (you could go with a light shade, clear, or even a darker one) on a rag and rub in on. This seals the wood and makes the sanded edges stand out a little more.

Next, I took the back of the frame and hot glued a piece of quilt batting to it. Cut the batting out to the exact size of the quilt frame back. It's not a lot of batting so you can use some leftover from another project or buy a craft sized package from the fabric store or Wal-Mart.

This is what it will look like covered.

Then I covered the quilt batting with a piece of fabric. You can use flannel or cotton, pretty much just about anything. I just used this piece that was leftover in my sewing stuff. You'll want to cut this out to 3 or 4 inches bigger than the picture frame back so that it can be folded over and glued on. I used my trusty glue gun to attach it, make sure and pull it tight.

Next you'll want to cut several strips of ribbon just longer than your board and glue them at the top and bottom on the backside of the board. You can use whatever color and style you like. You'll attach the bows onto these ribbons so there should be a little wiggle room between the ribbon and the fabric. (I actually glued them on tight and there was still the wiggle room).

This is the front all finished up:

Then you just put the covered board back in the frame without the glass.

Here is the finished product hanging on the wall with the only bow I had at the time. I think it will be great as a decoration and for storing the bows. With them hanging up and not just shoved in a basket you can see which will match your girls' outfit for the day.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ooey Gooey Cinnamon Rolls

Who doesn't love fresh, warm, and gooey cinnamon rolls? I know they are a big hit at my house, so I thought I'd share the how-to. I actually just learned how to make them about two years ago. My little sister taught me while she was out here visiting. She did two years of culinary school and learned how to make all kinds of delicious and gourmet goodies.
Here is the recipe, followed by step by step pictures and instructions for all you visual learners:

Meribeth's Cinnamon Rolls:

2 tbls yeast

2 c. warm water

2 tsp salt

1/2 c. sugar

3 3/4 c. flour

1/8 c. vegetable oil

1 egg

2 1/4- 2 1/2 c. more flour

Soak yeast until it is dissolved. Add the salt, sugar, and flour. Mix in a stand mixer for 1 min. (can use a hand mixer, if mixing by hand double the suggested mixing time). Add the oil and egg and mix well for 2 min. Add the rest of the flour until the mixture cleans the bowl. Remove dough, spray bowl, and return dough to bowl. Let rise for 1 hour. Punch down dough, roll out. Butter liberally, then sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar. Roll, cut and let rise in a greased baking dish for 1 hour. Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 min.
This is the first step. Put your luke warm water in the mixing bowl and add the yeast to it. I mix it together with a fork to help it start dissolving. Let sit for about 5 min. to make sure it is completely dissolved.

This just shows the setup, I have a big bag of yeast but using packets works just as well.

Here is what it looks like before mixing for the first time.

This is what it should look like after mixing for the first time.

The dough should look like this after adding the rest of the flour- no dough sticking to the sides of bowl. Be careful not to add too much flour to where the dough is tough.

After you have finished mixing, remove dough and spray the bowl- any kind of pan spray will work. Cover the bowl with a towel or greased serran wrap to keep the dough from drying out.

After the dough has risen for an hour, roll out on a floured surface. The thinner you roll it the more "layers" of cinnamon and sugar it will have, the more gooey it will be. I like to roll it out to about 1/4 in. thick in a rectangular shape.

Butter the entire surface liberally. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. I like to cover it so that the surface of the dough is no longer visible.

Roll it up tight, just move your hands up and down the roll.

A trick for cutting the rolls is by using dental floss. Slide the floss under the roll and down about 1 1/2 or 2 in.
Cross the string and pull tight. This will make a nice clean cut.

Place the rolls in a greased baking dish.

I use whatever baking dishes I have which is quite a variety.

Cover and let rise for another hour.

This is what they should look like after having risen for an hour.

Close up:

Bake at 400 degrees F for 12-15 minutes. They should just ever so slightly be golden on the top.

Our favorite way to top them is with Cream Cheese Frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting:
Beat together 6 oz cream cheese, softened; 1/2 c. butter, softened; and 2 tsp vanilla till light and fluffy. Gradually add 2 c. powdered sugar, beating well. Gradually beat in 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 c. additional powdered sugar to reach spreading consistency.

The finished product: