Friday, December 31, 2010

Here Comes 2011

Submitted by Michelle

It's the last week of 2010 and while many people are reflecting on the past year, making resolutions and hoping the year to come holds happiness and promise, my big dilemma this week has been figuring out how to use the glut of mini calendars that I bought in a frenzy when I found them at a scrapbooking store in Claremont a few weeks ago.

You may remember the mini-calendar project which my friend Carrie designed from this blog entry. When I bought my 24 calendars (yes, 24!) my plan was to use them for my stamp clubs and even hold a class or two utilizing the concept, but then I sorta forgot the plan and December 28th rolled around and I had to figure out what to do before I had 24 useless calendars on my hands. Thank goodness Linda came to town for an overnight visit and got my mojo going on the mini-calendar project. And thank goodness Linda faithfully visits Michael's each week and had purchased a glut of coasters which I was able to use.
We decided to use old designer paper and contraband (non-Stampin' Up!) supplies. You know, the ol' out with the old, in with the new concept.

Linda made a few of these...
and these.

I wanted a few with a Mary Engelbriet-esqe quality to them and this cherry inspired theme fit the bill perfectly.
Linda helped me crank out a bunch of these...
and these.
We put magnetic strip on the back of all the calendars so they can be hung somewhere useful, like the refrigerator or on the side of a file cabinet at work.
And since we can't just hand the calendars to people without wrapping them up in a cello bag, Linda made a cute tag to complete the project.
Of course, because of my aforementioned frenzy at the scrapbooking store in Claremont, we needed 24 tags.
But now I have 24 calendars to give away as new years gifts to friends and family, which isn't such a bad thing.





Thursday, December 30, 2010

Name Banner

Submitted by Michelle
You might remember that a while back I made this banner to hang in my craft room. Ever since I did, Linda has been asking for one of her own. As I was putting together her Christmas box I decided that it was high time I got around to making her banner and including it in our annual gift exchange.

Linda loves everything vintage and in the new Occasions Mini Catalog from Stampin' Up! there is a designer paper called Springtime Vintage. Obviously, this was the paper of choice for her banner.
Along with the paper, Stampin' Up! is also selling vintage flower adornments. They match the designer paper and were the perfect touch for her banner.
Linda came for a quick overnight visit on Tuesday and since we had not had our gift exchange yet, I hung the banner on her bed in the guest room. It was so much fun surprising her that I've decided to make a few more name banners for other front row friends and use them as presents when their birthdays roll around in the upcoming year. After all, nothing says "I love you" like a personalized, handmade gift.

All materials from Stampin' Up!

Cardstock - Springtime Vintage DSP, Baja Breeze, Marina Mist, Wild Wasabi, Pink Pirouette, Rose Red
Ribbon - Assorted scrap pieces, Hemp Twine
Accessories - Go-Go Boots Alphabet, Scallop Punch, Colluzzle, Designer Brads, Vintage Flower Adornment, Designer Buttons, Clips Assortment

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Holy Guacamole

Submitted by Michelle
This, my friends, is one of my favorite fruits. Yes, I said fruit. An avocado is a fruit and more technically speaking, a berry, but we often treat it like a vegetable. Whatever it is, I love it in salads, on sandwiches or burgers, in burritos, and even mashed atop buttered toast, preferably sourdough, and sprinkled with kosher salt. I could eat avocados every day and never tire of them.

My friend Laurie gave me several avocados that she gleaned for someone's tree...maybe her parents? maybe a neighbors?...where ever they came from, they are gorgeous specimens. The skin is perfectly green and the insides are pale and creamy, the perfect texture for guacamole. Tonight David is making tacos for dinner. We are in need of something spicy and totally different from the rich holiday fare that we have been subsisting on for weeks. Usually I would use a packet of spice mix to make my guac, but given the beauty and splendor of these home grown avocados, I decided to get back to basics and do it up old school.
In my book, guacamole must have some sort of pepper in it. My pepper of choice is the jalapeno, roasted to a deep brown on the grill. Fresh jalapeno can be a bit potent and I find that roasting it gives a smoother flavor and takes away just a bit of the heat that can be over powering to white girls like me. I literally put a jalapeno on the outdoor grill and cooked it until all sides of it were browned and the skin blistered. Once cooled, I peeled it, took out the seeds and diced it up.
Along with heat from the pepper, good guacamole needs spice. I like to use cilantro, garlic and onion.
I mix everything together and add some salt, cayenne pepper and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Some people like to add cumin or fresh tomato which is totally acceptable, but I like to stay on the simple side so that the flavor the avocado isn't masked too much.
I paired the guacamole with chips and salsa from my favorite Mexican restaurant and I've got the perfect starter for tonight's dinner. The only question is, will the guacamole last until the tacos are made?
Michelle's Guacamole
1-2 ripe avocados ( I used one but it was really big)
1 roasted jalapeno, skinned, seeded and diced - use as much or as little as you like
2 cloves garlic, minced
about 1/4 white onion, minced
about 1-2 teaspoons fresh cilantro, chopped
salt, cayenne pepper and lime juice to taste

Mix everything together and serve with tortilla chips.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Best Gifts Are Made With Love

Submitted by Michelle
Christmas is here and we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. I don't know about you, but for me, no matter how well intentioned I am, I find myself having something to purchase or wrap until the very last second. And while I love giving presents, gift giving can often stress me out as I search to find exactly the right thing for friends and family. Over the years I have scaled back and tried to have the courage to live within my means rather than shopping with reckless abandon all in the name good will and cheer. The less is more concept, so to speak.

This year I've found myself feeling a little melancholy over the Christmas holiday. Perhaps it is because my family is spread out and I miss being with all of them. Maybe the commercialization of Christmas bums me out. I'm really not sure what it is, but rather than being a Grinch I decided to embrace an idea from Buddy the Elf (a.k.a. Will Ferrell.) Buddy says "the best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loud for all to hear." Now my singing voice is fairly tolerable and while I do enjoy being musical, I thought an even better way to spread Christmas cheer would be by getting in the kitchen and cooking up food for a friend who was traveling on Christmas Eve with her husband and 2 small children.

I knew I wanted to keep the food on the vegetarian side so that it wouldn't need to be refrigerated. For the main course I baked up a Winter Squash Tart using butternut squash, leeks, thyme and Gruyere cheese.
I wanted a green salad component but knew that lettuce would not do well so I created a veggie salad consisting of roasted yellow beets, roasted red bell pepper, green beans and kalamata olives. I sprinkled it with fresh chopped Italian parsley and dressed it with olive oil, a teeny splash of white wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
For dessert I included some of my homemade rugelach and chocolate bark in cute boxes that I picked up at The Container Store.
I also made pita chips to add a crunchy element and threw in a bag of honey roasted almonds just to be sure there were enough snacks to get them to their destination.
Everything fit nicely in a reusable tote bag and I even had a few extra Hershey Bar reindeer to include for the kids.
I delivered my bag of food to my friend Analisa at her clothing store in Old Town La Quinta, where she was working on Christmas Eve day. She was so appreciative of the present and I felt good knowing I was keeping up with the Front Row Friends motto of spreading joy and sunshine or in this case, Christmas cheer. Analisa's husband gave me the best compliment I could ask for saying, "This food must have been made with a lot of love." Sometimes, the best remedy for feeling a little blue can be doing something nice for someone else. I know it worked for me.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Oh Nuts, It's Almost Christmas!

Submitted by Michelle
3 ingredients. Count em'...one, two, three! Almonds, honey and Chinese Five-Spice Powder is all it takes to make a delicious savory treat just in time for Christmas. My friend Martha Stewart gave me this recipe, and though most things she makes can often be very labor intensive, I will say that she has done it right with this magical mixture.
All one has to do is heat the honey in a saucepan until it is thin and easy to pour, add the Chinese Five-Spice Powder and mix well. Add in the almonds and stir quickly before the honey starts hardening and your nuts become one big ball.
Spread the nuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or the eco-friendly Silpat mat, and bake at a low temp for a little less than an hour. You will know your nuts are done when they turn a golden brown and you can smell them roasting.
When the nuts come out of the oven I spread them on parchment to cool and try to resist the urge to taste them right away so I don't burn my tongue (though it has been known to happen in the past.) Once cooled, they will last about 1 week in an airtight container but I doubt you'll be able to stretch it out for that long.
The roasted almonds make a great holiday hostess gift wrapped up in a cello bag with some festive ribbon.

Honey Roasted Almonds
1 cup honey
2 teaspoons Chinese Five-Spice Powder
5 cups whole almonds, skin on

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Warm the honey in a saucepan over medium heat until it becomes thin and easy to pour. Stir in the five-spice powder and then the almonds

Spread the mixture in a single layer onto the baking sheets. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through cooking, until the nut mixture had darkened in color, 45 to 55 minutes. Immediately spread the almonds in a single layer on parchment paper. Set aside to cool.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

M.F.K. Fisher's Ginger Hottendots

Submitted by Michelle
I will admit the main reason I made these cookies was simply because I liked the name and thought it would make for a great blog title. Also, the recipe is from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, Classic Home Desserts, a cookbook that has NEVER failed me, so I knew there was an extremely strong chance that I would like the cookie. I was right.

Hottendots start with the usual suspects. On the dry side: flour, baking soda, ginger, cloves and cinnamon.
On the wet side: balsamic vinegar, molasses and eggs. The vinegar threw me for a loop but as my culinary wise husband always says, "Trust the recipe" so I did. The Hottendots also use butter and sugar but they didn't make it into the pictures.
All the wet ingredients are creamed into a caramel colored batter and then the dry ingredients are mixed in.
I rolled the dough into balls and then in granulated sugar (the sugar was my idea, not M.F.K. Fisher's.) I like using a small scoop to ensure that the cookies are uniform in size.
Once baked, Hottendots are gingery rounds that can be crisp or soft, depending on your taste and the cooking time.
Linda recently posted a recipe for Molasses Ginger Cookies and Hottendots are very similar. I probably would have used Linda's recipe had I not become so enamored with the word Hottendot. You can try them both and decide which you like best.

M.F.K. Fisher's Ginger Hottendots

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup ( 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar, plus more for rolling the dough in
2 large eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup dark (not blackstrap) molasses
2 teaspoons cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter 2 cookie sheets (or use Silpat mats like I do.) Sift the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves onto a piece of wax paper; set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed. Stir in eggs, molasses and vinegar. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix just until blended, no longer.

Roll the dough into 1/2 to 3/4 inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar, if desired. Place about 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets.

Bake until soft, about 7 minutes, don't overbake. The cookies will crisp as they cool. (Note: 7 minutes wasn't long enough in my oven. Bake the Hottendots until they start getting crinkly cracks on the top.)

Transfer cookies to a wire rack and cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Makes about 15 dozen tiny cookies. Though the yield seems huge, they will go quickly and they keep well too.

9: The number of times I was able to use the word Hottendot in this blog entry.



Monday, December 13, 2010

Finished Tin-O-Tags

Submitted by Linda
We swore we wouldn't do it. We said we were done. And then we couldn't help ourselves.

I'm talking about our favorite little Christmas gift, the ever-popular Tin o' Tags. Both Michelle and I have given these away for several years now, and folks really enjoy them. Even we'll admit, we cram a lot of yuletide cheer in those little tins! They are a lot of work, so we had talked about retiring the tag project....but people enjoy them so much, we couldn't! So Michelle's plan was this: Do them in the summer! You may remember in June, Michelle created a post about us working on the tags. (Click HERE to see the tags individually.)

Well, in the summer we finished them up completely, and as December approached, we were both so tickled to find our big tub of finished gifts.

This year's cover is using the bell from the Classic Christmas stamp set. I was pretty much obsessed with that little bell - so after trying to borrow the set for several years, I just ordered it myself! Now I can use that "Jingle All the Way" anytime I want (even next summer if the spirit leads)! Notice that the little bell is embossed and popped up:

I had run out of tins, and decided this year to try a Bag o' Tags instead - you all know how much I love cello bags!
I had stocked up on the American Crafts Jingle Bell ribbon, and I love how it matches the bell theme.
Well, now that the time has come to give them away, we are both enjoying sharing the holiday spirit with our friends and colleagues. I think we'd better reserve some time on our June 2011 calendars for the next installment of Tin o' Tags!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Molasses Sugar Cookies

Submitted by Linda
Though I grew up in a home where sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies were king, as an adult I've developed a craving for molasses cookies. Several years ago I got a recipe from a friend which was time intensive, in that you were to buy ginger root and grind it up in a food processor, and add that liquid to the dough. Those cookies were wonderful, but this recipe for "Molasses Sugar Cookies", given to me by my friend Marcy, is simple and just as delicious.
I love how the tops crackle open, with the sugar glistening. These cookies are chewy, yet soft in the middle, just the way I like them! When I made this batch I was done from start to finish (including clean up) in under an hour and a half. So this is a great recipe when you need a homemade cookie, but have a time crunch. I'm looking forward to serving these up this holiday season!

Molasses Sugar Cookies
Recipe from Marcy Lee

Ingredients:
3/4 cup oil
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 tsp baking soda
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Directions:
Mix sugar, molasses, and oil together in bowl. Add egg and mix well. Add flour, soda, and spices. Roll into walnut-sized balls and roll in sugar. Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 375 degrees for 8-9 minutes. Cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes then transfer to a cooling rack. Makes 3-4 dozen.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Card 2010

Submitted by Linda
Yes, all is well at the Wallace house. A few of our loyal followers were worried that we had fallen off the face of the earth, since no new posts were appearing. I have been in the throes of kindergarten projects (kid gifts, parents gifts, staff gifts, secret santa gifts) and all the fun events that fill up our calendars this time of year.

Regarding Christmas cards: In the past, I decided not to make hand stamped cards (we usually opted for a Costco photo card), simply because I didn't want to be stressed out trying to stamp 100 cards in December. Well, Stampin' Up Consultant Michelle has kept me out of the stress-zone by making sure we plan and create our cards well in advance.

We have worked together like this for several years, designing a card together, and making it the same, since we mostly send our cards to different people. Keeping in mind that we would together be making over 200 cards, our plan was always to keep it semi-simple, but still show off our mad crafting skills (not to mention bring the spirit of Christmas to our friends via their mailboxes). Well, this year, we chose an elaborate card with many many steps involved! The problem was, we loved the stamp sets so much, we couldn't help ourselves!
My job was to stamp, punch out, and glitter the "Merry Christmas" at the top. Notice that the glitter is Stampin UP's new vintage glass glitter in champagne. I was also in charge of stamping the two bells (shown below the "Merry Christmas"), embossing with gold embossing powder, coloring the holly, and cutting each one out by hand. The cutting out is fun to do in front of the t.v., especially if you have the SU snips scissors. Michelle stamped and colored all the backgrounds, and embossed the big 25 on the gold circle.
Many of the pieces are popped up to give it dimension. And the piece de resistance is the schmootz glitter spray that gives it a subtle sheen.

See what I mean? We didn't even think about counting our hours spent on this, separately, or when we got together to assemble. After all, it is a labor of love.

All of these items are available from Michelle through January 3.