Thursday, December 29, 2011

Handmade Christmas Gift

Submitted by Michelle
Nothin' says I love you like a handmade gift. That's what Linda and I always say. And I've hit the motherlode this time! Today I'm at Linda's house doing some end of the year crafting, and we had our Front Row Friends Christmas gift exchange. Linda gave me a pile of presies, but my favorite one is this pin cushion.
It is hand embroidered and is one of the cutest things I've ever seen!
(The picture below shows the pincushion with the pieces assembled and the embroidery completed.)
In October Linda went to Clovis for an antique street fair and she got the idea for the pin cushion at Quilter's Paradise, the mother of all quilting stores. Knowing that I was in need of a place to put my pins, she purchased the pattern and enlisted the help of JoAnn, her mother, in a top secret stitching project. For weeks Linda would drop hints saying, "I'm headed over to my mom's house to work on a top secret project," or "Someone is going to be very excited when she opens up her Christmas packages this year!"
Each section of the cushion has intricate details.
Check out the blanket stitch with french knots along the seam by the cupcakes!
Linda even added a unique touch on the back -- a tag to personalize the gift!

Needless to say, I am thrilled with my present, and so grateful that Linda would take the time to make me such a special gift. When I go home tomorrow, I will have to find a place of honor in my craft room for my new pin cushion.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A "New" Old Tablecloth

Submitted by Linda
You who have been to my home, or who have followed our blog know that I love all things vintage and antique. Couple that appreciation for old stuff with a love of linens/textiles, and you'll find a girl who has a 'few' tablecloths. Remember this retro fall tablecloth?
And this Christmas one? Both of these 'new but meant to look old' beauties were found at our beloved Barbara Cheatley's in the Claremont village.
Well, thanks to my dear FRF Liz, I now have a truly vintage Christmas tablecloth!!! Isn't the design with ribbons and holly so festive over the red check? And the candy canes!!!!!
I love how the inner design makes the perfect border for my tray of antique ornaments!
Here's one last parting shot of my December baubles, as soon they will be tucked away, to be happily rediscovered in December 2012.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Elfin Trees

Submitted by Michelle
It's Christmas Eve Day and I'm still recovering from foot surgery, so sitting around with my foot propped up whilst listening to Christmas music and surfing the internet seems to be the order of the day. I have to admit, all this rest and relaxation is getting on my nerves. I'm a go-getter who is usually up and about, so being still doesn't really come naturally to me. And, being cooped up at home can be a bit depressing. Fortunately for me, I have crafty friends!
Late this morning, as I was sitting in bed with the doggies and a crafting magazine, the doorbell rang. The postman was dropping off a package from my friend Sheryl who lives in Oregon. Inside I found the cutest, felted elf hats! Or Christmas trees! (It depends on how you look at them.) I often say that Sheryl is the smartest person I know (she really is) and I'm sure she thought up the idea for these holiday decorations all on her own. I guess that also makes her one of the most creative people I know, too. The big set is for me, and the small set is for Celeste.
These whimsical, handmade gems are the perfect addition to my holiday decor and I will cherish them almost as much as I cherish thoughtful friends like Sheryl.

Christmas is almost here, and my hope is that your lives are full with family and friends who bring you love and happiness all year long.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reindeer Cake-Pops

Submitted by Linda
In kindergarten we do a lot of celebrating. We take advantage of every birthday and holiday that comes our way. In the spirit of math, we also celebrate every 10th day of school, when a zero appears in our number line, by enjoying a zero-shaped treat (round, of course). Our "Top Banana" (special kid of the week) is invited to bring the treat, and it can be as simple as one penny or one m&m per child.

My friend Ryleigh was Top Banana this past week, and her mom was my K-Team teaching partner when I first began teaching kindergarten. She asked if she could provide Reindeer Cake Pops....and look how cute they turned out!
I got a chuckle out of those faces, each time I passed by the basket that day! When it was time to share, they were easy to pass out, and they were sturdy enough for a small kiddo to hold and eat. They eyeballs seemed complicated, but it turns out that they can be purchased in the baking section of Target. Here's a close-up of the faces:
The cake inside was a yellow cake, and it was amazing- the perfect bite of yumminess!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gwyneth's Chicken and Dumplings

Submitted by Michelle
I recently reconnected with one of my closest high school friends, Tifani. We lost contact years ago when we were first out of college but thanks to a little thing called Facebook, we have found each other again. Tifani lives in Washington with her husband Tim, but as fate would have it, they have family and a time share in Palm Desert. Last weekend they were in town to celebrate an early Christmas with their loved ones and David and I were lucky enough to host them for dinner.

With my busy schedule this fall I haven't done much entertaining, so I knew I wanted to cook for my friends rather than go out to a restaurant. However, my recent foot surgery and cumbersome post-operative boot (big bootie, as I like to call it) meant I'd have to keep it simple. I decided to make a one pot meal and I knew just where to look for a recipe.
OK, I know there are a bunch of haters out there who are thinking, "What??!! Gwyneth Paltrow? She doesn't even eat!" Before all y'all get started, let me say I proudly own this cookbook and I have tried many of the recipes and none of them have failed me yet. I love G.P and I stand by her and her cookbook. Nuf' said.

The weather was cool and rainy last weekend, so I decided upon chicken and dumplings, a comforting meal that would could for several hours in the oven. I started by seasoning the chicken and browning it in butter and olive oil.

After all the chicken was browned and out of the pot, I added in some celery, carrots, leeks, thyme and a bay leaf to begin building a base for the stew.
I let it cook down for a bit, along with a piece of chopped bacon.
I then added some white wine and chicken stock and let it all come up to a boil.
Now here is the part of the recipe I wondered about the first time I made it. The directions say to cover the pot with a piece of parchment paper before putting the lid on.
I wasn't quite sure what this would do, but after several times making this dish, I think the parchment creates a steamy environment and helps keep the chicken moist while the liquid cooks down to a syrupy sauce.
After 1.5 hours, this is what you get.
At this point, I mixed up some flour, baking powder , salt and milk, and spooned the batter on top of the stew.
Another 10 minutes in the oven with the lid on and the dish is complete.
I served the chicken and dumplings family style, and made a tossed green salad as a side dish. The simplicity of the meal, along with the company of good friends, made for the perfect evening.

If you want to try Gwyneth's recipe, click here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

Submitted by Michelle

I have an entire bookcase devoted to cookbooks. I've cleaned it out several times in an attempt to keep only my favorites, and yet it is still full to the gills. I'm a creature of habit and many times when I pull a cookbook out I turn to the same recipe over and over again. I often don't try new things because I enjoy my favorites so much. Today, however, I felt like something new. Probably because I made my all time favorite cookies, Chocolate Chip and Cinnamon Rugelach on Saturday and I knew I wouldn't be missing out on anything if these cookies turned out to be a dud. As you can probably tell from the photo, they were far from a dud!

The recipe for the Peanut Butter Cup Cookies came from the same book that houses the all-star rugelach recipe: Williams-Sonoma Cookies and Biscotti. They are a reverse of the traditional peanut butter cookie with a Hershey kiss stuck in the center. Several things make this recipe a standout. First, the bittersweet chocolate cookie is crunchy and crackly on the outside and yet soft and chewy on the inside. It also isn't too sweet, which is a good thing because the peanut butter filling handles the sweetness department all on its own.

These cookies would be great to make with kids. The chocolate dough has to be formed into balls and then rolled in granulated sugar. An excellent job for small hands. The balls also need a thumbprint in the middle.
Once baked, the cookies are filled with a teaspoon of peanut butter that has been mixed with powdered sugar and butter.
The end result is a bittersweet outside with a luscious, creamy center. If you like a Reese's Peanut Buttercup candy, this cookie is for you. And they may even end up on my list of favorite cookies, right under Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Rugelach.

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

For the Filling:
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

For the Cookies:
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch process
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar, plus sugar for coating
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

To make the filling, combine the peanut butter, butter, and vanilla in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until smooth. Blend in confectioners' sugar. This could also be done with an electric mixer.

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Butter baking sheets or use Silpat mats.

To make cookies, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Combine the shortening, butter and the 1 cup of sugar in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer set on high, beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg, milk, and almond extract and beat until very fluffy, about 2 minutes. On low speed mix in the flour mixture until just incorporated.

Using damp hands roll the dough between your palms to form 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in sugar to coat evenly. Place on the prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Using your thumb, make a large indentation in the center of each.

Bake until puffed and slightly cracked, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and mound about 1 teaspoon filling in the center of each. Let cool for 1 minute, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Monday, December 19, 2011

One is Enough...Sometimes

Submitted by Michelle

As many of our readers know, Linda and I often subscribe to the "go big or go home" school of thought. If 5 is good, then 10 is better. If we need 17 of something, then we might as well make 24 so we have an even number to divide between ourselves. Yesterday I was at my local Michael's Craft Store and was delighted to find large, clear, plastic Christmas ornaments. I have an idea ruminating in the back of my mind for Christmas 2012 and I couldn't get Linda on the phone to talk about how many ornaments we will need so I started with 20, thinking to myself, "10 each is good. But, the project is so cute, we'll probably want more." I ended up buying 40 ornaments! Good thing they were on sale and I had a coupon.

Linda was visiting me in early November and we knew we wanted to craft but we didn't have any big plans. She worked on her projects and I worked on mine. I don't know what came over me, but I actually made 4 different cards and I only made ONE of each. It was kind of liberating to create cards and not get bogged down in the mass production line. Here's a look at what I made.
My friend Teri loves neutrals and French inspired things so I knew I wanted to make a card for her using the Artistic Etchings stamp set. Teri also loves to make tags, so I thought it would be fun to incorporate a tag into the card design. I like to use a variety of embellishments on cards in order to add texture and bling. The black rhinestones echo the polka dot theme from the designer paper, and attaching a bit of linen tread using a vintage-looking safety pin did the trick.
I have a big box of "hand stamped" and "hand made by" stamps that I like using on the back of cards. For Teri's card I added the crown that is included in the Artistic Etchings stamp set. I think it works nicely and the gold ink was perfect on the black card stock.
Stampin' Up sells letterpress plates and I had ordered a Christmasy one thinking I would try it out. After watching an online tutorial, I gave it a whirl. I used gold ink and after several attempts, the impression came out clearly. Though you can't see it in the photo, the design is actually imprinted into the card stock. I stamped a very simple "Merry Christmas" in green to match the card base and this baby was done.
I have a stamp called "Tiny Tea Cup" that I've been dying to use so I did a quick search on the Stampin' Connection, a online community for Stampin' Up demonstrators, and found a card I wanted to CASE. The only thing I changed was the color scheme.
For my final project of the day, I pulled out a stamp set called Have a Seat that I purchased over a year ago because I had to have it! (Sometimes I have a problem distinguishing between a need and a want.) I created a wallpaper like background using an embossing folder on a piece of card stock. Then, using a brayer, I added ink to the debossed image. With such an ornate background, the card didn't need much else. I kept it simple and mounted the stamped bench on a dark layer of card stock and then finished the card off with some seam binding and a vintage looking brad.

The only problem with creating 1 of each card is...I have a hard time giving them away! I've got lots of free time on my hands now that it is Christmas break so I could make a few more. Now I've just got to decide how many to make.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Card 2011

Submitted by Michelle
Last year when making our Christmas cards, Linda and I used an awesome background stamp that was full of details, including the little bit of Silent Night that is pictured above. This year, we used it as a spring board for inspiration and created a musical themed Christmas card. Linda did all the coloring of the holly and berries, while I cut the card stock for over 200 cards.
This year's card involved many, many layers, as well as the beloved top note design from the Big Shot. We stamped musical notes on the top note using a Stampin' Up wheel, and then cut a piece off so it would create a nice background for Silent Night. We also sponged every piece of the card to give it a vintage look.
Card bases, all ready to go!

We used the smooch spritz again this year, for sparkly effect on the words of the Christmas carol, and then attached seam binding and crochet ribbon with a vintage brad for a final bit of glitz.
My cards finally made it into the mailbox this morning and I know Linda is eager to address her cards and get them out now that Winter Break has begun. And believe it or not, now that Christmas Card 2011 is off my plate, I already have an idea percolating for Christmas Card 2012. But, I think I'll keep it on the back burner for now and enjoy 2011 before it is gone.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Vintage Girl Christmas

Submitted by Linda
You saw my post about Gina making 100 banners and like I said, if I make 100 of something, it's either simple, or Michelle and I crank it out together. Here is a card I certainly would not make 100 of. Though it's SSC (so stinkin' cute), I might be tempted. In this case, I made 5.

I had seen the idea last Christmas in one of Michelle's SU consultant magazines, and I just adore this set, Greeting Card Kids. And I love the vintage vibe of the embossed background, the brown distressed edges, the tinsel glitter, the crochet trim, and of course, the little girl's furry scarf and trim. (It's actually a product called Liquid Applique, and it magically gives dimension that works well for snow, or Santa's beard, or fur trim on a darling girl!)
When making a card on a dark background color, we usually attach an insert of white or vanilla, for the inside message. Here I repeated the holly design from the front, which is from the Bells and Boughs stamp set.
This could work as a Christmas card (of course), but also as a 'thank you' card. If anyone is planning to make these for next year's Christmas card, you'd better start now!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tin-O-Tags Completed

Submitted by Michelle
This picture was taken at Linda's house about 5 months ago. It was summer vacation and we were happily working on our annual Christmas project, the Tin-O-Tags! Linda's dad Norman has a saying, "Plan your work and then work your plan!" This year of 2011, Linda and I took Norman's advice and created a To-Do List of crafting projects that we wanted to accomplish. We figured if we were going to be mass producing 100 Tin-O-Tags and over 200 Christmas cards, we'd better start early. From January until May we worked hard at coming up with tag designs and then creating 100 of each! You can see all the tags here.

In August we got together and put all the tags into the tins and designed a decorative embellishment for the outside. Here is Linda loading up the tins.
Tags galore!
Almost done...sort of.
We used shimmery white cardstock for the outside of the tin. With the help of the Big Shot, we cut out a topnote design and then debossed it with snowflakes. Linda had some tiny silver snowflakes that she purchased a few years back at Crate and Barrel that were the perfect addition to our label.
We added a tag that says, "Holiday Hello from me to you,"
and tied them up with a big, red bow.
I am currently recovering from foot surgery and I can't tell you how happy it makes me having 2 big boxes of our tin-o-tags ready to give away.
Today I packaged up all the ones that need to be mailed and my sweet husband took them to the post office for me. Now all I have to do is hand deliver the local ones and I'll be all done. My friends and colleagues often marvel at all the crafting I accomplish and I must admit I would never get it all done if I left it to the last minute. Thank goodness Linda and I planned our work and worked our plan early in the year.