Monday, December 31, 2012

End of 2012


Submitted by Michelle
It's the last day of 2012 and I'm spending it in the happiest place on earth.  No, not Disneyland but rather, Utica, New York.  Utica is home to my Aunt Rosemarie and Uncle Dave. I haven't visited since the fall of 2010, and after my hectic year of finishing my Master's Degree and losing my appendix, it was high time I came home to the people who are near and dear to my heart. 

I arrived on December 26 and brought a big snow storm with me.  Despite the snow, my aunt, uncle and cousin Kathy went out to dinner.
  
 Kathy and me looking glamorous in the snow.
Not to diss the city but, Utica is no metropolis. That being said, they have phenomenal restaurants. We went to a great little place called The Tailor and The Cook.  Much of the restaurant's food is locally sourced, from vegetables to cheese to honey, and we had a delicious and leisurely meal. 
We arrived around 8:00pm and when we left at 11:00, quite a bit of snow had accumulated. 
This is my aunt and uncle's house during the first night's snow fall...
...and here's the house a few mornings later, icicles and all!
Whenever I am in Utica I like to connect with as many family members as possible.  One of my favorite people is my Great Aunt Helen. She is 90 years old and one of the last of my grandmother's generation who is still living.  Each month Aunt Rosemarie has lunch with Great Aunt Helen and lucky for me, I was able to join in the December luncheon. 
Back row: Kathy, Me, Aunt Rosemarie  Front row: Margie, Laura, Great Aunt Helen
Great Aunt Helen's daughter Margie was in town, along with her daughter Laura, and they were able to join us, which made the lunch even more special.

Another special gathering was with my cousins Rich, Bill, Steve and their wives.  We went to an intimate restaurant in nearby Clinton and caught up on life.
Rich, Bill, Me and Steve
Linda, Kelly, Me and Angeline
The entire family also gathered to celebrate an early New Year's Eve on the 30th.  Here's me with Bill, Steve, and Rich's kids. 
And here's Rich's son Keith horsing around with an icicle that he broke off of the eave of Steve's house.
Today, upon the recommendation of Matt (my cousin Steve's son) I tried pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup.  Steve and his family vacationed this past summer with me and David in Encinitas and Matt had raved about pho, so it seemed only natural that I would try the cuisine with him.  Matt's brother Reed came too, along with Keith and Julia (Rich's kids.)
A trip to Utica is never complete without a few stops at some local hotspots. 
Holland Farms is a must for Half Moons (a.k.a. the black and white cookie).
For kielbasa and all things Polish, a visit to the Jolly Butcher Boys at Hapanowicz market is in order.
Even though there are lots of good places to eat in Utica, we always seem to fit in home cooked meals, too.  Here's Kathy whipping up a few snacks to go with her Cosmopolitan...
...and Reed and Matt came over to help Aunt Rosemarie make soup. 
After such a busy 2012, I am quite thankful to be ringing in a new year with the people who mean the most to me. Here's hoping 2013 will bring peace, joy and happiness for everyone. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Here comes the tin!

 Submitted by Linda
 I suppose these wonderful tags could be delivered in the ever-popular cello bag, but somehow the tin feels like such a perfect match to the gift inside. When we first began the tins, years ago, we bought the tins from Michael's (they were originally intended for gift cards). Well, we didn't love the designs on those tins, so we found these nice plain tins online at Paper Mart. Though you can find any kind of packaging stuff you would ever need there, don't plan a trip. You can pick up online orders off of the back loading dock at their Orange County store, but there is no retail shopping. It's all online.

Last year, we had a revelation and added a little label in the bottom of the tin, asking folks to return their tin if they weren't going to repurpose it themselves.  Michelle and I both had quite a few returned.
Here are all the tags, ready to be plopped into the tins.
Our topper was made using the labels framelits, with a simple "Merry Christmas".
We added a red tulle ribbon, a couple of snowflakes from the Northern Frost die, and we are done!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas in July: Tin o' Tags!

Submitted by Linda
Way back when, last July to be exact, I loaded up my car with stampin' supplies and headed east for LaQuinta.  I stopped to snap a pic of this famous landmark, and just for fun, texted it to my boys.


Right in Michelle's neighbor hood, is another landmark. This looks exactly like the chicken in front of Mrs. Knott's Chicken Restaurant at Knott's Berry Farm. What kind of person has a chicken in their back yard? And how did they get it there?
 Anyway, I arrived and we got right to work on our stampin' labor of love: The Tin o' tags! Being teachers, we've learned that if we don't do our Christmas projects in the summer, then they won't get done.

Way back in January, Michelle and I made a tentative plan of what projects we wanted to do throughout the year, and even plugged in some dates. At that time, we also decided which tags we wanted to repeat from prior years, and which stamp sets we wanted to use for the new designs.  We divvied up the 'to do' list, and got to work.

Our goal is always to create a sweet assortment of tags of various sizes, colors and motifs. Here is what we ended up with:

 #1: This tag uses 'Beautiful Season', with a touch of red Stickles and Cherry Cobbler seam binding. (This one has been a favorite of recipients!)
 #2: This tag ended up being labor intensive, due to all the sponging. It uses last year's stocking punch and the glittery glimmer paper. (Because the glittery paper is so thick, it was quite taxing on the punch. Nevertheless, this is one of my favorites!)
 #3: We made an addition to the list when the "Wonderful Winterland" stamp set appeared in Stampin' Up's Winter Mini catalog. We couldn't resist this kiddo making a snow angel. We added white Liquid Applique on his hat.
 #4: This snowman family is from a retired set. Again we added snow on the ground, and this time, a bit of baker's twine with the black gingham ribbon. Can you see the touches of glitter?
 #5: This repeated favorite is from "Greeting Card Kids". I absolutely love this tag enough to punch, distress, color, and embellish.
 #6: We always like to included a 3 x 3 card, and this year, it was simply embossed with polka dots with a glittery punched ornament on top. Simple but elegant.
#7: We've used this 'contraband' (non Stampin' Up) stamp before, but this year we added die cut buttons with a real button out of my tin of old buttons. In the spirit of rustic, we also added jute instead of ribbon. And more sponging on the edges, of course.
#8: Here's another repeat from last year, using the stamp set "Tags Til Christmas".  We like the image punched with the Decorative Label punch, and the touches of glitter. Wintery!
#9: We used the Northern Frost die to punch out these snowflakes, and added a touch of bling in the centers.
#10: Each year we aim to make 8 full sized tags and add a bonus small tag. Somehow we ended up with 9 tags, and this time it was my turn to make the bonus. I used the Labels Collection Framelets, and this old, old, old 'no brand' stamp. I think it turned out very sweet.
Whew! Between the two of us, we created 800 tags total!

Next up, decorating the tins. Stay tuned.......






Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pecan Wedges with Brown Sugar Whipped Cream

Submitted by Linda
You may remember that I'm one of those people who yank recipes out of magazines and rarely try them. Now that I cook for my parents every other Monday night, I've forced them to be the guinea pigs for some of my (disappointing) experiments. This one, however is a winner.

I love pecans, but I don't love the filling that comes in a traditional pecan pie. I always wish for more pecans and less filling. And though I am a giant fan of carbs, pie crust is one thing I usually leave behind on my plate (weird, I know). 

This recipe creates a lovely wedge of pecans, with enough goo to hold it all together. It's very rich, and a little wedge does the job.
Making the sweet goo was super simple on the stovetop.
Now it's ready:
I'm embarrassed to say that I've never used a springform pan prior to trying this recipe. And yes, I'm going to need my own now!

All baked and ready to be cut:
Trust me, this wedge is too big. It is so rich and nutty, you or your guests won't be able to eat a piece this big!
  
Here are the leftovers. I little taste here, a little bite there.....Yum!
Here's the recipe courtesy of Real Simple Magazine, December 2007.


Pecan Wedges with Brown Sugar Whipped Cream

Ingredients:

  • 1/2  cup  granulated sugar
  • 3  tablespoons  brown sugar
  • 1/4  cup  light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2  cups  heavy cream
  • 1  tablespoon  dark rum or pure vanilla extract (I used vanilla)
  • 1/8  teaspoon  kosher salt
  • 3 1/2  cups pecans, roughly chopped

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 375° F.
  2. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment or wax paper.
  3. In a medium saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, the corn syrup, and 1/2 cup of the cream. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, stirring, until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the rum, salt, and pecans. Pour into the prepared pan and spread into an even layer.
  4. Bake until golden and set, about 40 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes before slicing into wedges.
  5. Whip the remaining cream and brown sugar until soft peaks form. Serve with the Pecan Wedges.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Walking in a Winter Wonderland!

Submitted by Linda
I have learned my lesson for once and for all. Throughout the years, I have mentioned that I have a love/hate relationship with sewing on a machine. Over the years, I have sewed pjs for the boys,  craft projects and window treatments, with some success. Knowing how I love quilts, I decided to try my hand at a bit of quilting this past summer. 

Last Christmas, I received a quilt pattern with embroidery patterns for the most darling snow scenes. My mom and I got right to work, each of us embroidering a different scene to eventually be made into holiday table runners. When the embroidery was done, we sat down to figure out a 'simple' pieced border with the help of my friend Liz, who is a wonderful quilter.

Here's a picture of my mom during the summer, when we were working on piecing the borders. At the bottom of the photo, you can see our patterns sketched onto graph paper, and a bit of the piecing.
My design is a 9-patch, with snowflakes in the corners.  The challenging part of this project is cutting strips carefully, stitching them together carefully, and then discovering that the squares don't align. I was talking with my friend Carla (another accomplished quilter) about this, sharing my frustration with these miniscule measurements and how, despite my best efforts, the seams didn't line up.
 Now, I'll admit this was my first quilting project, so I definitely have room for improvement. However, the attention to detail and the thrill of doing whatever it takes to make a project come together with near perfection, is something Carla thrives on. For me, I've learned that I will enjoy my many other hobbies and will coerce my friends who enjoy the detailed focus of sewing to do it for me!

Below, you can see the darling embroidery panel, and my 9-patches, beginning to be stitched together.

Once our panels were finished, we needed a 'long arm' quilter to quilt around the design. This time we called on Carla, who does long-arm quilting as a business, to work her magic. Shown below, is my mom's project, pinned onto the large machine. If you look closely, you can see the white whimsical stitching around the embroidery: swirls and stars and trees, oh my! And don't we just love the snowlady hanging her candy canes on the line?
Here you can see more of the details of the quilting:
And what's not to love about the gold stars hanging on the tree?
And now a close up of mine: more swirls and trees!

And here it is, finally complete! The truth be told, I love it, flaws in all. Even as I type, it happily lies across my big kitchen table, where I will admire it every time I walk by, and where it will be whisked away the second that one of my boys walks in to eat anything.
So, I'm done with my sewing machine for a long while. Even Carla (who like Rachel Lynde of Anne of Green Gables, "prides herself in speaking the truth"), told me to 'stick with embroidery'. And I am more than happy to oblige.