Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October Cookie Party

In the last few years, I have been trying to have cookie parties throughout the holidays. I think that baking and decorating cookies with friends and family is a great way to get together, plus everyone else can take home cookies and I'm not left with too many when I just want a few!
I have fond childhood memories of making Christmas sugar cookie cutouts with my Mom and siblings; and family friends occasionally. My Mom loved to make cookies and deliver plates to our neighbors and friends. I remember making so many at a time that we would freeze them to make them last longer!
A few years ago, I spent a year working in a Wegmans Bakery learning (among other things) a professional way to decorate cutout cookies. Since I had so much fun as a kid with sugar cookies, this part of the job never seemed like work. I quickly realized there are so many more occasions that one can make cutouts for and started buying cookie cutters after the season, when they were marked down - hearts for Valentine's Day; eggs for Easter; a pumpkin or apple and a leaf for fall; and did you know you could use an egg shape to make turkeys?

After my younger sister moved back to the area last year, I decided to have a girls' night cookie party with my sisters and some friends. It was just after Halloween, so we did all the fall cutouts I had, some chocolate chip cookies, and a first attempt at coconut macaroons - yum! Later that night, I found out that I was going to be an Auntie!
   Now my precious nephew is four months old. And this past Sunday I invited my family over to have another cookie party. Since we're still in October, my sister brought her ribbon cookie cutter so we could decorate pink ribbons in honor of breast cancer research.
jack-o-lanterns and spiderwebs for Halloween
We were more ambitious than we had time for...
We made sugar cookies, oatmeal cranberry white chocolate chip cookies, and the dough for chocolate chip cookies. If you've never made the oatmeal cookies, you have to try them!
(Click the picture for the Ocean Spray recipe.)

There were no big announcements at the end of this night; and, after we got the kitchen cleaned up, I took out my Grandma's old cookie jar and filled it with the oatmeal cookies. 
Each 'house' got to take home cookies in little paper Halloween bags; and I put my sugar cookies on little Halloween plates.

I can't wait to share more cookie pictures and recipes with you for Thanksgiving and Christmas!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Repurposed DVD Rack

   I wanted more color in my bathroom, but I'm renting and not supposed to paint the walls...

My last apartment's bathroom didn't have a closet in it. There were a few shelves behind the toilet and a couple towel bars; by default, all of my bathroom items were kept out "on display." I liked having a basket filled with rolled up towels, as if it were ready to be taken to the beach. Speaking of the beach, I like that theme for a bathroom.
This apartment has a good sized closet, in which I impulsively unpacked all my bathroom items upon moving in. Now, a year later, I had an idea that seemed better.
I had a DVD rack sitting in my basement that had been put out of use when I bought a new TV stand with plenty of space for DVDs. This was the perfect width for between the tub and toilet (pretty much the only 'extra' space in the bathroom); and, since the shelves are have bars that run across, the bottom two work together as a magazine rack!
I'm happy with how it's all put together - towels are back out on display to add some color and I was able to decorate with some beach shells. 
And bonus! There was extra space in the bathroom closet, so I moved things around to make more space in my craft room. I think I'll have that re-filled soon enough!

Thursday, October 24, 2013


I found these great fabric prints months ago and knew I wanted to make a purse with them - I finally finished it today!

I have made a couple handbags in the past, but this time I was hoping to create a purse quite similar to Vera Bradley's Little Betsy. Little Betsy is what I consider to be the perfect purse; and, according to it's reviews, so do many others -
"Just the right size and can fit everything in it that I need."
"First of all, it holds WAY more stuff than I thought it would! Second, the pockets are FABULOUS for keeping organized!"
"This bag is a reason why I fell in love with Vera Bradley. It holds a ton of stuff, effortlessly and keeps everything organized."

I'm sure I don't need to promote Vera Bradley (unless you're looking for a really good reason to justify spending the money). However, it's unfortunate that they are slowly doing away with this bag, when I've only got one... So I had to try making my own!
I took some rough measurements, cut out the sides and bottom, and started by adding quilt batting to make the cotton fabric sturdier. Then I sewed on the many pockets - I love pockets! Purses without pockets seem to eat anything I put in it and then I spend more time trying to find my wallet than I spent shopping.

It did take me a while to decide the pattern placement, but I finally settled on the polka dots on the inside and flowers with the red for trim on the outside.
Since I wasn't using an actual pattern (I rarely do), I tried to do a lot of visualizing and pinning before actually sewing. And even with that, I did a lot of adjusting and replacing as I went. It was a slow process.
As I started placing the sides and bottom together, I realized that I hadn't adjusted all the measurements correctly and had to add some 'peek-a-boo's' to the bottom sides. Still, I think it adds nicely to the purse.
                  Also at this point, I ended up trimming in the sides at an angle. You'll notice I had just rectangles for the sides in a picture above, but that didn't make for a visually appealing purse. So, I made the sides more trapezoid shaped, with the tops a few inches smaller than the bottoms.
Now all I had left were the handle straps and top trim.
The straps weren't too difficult to sew, but getting the right placement on the edging was.
I had the whole purse sewed and "done" at one point, but thought the straps were placed oddly. So I took the top all off again and tried again; although, I was irritated enough at having to redo the work that I set it aside and waited a few weeks to take it apart and put it back.
I finally got up this morning and decided it was time to finish the project! It didn't seem to take me very long at all. It's funny how I can get caught up and frustrated working on something, so I'll put it aside for a while; then when I come back it seems so much easier.
I'm very pleased with how it turned out. 'Slow and steady' will pay off!

I've already filled all the pockets and as another reviewer said,

"It is perfect for everyday. With 6 inside pockets and 1 outside, you'll never have trouble finding your keys or your cell phone and still have room left over for more."

You'll see me with this one over my shoulder very soon!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Tomato Sauce

A little background before I tell you all about my homemade tomato sauce...

   Throughout elementary school, I was home schooled by my Mom. I didn't just have a semester or class of Home Ec., I was learning it all the time. My Mom taught me how to cross-stitch, sew, cook, and bake all at a young age. I remember making lunches for myself and my four siblings before I was 7 years old! I also remember the first dinner I made for my family all on my own - Italian meatballs from scratch with a box of spaghetti and a jar of sauce. I was so proud of those meatballs.

Apple picking circa 1993/'94.

I remember gardening a variety of vegetables in the summers, picking apples every fall, then participating in a whole day of canning - mostly tomatoes and applesauce. Now I wish I could remember how to do it, but all I can remember is a giant pot full of steaming hot water and trying not to get splashed as I placed jars in and pulled them out with a regular pair of tongs.

The season for apple picking and canning is just about finished for the year, but now is a great time for some delicious homemade sauce! (Maybe you've got the tomatoes already canned for just that.)

My favorite jarred tomato sauce to buy is RagĂș® Chunky Garden Combination, so I decided to make my own version.
I had some fresh garden tomatoes from a co-worker, but I bought the rest of the veggies from my local Wegmans. I just picked my favorites to roast together - peppers, sweet onions, carrots and zucchini (I've also used asparagus tips and eggplant). I like to small dice everything so it's not a super chunky sauce. Drizzle with Wegmans' Basting Oil, or just oil and seasoning, and they are ready to roast. Since they take about 40-50 minutes to roast (at 400° F), I did this first and then started the sauce.
Ok, I guess I remember a little more from canning - stewing the tomatoes. To start the sauce, plop the whole tomatoes into boiling water for a few seconds, once you pull them back out the skin almost slides right off; of course they are really hot, so be careful!
I then took a hand masher and mashed the peeled tomatoes in a new pot, added canned tomato paste and brought it to a simmer, mashing occasionally. After a while, I had a fairly smooth sauce, and was able to spoon out the cores of the tomatoes that wouldn't mash.
I continued to let it simmer while adding my favorite seasonings to taste.
Once the veggies were done roasting, I stirred them into the pot of sauce. I kept it warm on a low burner a while longer to let the flavors of the veggies soak in until I had a delicious sauce!
Can't you almost smell the sauce?

I ended up freezing some of it in small containers (like I said I don't remember how to can; maybe I should learn how...). Then I could thaw just what I'd need for a dinner.
My favorite pairing: some sweet Italian sausage, crumbled, with bowtie or angel hair pasta. Yummy, warm, comfort food.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


My Grandmother taught me how to knit when I was young & somehow I never forgot how.

I really wouldn't say I'm good - I can do a regular or purl stitch and only into a rectangular shape; nothing fancy. My Grandma helped me start a project when I was less than 10 years old, that I thought was going to be a scarf for my dad, but I had little patience to stick it out. It got to be maybe a foot in length before I set it aside for something more interesting, and something that didn't hurt my fingers. 
Over the years, I would find the same ball of yarn with the needles stuck into it and tell myself that I should finish it. And I would sit and knit a few rows, maybe over several days, but my fingers would start hurting after a while and I'd put it away again.
I'd fit right into Gryffindor with these colors...

When I was 21, I moved into my first apartment (outside of college living) with my older sister and we decided to start our own "knitting club" to practice and see what we could do. 
It turned out we still weren't ambitious enough to learn anything fancy, but we practiced what we did know and I ended up making a blanket! (Not from the same ball of yarn my Grandma started for me, but it was the first knitting project I completed.) Of course there were things about the blanket that I could have done better; it ended up being a rather long and skinny blanket that I had to lay flat under and not move to stay covered. Nonetheless, I was quite pleased with myself for having finally finished something.

Knitting something big enough to cover an entire body takes a long time (just in case you didn't know). I thought of an idea to try knitting single squares and then stitch them together to create a knit quilt-like blanket. That way I could spend 20 minutes knitting a square that would be part of a large project, but still feel like I'd finished something.

I then found the same idea on pinterest and realized I wasn't the first person to come up with it.

Today, I'm even more impressed with myself for creating this scarf. Can't you tell by the look on my face?

I got the idea from all those infinity scarves lately. A friend of mine had knitted herself one last winter, so I thought I'd try. Mine's definitely a 'finite' scarf though; my boyfriend compared it to a dickie... I guess it is, kind of.
I started by casting on 44 stitches with the intent of only knitting til it was about 8 inches, then casting off and sewing the two shorter sides together - creating a scarf that I would just pull over my head. But 44 stitches wasn't going to make it around my neck without really stretching it. So I decided to add 12 stitches to each end to make it wider; and then I had the smaller part to fold over the top. That made it a little bit wider than I need, but it will still keep me warm.
Since "chevron" is a thing lately, I decided to try knitting in a zig-zag and I think it turned out pretty nice.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Perfectly Pumpkin Cake

Fall-time means pumpkin everything and this is one of my favorite recipes!

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

I find that one of the best things about cooler weather is being able to heat up the house with baking - and, of course, it smells great too! I made this cake one year for my Dad's birthday and it was a hit! (It was also the first cake I made completely from scratch.) As usual, I changed a few things to make it my own.

Pumpkin Cake
     2 c. all purpose flour
     2 c. sugar
     2 tsp. baking soda
     2 tsp. cinnamon
     1/2 tsp. salt
     4 eggs
     1 c. vegetable oil
     2 c. canned pumpkin
     1-2 c. chocolate chips

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a large mixing bowl; stir lightly. Add eggs, oil, and pumpkin. Beat with an electric mixer until thoroughly blended. Mix in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into a buttered and floured pan(s). 
Bake at 350°F for 30 to 40 minutes, or until cake tests done. Cool while preparing Cream Cheese Icing.

Cream Cheese Icing
     1/2 c. butter, softened

     1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
     2 tsp. vanilla extract
     powdered sugar (about 1 lb.)

Combine butter and cream cheese in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Mix in vanilla. Add cupfuls of powdered sugar and blend slowly until desired consistency. 
Spread on cooled cake. Sprinkle with crushed walnuts (if desired).

Of course, you could really add several different ingredients to this cake to suit your taste buds. Instead of chocolate chips try raisins or cranberries, or a combination. I chose to put walnuts on the icing (because it's easier to scrape off for those who don't enjoy them), but they would be just as good mixed in with the cake batter - or try pecans. And if you don't like any of those, a plain pumpkin cake with cream cheese icing is still delicious!
So, if you have the extra time, I highly recommend making this pumpkin cake. Then, slice yourself a piece, relax, and enjoy!

Note: The original recipe that I followed can be found at cooks.com or by clicking the link in this entry's header.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


This time, last year, I had just moved into a new apartment; a nice 2-bedroom, split-level, duplex. This seemed like a huge upgrade in space from my previous 1-bedroom apartment! I now have one bedroom set up just for my sewing/knitting/crafting materials. Plus, I have the entire basement for space - half is carpeted and set up for board-gaming, nephews' toys, guest space, etc. The other half is the 'work-side;' set up with a washer/dryer hook-up (if I ever decide to get a set...), a work bench and shelves, paints and scrap wood, my planting and gardening tools, and general storage. It is so nice to have space to do the things I enjoy!

As with any new living space, I had to make the rooms my own by crafting and building my ideas to make it feel like me. In the photo above, the shelves were built by my dad and me. I wish I had a picture of how they were first designed for my previous apartment! The kitchen of the 1-bedroom apartment was laid out like an L; well, an upside down L really. You walked into the doorway at the long end and had a hallway of space with the stove and fridge on one side and the single bay sink on the other. Across the fridge, on the short end of the L, was just a cubby-area with nothing in it... seemed like a waste of space and I needed more shelf space anyway so I designed the shelves to fit perfectly in the area, wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling. Imagine the two outside sections of the shelf, in the picture above, set one in front of the other to create a deeper cupboard area (it had a door on it before), and the center shelf  flipped upside down and on top of the other two. Space for the microwave and food!

Not the easiest to picture probably, and not something I needed for this apartment's kitchen. So, I sanded them down and put on a few coats of paint to get a nice long living room shelf, which is perfect for that long wall.

VoilĂ !

I had multiple project ideas for my new apartment that were a few months in the making - curtains, more shelves, pictures and frames...

Actually, my kitchen curtain was planned to be made for my old apartment, but I didn't actually make it until January of this year... I can be a bit of a procrastinator sometimes.
I was very happy with the way it came out after designing the pattern myself. These prints kind of became my "theme" for the kitchen - owls and apples; and I really like the 70's style/colors.

This is the only window in the kitchen and it happens to face the sun all day. I decided it was the perfect spot for some houseplants, but I'd have to create a shelf that was the same height as the tiny window ledge.
My Dad
I wanted something that kept the room feeling open, but still had some room for extra items. So I came up with a squared, A-frame style. I took all the measurements and drew a picture for my dad. He helped with the 'harder' stuff - picking out the perfect boards, sawing to size, screwing and nailing everything perfectly. Then I was ready to sand and stain it!

Staining a dark red to match the curtain.

And here's the finished look for my kitchen projects!