Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Couple of Cards, and a Whole Lot o'Bookmarks

It's funny how the holidays sneak up on you.

I mean, next weekend is Halloween.  Then, there's Veteren's Day, just a couple of weeks later.  That's when I like to do the bulk of my Christmas shopping.  It is so great!  The stores are pretty well stocked, but they're not crowded and you can park with no problem.  I started shopping on Veteren's Day when my daughter was a baby, and it saves me a lot of stress during the holidays.

Then just a couple of weeks later is Thanksgiving.  Yikes!  Then you know what happens after that...the weeks fly by, and you blink, and suddenly it's like 3 days before Christmas.  And there you are, cruising Target at 9:30 on a Tuesday night, frantically searching for what can pass for a few more stocking stuffers, crazily trying to remember if you have enough wrapping paper left, eyes glazed over as you survey the remaining dregs of holiday decor that lies limply on the shelves, and you silently scream to the heavens, "WHY?  Why didn't I SHOP SOONER????"

Not that I have any personal experience with this, or anything.

So anyway, yes, the holidays are nearly upon us.  Target has holiday cards in the same aisle as the clearance Halloween stuff.  Michael's finally- FINALLY- has some Christmas papers.  Yay!  Any holiday crafting that is going to get done had better get started real soon!  This hit me sort of all of a sudden this morning.  It's not that I wasn't aware that the holidays are coming, I guess I was just sort of in denial.  When I realized it's only a week until Halloween, it sort of lit a fire under my behind, and it got me thinking about doing some holiday decorating in my Etsy shop.  Not only that, but there's a local holiday bazaar that I would like to participate in, and I realized that I probably need to get some inventory going for both.  Funnily enough, I got an email just today that the holiday bazaar in question has been scheduled, and is only 2 weeks away!  I'm still waiting to hear if there is space for me to set up a table, but in hopes that I can, I spent today trying to figure out what I can offer there.  I also did some thinking about my Etsy shop, and what I might be able to offer that would appeal to holiday shoppers.  First, I decided that maybe some holiday-themed items would be in order.  I came up with a few winter and winter-holiday bookmarks that are pretty easy to put together.

  These are still a work in progress. I like the poinsettia one, and I mostly like the snowflake one, though there are a few tweaks I have in mind for that one.  The star bookmark, I'm not so sure.  I used a midnight blue border, white background, and an embossed silver stripe up the center to a star that has gold and silver layers (it's hard to see the silver in this picture).  It looked ok in my head, but now when I look at it, it makes me think of football helmets, like it should be a logo for a NFL team.  So, back to the drawing board on that one.  I like the stars though- they are from a new Sizzix die set that I got with a coupon at Michael's.  I just need to figure out a good way to use them.

Next, I thought about what might make shoppers in my Etsy shop want to buy rather than just browse.  It's true, my bookmarks are expensive for bookmarks.  If you're talking about stocking stuffers, maybe you don't want to spend $5 or $6 on something like a bookmark.  So, I came up with some designs with just one pressed flower per bookmark, and use embossed or patterned paper for visual interest.  My idea here is to offer these less expensive bookmarks in a "stocking stuffer multi-pack"- maybe 3 or 4 to a pack, for one package price.  I spent a couple of hours this afternoon in a creative brainstorm and made a bunch of different samples.  Some I like, some, not so much, but I never know how an idea will really look until I actually create it.  I think I got at least a few here that I will try again.

The general design for these was inspired by a bookmark that my BFF Kendra made awhile back.  She is so much better at layouts than I am!  Her mom is an artist, so it's in her blood I guess.  Anyway, I'm going to keep working on this concept, and hopefully have some to list in my shop before holiday shopping gets into full gear.

Also this weekend I played around with making some pressed flower cards.  I have had some trouble figuring out the best way to do these, because I'm concerned about keeping the flowers safe once they're attached to the card.  I have posted before about my experiments using Mod Podge to protect the flowers, but in the end, I really don't like how the texture comes out.  The flowers maintain a sort of "wet" look even after the Mod Podge has dried, and even with the matte finish it creates a somewhat glossy surface.  I have also noticed that it leaves a slightly yellow coloring, which is fine if you have yellow items, but not otherwise.  I then tried a Krylon acrylic spray, and experimented with spraying the flowers before adhering them to paper.  It sort of works- the problem is that when it dries, the flowers sort of curl up at the edges, which makes them hard to work with.  Spraying them after they are adhered to paper or card stock is not ideal either, because then there is some warping in the paper.  What I have figured out that looks the best is to use the Mod Podge to adhere the flowers to the card stock, but leave them unfinished on top.  A light coat of the Krylon spray seems to do ok, at least it doesn't warp the paper too much, but I'm not sure how much protection it offers.  I'm especially concerned with sending cards like this through the mail- I'm not sure if they would hold up being processed through the USPS machines.  I think what I'll do is mail one to myself so I can see how it comes out in the end.

Here are the two cards I made this weekend.  Since my daughter has been going to a lot of birthday parties lately, that's where my mind has been, so I made these with bright, fun colors that appeal to girls.

I know I said I would be doing more leaf projects, but I didn't have time this weekend.  I'm going to try to get my giveaway organized this week and hopefully post it next week- so if you like my fall leaf items, be sure to check back, because I'll be giving some of them away!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kitchen Creations- A New Feature on My Blog

I started this blog with the intent of using it as a record of my crafting, but I don't know how interesting all of that is for other people to read.  (Assuming anyone actually DOES read my blog...)  So I thought I might mix things up a bit by adding a feature called Kitchen Creations.  In addition to crafting, I also love to cook, and have been doing that a lot longer than I have been crafting.  I love reading cookbooks, I subscribe to tons of cooking magazines, and I love to experiment in the kitchen!  With this feature, I plan to occasionally share recipes, tips, or cooking adventures in the hopes that my creations in the kitchen will be useful and/or interesting to read.

For my first Kitchen Creations post, in honor of the crisp fall weather, I'm going to share a delicious and healthy soup recipe.  Soups are one of my favorite things to make.  One of the very first recipes I ever came up with on my own was a soup recipe.  It was a cream of broccoli with cheddar that was inspired by a soup I'd tried at a restaurant and just HAD to have again (and again, and again!)  My BFF Kendra will remember it from our college days, as it was a favorite during the cold seasons when we were rooming together.  Now that I'm older, I try to stick to healthier soups, although I do make that broccoli and cheddar soup a couple of times a year for old times' sake.  Soups are great to make at home, because they are so much better than anything you can get out of a can.  They are warm and satisfying, and you can make a big batch that will last several days.  I usually make a big pot of soup every Sunday from fall through spring, and even occasionally in the summer too.  It's great to bring to work for lunch, and if I need something quick for dinner, it heats up in minutes in the microwave.  If you've never tried making soup at home from scratch, consider giving it a try- it's really quite easy!  One warning though- you may become a soup snob and be unable to eat canned soup ever again!

So, on to the recipe: Roasted Vegetable Soup, otherwise known as "clean out your vegetable crisper" soup.  What's really great about this soup is that there are very few rules here- you can use just about any vegetables that you have on hand.  I've made this soup several times now, and each time it's different, depending on what I have in my fridge.  This recipe comes from my online friend Dina, who saw someone make a version of this on a TV show, and she shared it on the internet board where we are both members.  Several other board members have tried it as well, and every single person who has tried it has come back to rave about it!  Let's get started.


Fresh vegetables- whatever you have on hand.  I used carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, zuchini, 1/2 of an apple, 1 parsnip, 1 onion, 1 russet potato,  and a few cloves of garlic.
Olive oil
Chicken broth (you could also use vegetable broth, though I prefer chicken)
Salt and pepper to taste
Herbs for garnish (optional)

For this version, I also added a drained and rinsed can of garbanzo beans.

1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare vegetables for roasting- peel, cut, chop as necessary into relatively uniform bite-size pieces.  For tomatoes, slice in half and squeeze the seeds out before chopping.

2. Put chopped vegetables onto a rimmed baking sheet in one layer.  Use two baking sheets if necessary, like I did:

(It's times like these that I LOVELOVELOVE my double oven!)

3. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat.  I just use my hands- it's faster- but you can use a wooden spoon or spatula.

4. Put pans into the preheated oven(s) and roast for 20-30 minutes.  If you notice the veggies beginning to brown, stir with a spatula.  Roast until veggies are slightly browned and mostly tender.  Vegetables cook at different rates, so some vegetables might not be cooked through yet.  That is OK.  Remove from oven(s).

5. Dump all of your veggies into a large pot.  Scrape as much of the roasted bits off of the pans- these are full of flavor!
 6.  Add broth.  The amount of broth you need will depend on the amount of veggies you have.  Add enough to cover the veggies by about 2 inches.  You can always add more later if necessary.  For mine, I ended up using two 32-ounce cartons of chicken broth.

7.  Turn the burner on high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until all vegetables are cooked through and are tender when tested with a fork.  Test your root veggies, such as carrots, as they take the longest to cook.

8.  Puree the soup.  You can do this in batches using a food processor or blender, however, I use an immersion blender.

 I cannot tell you how much I love my immersion blender.  If you don't have one, get one!  Christmas is coming, so start dropping hints now!

Puree the soup until it is nice and smooth.  It may look a bit like baby food.  That's what my husband says it looks like, but don't worry- it tastes much better than baby food.  Add additional liquids at this stage if necessary.

 9.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer about 10 minutes more, and it's ready to serve!

 I garnished mine with some chopped chives from my garden.  My friend Dina recommends swirling in a little goat cheese right before serving.  I have not tried this yet, but since there are very few things on the planet more delicious than goat cheese, I'm going to say that this is a really good suggestion!

Now, a few notes about this soup.  Through the combined experiences of the gals in my internet group, we have determined a few absolutes about making this soup.  One is to always add some apple.  Why?  Don't know, but it's just not the same without it.  It adds depth and complexity and a touch of sweetness to the flavor.  Two, always add some tomato.  I used fresh tomatoes (the last from my garden), but canned tomatoes can be used as well.  If you use canned tomatoes, do not add them to the roasting pan, as that will create too much liquid and the veggies will steam rather than roast.  Just add the canned tomatoes in when you add the broth.  Three, fresh herbs are wonderful in this soup!  I added mine as a garnish, but you can certainly add some before the pureeing step.  Thyme, tarragon, a little rosemary, dill, anything you have around would be lovely.  You could also use dried herbs, although with those, be careful when adding, because dried herbs are much more potent than fresh, and it's easy to overdo them.

I mentioned that I added garbanzo beans to the soup, and I really loved the results.  The beans, when pureed, help make the texture nice and creamy.  Including a potato does as well, so if you don't like the idea of adding beans, just make sure you put in a potato or two.  The garbanzos contribute a complex nutty, earthy undertone to the flavor of the soup, without having an overwhelming bean flavor.  Plus, they are SO healthy- loads of fiber and protein.  Try it- even if you're not a fan of beans.  You won't even know that they're in there!

The possibilities are endless with this soup, limited only by what veggies you have available.  It's a great way to use up veggies in your crisper drawer that are nearing their expiration date and that you might otherwise throw away.  If your carrots or celery are a little limp, it won't matter!

I hope you have enjoyed this feature, and I look forward to doing more Kitchen Creations features in the future!  I would love your feedback, so please feel free to leave me a comment.  I'd especially like to hear from you if you try this recipe- please tell me how you liked it!  Also, I'm happy to answer questions if anything in the recipe is unclear.

I'll be posting again soon with some more leaf projects, and I haven't forgotten about the giveaway I promised either, so be sure to check back!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tutorial: How to Press Fall Leaves Using Your Microwave

Since it's fall, and since I have been spotlighting some stuff I've made with dried, pressed fall leaves, I thought I would share some tips with you for doing this at home yourself.  There are lots of different ways of pressing leaves, but the microwave is the most expedient of them.  I have mentioned before that I have a Microfleur that I use for drying/pressing leaves and flowers, and it is a great product.  But what if you don't want to spend the money for a specialized product?  There is another way, and that's what I am going to show you today.  I will admit that I love my Microfleur, but you can get very similar results by using things that you probably have sitting around in your house right now.

First, let's talk a little bit about the Microfleur and it's components, and what about it makes it work.  First, it is microwave-safe- that is an important one!  The outer plates are made of a material that does not overheat in the microwave, so anything that you use as a substitute should be microwave-safe.  Even some items that are deemed microwave safe still get very hot when heated in the microwave, so you will need to be very careful through the process.  Next, there is padding, to absorb moisture that is released from whatever you are pressing.  The Microfleur padding is basically a very thick (about 1/2 inch) felt, and there are two.  Then there are cotton fabric liners, which are what your flowers or leaves come in direct contact with.  Finally, there are two clips that hold the entire sandwich contraption tightly together.  That is pretty much it, besides the microwave itself.

So, let me tell you how you can achieve the same or at least very similar results that you get with a Microfleur by using common kitchen items.  The main things we need to keep in mind here are 1)sufficient padding to absorb moisture, and 2) pressure, to press the flowers or leaves completely flat.  There are plenty of options- you just have to look around your kitchen, and you can probably find something that works.  I conducted a test in my own kitchen, and here is what I came up with:

Clockwise from the top left, we have a microwave-safe cooking tray, a microwave-safe casserole dish, paper towels, a rubber band (the kind that comes with the newspaper), a leaf, and a cotton-blend dinner napkin.  You could use a tea towel too.  I would not recommend a fuzzy terrycloth-type towel, however- it will impress the texture into the leaf.  You want to use something with a pretty smooth texture.

Before you begin, check your leaves to make sure there is no dirt or other debris clinging to them.  Wipe off any excess moisture with a paper towel.

First, fold two sets of two paper towels into quarters (in other words, put two paper towels together.  Fold in half, then fold in half again.)  Place on the microwave-safe cooking tray.

Next, take your dinner napkin or towel and fold it until it will fit onto your folded paper towels.  Leave it so that you can fold it one more time, once you get your leaves on it.  Add your leaves, making sure that they do not overlap.

Fold the napkin over to cover the leaves, then place your other set of folded paper towels on top.  You should have a sort of sandwich on the cooking tray: paper towels, towel and leaf, more paper towels.

Now, place your casserole dish on top of the top layer of paper towels.  Be sure to center it on the area where the leaves are inside the towel.  Stretch a rubber band over the whole thing, strapping the casserole dish snugly onto the microwave cooking tray.  This is important for keeping your leaves nice and flat as they are pressed and dried.

Place the contraption into your microwave, and set the timer.

Now, this is where it gets a bit tricky.  The timing is going to depend on your microwave wattage, so you will need to experiment to find out what works best.  Start with short amounts of time until you see what your microwave can handle.  Trust me, you don't want to do it for too long:

I recommend starting with 15 to 20 seconds.  Once you get to know how quickly your microwave cooks, you can try increasing the times.  After the first cooking cycle, remove and check your leaves.  If necessary, put it back in for another 15-20 seconds.  Repeat until your leaves are completely dried.  The best way to judge is to check the stems, as they are the thickest part of the leaves, and will therefore dry the slowest.  As your leaves get closer to being completely dried, you might need to reduce your time to 10-15 second intervals.  Once you can break a small piece off the end of the stems, they are done!

Doesn't really look a lot different than it did before it was dried, does it?  That's the best kind of leaf!

Remember that different leaves will require different processing times, so some might be done before others.  I recommend spreading the leaves out into one layer and leaving them overnight, just to make sure than any excess moisture can evaporate.  Then store them in an airtight container until you are ready to use for your craft projects.  Dried leaves are very brittle, so handle with care!

This method works for green leaves, as well as flowers, too!  Again, cooking times and intervals will vary with the variety of leaf or flower, so experiment carefully to find what works.

Now, I am just an amateur crafter and by no means a professional, so be sure to read your microwave's instruction manual before you try anything like this. Also, be sure that any materials you use in the microwave are microwave-safe, and use pot holders or a towel when removing hot items from the microwave.  Safety first!

Hope you enjoyed my first tutorial!  I'm happy to answer questions- just post a comment if you have any.

I'm still working on a fall giveaway, so check back for that soon!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Baby Card #2 and Some New Shop Stuff

Babies, babies, everywhere- at least that's what it seems like!  In addition to my brother expecting a new baby, my daughter's best friend is also expecting a new baby sister.  Her mom is due in November, so Meredith and I thought we'd get her a little gift for the baby.  I decided to support one of my fellow Etsy sellers, so that is where I went in search of a baby gift for little Teddie Renee.  I remembered seeing some adorable crocheted hats before, so that is what I went looking for.  Oh my, but there are a lot of crocheted hat sellers!  The one I ultimately settled on was the Portland Beanie Company.  Her work is beautiful, her feedback fantastic, and she's local, too!  Here is the gorgeous little hat that we got:

Isn't that just too cute?!  Almost makes me want to have another baby, just so I can get one of these hats.  JUST KIDDING!  Seriously, they come in all sizes from infant to adult, so maybe I'll just have to get one for my daughter.  Christmas is coming up, after all!

So of course I made a card, too:

I used the same basic design for this one that I did for Kendra's birthday card, and again used that cute stork paper.  I can't wait to give it to our friend!

I've been working a little bit on those new fridge magnets, and actually got a couple of sets of them listed on my Etsy shop.  I have a few more to list, and will be doing that this next week.  It is nice to start getting my inventory stocked up, especially with some new products!

More to come later- I have some fun things I am working on.  One is a tutorial of sorts, and another is a giveaway I'm thinking of doing- so be sure to check back soon!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Birthday Card, Fall Bookmarks, and More to Come!

First and foremost...drumroll...I have my computer back!  Hooray!!

I mentioned in my last post that I had another card to share and that I wanted it to get to its recipient before I posted it.  Well, surprisingly, that card only took 48 hours to get from Oregon to Arizona!  I made this card for my BFF Kendra, whose birthday is this week.  Happy Birthday, Kendra!

Let me tell you a bit about this card.  First of all, the layout came from a sketch that I got from the MojoMonday blog.  This is such a neat blog!  And ironically, it was Kendra who gave me the link to it a week or two ago when I was lamenting the lack of inspiration for my brother's baby card.  There are so many great ideas there, I know I will be making use of a lot of them in the future!  The floral paper in the background is some Japanese washi paper that I fell in love with awhile back and bought without having any idea what I'd do with it.  So when I needed some inspiration for Kendra's card and I came across it, I knew it was perfect for the occasion.  I like how it came out.  The only thing I'd do differently if I could is the "Happy Birthday" message.  With my computer out of commission, printing something was not an option, so I had to hand-write it myself.  This was lots of fun to make, and it's so much easier when I have a sketch to follow!

Now, on to the fall bookmarks.  I have a couple of new ones to share:

And now that I have a functional computer at home, I was FINALLY able to get some listed in my Etsy shop!  Woohoo- it finally looks like fall in there!

I am also working on some new products that I am excited about.  I have wanted for a long time to expand to include items other than bookmarks in my shop.  I am still working on some decoupaged frames and such- and of course, those darned coasters that I still haven't done anything with.  I think I might try some leaves on those though, now that I am seeing how nicely the bookmarks are turning out.  So that's on the horizon.  In the short term, though, I have a new line that fits in pretty well with the bookmarks already in my shop.  Here's a sneak peek:

Aren't these cool little fridge magnets?  I got this idea when I was browsing through Michael's and saw these strips of self-sticking magnets that are like rolls of tape that you can cut to the length that you want.  I have made a few sets of these, and really like how they came out, so will be working on getting these photographed and listed in the shop as well.  The photos I took this evening didn't turn out very well because there wasn't enough daylight, and the lights in my kitchen are not a good substitute.  I'll share my other designs once I've gotten better photos.

So that's all for now- not bad for an average Monday, at least for me!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Baby Card

I am so excited.  I have a new neice on the way!  Like, really really soon!  She is due sometime in the next couple of weeks, I think.  I can't remember what my brother told me the due date is.  But it's soon, so of course I had to send a present.  And a card!

Ok, I have to say that the colors are not really right in this picture, at least not that I can see.  I'm still using my son's little 9.5 inch laptop, since our home computer is STILL out of commission.  But anyway, I found this adorable paper at Michaels that has the storks bringing little bundles of joy and just loved it, so had to do something with it!  I embossed the green paper with a Cuttlebug embossing folder on my Big Shot, and also cut the card from a Sizzix die that came in the card-making package I got with my Big Shot.  I have been agonizing over making a baby card for my brother for about a week now, and am happy with what I came up with.  Now I can send the present on to Texas, and hope it gets there before the baby does!

I am still collecting leaves and will be making more fall leaf bookmarks in the next few days, and hope to get some listed in my Etsy shop soon!  I also have another card that I will share with you, but not until it gets to its recipient in the mail- don't want to spoil any surprises!