Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Homemade Gifts Pt. 2: Canvas Log Carrier

My second and most significant homemade gift was a Canvas Log Carrier. The recipient carves wood and enjoys his backyard fire pit, so I figured it would be a useful gift.

All I needed was some canvas material, straps, dowels, thread, and the excellent step by step tutorial from An Oregon Cottage. When the tutorial says all you need is basic sewing skills - it's true. Straight lines and folding is all it takes to make this.

As I hemmed the edges and made pockets for the dowels, Zander was right there getting in the way helping. Seriously, as I sewed the entire line in the middle photo, he didn't move. I managed to maneuver the material above and around him, and he wasn't bothered in the least.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Homemade Gifts Pt 1: Candy Cane Bath Salts

Remember my Christmas Budget Challenge? How did I do? Well, I probably went a little over budget for each of my family members, but not by much so I'm proud of myself. I was even done shopping a week before Christmas! To not hit the mall that last week was odd, I felt I missed out on that rush of excitement and adrenaline of being in crowded malls with other last minute shoppers.

As I mentioned in my November post, I have been following the Happy Housewife's 100 Days of Homemade Christmas Gifts. This definitely provided some inspiration for my gifts this year.

The first, was a stocking stuffer / small gift. I liked the idea of the Peppermint Facial Scrub or the Moisturizing Hand Scrub. Unfortunately when I made them, they were too liquid, smelled horrible and leaked all over. Not a great start. However, Homemade Christmas Gift #77 was a dry recipe for Candy Cane Bath Salts so I was back in business!

I used spice containers from the dollar store (3/$1) and painted the lids "Christmas Red" ($1 at the dollar store). Using masking tape and left over etching cream, I etched a candy cane like strip around each container. I should have used painters tape though, my lines didn't come out as clean as I would have liked.

When making the bath salts, I made two small batches and dyed one red. I filled the containers alternating layers of white and red Candy Cane Bath Salts to give it even more of a candy cane look. Finally, I wrapped it in red tissue paper, cellophane and ribbon, tied on the label The Peaceful Mom provided and added a mini candy cane.

In this case, an inexpensive gift was made impressive by good presentation:

Tomorrow, I'll be posting Part 2 of my homemade gifts - one that required me to dig out my sewing machine!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tutorial: Flooding Cookies w. Royal Icing

Earlier this week I posted a tutorial on how to make royal icing. In this second part of the tutorial, I will show how to "flood" cookies using the royal icing.

The key to fun and easy cookie decorating (and clean up) is good preparation. Take the time to set up your icing colours, based on the design you're decorating. For my Christmas Cookies, I needed green, brown, red, and white.

Put a coupler and decorating tip into each bag (disposable or cloth) - one for each colour you need. Learn more about couplers and how to do this here. The more intricate the cookie you're decorating, the smaller the tip you'll want. For wider, less intricate cookies you can use a slightly larger tip.

While working, place the decorating bags into a glass with damp paper towel at the bottom. This will prevent the icing in your tips from drying out.

To fill the decorating bags:
  1. Fold down the open end of the bag either over the glass (as shown) or over your hand as you hold it.
  2. With a spatula or spoon, fill the bag with 1/2 - 3/4 cups icing. It's important to not overfill or it will be difficult to use and may be squeezed out of the top of the bag. In my case, I filled each bag only to the top of the cup line.
  3. Close the bag by unfolding and twisting it shut. I also recommend an elastic here, so that it's not as easy for the icing to be pushed upwards and make a mess.

Steps 1, 2, and 3
To flood a cookie:
  1. Outline the shape or area you'd like to fill. The idea is to create a dam that will contain the icing flood.
  2. Fill in the shape or area. If you're decorating large cookies, consider using a bowl of even more thinned out icing (3-6 seconds for a line to disappear) and a spoon to flood, which will be faster.
  3. Shake or tap the cookie lightly, to help the icing settle. Immediately pop any air bubbles with a toothpick. Make sure the inside of the dam is completely filled with icing.  
There you go! It's easy!

Know that you know how to flood, the possibilities are endless. Flood multiple sections of a cookie with different colours, add more layers of colour on top (once the first layer is dry) or integrate colours by adding them while still wet, like my halloween spiderweb cookies:

I flooded circle cookies in white and using a very small tip immediately drew a spiral in black.
I dragged a toothpick through the design to make the web effect.  

Stay tuned for photos of a post of my christmas cookies, which will give some examples of how using royal icing and flooding can create some fun and beautiful designs. 

Happy Decorating!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wedding Wednesday: Shoes!

My shoes were the favorite part of my bridal attire. Don't get me wrong, I loved my dress. These shoes were my Cinderella shoes though - they were made especially for me.

The shoe itself was RSVP's Lovely ordered in Ivory satin:

Then, the talented Nora from the Etsy shop NoraKaren worked her magic to hand paint (yes paint!) my shoes.

I had heard about her work from another bride online. I loved her style, but browsing her online store it was mostly peacock themes and designs much too bright for what I was going for. I took a chance, and reached out to her about doing some custom work. I'm so glad I did! She agreed and went to work designing a "winter wonderland" based on my very vague descriptions of what I had in mind.

I'll share the evolution of the design process:

Although her work was typically bright, I asked that we keep it neutral - white, ivory, greys. We also contemplated a bit of purple, one of the wedding's accent colours. So, Nora initially sent me these ideas:

After seeing these sketches, I decided to eliminate the purple and grey, and keep it all different shades of white. I liked the lines on the top right shoe, it reminded me of blowing snow in a snowstorm. Nora mentioned she could layer snowflakes by painting them on top of each other. After a bit of discussion she sent me this revised sketch:

This is the moment I knew we were on the same page and understood each other. I told her I trusted her vision and Nora set to work.

After the first layer of painting, Nora sent me an update with these pictures:

 A day later, she had added more painting and sent me another update with photos:

As a final touch, Nora added beautiful rhinestones throughout, to match the heels. She sent me photos of the finished shoe:

The professional photos of the shoes on my wedding day:

I absolutely adored my shoes on my wedding day. I've since worn them for one or two special occasions, but they are otherwise proudly on display in my home. Who knew I'd be THAT woman with a pair of shoes on display?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tutorial: Royal Icing

When I saw professional looking cookies I always asked myself - how in the world did they get such smooth icing all the way to the edges of the cookie? When I tried it myself, the icing would be running off the edges, not at all smooth or thick and difficult to work with.   

Then, as my interest in baking and decorating grew, I found the answer. Royal Icing. 

Royal icing is an icing that dries to a smooth, firm, matte finish. It can be used to decorate cookies or cakes, and with a stiff consistency can be used to create flowers or other decorations as it is hard-drying.

I'm sharing my tutorial here so you can decorate professional looking cookies too.

To get started you'll need:

- 4 cups icing sugar
- 3 tbsp meringue powder (an egg white substitute)
- Warm water
- A mixer (stand or hand held)

Step 1:
Beat icing sugar, meringue powder and 6 tbsps warm water together for 5 - 8 minutes until ingredients are well combined and form soft peaks. See the evolution of what it will look like below:

This "stiff" consistency can be used to decorate cakes or create flowers or decorations. To "flood" cookies however, the icing needs to be thinned out.

Step 2:
Add water a tablespoon or two at a time and mix well. The icing will become more and more liquid as you go (see photos below). As the icing begins to look like the consistencies below, test it before adding more water. It's much easier to continue to thin icing than to over thin it and have to adjust by adding more icing sugar.

To test consistency:
Run a knife through the icing. The line should disappear within 5-10 seconds. If its longer than that or doesn't disappear at all, continue adding water. If it takes less than 5 seconds to disappear, it may be too thin.

Once you have a good consistency, you can portion out the icing and add colouring to make a variety of colours.

Now that you know how to make and colour it, stay tuned later this week for a tutorial on how to flood cookies with Royal Icing.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Path & the Timeline Trend

I recently joined the newest social media platform, Path. It's a self proclaimed "smart journal" for smartphones (iPhone and Android) that allows users to share their daily activities, locations, photos, thoughts, music choices, and even when they are awake or sleeping, with 150 of their closest friends.

Here's what it looks like:

Note that I got 9 hours of sleep last night! Who needs to know that, anyway??

I've only shared my Path with my husband (who knows it all anyway, and is tagged with me in half my posts) and two other good friends. So far there's been little content I actually care about knowing of others or that others would care to know about me.

Is anyone really that interested to know that Cam and I had dinner at Red Lobster last night, after getting an oil change?

It's only been 24 hours, and it's possible I'm just not using it right. Yet, I'm feeling myself becoming increasingly interested in creating my Path.  Not for the purposes of sharing but for capturing my personal journey. I've always wanted to keep a journal, a record of my life to look back on. Sitting down to reflect on my day just isn't something I can commit to. Adding photos means leaving space, printing them and inserting them where they belong. Even as a DIY enthusiast, journalling and scrapbooking is just too much effort for me. Path makes adding thoughts and photos easy! Rather than reflecting on activities or locations after the fact, they can be captured in the moment.

Even if I do capture the small details of my life, like what song I'm listening to, will I ever really look back on it? What's the purpose? Why is it so satisfying to see my 21 "moments" captured on the screen?

Facebook is also moving to a timeline format (introduced here) where "highlights" of past years can be easily accessed in chronological format - coincidence?

I believe people are obsessed with the story of their lives. We have a deep need to feel a sense of purpose, accomplishment and progress - which social media is tapping into by neatly depicting the moments (both significant and utterly insignificant) of our lives in a pretty little timeline.

By publishing these timelines of moments, interactions and life events are they somehow more real, more verifiable? By sharing them with our families, friends, acquaintances and often with strangers, do we feel validated?

Are we capturing and preserving life moments through social media, or at what point are we fabricating moments in life that can be captured and published?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wedding Wednesday: DIY Details

I've already posted about the Card Box and Hot Chocolate Vial favours, but there were many other projects Cam and I opted to give our personal touch. From the stationary to the ceremony to the reception, we made our mark.

Our invitations were created using pre-cut cardstock and envelopes from Cards & Pockets, ribbon from Mokuba, Martha Stewart's snowflake punch and double sided tape.

Cam's Mom was kind enough to lend her time, here we are gluing, taping and assembling:

The final product:

With the extra cardstock, we made wish tree tags which also served as our guestbook:

For the ceremony, we created a simple program that was small enough to fit in a suit pocket:

One of the least expensive and easiest of the DIY projects was this Unity Candle, customized with our monogram and coordinated with the left over Cardbox ribbon:

Name cards at each place setting were punched and hand written using the same stationary and font as the wedding invites:

Finally I made Thank You cards for my wedding party (adding a shape close to their dress style and colour) which they opened the morning of the wedding:

These projects were a lot of work and could have easily been purchased, but I enjoy being crafty. Spread over a few months, I found doing these projects were fun and well worth it. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Men In Black 3 - Official Trailer!!

It may be Monday, but this news has me in a great mood - the Men In Black 3 Official Trailer has been released. Watch it here:

What do you think? I love the time travelling angle - it's something I'm fascinated with. Can't wait to see this movie when it hits theatres May 25, 2012!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Favorite (non-classic) Christmas Songs

One of my favorite Christmas-time joys is listening to holiday music - at work, while shopping, and while decorating or wrapping presents. For the entire month of December. Don't I get bored of the same holiday classics played over and over again you ask? No. Not at all. I'll happily listen to all artists and styles of "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" over and over and over again. Amy Grant's version is the one on my playlist right now.

Luckily, my music aficionado husband has discovered and included some fantastic non-classic Christmas songs alongside the traditional songs in my Festive playlist. So if you're looking to update your holiday music, or just don't want to have to listen to Rocking Around the Christmas Tree again, I recommend you check out some of my favorites:

Mindy Smith's entire My Holiday Album, including these favorites:
If iTunes is installed on your computer, the links *should* take you directly to the song or album in the iTunes store, where you can preview and/or purchase.

Since I can't take the credit for finding these songs, I'll give a plug to Cam and his Tumblr where you can find a new song recommendation each day.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wedding Wednesday: DIY Cardbox

I spent a lot of time online while planning our wedding, sharing ideas with other brides. One thing that really inspired me was seeing beautiful tiered card boxes. Many reminded me of wedding cakes.

Side tangent re: wedding cakes. Cam and I didn't have one at our wedding. Neither one of us was that interested in it and we refused to feel the pressure to do something or spend money on something for the sake of tradition or what was expected. I really don't think anyone missed the cake and we don't have any regrets.

However, if I DID have a cake - I know exactly what it would have looked like. Three white tiers with silver sparkle or crystal embellishment around the bottom of each tier. This became the inspiration for our card box.

We found three nesting boxes at the local dollar store. We cut out square holes in the lid of the bottom box, the top and bottom of the middle box, and the bottom of the top box - so that cards would be able to fall all the way through. We cut a slit in the top of the smallest box, big enough for cards to be dropped through.

Next, we wrapped batting around the outside of each piece. It is an optional step that was likely more hassle than it was worth. We did it to add a softer contour to the card box and to prevent the light blue pattern from showing through the thin satin material we used to cover it.

We unfortunately didn't take many photos of the process otherwise this would be a more thorough tutorial, but this is what the box looked like part-way through. The boxes are only sitting on each other and have not yet been glued together:

Once all three levels were wrapped in batting, we wrapped them in white satin fabric. The glue gun failed us at this stage, and we ultimately ended up using a combination of duct tape and staples to keep it together. The inside of our cardbox was UGLY. (shhh..)

Luckily the glue gun worked to glue all three pieces together. We added some ribbon using double sided tape, some sparkly snowflake accents, and we were finished!

Note the Christmas tree and presents in the background. We made the card box this time last year. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Marshmallow Fondant Projects

I love the smooth look of fondant cakes and have been experimenting with using marshmallow fondant to decorate. See my tutorial on how to make it below, or here. Here are a few of my fondant projects:

Three birthday cakes I made over the May long weekend
My first three cakes were fairly simple, using coloured marshmallow fondant to cover the cake and make circle accents.
The engagement cake for my two best friends who both recently got engaged! 
My next fondant cake was a little more elaborate - using marshmallow fondant to form the champagne flutes and Wilton Pearl Dust to create the gold champagne colouring and make the cake shimmer.

Most recently, I made these fun little heads for the melting snowman cookies:

Tutorial: Marshmallow Fondant (MMF)

Marshmallow Fondant (or MMF for short) is a delicious, versatile icing that I use to decorate cakes and make figures or shapes with. Some of the most beautiful smooth looking cakes are made with fondant. However, professional fondant is hard to make or expensive to buy and doesn't taste very good. Marshmallow fondant on the other hand is easy to make with readily available ingredients, and tastes great.

I use a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. I've never made MMF without it but it can (apparently) be done using a well-greased spoon to stir and hand kneading it.

To get started, you will need:
- mini marshmallows (453 g)
- icing sugar (1 kg)

- crisco
- a sifter
- a microwaveable bowl
- a spatula
- a mixing bowl
- the KitchenAid mixer with dough hook
- water (2 tbsp)
- flavoring (optional)
- icing colouring (optional)

Step 1:
Grease the microwaveable bowl, the mixing bowl, the dough hook and the spatula using crisco. Sift the icing sugar.

Step 2:
Place the marshmallows in the microwaveable bowl and add water. Heat for 1-2 minutes until the marshmallows puff up. Using the greased spatula, stir the marshmallows until they are smooth.

Step 3:
Place 3-4 cups of sifted icing sugar into the mixing bowl and add the melted marshmallow on top. This is where you would add flavoring (e.g. vanilla, almond or peppermint extract). Use clear extracts to avoid distorting the colour.

If you're making a whole batch the same colour, it is easiest to add the colouring at this step, while the marshmallows are still liquid. I recommend using the Wilton Icing Colours as they create a much deeper colour than regular food colouring, which will create pastels at best.

Begin mixing - either using a stand mixer or by hand using a greased spatula. As the icing sugar and marshmallow combine, they will begin to form a dough. This dough will be extremely sticky. Continue adding icing sugar a little at a time until the dough is pliable, and not sticky. A good test is to pinch it, like this:
Step 4:
Once the MMF is not sticky to the touch, turn it out onto a surface covered in icing sugar and knead it with your hands. Some parts will still be sticky, so continue to incorporate icing sugar. When ready, it should look like this:

At this point, you're finished! Wrap the fondant in cling wrap, and you can store it in the fridge up to 4 weeks. To use it, take it out of the fridge for 30 minutes, or heat in the microwave for 5-10 seconds at a time, kneading it in between to soften.

Colouring a portion of fondant:
If you're making small amounts of multiple colours, you may find it easiest to colour portions of the large batch at this stage. In the case of my snowman cookies, I needed a small amount of orange MMF for the noses.
I took a small portion of white MMF and used a toothpick to add orange coloring. I worked the colour in with my hands, adding a few more drops of colouring as I went, until I came out with a solid orange colour.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Memo #Win

Cam and I moved into a brand new condo this year. Of course by brand new, I mean still under construction. I'm pretty confident we were the first two people to actually sleep in the building. Eight months later, 20 more floors of people have occupied the building and let's just say there are some kinks to work out. At the moment the top floors have no hot water, our amenities are nowhere near completion, and of the four elevators, only one works ... and it works slowly.

However, I'm glad to know there are some people who can find the humour in the situation. Instead of yet another vague memo from the builder that says little of value about the disruptions, I found this informative and hilarious memo posted this morning: