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Archive for the ‘home made gifts’ Category

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When we married, I drew out a Shaker style design for a queen size bed, and Cottager made it up for us. I loved the bed but once we had two squirming toddlers squeezing in with us on weekend mornings we upsized to a king mattress and the Shaker bed went into storage. We initially set it up at the cottage, but the full box frame was a space killer in either of our small bedrooms here, so as it stands, only the headboard remains in use at Keats View.

The side rails of that bed were 2×10 fir planks. I saved those and – two years ago- drew up a plan to convert them to a console table for the cottage. Twenty-plus years into our marriage, the Cottager fulfills my whims with slightly less alacrity than in earlier days. And that is why this console table took six hours plus two years to create.

If I had a brownie for every time we discussed this project since I first raised it, I’d be pleasantly plump. A few weeks ago, Cottager stumbled on a plan for a table base that incorporates schedule 9, 1 inch (ID) steel pipe and cast fittings. Suddenly, I had buy in. And now I’m blogging from my new table at the cottage. When you see what it replaced, you will understand why I was so (unreasonably?) impatient.

The pipe and fittings cost $90 including custom cutting and threading at Pipeco in Chilliwack, which is a contractors supplier that considers no job too small. Just add one can Tremclad flat black primer. (Important note: the pipe has a greasy coating that must be removed with solvent before spray painting.) So for about $100 this definitely qualifies as a frugal project.

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The ugly ugly table I had to wait years to replace.

The ugly ugly table I had to wait years to replace.

The new table.  I love it.  For breakfast and the news, for writing, for everything. Thanks Cottager.

The new table. I love it.
For breakfast and the news, for writing, for everything. Thanks Cottager.

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Beach glass pendant in a jiffy

Beach glass pendants in a jiffy

I love to collect beach glass because I am a ‘hurry up’ person and this forces me to slow down and pay attention. It is like a walking form of meditation. And so I have lots. Cups full, in fact.

And though I like being crafty, my talents are not great and my patience (see above) is still less. These pendants require little skill or patience. My first one turned out well, in about 30 minutes.

My first effort and still my favourite

My first effort and still my favourite

What is required is this plier set which I found at Michael’s for 16$. It includes side cutters. Also includes round pliers, which you start with to make the bail.

Just add beach glass

Just add beach glass

The wire is 20 or 22 gauge shiny wire -my spool said “ideal for wire wrapping” so that was helpful.

White glass gives the nicest results. It is harder to make a piece of beer or 7-Up bottle look really nice, but I might use those bits, along with some larger beads, to make wine glass charms.

Here is a link to a free photo tutorial you can download.
(Disclosure – I did not follow this, I just looked at the pictures and gave it a go.)

Looks like a fun project for the next Crumpet club. Maybe I can get the Crumpets to whip up all my Christmas presents for me again?

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Makes 5 dozen: These are going to my son and his room mates at UVIC

Makes 5 dozen: These are going to my son and his room mates at UVIC

What makes a good Valentines Day recipe to show your love to those special people in your life?

That depends on where you are in life. If you are in your 20s you probably want something beautiful and decadent to impress your partner (See the Food of Love 2012.) In you’re in your 70’s it might involve prunes (See Plum Clafouti.)

I have one son at university and another about to go. This year the Food of Love demands something delicious but easy; involving inexpensive ingredients and producing a big batch. This is for all the students out there.

If, like my son, you are on a budget, buy an inexpensive brand of peanut butter when it is on sale, get your chocolate and butterscotch chips and your oatmeal from the bulk section, and buy a box of margarine squares to keep in your freezer. These are pre-measured half cups perfect for baking and also sub in when you run short of regular tub margarine.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup margarine (2 sticks or squares, softened)
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1.5 cups flour
1.5 cups quick oats
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips
.5 cups butterscotch chips

METHOD
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Combine softened margarine, peanut butter, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.
Beat until very light and fluffy. Fluffier!

Combine flour, oats and baking soda in a smaller bowl, stir to mix.
Add into creamed ingredients and mix well.
Add in chocolate and butterscotch chips; stir.

Scoop dough into golf size balls on greased or parchment lined baking sheets.
Bake 10 minutes. If not browning slightly, give them 2 more minutes.
Cool on rack. Turn off the oven, Hon!

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The Food of Love 2012: Vanilla Slice

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile you know that once a year I choose one amazing dessert with which to demonstrate my love and affection for family and friends. These aren’t fancy recipes, but boy do they schmeck!  If you tried  Chocolate Fudgies (2008),  Coconut Glazed Oatmeal Cake (2009) and Swedish Waffles  (2011)  then you will know that the Food of Love is always worth making.

This year I’ve chosen a recipe that I got from my dad’s mother, Grace.  It is a family favourite and a great dessert to take to a potluck since it can easily provide 18 servings or more.   Don’t be dissuaded by the simple and seemingly bland ingredients: This is one of those recipes that produces something much more than the sum of its parts.  It tastes very much like a mille-feuille pastry, which you might also know as a ‘Napolean.’  Tempted?

Be sure to use a cooked pudding mix and note that the amount of milk added is less than the regular pudding instructions –  so the filling is custardy.  This dessert is best if made at least 8 hours ahead of serving and stored in the fridge.

VANILLA SLICE  – Makes one 9 x 13 inch dessert – approx 18 servings

INGREDIENTS        

Graham Cracker Squares  – 2  sleeves (approx 40)

Jello Cooked Vanilla Pudding/Pie Filling  – 1 large package  (170 grams)

Milk – 2 and 1/4 cups

Whipping Cream – 2 cups

GLAZE

Icing sugar – 2 cups

Vanilla – 1 and 1/2 tsp

Hot tap water – 3-4 Tbsp

Unsweetened dark chocolate – 1 ounce

METHOD

START by mixing up your custard. In a microwave proof bowl combine the pudding mix and milk – noting that this is a reduced amount from what is called for on the box. Cook on high, for one to two minutes at a time, for about 6 minutes total, whisking frequently.  Once thickened, set aside to cool.

Now line an ungrease 9 x 13 inch pan with a fitted layer of whole graham crackers. Imagine you are a tiler, and score, snap and fit them as necessary to neatly cover the bottom of your pan. Once the pudding is room temperature, carefully spread it over the graham crackers until they are evenly covered – unlike in my picture . . .

Spread cooked and cooled vanilla pudding over graham crackers

Next, whip the cream, adding no sugar, vanilla – nothing.  Spread this evenly over the pudding layer with the back of a spatula.

Next, add a second layer of fitted graham crackers squares, pressing down gently where necessary to get the surface as level as possible.

Cover the cooked pudding with plain whipped cream and another layer of graham crackers

Mix the glaze ingredients with a whisk until completely smooth and not too runny.  Pour over top of graham crackers and spread evenly using the back of a spoon and a bit of patience.

Last step is to melt the chocolate and drizzle in lines, which can be ‘combed’ for effect or just spiraled lazily about.

Cover with a tight layer of saran and refrigerate minimum 8 hours or overnight.  Serve and be adored!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Easy Tricky Cherry Almond Shortbread

You know one. You might be one:  A person who just doesn’t get the whole shortbread thing. 

I walk a fine line there myself.

I love my mom’s: she pipes it into charming wreathes with a cookie press I am far too uncoordinated to master (or too lazy to try?) I know a few others who produce a tasty cookie,  But many shortbread recipes leave me cold. Too dry, not sweet enough – sorry, I am picky.

This is my family’s favourite shortbread recipe. Brown-sugar sweet, and with bits of marashino cherry adding moisture and interest. The recipe is dead easy and a little tricky all at the same time.  Intrigued? 

The tricky bit comes in getting the cherries distributed in the dough without turning your dough pink. Then, you have to pack the dough into saran-wrapped cylinders to chill in the fridge, again without de-juicing the cherries. After that, its just slice and bake. 

Chopped frozen cherries get mixed in last.

Having a Kitchen Aid mixer helps a lot. I used to make this by hand and could never get the dough sufficiently well-mixed. My strategy this year was to drain and chop my cherries, then freeze them in a single layer on a sheet of parchment.

They came straight out of the freezer and into the mixer with the toasted nuts. With Saran wrap sheets waiting, those cherries were mixed in, wrapped up and into the fridge in moments, with very little pink leakage. 

INGREDIENTS
 1 cup butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

2 cups flour

1/2 cup marashino cherries, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup blanched silvered almonds, lightly toasted and cooled.

METHOD

Cream butter in mixer. Add sugar gradually, then flour gradually.

A drop of almond extract would be optional at this point.

Fling in the toasted nuts and chopped (frozen) marashinos.

Remove half of dough to a sheet of saran, form into a fairly uniform log, pressing quite tightly, then roll up in the food wrap. On a hard surface and using hands, roll log dough back and forth a few times to make it as round as possible and compact the dough a little more. Then pop it in the fridge overnight or for up to a week. Repeat with other half of dough. 

When chilled, unwrap and slice with sharp knife into quarter-inch slices and place on parchment lined tray.

Bake 12- 15 minutes at only 325 degrees and high in oven. Remove from oven when edges have begun to brown. Cool on sheet for a few minutes before removing to wire rack.  Makes 4 dozen.

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Easy on your pocketbook but a bit sticky on your fillings. You've been warned.

Oh dear, it has been awhile.  I’ll try to make up for it, starting with this super easy and inexpensive recipe for sponge toffee. It makes a big panful for gifts or sharing.  If you pine for Crunchie Bars, you will love this. It’s also variously known as sea-foam, hokey pokey and honeycomb.

INGREDIENTS:

One cup granulated sugar

One cup corn syrup – dark is best, but yellow and white work too

One tablespoon vinegar

One tablespoon baking soda

METHOD

Line a 9×13 pan with foil and spray with cooking spray.

Combine sugar, corn syrup and vinegar in a LARGE heavy bottomed pot. This is important as you will end with a lot more volume than you begin with.

Cook over medium high heat until all sugar is dissolved, then bring it to a boil and cook without stirring until a candy thermometer registers 300 degrees or just a little higher.  Don’t have a candy thermometer? I used my digital meat thermometer and it worked fine. You can always cook it ‘old school’ and use the cold water testing method, in which case you are aiming for the “hard crack” stage.

Once there, stir in baking soda thoroughly. The mixture will foam up, at least tripling in size. Quickly scrape it into your prepared pan and allow to cool completely before removing and breaking into bite-sized pieces. 

If desired, melt some chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave or in a double boiler, then dip one end of each piece, and set on wax paper or parchment to cool.  Best if consumed in 48 hours or store in sealed container in cool dry place.

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I just love these nuts, which are made by Sahale Snacks. If you haven’t tried them, they are sweet, with a hint of orange and a generous portion of black pepper. Its a sensational combination.

They are available seasonally at Costco – usually around Christmas time. Last week I saw them featured at Thrifty Foods: $5.99 for 113 grams! Much, much cheaper and really easy to make them yourself – either in multiple batches as gifts for the holidays, as a quick treat with drinks or deluxe salad topping when guests are expected. Here’s my version. Let me know what you think.

INGREDIENTS

SAUCE
2 Tbsp orange juice
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp white sugar
2 Tbsp butter (best) or margarine
Pinch of salt

ADD IN
1 and 1/2 cups whole pecans
1 tsp finely grated orange peel aka zest
1/2  tsp Lawry’s brand coarsely ground pepper or to taste
1/2 cup dried cranberries

METHOD
Heat oven to 300 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and grease very lightly with butter or cooking spray.

In a medium sauce pan combine sauce ingredients and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly until bubbling. Cook one minute longer, then remove from heat. Stir in zest, then pecans and cranberries and keep stirring until all nuts are lightly coated.

Spread onto prepared cookie sheet and separate nuts with a fork. Sprinkle liberally with the coarse ground pepper. Bake 15 -20 minutes, stirring once. Cool and then store in an airtight container – if you don’t just eat the whole lot!

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