Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Snowman for Levi

All winter Levi has been waiting to make a snowman. Most winters, we probably would have had multiple opportunities to make this happen. Unfortunately for him, we have had only a few measurable snowfalls and it was mostly dry snow--not good for snowman making. Lucky for him, a beautiful wet snowfall arrived just after we reached Grandma K's house in Iowa last week. We had to be sure to take advantage of it--it could possibly be our last snow of the season.

He headed outside with Grandma, checked on the bird feeders, helped with some shoveling, and roll around in the snow with Maggie. (Grandma was sure to warn him about yellow snow.)

Before it all started to melt a few days later, Levi and Grandma went exploring in the woods behind her house. He took his new binoculars to help him spot wildlife.

And finally, the moment he'd been waiting for...they built a snowman.

And here's Levi impersonation of his snowman.

It's a good thing they enjoyed the snow while it was there. Soon enough it melted away and any more snowmen may have to wait until next year.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Organizing My Sewing Projects

I shared at the beginning of the year that one of my organizing goals was to get the closet in our office/guest bedroom better organized. I organized it about a year ago, but the systems I put into place weren't all working and its condition had deteriorated.

One of the functions of this large closet is to house my sewing and crafting materials. While I haven't tackled the whole project yet (I have all year after all), I did fix a small problem--my sewing projects. Previously, I had put the materials for sewing projects into clear plastic tubs.

While this seemed like a good idea, in reality, I often forgot what projects I had bought fabric for. When I finished a project, I had to dig through the boxes and try to remember what the fabric was intended for. So my new system needed to keep the materials for a project together and I also wanted it to be more "open" so it was easy for me to see projects that I had waiting for me. I'm hoping that it will serve as motivation for me to keep a project going at all times.

It hit me the other day that I could put my projects in hanging files inside a broke-down plastic filing box that I had on hand. The top on the box had cracked, but I saved the box thinking it might come in handy for organizing something. Now it has...bonus points for me for being thrifty.

I labeled each hanging folder with the project. Right now they are in order that I want to do them, but they could easily be rearranged.

Then, inside the folder, I placed the fabric, any notions, and the pattern. If the pattern was in a book, I put a post-it with the project name, book title, and page numbers.

I chose to limit this box to five folders, though I have fabric for more projects and plans to sew many more things. I'm thinking that I will update this with new projects as I get the current projects done. I'll also add a cute label to the outside of the box, but I'm holding off on that until I get the rest of my organizing done. Then I can make all my labels at once so they will coordinate. There are some really great templates for tags at Better Homes and Gardens.

One small step towards organizing this closet, but it's a step that will help me right away.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

M & M Cookies

Levi is a big fan of M & Ms. Just about the only way to improve upon them in his eyes is to put them in a cookie.

This is a great basic recipe that you can easily customize. You can use seasonal M & Ms for a fun twist or if you want to switch up the flavor, you can use Reese's Pieces, York Pieces, or Almond Joy Pieces. You could also replace the M & Ms with the chocolate chips of your choice.

M & M Cookies
Makes 5 to 6 dozen

1 C. brown sugar
1/2 C. granulated sugar
1 C. shortening or softened butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 C. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 C. M & Ms, divided

In a large bowl, mix together sugars, shortening/butter, eggs, and vanilla thoroughly. Mix in flour, salt, and baking soda. Mix in 3/4 C. M & Ms. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets. Gently press a few M & Ms onto the top of each ball of cookie dough with the remaning candy. Bake at 350 degrees for 9 to 11 minutes. Allow cookies to sit on cookie sheets for a few minutes before removing to wire racks.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Red Cake

Some call it Waldorf Red Cake. Some call it Red Velvet Cake. In my family it's simply "Red Cake". At times Waldorf Red Cake and Red Velvet are used interchangeably, but they aren't quite the same. Based on my research it seems like the cake is pretty much the same whatever the name. The big difference is the frosting. Waldorf Red Cake generally has a cooked frosting with a whipped cream consistency and Red Velvet Cake generally has a cream cheese frosting. So, technically our Red Cake is Waldorf Red Cake.

This cake is a favorite for birthdays and has also been known to make an appearance at Valentine's Day. The flavors of the cake are hard to describe--there really isn't another cake like it. It is just plain GOOD! Today is John's birthday so I decided to bake it for his birthday supper.

Red Cake (AKA Waldorf Red Cake)
1 1/2 C. sugar
1/2 C. butter or margarine
2 eggs
2 oz. red food coloring
2 tsp. cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. salt
1 C. buttermilk
2 1/2 C. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vinegar

Mix flour and salt in small bowl, set aside. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs. Add small amount of food coloring to cocoa to make paste, then add rest of food coloring and put into butter mixture. Add buttermilk, alternating with flour and salt mixture, starting and ending with flour. Add vanilla. In a small bowl, combine vinegar and soda and while foamy, fold into cake mixture. Pour into two 8 inch greased and floured cake pans. Bake for 30 min. at 350 degrees. Allow to cool on wire racks and remove cakes from pans. When completely cool, split each cake into two layers and frost.

Red Cake Frosting:
1 C. milk
3 Tbsp. flour
1 C. butter,  softened-no substitutions
1 C. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Cook milk and flour until thick. Cool completely. Cream softened butter and sugar. Add vanilla. Add cooked mixture and beat well on high speed until fluffy, about 10 min. Put frosting between split layers and on top, leaving sides of the cake exposed. Finished cake must be refrigerated.

Let's just call my frosting job on this "homestyle". I always have a little trouble getting the layers even, but no matter how it looks, it always tastes just fine and the red and white is so pretty together.
If you'd prefer cream cheese frosting, you can find my recipe here, but I'd highly recommend trying the cooked frosting at least once. You'll love it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bring on the Love: A Valentine's Day Recap

Valentine's Day is here! Usually it's the bright spot of pink and red in a long stretch of white that seems to be lasting too long. This year, it's coming along to brighten up the grey and brown sogginess that's been winter.

I like to take advantage of Valentine's Day to spread some extra love around my house and among my friends and neighbors. It's a chance to act like a kid again-giving sweets and mushy cards to those who mean a lot to you. Plus, it's a sure-fire way to put yourself in a good mood. You can't help but smile when you're brightening up someone else's day.
Our day started with Levi digging into his *NEW* Valentine mailbox. I just finished them last night. Talk about last minute.

I saw these last year and thought they were so cute. They weren't too hard to make, even for me who isn't the world's greatest seamstress. I even made my first button holes-Yay! I know I was probably way more excited about them than anyone else, but that's ok. At least Levi enjoyed what was inside.

Next came breakfast--heart-shaped pancakes and strawberries. John also contributed eggs and bacon, but they didn't quite fit the V-Day theme so they didn't make the cut for the picture.

Levi headed to "school" (a "Twos on their Own" class) for Valentine's fun. He and his classmates exchanged valentines. He was especially excited about the Clifford valentine bag they made and getting suckers from his friends.

Lunch brought heart-shaped sandwiches, red applesauce, red grapes, and few pretzel twists. I think the red applesauce weirded Levi out a little. He very hesitantly tasted it until he realized what it was.

While Lill is too young to enjoy much of the festivities, she dressed in pink and was her usual happy self all day.

Yesterday we baked sugar cookies for some of our neighbors and friends. I decorated them to look like conversation hearts, though the frosting was much pinker than I'd intended.

We delivered most of them today. A few will be delivered tomorrow when we see a few more of our friends.

Supper was heart-shaped pizzas. I've told you before how we love pizza, so what could be better on Valentine's Day. Well, maybe a deep dish pizza would have been, but it's easier to make a heart shaped thin crust pizza. It was still yummy...even for Levi who has since gotten over his short no-pizza kick. Dessert was our sugar cookies.

The best thing about the day is that I felt so loved and so blessed. No fancy dinner out or expensive gifts-I don't need it. Just having time to love on my family and to receive their love is plenty for me. I hope your day was also overflowing with love.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Spread a Little Love: Valentine's Decorating

In the month of February, I always add a little bit of love to my home decor. For me, that means decorating with red and pink, and adding in hearts and sweet treats. Some areas of the house are still decorated for winter with snowmen (though we've been without snow for most of this winter), evergreens, and cardinals. In other places, I've replaced my winter decor with Valentine's Day decor. I started with the wreath on the front door, then added more touches inside.

In my entry, I've added assorted candy to vases which hold tulips and a candle. Underneath I grouped some silver candlesticks.

One of the things I've learned from looking at displays at antique sales and shops is that you don't necessarily have to use items that are seasonally or holiday specific. For example, I hung one of my favorite plates in the entry. It is a vintage souvenir plate from Iowa (my home state) that my mother-in-law gave me.

It works perfectly here because it is white and pink, even though it's not specifically for Valentine's Day. It's much easier to use what you have to decorate when you look for items around your house in colors of the season or holiday.

On my buffet, I've kept the winter berries and red candle from my Christmas decorating, but added cinnamon hearts in a vase.

Also, a white iron candle holder, small vintage glass bottles filled with red hot candies, and a Valentine's bowl.

While getting out my Valentine's decorations, I realized that I still didn't have a table runner for the holiday. I had intended to make one after going through the same thing last year, but it didn't happen. So, I used some extra red felt, heart-shaped buttons, and rick-rack that I had for Valentine mailboxes I'm making the kids (more on that to come). It was quick and easy--the best kind of project. I've topped it off with a red and white plate filled with primroses (only 49 cents at Aldi!).

On the kitchen counter, I added a jar of Valentine's candy, a cupcake tree, and a small Valentine's bowl.

On the mantel, I've placed an antique wooden box filled with white vases and a single red tulip in a candy-filled glass bottle. It goes well with the red berry wreath that is above the fireplace.

Now that I have my house all ready for Valentine's Day, I've been making plans for the menu on Valentine's Day. I had fun last year making heart-shaped and red foods for the day so we'll see what I come up with this year.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pizza Love

Since love is filling the air this month, I have to talk about pizza. My family and I love pizza, but who doesn't? When I moved to the Chicago area ten years ago (whoa...can't believe it's been that long), I was introduced to Lou Malnati's deep dish pizza. It was love at first bite. I was lucky enough to work just five minutes from one of their restaurants so on inservice days when we had longer lunch breaks, we often headed there for some pizza and salad. By the way, the Lou's salad is amazing! If they stopped making pizza, I'd still go there for the salad.

But times have changed, and now I'm much further away from Lou's. John and I both miss it so when I saw a recipe for Chicago-style deep dish pizza in Midwest Living, I knew I had to give it a try. The recipe was featured in their latest issue along with their other "All-Time Best Recipes".

It was definitely a winner at our house. (To be honest, Levi didn't eat it, but he's been on a no pizza kick for the last month. What's up with that?) John said it was better than Lou Malnati's, but I think he's a little biased. And he's sweet like that, too. We may just have this pizza once a week. I know I wouldn't mind and I don't think John would either.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Valentine Wreath

It's hard to believe February is here already, especially since it's been in the 40s all week. With February come thoughts of Valentine's Day. John and I have never done too much to celebrate, but I love to focus on LOVE. What a great thing...focusing on filling the house with love.

I don't go crazy with Valentine-themed decorations, but I do like to add touches of red and pink, along with some hearts and candy. So far, I've only gotten my wreath hung on my door. I made it last year and it's one of the first non-sewing crafty things I had done in a long time. It was really easy to do and turned out so cute!

I saw the idea for the wreath here. I chose to do mine in pinks, creams, and browns. You can make this wreath for any season or holiday using different shaped wreath bases and different fabrics. There are so many possibilities.