Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Making a Burlap Wreath

     My daughter and I recently completed a fun craft project where we made a wreath out of burlap garland (ribbon). This was an inexpensive craft and you are able to make in a short amount of time. It is quite versatile in that you can decorate it for any holiday or season. I recently saw a completed Christmas one for sale at a store, and it was selling for much more than it cost to make one.
     For this project you will need the following items:

~burlap ribbon (the amount you will need depends on the size of your wreath form and how full you would like your finished wreath to be)
~metal floral wreath form
~bow and flowers or other seasonal  items to decorate the wreath
~hot glue or floral wire to attach the decorations to the wreath

     To begin making the wreath, simply tie the burlap ribbon onto the innermost rung of the wreath form. Once attached, you can trim the end off with scissors. The knot will not show when the wreath is complete.
You then weave the burlap ribbon up through each successive open row or slat on the wreath form. How large you make the actual burlap loop is up to you, but generally around 2-3 inches is good. Simply bring a loop up through the opening and then weave it under the metal rung and bring another loop up through the next section.

After you have woven through all three rows (slats), you twist the burlap ribbon at the back of the wreath and then go back and begin weaving successive loops starting at the inner most opening again.
Each time you have woven loops through the 3 successive openings, slide the loops firmly together. I wove 3 rows of loops between each vertical support of the wreath form. The more rows you squish into each section the more full and tight your finished wreath will appear. If you use less rows  in each section, your finished wreath will appear more loose.
When you have completed repeating rows of loops and twists around the entire wreath, knot the end of the burlap ribbon onto the metal form again. Gently fluff  the burlap loops on the front of the wreath to even it out or until you are satisfied with how it looks.
Then simply choose the decorations you want to adorn your wreath with. I chose to use autumnal flowers and leaves for this wreath and also attached a bow at the bottom. I used hot glue to adhere the decorations, but you could also attach them onto the burlap loops using thin floral wire, or simply wind some decorative ribbon around the wreath and insert floral sprays. If you don't use glue to permanently attach your items, you could reuse the wreath base by replacing the embellishments at any time.You could use whatever seasonal decorations you'd like to make the wreath accommodate the time of year or specific holiday.  The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Grand Finale of Fall

     This fall has been rather warm for northern New Jersey. After a week of somewhat rainy weather, we walked up to the garden this past weekend and were greeted by an unusual surprise. The herb and vegetable plants are still producing! The plants are no longer lush and are much more brown than green, but there were still some buds, herbs and produce being yielded. It was a nice surprise to be blessed with fresh items so late in the growing season, and I wanted to share some pictures of this little autumn gift.

The yard is covered with newly fallen leaves, but the vegetable garden refuses to realize the season has changed...

The zucchini plant is pushing new growth through the fallen leaves...

The eggplant is trying to produce a new bud...

Despite the date on the calendar, the tomatoes are still producing and trying to ripen...

The herb garden is still yielding oregano, rosemary and parsley among the fallen leaves...

The beans are still going strong...

The pepper plants are still green and producing...

The cucumber vine itself looked brown and dead, but this gem could be found ripening among the leaves that had fallen from nearby trees...

 Perhaps the most surprising of all is the amount of jellybean tomatoes that seem to be ripening on otherwise dead plants. The skins are a little thicker than usual but they still have that great flavor Jersey tomatoes are known for...

     We've grown a garden for many years, but this is honestly the latest we've had such a lush yield in October. They're predicting a rather harsh winter ahead for this area, so maybe this is just a little added blessing before the next season hits us with it's weather. Whatever the reason, we are thankful for this little surprise bounty and will just keep making some fresh garden salads for as long as the plants continue to produce. 
     In addition to our vegetable and herb garden, our flowers seem to be confused as to what time of year it is. The hibiscus plant that is in a pot on our deck, and our rosebush in one of our flower gardens decided to surprise us with some late season blooms, even after our mums had begun to fade...

     We are thankful for these late season surprises, but we will also be sure to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of the colors that are more typical for this time of year....

     I've said before that while each season has something wonderful to offer, fall has always been my favorite. So on that note, I'd like to end  with a quote by Lauren DeStefano that just seems to perfectly sum up the photos in this post. It was provided on a banner by one of my favorite bloggers, Laura at The Ironstone Nest...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Flannel Rag Quilt

     Today I wanted to share the gift that I made for  my son's girlfriend's birthday. I've made several rag quilts before, and they are great to snuggle under while reading a book or watching television. Lisa loves butterflies and her favorite color is pink. So, when I found flannel in these prints and colors I knew they were just destined to be made into a quilt for her.

     I wish I could tell you that I am a seasoned quilter or sewer, but I'm not. I do have a love for hand made quilts however and truly admire those who make them. It has been a goal of mine to learn this craft, and a few years ago a co-worker and I took a class after work that taught you how to make a rag quilt. That style has to be one of the easiest and quickest ways to make a quilt and is a great way for beginners to try their hand at quilting. The beauty of this design is that you "quilt as you go", rather than assemble the individual pieces and then quilt the finished top to the batting and bottom layer later. This style quilt, while simple to make, is really warm and soft. I've made these quilts with plain cotton fabric as well as flannel, and while either fabric is fine, the flannel just adds to the coziness.
     For this project, I used a total of 5 patterns and purchased 2 yards of each fabric. I cut the fabric into 9x9 inch squares and the batting into 7x7 inch squares.
     My daughter wanted to help with making this gift so as I was cutting the fabric she began to sandwich the material and batting together and pin it so it would be ready to sew. For this step, simply place the squares of batting in the center between two flannel squares. We used the same pattern flannel for both the top and bottom of each square.

   Once all of the squares are pinned together, you begin by sewing an X on each square from corner to corner. When I took the original class they told us you didn't have to back stitch at the beginning and end of each line, but not wanting to take any chances, I always do.
     We then laid all of our finished squares on the floor so we could decide how we wanted to arrange them. For this type of quilt I usually choose to line up the fabric to create diagonal rows of of the same pattern.
     Once we decided on the final pattern, we then pinned the individual squares together to form the horizontal rows. Our finished quilt was going to be 9 rows long with 7 squares in each row. After the 9 individual rows are sewn, the next step is to pin and sew the rows together.  You want all of the sewn seems to be facing on the same side of the quilt, as this will ultimately become your "ragged" side. The other side has the traditional clean finish as seen below.

     The next step is to create the fringe that will ultimately become the ragged seems. To do this, it helps to have a pair of spring loaded scissors as you will be making a lot of cuts, but it is not necessary. You simply cut and fringe every seem, being careful not to cut where you sewed the fabric together. This can take a while as there are a lot of cuts to be made. I personally do not like my fringes to be cut too wide. I think smaller cuts create a nice look, but that is purely a matter of personal taste. The weather was gorgeous when we were making our quilt, so Pam and I sat out on our deck as we did this part. This photo allows you to see the difference between the "raggy" side of the quilt (below) and the smooth side (photo above). You can also see how far apart we decided to cut when making our fringe for this quilt.
     Once we had cut all the seems we laid the quilt on the floor again, just to be sure we hadn't missed any. I know that sounds silly, but there a lot of seems to cut and it is possible to skip an edge of a square if you are not careful.
     Once you are sure that all the seems have been snipped, it's time to create the final soft rag finish. You simply do this by washing and drying the quilt. I will tell you that the fabric will fray a lot during this step and lots of loose threads come off all of those frayed edges. Depending on your washing machine and dryer, you might want to take the quilt to a laundromat for this step. If you choose to do it at home, be sure to check and clean your washing machine when done, as there are bound to be many small pieces of thread inside. I would also suggest that you stop the dryer several times during the drying process to clean your lint tray. However, when you are done, you will be rewarded with a super snugly feel to  your quilt, especially if you chose to use flannel fabrics.
     We had some squares left over after making our quilt, so I decided that rather than toss them, I would make a matching pillow. For one side of the pillow, I used 4 squares of the butterfly printed fabrics and I made a yo yo out of the floral fabric.  For the other side of the pillow I used the two pink print fabrics and made the yo yo decoration out of the smaller print. Have you ever seen a fabric "yo yo" before? I think that generations ago, frugal women used them as a way to be sure that they did not waste any fabric. My friend told me that her grandmother would save all her scraps of fabric and make these yo yos out of them. As she finished them she would keep them in a basket until she had enough to create her next project.
                       So, would you like to see the finished quilt? Here is the smooth patchwork side.
            Here is a view of the "raggy" side

          Doesn't it just make you want to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea?
Linking with:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Apple Cream Cheese Bundt Cake With Praline Frosting

   One of the fun things about this time of year is creating treats with the apples that our family picks on  our annual trip to one of the local orchards. Apple picking is something we have done with our kids since they were little, and honestly the photographs we have from those outings are some of my favorites. The vibrant colors of the apples and the brightness of the blue skies just make you appreciate this time of year even more. Of course afterwards we always make an apple pie (or two), and there is  something about the aroma of apples and cinnamon drifting from the kitchen that just makes the whole house seem so cozy. However, since I imagine that most people have a recipe for that standard dessert, I decided to share a different type of recipe that I received from a friend for this post. It too, will fill fill your home with an enticing aroma but your family will be surprised when you bring something different to the table.

Apple Cream Cheese Bundt Cake With Praline Frosting

Cream Cheese Filling
1 8-oz package of cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract

Apple Cake Batter
1cup finely chopped pecans
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar                                      

2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups peeled and finely chopped apples (about 1 1/2 lb)

Praline Frosting
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
3 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar

1:  Prepare Filling: Beat the first three ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended and sooth. Add the egg, flour and vanilla and beat until just blended.

2:  Prepare Batter: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.. Bake pecans in a shallow pan for 8-10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring 1/2 way through. Stir together 3 cups of flour and the next 7 ingredients, stirring just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in the apples and pecans

3:  Spoon two-thirds of the apple mixture into a greased and floured 14 cup bundt pan. Spoon the cream cheese filling over the apple mixture, leaving a 1 inch border around the edges of the pan. swirl through the apple mixture using a paring knife. Spoon the remaining apple mixture over the cream cheese filling.

4:  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes until a long wooden pick comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes and then remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack (about 2 hours).

5:  Prepare Frosting:  Bring 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter, and 3 Tbsp milk to a boil in a 2 quart sauce pan over medium heat, whisking constantly. Boil for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Gradually whisk in the powdered sugar until smooth. Stir gently for 3-5 minutes or until the mixture begins to cool and thicken slightly. Pour immediately over the cooled cake. Garnish the frosting with extra toasted pecans if you'd like.                                                                                                                                                                 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sushi Inspired Birthday Cake

     Today I wanted to show you a birthday cake that my son created for his girlfriend Lisa's 21st birthday this week. I had previously shared some photos of a cake that he made for Lisa's dad, which you can see here. This newest cake was inspired by Lisa's love of sushi. David decided to make her and her family a sushi dinner and wanted a cake that would match the theme. Some of you know that my husband is a baker for a supermarket, and while he is very good at what he does, decorating cakes has never been his favorite thing. Luckily he has some coworkers that have a true talent and love for this. That being said, I think our son's talent for creating these masterpiece cakes comes from his artistic abilities, not from the fact that he grew up with a dad who is a baker. In fact, the cake itself was from a simple cake mix and store bought  ready made frosting and fondant. Nothing fancy at all. The decorating is where the cake really stands out, but clay, wood and paint are still his art mediums of choice rather than fondant, frosting and food coloring.
     First the fondant had to be colored with food coloring in the various shades that the design would require. It was then kneaded by hand until it was soft enough to work with and then rolled with a rolling pin, cut, and then molded into the designs that would resemble sushi.

The pieces were attached to the cake with more frosting. The small dish was filled with Nutella to resemble soy sauce and the 'seaweed wraps' were filled with shredded coconut to resemble rice. He molded a fortune cookie and fortune strip out of more fondant. Bamboo strips were created to decorate and trim the bottom of the cake.

     The cake decorator then asked his sister to help write the Happy Birthday wish with special edible frosting 'markers' we had purchased, while he finished up by adding some fondant bamboo leaves to the trim and added some candles that were Lisa's favorite color.

The final cake turned out nicely and completed a fun birthday party theme!

Linking with the following parties: Just A Girl And Her Blog "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Zucchini Pizza Casserole

     I promised I would post some recipes using the end of season garden yields. I found this recipe on the Taste of Home website. It helped us use a bit of the zucchini we still had in a fun new way. While it didn't utilize all of the zucchini we had stored up, it was a new way to include the vegetable in a tasty dish.

4 cups of shredded unpeeled zucchini
1/2 tsp of salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup (4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese), divided 
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 can (15 ounces) Italian tomato sauce
1 medium green pepper, chopped (I used 1 small red and 1 small green pepper as that is what  I had from my garden yield, and it turned out great. In fact, it added a little extra color to the  dish).                                                                                                                                                                  
-Place zucchini strainer; sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 10 minutes. Squeeze out moisture. (From the reviews I had read, this is a very important step in order to assure you don't get a soggy crust for your casserole. I was careful to be sure I squeezed out as much moisture as possible and our recipe turned out great).
-Combine zucchini with the eggs, Parmesan and half of the mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. Press into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish.
-Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the turkey and onion over medium heat, until the meat is browned; drain. Add tomato sauce; spoon over cooked zucchini mixture.
-Sprinkle with remaining cheeses; add chopped pepper. Bake 20 minutes longer or until heated through.
Yields 6-8 servings

Monday, October 13, 2014

Autumn by Susan Branch

     Instead of a recommending novel to read this month, I am going to suggest a cookbook. This is not an ordinary cookbook filled with just recipes and pictures, but rather a book that has both of those things along with some decorating and entertaining ideas, as well as suggestions on how to enjoy this time of year. The book is Autumn by Susan Branch.
It was originally published in 2004, but the 10th anniversary edition was released this year by a different publisher. Although it is reportedly the exact same book, according to Susan's website the new edition includes an attached ribbon bookmark like some of her other cookbooks have. I'm sure that it only adds to the charm. I have the original edition, and I love to pull it out each September to help usher in this time of year. I often leave it out on my coffee table as part of my seasonal decorations. In addition to writing several cookbooks and authoring another book about her 2 month trip to rural England, Susan Branch is an accomplished watercolor artist. Her books are printed in her own handwriting and are filled with her artwork on almost every page. She said that the inspiration for this book came from her "daily walks through the color dappled woods to the sea, birds winging their way south, woodsmoke on the wind, leaves turning and drifting from the trees...". Her words make you want to join her for one of those daily walks on Martha's Vineyard followed by a cup of tea at her kitchen table. Simply opening the book to enjoy her art is a treat in itself, but enjoying the seasonal recipes with your family and friends is an added bonus. As the author herself states "Cooking is the perfect way to keep the house warm". Paging through this book and implementing any of the ideas it offers is the perfect way to warm your soul and welcome in the colorful and cozy season of autmn.