Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Burlap No Sew Tree Skirt

Once again, Christmas is sneaking up on me way too quickly!!!  With both of the kids' birthdays tucked neatly in between thanksgiving and Christmas (insert extreme eye roll here) chaos this time of year is normal, but this year it seems even worse.  I meant to tackle this no sew ruffle burlap tree skirt project months ago, but yesterday I finally got it done.  Hey, at least I snuck it in before December... barely!
This really is so easy, all you need is material in a circle, to make it really easy I used the old cheap tree skirt I already had.  You can find really inexpensive tree skirts at Walmart for a few dollars or maybe even at the Dollar Store this time of year.  You also need a hot glue gun, LOTS of glue sticks and some burlap.  I used about 3 yards of natural burlap from Joann's, but how much you use depends on how "ruffley" you want it... yes in my world "ruffley" is a word!
To make the ruffles, I cut the burlap into about 2 inch strips.  Don't worry about cutting it straight or measuring, the ruffling will hid any rough edges so just cut it as fast as possible which is my usual no patience speed so that you can get to gluing. 
I started at the bottom of the skirt on a far edge and using a line of glue tacked down the burlap strips, pinching a little of the strips and pressing it down again to make the ruffle.  Just do small sections at a time because your glue will cool quickly.  Again, just glue it down not worrying too much about being perfect, because the next layer is going to overlap it on top slightly to help cover and spots you missed.
Here is what it looks like almost finished.  You can layer the burlap with other fabric colors or patterns.  My tree is pretty rustic so I wanted one solid color, but you could also finish it off with ribbon around the top and bottom.. whatever your little gluing heart desires.
Finally just wrap your adorable finished skirt around the bottom of your tree....
And... ta-dah!!!!  Pretty cute huh?!?  This does take a little time, so put on a Christmas movie and get to gluing... you will be glad you did :)
My one piece of advice, if you have never worked with burlap it looks amazing but all the little fibers are pretty messy.  If you can, do this project in your garage or porch to make the cleanup easier.  Of course since I am a complete procrastinator and with Christmas just around the corner it is too cold to work outside so I sat on my living room floor and made a huge mess... but since it's hardwood the cleanup was pretty painless.  
I'm so behind on Christmas decorating that only the tree and a few stocking are hung up, but hey it's better than nothin'.
Here's to yet again vowing to be more organized next year, at least next year the tree skirt will already be done :)


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Simple S'mores Bars

We recently had a party at our house for my husband's work, of course I handled the announcement from my husband that we were hosting a party TOMORROW with calm, cool class!!!  Yeah, right!  I had a moment or two of sheer panic and thought seriously about causing my husband bodily harm, but we ended up having a really fun night with some great friends and I'm so glad we had the party.  That being said I was racing around trying to think of some last minute things to make and I remembered seeing some s'mores bars on pinterest, but sadly when I went to the pin that post was gone... don't you hate that when that happens??? 

So like most women, I totally winged this in five minutes and it was a huge hit!!!  Instead of standing around our fire pit with sticky fingers and kids covered in marshmallows we got to have the S'mores experience without the mess and it could not have been easier!
First, I sprayed a sheet pan with cooking spray to make life a little easier in the end, then spread out 12 graham crackers, side by side, six on each side and covered them with a bag of mini marshmallows.  Don't worry about being perfect, just throw them on.
Next, melt chocolate almond bark, candy melt or good old chocolate chips (whatever you have on hand) in the microwave with a few spoons of coconut oil to help loosen it up a bit and make pouring a little easier.  I used one whole block of bark, melting half at a time in the microwave at 30 second intervals with a scoop or two of the oil.  You could also use shortening or vegetable oil, but I love the flavor that coconut oil adds.  Once the chocolate is melted slowly pour it over the top of the marshmallows, again don't worry about being perfect just pour it on and use a spoon to spread it out if you need.  You just want all the marshmallows covered in chocolate, because that is the "glue" that holds everything together.
Now just let it cool, or if you are super impatient like me put the entire pan in the freeze to help speed things along.  Then cut them in whatever size pieces you like and enjoy!
       They turned out so cute and o one knew they took all of 5 minutes to make.  We will definitely be making them again very soon!
So if you have last minute guests, snack duties or just need a chocolate fix... don't strangle your husband, just take a deep breath grab these few ingredients and in no time you will be in a chocolate induced happy place that no bad mood can penetrate! 


Monday, November 19, 2012

Settle Down Sparkles

After seeing the "Calm Down Jars" all over Pinterest, I couldn't help giving it a try.  I love the idea of having something that can gauge the time during a meltdown or when they need a break because with my little ones "5 minutes" means nothing to them.  It might as well be ten days in the dungeon.  And NO we don't have a dungeon, however there are those days I might be tempted to use one if I had it!  That being said, I liked this idea but had to make a few changes to fit our family.
Instead of jars that could break, I used two plastic iced tea containers that were about to be thrown in the trash.  I just rinsed them out and pealed off the label. Next, fill the bottles about 3/4 full with water to leave room for mixing.
Next, I dumped in one small bottle of glitter glue in each container along with one small container of matching glitter (I used blue and magenta, one for each kiddo) and a healthy squirt of clear school glue.
Finally, put on the cap and give it a good shake to test it out.  If your glitter is falling too fast, which mind did probably because I used cheap glitter and glitter glue from the dollar bin, if this happens no worries just add more clear glue or I found that clear Karo syrup works well too to slow down the glitter!
I also added a little silver glitter in each to contrast with the colored sparkles and I really like how it turned out.  Once you get the perfect consistency and the bottle is full (you may need to add a little more water to top it off), then I used a little E-6000 glue along the rim of the lid to permanently seal the lid.  So far they have been dropped and banged around quite a bit and there have been no spills or glitter disasters.
In our house we call them "Settle Down Sparkles" and the kids seem to really like them.  This picture shows you a bottle that has "settled" and one that has just been shaken.  I added extra glue and syrup, one squirt at a time until I got to about a 5 minute settling time.  Because of the colored glue and sparkles I didn't need to add any food coloring, but you can add and experiment with the colors as much as you want, I let the kids pick the colors to get them involved.

These are much prettier than the sight of me giving the kids the "evil eye" :)


Monday, November 12, 2012

Crock Pot Apple Butter

Apples, apples I've got so many apples I'm surprised I'm not dreaming about them.  Don't get me wrong, I'm NOT complaining!  We went apple picking and got a ton of apples and even after making jars and jars and jars and jars and jars and jars of homemade apple sauce I STILL HAVE APPLES!  So I made a few apple pies to stick in the freezer, but you guessed it... drum roll I still have apples.  So I am using some of my applesauce and the remaining apples to make what has become a family favorite and staple in our house, homemade apple butter.  

If you've never had apple butter, don't worry I hadn't either until a few years ago.  And don't be fooled by the name there is no butter involved, just smooth delicious apple goodness that cooks down for hours and hours making your house smell incredible and the end result is so good you could slather it on just about anything!

2-50 oz jars unsweetened applesauce (store bought or use my easy no peel/no sugar homemade recipe found here)
10-12 apples peeled and cut into small cubes(Granny Smith are my favorite in this because the tart balances the sweet, but any you have will be great)
4 cups sugar (brown or regular I like to do half and half)
1 1/2 cups apple juice
2 tablespoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons all spice
2 teaspoons ground cloves

To make dump all these ingredients into a crockpot, pop on the lid and forget about it for about 24 hours.  Most recipes say 8-9 hours, but I've been tweaking this recipe for three years now and I think the longer the better.  This recipe fills a large crock pot, if you have a smaller one you may want to do half at a time.  Also this is what I like to call "super spiced", I like to add lots of cinnamon, all spice and cloves, but you can start with half the amount and add more towards the end if you are worried it may be too strong.  I used to start with less but ALWAYS added more, so now I just dump it all in at the beginning and forget about it.
This is the goodness after about 8 hours, you can still see come chunks of apple but look how much it cooks down!  I like to start this in the afternoon/evening and let it cook overnight.  Give it a stir once in awhile while you are awake, but go to bed with no worries because you will wake up to a house filled with a sweet smell that beats the pants off of any fancy candle on the market!  My humble opinion of course.
After it has cooked about 8 hours (I do overnight) take your crockpot lid and turn it about a quarter turn if you have a large oval shaped one or just move the lid over a bit so the steam can escape and the apple mixture can reduce and thicken up.  But at this point reward yourself with a taste or better yet a little scoop of the hot apples over ice cream... it's AMAZING!
By now the chunks of apples have cooked down into this smooth, thick, rich concoction that I think you and your family will love.  If your apples started off as bigger pieces you may still have a few chunks (we still really like it that way)  but if you prefer the finished product to be super smooth just give it a quick mash.
Eat it right away, which trust me will not be hard, or it will keep in your fridge for several weeks.  
We put this on toast, biscuits, sandwiches and even ice cream.  I like to water bath can this and give it as gifts.  This recipe makes about 6 pints, I usually make two big batches back to back so that I can stock up while I have all the ingredients on hand.  It does take some time, but it's easy and inexpensive to make but the end result is a really special gift.
Break out your crockpot and get this started today.  Or make it the night before your company arrives for the holidays, they will walk into a house that smells divine and you will be able to share the fruits of your very minimal labor with them.... psss you can leave the "minimal labor" part out... what they don't know won't hurt them and will send some much deserved praise your way!


Thursday, November 8, 2012

No Peel Homemade Applesauce

We just came back from a fun filled weekend with my brother and sister in law and along with the laughs and memories we also came home with a ton of apples.  So in an effort to do something with all these delicious apples pretty quickly I decided apple sauce was the best place to start. 
But while staring at the huge mound of apples (and there were even more waiting for me in my garage) the lazy, no patience, procrastinator in me wanted to do anything besides actually peeling them ALL!  So thankfully I took my always wise and fabulous sister in laws advice and bought a food mill.
It is now my new best friend! If you've never seen or heard of a food mill it is the silver handled thingy (always insisting on technical terms here) with the screen.  You just set it on a pot and you are ready to smoosh, smash and separate just about anything you desire.  I found this at Bed, Bath and Beyond for about 15 bucks.  If you only use it for applesauce and don't have a peel or in my case butcher a single apple it is so worth the money, but you can also use it to make smooth mashed potatoes and homemade baby food to name just a few.... so go get one today!
These apples we picked ourselves right from the tree, so to start out I just gave them a good soak in the sink in some warm water to get the dirt and grim off.  Then one final rinse on their way to the pot.  You can use many apples or as few as you want.  I usually do several big stock pots in one day to take advantage of the great free apples, which makes enough for a whole year.  I like to use a combination of apples, tart and sweet, but you can use whatever you have or can get your hands on.
To cook the apples all you do is put the clean fruit in a big pot, peel, seeds, stems and all.  Add a couple inches of water in the bottom of the pot, put the lid on tight and let it steam and stew on low for about an hour or two.
Go make an iced coffee, watch the Real Housewives of New Jersey episode that is calling you name on your DVR and don't even think about the applesauce.  I'm serious that is an order!  No stirring, watching or worrying.  After you've caught up on all the Housewives drama (or whatever your guilty pleasure is) this is what you'll find mushy, soft cooked apples.  Once they are good and soft they are ready!
Now with a slotted spoon fish out the apples one or two at a time, dump them into the food mill and grind away.  This really goes very quickly.  The apple is pushed around and through the small screen on the bottom and into the pot or bowl underneath, but the stems, seeds and skins stay on top, magic right???  I know!  Once it gets full dump the contents of the mill into a nearby garbage can or bowl and continue until you are done with all you apples.
This is the delicious finished product.  A bonus, because you left the skins on to cook, so much flavor and sweetness stays with the applesauce, believe it or not you don't need any added sugar!!!  And that is saying something coming from someone with a serious sweet tooth.  You can absolutely add some white or regular sugar at this point if you like, because the apples are still hot is melts and dissolves right in.  I like it plain, or with a little cinnamon and vanilla.  I say, experiment and make a few different variations.
I like to use these handy freezer canning containers.  You can can this, I have and it's amazing, but I've also frozen it this way and it tastes the same so I say take the easy route and sneak in one more episode of Housewives before the kids wake up.