Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hair Bow Holder

About a month and a half ago I posted about the adorable, handpainted, personalized hair bow holders my cousin made for Ada and Ellie.  Scott's cousin, Erin, saw the post and requested a similar bow holder for her darling daughter, Erlianyss (Erli for short).  Erin said not to worry about matching to a bedroom color but to go with something "girly" and also pointed out that Erli has a lot of big hair bows.

So..."something girly."  Seemed to me like pink was in order, so that's the color I based the bow holder around.  I purchased all of my supplies at Michael's, starting with a wide wood plaque.

I went with a wider version of Ada's and Ellie's bow holders so I could space the ribbons out a bit more, given the tip from Erin that Erli has a lot of big hair bows.  Since the plaque itself was wider I bought wooden letters to spell out her whole nickname instead of just an "E."  I painted the edges of the plaque and the wooden letters strawberry pink.  Then I used a small foam roller and some leftover pale yellow paint from our kitchen walls to paint the top of the plaque.  After the yellow had dried I taped off one thin line on each side of the plaque and added a brighter yellow accent line.

After the yellow lines had dried I brushed on some gloss varnish I had left over from...I kid you not...a college art class 14 years ago.  I bought this bottle in a tiny art supply store in Gettysburg, PA and it is still perfectly good.  So if you want to buy a bottle of the stuff, well, it should last you a long, long time.  The varnish gave the whole thing a nice soft sheen.  I used wood glue to attach the letters to the plaque, centered between the yellow lines, and then added the little felt-and-wood-button flower accents, which I found in the bridal section of Michael's.

Next up were the ribbons.  I layered two together by running a strip of Aleene's No-Sew Fabric Glue down the center of a yellow floral ribbon and pressing a thinner strawberry pink ribbon down on top of the glue.  I tried putting the glue on the pink ribbon and then pressing it down but I found it was easier, less messy, and more exact to run the glue down the bottom ribbon.

After the glue on the ribbons was completely dry, I turned the plaque over and marked three equidistant spots near the bottom to attach them.  I added a bit of glue to each spot and pressed the ribbons into place.  At the top of the back I attached two metal hanging loops (found them in the picture frame section of Michael's), spacing them equal distance from the outer edges to make sure the plaque would hang straight on the wall.

Once the glue holding the ribbons to the plaque was dry I added a few final accents to the front of the ribbons.  I took three more of the felt-and-button flowers (green leaves removed because I liked the look better) and glued them to the bottoms of the ribbons.

I made three small bows out of yellow ribbon (be sure to use some kind of anti-fray product at the cut edges of the ribbon) and glued them to the tops of the layered ribbons.

I packaged the whole thing up and sent it on its way, and a few days later Erin sent me a photo of Erli's new hair bow holder hung up and in use.

And here I thought there was going to be sooo much extra space for future hair bows! 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Pool Party and a Christening

Scott, Ada, Ellie and I hit the road mid-afternoon this past Friday to drive to Pennsylvania, about 40 minutes northwest of Philadelphia, where I grew up and where most of my immediate and extended family still lives.  My parents throw a couple of family reunion parties every summer - one with my dad's side of the family and one with my mom's side - and this past Saturday was the gathering with my dad's side.  The parties are always a great time and have become especially lively in recent years as the little-person ranks have grown.  The pool practically boils with activity, everyone chips in favorite dishes to make up a delicious meal, and it's just so much fun spending the day with my parents, brother, sister-in-law, niece, aunts, uncles, cousins, and all of their sweet children.


Ada splashing around with my brother, Matt

My soggy girls

Setting up for our annual family photo...final shot not in hand yet!

Yesterday was my darling, spirited, joyful niece's baptism, and Scott and I were so touched when my brother and sister-in-law asked us to be Lily's godparents.  I realize I'm not entirely objective here, but is this child not gorgeous??

Wearing my baptismal gown from...ahem...34 years ago.

Ada loves - LOVES - being the big cousin

A busy weekend for us, but filled with lots of fun time with family.  Spending time with Lily is always a bright spot and we loved being a part of her christening day.  We'll be spending the rest of this week in PA, including a few days at my family's lake house.  But more on that later...

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fresh Margaritas

Fresh, homemade margaritas have become one of our favorite weekend cocktails.  After I made these margs for the first time, with freshly-squeezed lemon and lime and not a drop of pre-packaged mix, it was all over for me.  I've never been able to go back to a pre-made mix.  It's hard to put into words how much better these are...imagine the difference between a Twinkie and a freshly baked cupcake with velvety buttercream and you're close.

It takes a little elbow grease to squeeze the citrus, but I promise you it is worth every twist of the wrist.  If you have an electric juicer (and, seriously, why do I not have an electric juicer??) you'll be sipping a refreshing cocktail in no time.

Fresh Margaritas

1 c. white tequila
1 c. triple sec
5 limes
4 lemons
*simple syrup

In a large pitcher, mix the tequila, triple sec, and juice of 4 limes and 3 lemons.  Add simple syrup to taste - I add about 1/4 c.  Dilute with ice cold water to taste.  Slice the remaining lime and lemon into thin rounds for garnish.

*For simple syrup, combine equal parts water and sugar in a microwave safe bowl or in a saucepan and warm in microwave or on stovetop until sugar dissolves.  I usually do 1 c. sugar and 1 c. water and keep the extra in the fridge - it's great for iced coffee!

Click here for printable recipe.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Healthy{er} Spinach Artichoke Dip

Spinach artichoke dip is such a crowd-pleaser, and this version is a whole lot better for you than the usual dip - delicious for sure - but loaded with mayo and sour cream.  This one is pretty well full of vegetables and much of the traditional mayo and sour cream have been replaced with yogurt and neufchatel cheese.  I like to serve it warm with whole grain crackers and sliced dipping vegetables, like carrots and cucumbers.  I prep everything in the food processor so it goes together super quickly.

Healthy{er} Spinach Artichoke Dip

1 c thawed, whole leaf frozen spinach
1 c thawed, frozen artichoke hearts or 15 oz can artichoke hearts, drained
6 oz neufchatel cheese
1/4 c plain yogurt
1/4 c mayonnaise
1/3 c grated Parmesan
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
few dashes of hot sauce
english cucumber, sliced into rounds
carrots, peeled and sliced into sticks
Whole grain crackers

Preheat broiler.

Pulse spinach and artichokes a few times in a food processor to chop.  Warm neufchatel cheese in the microwave until soft, then add to food processor with all remaining ingredients until vegetables are moderately chopped and ingredients are combined. Spoon into an ovenproof dish and place under broiler just until top begins to brown.

Serve with whole grain crackers and sliced vegetables.

Click here for printable recipe.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart

This strawberry tart looks rather majestic all piled high with glossy strawberries on a footed cake plate.  But it is actually so easy to make.  It's nothing more than a food-processor tart crust, pre-baked, and then filled with a super simple mascarpone and cream filling and topped with fresh strawberries.  You brush the strawberries with a little jam to get that beautiful shine.  Its taste is reminiscent of strawberry shortcake, which I've mentioned before is one of my most favorite desserts, so this appeals to me for obvious reasons.  I'd recommend making this when you have enough people to gobble up most of it the same day it's made.  It's still okay the next day but the strawberries start to get a little watery, so it really best showcases all that's wonderful about summer strawberries the same day it's made.

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart

For crust:
1 1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp cream

For filling:
1 c. mascarpone cheese
3/4 c. cream
1/4 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

For topping:
1 lb. strawberries, hulled and quartered
3 tbsp. strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 400.

For crust, pulse flour, powdered sugar, and salt once or twice in food processor to blend.  Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Whisk egg yolks and cream in a small bowl to blend then add to processor with motor running and process until mixture just starts to come together.  Pour into a tart pan with removable bottom and press gently, making sure dough goes up the sides.  Line the crust with nonstick foil (nonstick side down!) and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and lower heat to 350.  Remove the foil and pie weights and return crust to oven for about 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden and set.  Let cool.

 For cream, beat all ingredients with electric mixer until stiff peaks form.

Spread the filling into the cooled crust.

Remove the crust from the tart pan and place on a cake stand or plate.  Scatter the strawberries across the top and brush with jam.

I made this when we had some longtime friends over for dinner recently and my friend, Stacey, made this amazing fresh strawberry and rhubarb pie.  So we had a little strawberry-tasting party.  I will never turn down double desserts.

And totally unplanned, Ada and their youngest daughter, Sadie, had matching strawberry pajamas on that night.  How's that for a theme coming together?

Click here for printable recipe.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cape Cod Getaway

We're just finishing up a week in Chatham, a charming town on Cape Cod.  My in-laws rented a house for ten days and offered to have us stay with them this week.  The weather has been cool, and we had one rainy day, but we've still enjoyed time on the beach, a boat ride, walks around town, fried seafood, and a little rainy day bowling.  My girls seem to have decided that 5 a.m. is the perfect time to wake while on vacation, but that's been about the only downside to what has been an otherwise lovely little getaway for us.

An after-dinner walk on the beach

Scott catching Ellie after a toss in the air

Ada took candlepin bowling very seriously

The girls' first ride on a speedboat

Ada generously let me borrow her green headband on the boat

Hope everyone enjoys the weekend and don't forget to spoil the special fathers in your life!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Raspberry Blondies

I've got nothing against brownies, in fact, when they are good, I have trouble keeping myself to just one.  But there is something about these blondies that keeps me coming back again and again and choosing them over their more popular chocolate cousins when I decide to make a bar cookie.  Their texture is a little bit cookie and little bit cakey.  They taste richly of vanilla and the raspberries add a nice tart counterpoint to the sweet as well as marble the top beautifully with purpley-pink swirls.  And they are just a bit more unique than a brownie.  Everyone has had a brownie; not everyone has had a raspberry blondie.

And better yet, while they look impressive, they are very, very easy to make.  You don't even have to wait for butter to soften, as is so often the case with cookies, you just give it a quick microwave to melt it a bit and go forth with the batter.

Raspberry Blondies

1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 c. butter, melted in microwave
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 c. fresh or thawed frozen raspberries

Preheat oven to 350.

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.  In another bowl, whisk melted butter, brown sugar, and white sugar to blend.  Add eggs, vanilla, and lemon juice and whisk until all are incorporated.  Stir in flour mixture until batter is relatively smooth.  Spoon into a greased 9x13 cake pan.  I use an organic vegetable shortening for this task.

Bake for 40 minutes, then remove from oven and sprinkle raspberries over the top.

Return to oven and bake another 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let cool in pan on a wire rack about 15 minutes before cutting them into squares or triangles.  And then sink your teeth into the dense, chewy, crispy at the edges, vanilla and raspberry goodness.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Farro with Feta, Tomatoes, and Cucumbers

Farro.  Have you heard of it?  I feel like it's still somewhat obscure but mainstream enough that I've seen it on menus in recent years and you can buy it at many grocery stores.  It's a whole grain.  It's chewy and kind of nutty.  It goes with pretty much anything you can think of to mix with it.  I think it's just downright wonderful.  It reminds me a bit of barley but seems somehow heartier.  If you haven't ever had it, it's worth a try. 

For this version, I grabbed some inspiration from a feta salad I sampled at Whole Foods last week and the farro was a summery and lovely complement to the grilled salmon we also had for dinner.  I made a sizable batch so as to have leftovers for lunch the next day and they may have tasted even better after an overnight in the fridge.

Farro with Feta, Tomatoes, and Cucumbers

1 c. farro
1 1/2 c. cucumbers
2 c. grape tomatoes
3 scallions, chopped
2 tbsp. parsley, chopped
1 tbsp dill, chopped
1/2 c. sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
6 oz, crumbled feta
1/4 c. olive oil

Cook the farro in boiling salted water according to package directions.  It was about 20-25 minutes cooking time for me.

Chop tomatoes and cucumbers and put in large bowl.

Add scallions, parsley, dill, sundried tomatoes, and feta.

Let farro cool a bit then add to other ingredients with the olive oil and stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.

Click here for printable recipe.