Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Straight to Pencil Skirt Tutorial

I admit it--I'm a bit of a slave to style. Not to the point of selling my soul to the devil or anything, but I have worn shoes that are much more cute than comfortable; I don't always wear my hair in a ponytail; and I wear pantyhose. 

My latest cave-in in the name of fashion is the pencil skirt. I have a closet full of skirts from the last 15 years. If I wear a skirt at least once during a year, I keep it. Several of my skirts are knee-length straight numbers I bought in college--mostly from The Gap and Old Navy. But, alas, straight is out; pencil is in. Luckily, so is plaid; so this skirt (circa: 1999), was just updated to the tiny-step ways of modern fashion!

Here's how I did it:

1. Put on the skirt. Stand in front of a mirror and pin the amount of excess skirt around the knees you would like trimmed. Once it is pinned, walk around a bit to make sure you are allowing enough range of motion.  Leave the pins in and carefully remove the skirt.

2. My skirt has a built-in liner. This feature scares some people away from making alterations. It is no biggie, I promise. My liner is only attached at the top. If yours is attached on the sides at all, you may need to cut the threads holding it to the outside of the skirt. This isn't a step, so much as something to be aware of before you proceed.

3. With chalk, draw an angled vertical line from just below your pins to about halfway up your skirt. It is important not to make any abrupt changes in the new seam (you don't want Oompah-Loompah hips). 

4. Carefully cut along the chalk lines of just the outside fabric of your skirt. Then, using the cut lines as a guide, carefully cut the excess liner fabric. 
**Tip: Cut front, then back on both outside and liner. Cutting both can leave an awkward angle at the seam. (I learned this the hard way.)

5. Using a seam ripper or small scissors, rip out the hem about 2 inches on each side along the edges you just cut (of the liner and the outside fabric). I did this step first, which wasn't harmful, but I ended up cutting out most of what I had ripped out. You'll need the hem out when you sew up the sides in the next step.

6. Turn the skirt inside out.  With right sides together, sew up the sides of the skirt liner, then the skirt. Re-hem the edges. My skirt required an invisible/blind hem stitch. For a good tutorial on how to do this, go to this tutorial

Voila! You are done! Super easy, eh?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Lemon Chess Squares

Chess Squares. Have you ever heard of them? They are a sinfully delicious bar based on the Southern-originating Chess Pie. My mom always makes them at Christmastime, and I have carried on the tradition with my family.

This year, however, I changed them up a bit. Not because they needed changing. They are completely wonderful without any change. But when all my family were putting in their requests for Christmas treats, my husband requested lemon bars. I don't care for lemon bars. I don't hate them, but they are typically too sweet and gelatinous (using that word will turn anyone off of them, huh?) for my taste. So I asked if a lemon cookie would suffice. He said "Sure, just something sweet and lemony."

Well, it was Christmas Eve and I had two goodies on our grand list of Christmas treats that I still needed to make: Chess Squares and Lemon Cookies. I was sick of being in the kitchen, so I decided to give the Chess Squares a lemon makeover. 

The result became a new family favorite instantly! These have plenty of lemon flavor, without the overwhelming sweetness of a traditional lemon bar. I have one son who despises cheesecake and can usually taste the smallest bit of cream cheese in anything I make, but even he loved these. I really think anyone who likes lemon will LOVE these bars. And they are extremely quick and easy to make!

Lemon Chess Squares
Makes 24 bars

1 box yellow cake mix (I prefer Duncan Hines)
1 stick butter, melted
4 eggs (divided)
3 1/2 teaspoons pure lemon extract (divided)
1 brick (8oz) cream cheese
2 1/3 cups powdered sugar

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.
2. Mix cake mix, melted butter, one egg and 2 teaspoons lemon extract until it holds together well. Press in a greased 9x13 baking dish. This is crust.
3. Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar. Add remaining 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg.  Beat in 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract. Pour mixture over crust.
4. Bake in top-half of oven 40 minutes, or until set and light brown on edges. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Live Randomly Simple

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Candy-Dipped Ginger Thins

My kids were invited to a cookie exchange down the street. I LOVE cookie exchanges, and apparently my kids have inherited this trait (crazy as it seems--who likes cookies?!?), because they were all excited to participate--from the toddler to the teenager.  

Then it dawned on me, I would be making A LOT of cookies for this event. It is no secret that I enjoy baking. But this has been a busy week, and having the required 160 cookies (4 different kinds) ready was causing me a bit of stress....

But then while walking through Costco yesterday, I had a light bulb appear above my head, along with  a mysterious "Ding!" 

Costco is currently carrying boxes of Annas Ginger Swedish Thins. Each box costs about $7 and has over 260 cookies.  And they are melt-in-your mouth yummy. I decided to buy these and just dress them up a bit! 

All you need for this delicious cookie exchange hack is:
  • Annas Ginger Swedish Thins
  • Candy for dipping (I used Ghiradelli's White Chocolate, Hershey's Cinnamon Chips, and Ghiradelli's Semi-sweet Chocolate chips)
  • Household Paraffin (optional--It helped with the Cinnamon Chips not getting thick when they were melting).
  • Toppings to sprinkle on the dipped cookies while still hot: crushed candy canes, chopped roasted pecans, sliced almonds, coconut, candy sprinkles
  • Wax paper

1. Follow the directions for melting on the candy coating you are using's package. I have the most luck with the double-boiler method, but I've used the microwave as well (with mixed results--the microwave seems to go from under- to over-cooked in less than 3 seconds). 

2. Dip cookies one at a time in the melted coating. Set on wax paper and sprinkle immediately with topping.  Cool. Store in air-tight container.

Here are the white chocolate with crushed candy cane variety. I crushed about 4 candy canes (which was more than enough). After unwrapping, I broke the candy canes up in a glass bowl. Then I used the bottom of a small, sturdy glass jar to crush them in the bowl (like a mortar and pestle).

I had cookies made for two of my kids (the other two were covered) to bring to the exchange in less than an hour. And they even helped! I even made extra to put away for our Christmas festivities! 

These are the ones I dipped in melted cinnamon chips. They are sprinkled with roasted, salted pecans. Mmmm...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pineapple Gingerbread Bars

A moist, chewy gingerbread crust melds into the sweet, juicy pineapple topping in these delectable bars. This was one of those "necessity is the mother of invention" things that so many new recipes are born from. While helping me put away groceries last weekend, my husband discovered that one of the cans of pineapple had been dropped when it was unloaded. The pop-top lid's seal had been broken. So, I needed to use up a can of pineapple soon.  

After looking for the "just right" recipe and not finding what I was hoping to, I decided to experiment. Often experimenting doesn't yield perfect results--especially the first time. But this was the exception. These are amazing bars. My entire family loved them and had seconds, thirds, and those slivers you cut when you want more, but say you are "cleaning up the edge." 

Here' the recipe: 

Pineapple Gingerbread Bars
Makes 48 bars

2 cups whole wheat flour (all-purpose is fine)
2/3 cups brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1.5 sticks cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
dash salt
1.5 teaspoons vanilla
1 20 oz can crushed pineapple, drained (reserve juice)
3 Tablespoons melted butter
1.5 cups powdered sugar
pineapple juice (reserved from can)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line either an 10" x 15" baking dish or two 8"x 8" square pans with foil and spray with cooking spray.
2. Mix dry ingredients of crust together in a bowl or food processor. Add the butter and either cut in with a pastry cutter, or pulse in processor, until mixture is a coarse meal.
3. Press into prepared pans and bake for 10 minutes. Remove and cool.
4. Prepare filling by beating together all filling ingredients except pineapple until well mixed. Stir in pineapple. Pour over cooled crust and return to oven. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove and cool.
5. Prepare icing by mixing powdered sugar into melted butter. Add pineapple juice by the tablespoon until icing is a good drizzling consistency. Drizzle top of cooled bars . I spooned the icing into a sandwich bag and cut off a corner tip to evenly drizzle. Cut into bars and serve. Store in refrigerator. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Glittered Origami Christmas Trees

I saw a darling folded Christmas tree on Pinterest a few days ago, and on a whim decided to try it out with some scrapbook paper. It proved to be not only easy and quick, but the learning curve was abnormally NOT steep for an origami project. I typically have to look at the pictures on the second, third and fourth time of making something before I have it memorized. This took one time. Uno. And my 11-year-old son came along and made one pretty easily after me (his is the one with the deer). 

After admiring my cute trees for a couple of hours, I had the idea of adding glitter--like snow-- to the edges. I LOVED the results. So easy and inexpensive, yet they look like something from Anthropologie, am I right?  

Want to make your own? 

Here's what you'll need:

1. Follow the instructions above to make the trees. If your paper is double sided, have the side you want showing out as you proceed in the folding process.

2. Once the trees are made, outline the folded edges with glitter paint.  Let it dry, and you're done!  

Monday, December 1, 2014

Damask and Ribbon Snowflake Wreath

Who doesn't love a new wreath at Christmas? I have been putting out my traditional pine garland wreath for about 7 years now. SEVEN. Yep, I was ready for a change. So, I decided to go bright, bold, and bling-y. I didn't go double, though. One of these is for my neighbor. We may end up with almost-matching doors. Oh well. :) We'll both be bright and bold.

This wreath is made 100% with items available at Walmart. One stop (frugal) shopping for this baby. Ribbon varieties may vary, but I feel certain you can find the rest of the supplies at most any Walmart with a craft and fabric section. If you don't have a Walmart or don't want to brave a trip there during the holidays, I've seen similar supplies to these at Hobby Lobby, JoAnn's; and similar ornaments at Dollar Tree and Target. 

Here's what you'll need: 
  • 1/2 yard damask fabric
  • Ribbon of choice (yardage varies--2-6, depending on preferred wreath style)
  • Foam wreath form
  • Flat head sewing pins
  • Glittered snowflake ornaments
  • Hot glue sticks and glue gun

I chose a black and white nylon damask. The white has a bit of sheen, and the black design is flocked (so a bit fuzzy, like suede.).

These foam wreaths are easy to find and easy to work with. I paid about $7 for one.

This pack of snowflake ornaments was a steal, as you can see.  Good ole Wally World.

I bought a few larger ornaments (all about $1 each). I didn't end up using the kind pictured at the top, but you may like it on your wreath. :)

Directions: 1. Cut the fabric into 6-inch strips. Use a sewing pin to pin one end into the foam wreath. Wrap tightly around, overlapping as needed to make a smooth surface. When you run out of fabric, pin another piece and continue until the entire wreath is covered. Finish with a pin.

2. Wrap wreath with ribbon, pinning each end to secure. Here you see two ways of wrapping. A metallic silver ribbon would have been pretty, too, I think.

3. Arrange the snowflake ornaments on the wreaths as desired, then hot-glue in place. 

4. Wrap an extra loop of ribbon around the top of the wreath to hang. I secured mine in the back with a pin. 

Ta-da! You are done!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Monogram Christmas Stockings

I have a Christmas story to share...

This time two years ago, we were living in the Midwest, busily packing for a cross-country move to the Pacific Northwest.  We were excited to move because we would be closer to family, and my husband would be starting a new job; but, the timing was not ideal.

We pulled out of our snow-packed driveway--me in our SUV with the kids, my husband driving the largest U-haul available, towing his smaller car--early Christmas Eve morning.  We got as far as western South Dakota, and stayed the night in a hotel, where we laid out our stockings and set up a miniature tree I had packed last in the U-haul.

Santa came to our hotel room that night, and the next morning we tried our best to enjoy our Christmas "adventure" with our children. We opened gifts from each other and enjoyed some goodies I had packed for the trip. Then we packed all the stockings and gifts into a large suitcase, which we put into the moving truck to be enjoyed later.

In all, it took us 4 days and 3 nights to make it to our destination. We were driving in snowy conditions all the way up until we crossed over the last mountain pass that is the doorway into the greater Seattle area. To say it was unpleasant would be an understatement. It was long, treacherous, nerve-wracking, and frustrating.

When we finally got to our temporary apartment, relief still didn't come.  It was NOT what had been advertised, was in a neighborhood that felt unsafe, and it smelled awful. I kept reminding myself that my kids would mirror whatever emotions I portrayed, so I tried to stay positive. With help from family, we quickly unpacked the truck (in the cold rain--welcome to Seattle!), and I worked to begin making our temporary living conditions comfortable.

We had arrived on a Friday night, and our children were able to start school on Monday morning. I was so excited to get the apartment put together while they were gone, and to unpack their Christmas gifts they had barely seen. I wanted them to come home to something special.  I looked for the gift-filled suitcase in what we called our "Room of Requirement" (the "spare" bedroom we had stacked from floor to ceiling with boxes and furniture to avoid getting a storage unit). I looked and looked. I couldn't find it. This was a very small apartment, and it was a large suitcase. How was I missing it? I called my husband, and after reflection, he realized he didn't recall unloading it from the U-haul.

He then told me that sometime in the blizzard conditions of crossing Montana, he noticed the padlock we had on the back door to the U-haul had come off. He dismissed it as just being jostled off because of the bumpiness of the way and the frigid conditions. Now, we were faced with the cold truth--we had been robbed. The actual monetary value of what was taken was relatively little. There were no expensive electronics or jewelry in the suitcase. It had the Little People dollhouse my daughter had received from Santa; the Alabama (Roll Tide!) scarves my mom had made my sons, other toys and gifts we had exchanged with each other, and....our stockings.

I had made those stockings. They had character and love put into them. They were truly irreplaceable. When I realized they had been in that suitcase, I lost it. I broke down in tears. I felt so selfish crying--knowing I was crying over THINGS. No one had died. No one was sick or hurt. I knew it was silly, but after keeping it together through the stress of moving over the holidays from a nice big home to an tiny, icky apartment, this was the last straw. And it felt good to have that release. To openly share my feelings.

Thankfully, like all time does, that time passed. And good came out of it. Last year, I was able to make new matching stockings for the family. They make me happy. As I look at them, I think about the way our family bonded, focused on what was really important, and learned so many lessons through the adversities of our move here.

To make these, I used a free pattern from Positively Simple. It was easy to print out, her directions are clear, and the sewing process was really quite simple. And they are NICE stockings--cuffed, lined, and built to last.
Her stockings have a pom-pom trim, which I decided to skip. It is super cute, but I worried about its longevity since it is hot-glued on.  And I decided to add the monograms. One of the things that kept me sane during my time in our icky apartment was learning to do hand embroidery. I didn't have room to have my sewing machine or paints and easel, but a hoop and thread don't take up much room. I needed a creative outlet, and embroidery fit the bill. So I embroidered the letters on these by hand. They could have looked more professional if I had paid someone with a machine to do it, but it just felt right to use the skill I learned during our transition to complete these.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gluten Free Cranberry Bars with Orange Drizzle

Cranberry sauce...that Thanksgiving tradition that you are sure to have leftovers of, am I right?  As a kid, I didn't really see the point of it. But now I really love it. I like a bit with each bite of turkey. I'd say I even prefer it to gravy. 

Well, folks, cranberry sauce has another important purpose. A purpose that can be fulfilled year-round, if desired. That purpose is as the filling of these scrumptious bars. 

I have a friend who has a gluten and soy intolerance, and I wanted to do something special for her. I have a recipe for cranberry bars that is basically a shortbread crust, with cranberry sauce and a crumble top. I adapted that recipe to make this one. It's the kind of recipe that might make you want to become gluten-free, just for the heck of it. It is that good.

These are the only non-pantry-staples this recipe calls for.  Be sure to get the "Whole Berry" can of cranberry sauce. The Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Shortbread Cookie Mix was at my Fred Meyer (Kroger family) grocery store. It was about $2 for the bag. You'll also need an orange, butter, 2 egg yolks, water, milk, and powdered sugar.

The little orange flecks are bits of orange zest. Cranberry + orange = WIN. 

Here's the recipe: 

Gluten Free Cranberry Bars with Orange Drizzle
Makes 15 large square bars

1 21-oz package Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Shortbread Cookie Mix
1.5 sticks (3/4 cup) softened butter
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons water
1 14-16oz can whole berry cranberry sauce

zest of 1 medium orange
3 tablespoons milk
1 2/3 cups powdered sugar

Directions for Bars
1. Preheat oven to 375°. Prepare 9"x13" baking dish with butter or cooking spray.
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, egg yolks, and water. Mix in Cookie Mix well. Mixture will be dry and crumbly. 
3. Press 2/3 of the mixture into the baking dish. Press it slightly up on the sides to form a short wall. 
4. Spread the cranberry sauce evenly over the pressed cookie mix. Sprinkle remaining cookie mixture over the cranberry sauce. 
5. Place in center of oven and bake 25 minutes. Cool, then use a pastry bag with a small round tip (or a sandwich bag with a cut corner)to top with Orange Drizzle.

Directions for Orange Drizzle
Mix orange zest and milk in a small mixing bowl. Gradually whisk in powdered sugar until smooth.