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. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Parmesan and Scallion Roasted Asparagus

Asparagus is in season, which means not only is it in abundance, but it is typically a pretty good deal at the supermarket. And it should continue to be for a few months.  

Asparagus is one of the few veggies I didn't grow up eating. We ate a variety--okra, rutabaga, beets, and all kinds of squash--but I never once remember eating asparagus. I've asked my parents about this, and one of them (my dad, I think) had only ever had canned asparagus, and so determined he didn't care for it. As a result,  my mom never made it. I think they eat it often now, though. 

Despite my childhood deprivation, I LOVE this vegetable. I actually started a patch of it in the garden of our old house. Hopefully the new owners are reaping the benefits of my labors.  My favorite way to prepare asparagus is roasting it. And this recipe is a fail-safe favorite. The stalks are tender, but not slimy, well-seasoned, and pretty to present. 

Here's the how-to, followed by the recipe:

Cut woody ends off asparagus stalks. In a large bowl, toss together asparagus, scallions, oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and shredded Parmesan cheese.

Spread coated stalks on a roasting pan. Scoop up the scallions and cheese that are left in the bowl and spread across the top of the asparagus.

Here they are, ready to go in the oven. Roast at 450° for 15 minutes. 

Serve warm. Asparagus are one of the few foods that are appropriate to eat with your fingers. Did you know that? I still use a fork sometimes, though. 

Parmesan and Scallion Roasted Asparagus
Serves 6

1 lb fresh asparagus 
1/4 cup avocado oil (olive or canola work, too)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3 scallions (green onions), chopped
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450°. Chop tough, woody ends off the asparagus stalks. I usually take about 2 inches off. 
2. Toss all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, completely coating the asparagus in the oil and spices.
3. Spread the asparagus in a row on a large roasting pan. It is okay for them to touch and overlap some.  Scrape the bowl for the excess scallions, cheese, and oil. Spread this across the top of the row of asparagus.
4. Bake 15 minutes. Remove immediately, and serve promptly.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

$20 Dining Chair Up-scale

My dear husband asked me to make a birthday and Christmas list a couple of weeks ago. Since they only fall about 1 month apart from each other, he said he likes to get a list in mind so he can plan in advance. I'm glad I married a planner. :)

One of the items I put on the list was a set of two padded dining chairs to be at each end of our dining table. Our table is large enough to seat 8+, but we only had 6 chairs. I had my eye on some at Ikea that are about $100/each. They were the right colors for the room, and would dress up the whole set a bit. 

A few days after telling my husband about the Ikea chairs, he told me about some chairs he saw at Goodwill for $8/each. He even took a picture. I decided to go check them out. To my pleasant surprise, they were sturdy and had a simple slip cover over the back. The seat cover was just wrapped and stapled. So I bought them.

As you can see, they are UGLY. Awful colors, stained. icky. But I liked their modern lines. And their simple (read: simple to change) construction.

Obviously I took this after I re-covered them, but this shows the construction of the chair. Four screws hold the frame to the seat. Three (Alan wrench) bolts hold the seat's frame to the back. Easy to disassemble and reassemble. 

The back was just a big sleeve. I traced the one it came with to make a pattern, then cut out and sewed the new slip covers from that. 

As you can see, the bottom just required a good staple gun and some elbow grease. I did go over the edges of the seat cover with my serger. A simple hem or zig-zag stitch would suffice, as well.  

The third chair was for our bedroom. We were constantly dragging a dining chair upstairs to our bedroom and bathroom for hair-dos, computer use, etc. Now we have one that can stay up there. And it looks pretty! 

And here is my colorful dining room. Before, I had the turquoise chairs on the ends. Now I have more substantial chairs for the "heads" of the table, and they really bring the room together with my tree painting and the rug. I love it! 

Here's the breakdown of the cost: 

3 chairs @ $8.00 each + tax:                                                         $26.16
1 yard Richloom Paget Stripe Slub Midnight fabric ( $ 7.63
2 yards Richloom Marman Slub Spring (                  $19.96
Shipping:                                                                                           $ 3.00
Total:                                                                                                 $56.75

Add in thread and staples (which are hard to quantify), and these are less than $20 dining chairs! I love a bargain--especially when I get to make it! 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Trail Cookies (Sugar-free, Gluten-free, Milk-free, Bad Fat-free)

And they're not gross! They are tasty, even. I promise. My kids have all approved.

In hopes of seizing the forecast sunny (!!) day this weekend, I decided to try out an idea for a healthy but hearty cookie to take along on our excursions.  It doesn't have any weird unnatural sweeteners, bad fats, or ingredients that are hard to find or expensive. My recipe made about 60 cookies and cost about $6 to make. Not bad eh?

I used homemade date paste instead of refined sugar to sweeten them. You can find the tutorial for making your own date paste here on Chocolate and Carrots. These cookies aren't as sweet as a typical oatmeal cookie (more in the realm of a muffin's sweetness), and they are full of delicious texture and moisture.

I'm so excited to pack these up for our hike this weekend! Now we won't be tempted to stuff our pockets with Halloween candy! 

Here's the recipe: 

Trail Cookies
Makes 5 dozen


1.25 cups date paste (see link above for how to make your own.)
1.5 cups natural unsweetened peanut butter
1/2 cup coconut oil
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
4.5 cups rolled (old-fashioned) oats--gluten free
1 cup dried fruit, chopped to raisin-size (I used cranberries, raisins, and blueberries)
1 cup finely chopped nuts (I used pecans because I love them)


1. Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats.
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat date paste, peanut butter and coconut oil. Add in eggs and beat well.
3. Beat in vanilla, sea salt, and baking soda.  Mix in remaining ingredients 2 cups at at time.
4. Use a medium cookie scoop to place on cookie sheet 1 inch apart. Press down to flatten slightly. Bake 9-10 minutes. Cool and store in refrigerator or freezer. 

Here's a glimpse of the hike we took these cookies on this weekend.  My only complaint: I should have packed more! We gobbled them up!