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!