Fun Little Paper Mache Craft

Projects

I saw these cute little “bell” people and decided I had to get crafty. Some were made of ceramics and some I think paper mache. I decided to make my little bell person from paper mache. But I needed company, so I asked the kids if they wanted to make one as well. Everyone was on board.

We started by making a form to paper mache around. Ours were wadded up paper and fruit stuffed into a ziplock bag. Next, I poured glue into a yogurt container and added water to thin the glue and gave it a stir. Then we all tore newspaper into strips, dipped into the glue mixture, and squeeged the glue from the paper with our fingers and arranged the strips around our forms to create a bell shape. A few coats of this is recommended.

My son making the form for his person.

I then used magazines and paper mached the colored pieces onto the bell as if I were painting the piece. In this way I did not have to paint the piece in the end. I did paint my little guy’s facial features when he dried with black acrylic paint.

The kids decided to paint their guys with acrylic paint instead of using magazines. After they dried overnight, we put on a coat of clear varnish. Then it was time to string them up. I strung my little guy but his feet kept hitting each other and turning around. My son, on the other hand, had a perfectly aligned little man. So I asked him to string mine for me. He also finished his sister’s guy as well.

These bell people did take a while to make. However, we were having such a good time that we really did not notice just how long we were at it until we had finished.

My little man.

I really liked how my little man turned out. He makes me laugh. He is so cute. I have hung him above my desk so I can look at him. As I am writing this, I am amused that he is such a good dancer. With my fan blowing on him he has quite the moves.

My son’s man. So sofisticated.
My daughter’s man dressed in swim trunks.

We had fun using our imaginations to create unique guys with interesting personalities. Let us know what you think. As always, Happy Crafting!

Have a Safe 4th of July

life

My family will be staying in for the 4th. Most likely celebrating with an outdoor dinner of grilled food and a few extras. Usually deviled eggs are a 4th of July must have for me. I am hoping to get my son into the kitchen to help me make dessert. Perhaps we will also get out the horseshoes, croquet, swingball, frisbee, or other such outdoor games.

I am looking forward to my neighbor’s huge flag they put out only for special occassions such as the 4th of July, Memorial Day, etc… It makes it that much more special since they do not display it daily. It makes me happy to see it when I open the curtains for the day and see the huge flag draped over their balcony.

Wishing everyone a SAFE and Happy 4th of July!

Zucchini Flowers are All the Buzz at My House

Cooking, gardening

Of course I had heard of people eating zucchini flowers. I had just never tried them myself. Since we have an abundance of zucchini in the garden right now, I thought we could spare a few of the flowers. So I searched for a recipe and went out to the garden to collect the flowers.

I collected four large zucchini flowers, placed them in my bowl and headed back inside. I decided not to wash them right away in hopes they would stay fresher until I was ready to use them. It would not be long anyway. So I set about making the rest of the dinner. We were having chicken with sundried tomatoes and olives baked in foil packets (to lock in the moisture), orzo, blanched and sauted fresh green beans with garlic (from green beans picked earlier in the day), and of course the zucchini flowers which would be lightly breaded and fried.

It was finally time for me to prepare the zucchini flowers. I washed and removed the stamen from one and set it on a towel, then another. As I was washing the third flower, I heard a buzzing sound. What! Oh no! A bee was inside the flower. I hurried the bowl outside to get rid of the bee before it escaped inside our house. When outside I pried the flower open a bit with a knife hoping the bee would exit without attacking me. Success! As I started to head back inside I again heard buzzing. What! Oh yes, another bee was inside the flower! I again coaxed this bee out of the flower. Was this it? No more buzzing. It was safe to go back inside and finish making dinner.

So, I think I will add a little note to the recipe for fried zucchini flowers. It will say, “Check for bees before taking zucchini flowers inside house”. How could the author of this recipe leave off such an important piece of information? Maybe this has only happened to me?

Regardless of the excitement in the kitchen, the meal turned out fine. The zucchini flowers did receive quite the buzz around the table. My family enjoyed them and we had a story to share as well. The recipe can be found at: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/fried-zucchini-blossoms. Just remember to check for bees! As always, Happy Gardening/ Happy Cooking!

Dinner is Served

Suburban Sketching

Projects

I have been off and on sketching for a while now. Trying to make it more of a regular occurrence. My goal being once a day. No more excuses! After all, I do enjoy my time sketching. In fact, I get lost in my art and wonder where all the time has gone. Was I really at it for three hours!

The media of choice right now is pencil sketching, then watercolor, and finally ink. I really do like the ‘field watercolor journal’ that I picked up so time ago. It is small in size ( 7″ x 10″) so it is easy to manage. It contains cold press 140 lb/ 300 gsm watercolor paper. I also just love my new little watercolor pocket field sketch box by Koi. So small and easy to manage with a handy little pallet that attaches. I keep my pencil sharpener, kneaded erasers, pencils, and pens in an ArtBin pencil case. I have both Berol Turquoise and Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencils. My pencil of choice is, and has been since college, the Staedtler brand. The pens I use are Pigma Micron and Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens (waterproof ink). I prefer the fine tips for the pens. I did by a fancy Lamy fountain pen. But oh no! I did not realize that the ink in the Lamy pen was not waterproof. I learned the hard way by ruining a drawing I had spent a lot of time on. Now I only use this pen after my watercolor is applied or when I do not intend to use watercolor. I still like the pen. It is very nice. The watercolor brush that I recently purchased (that I love) is a Winsor & Newton Cotman 222 Designers #6. It is round with a nice point. It works well for fine work.

Koi watercolor set with pallet attached.
My supplies in my ArtBin box

I have been taking my supplies outside and sketching in my yard lately. I have been using my fold-up chair that has a cup holder. The cup holder works perfectly for holding my water cup so I can have water on hand when using my watercolors.

Now for a little show and tell. Here are some suburban sketches that I have done over the last few months…

Some flowers in my front yard.
This one I did from a photograph. I took a picture of the mail truck delivering mail. I am not fast enough to capture this scene before the mailman finishes.
One day I asked the kids if they wanted to sketch with me. They said, “sure”. So we sat in the backyard and this is the sketch I completed of our sheds and potting table.
My latest sketch was completed just this morning. I am looking out the window at the porch swing and orange tree.

I hope you have enjoyed my little show and tell. Let me know what you think… Happy Creating!

Using a Pastry Cloth

Cooking

Until recently, I had never used a pastry cloth before. I had used plastic pastry mats before but never a pastry cloth. But I was curious.

Years ago, I had a very large Tupperware brand plastic pastry mat. It had circles printed on it for guidence in making the correct size of pie crusts. There were several problems with this mat. The mat had to be rolled to store, hence making it curl up when trying to use it. It needed to be weighed down or it would move around. It was a handful to turn when flipping the rolled dough into the tin as it was so big and awkward. To make things more frustrating, if I did not flour the mat enough, the dough would stick to it.

Vintage Tupperware Pastry Dough Tart Pie Sizing Mat Sheet 1965 Dart Ind. Red
Image of Tupperware Pastry Mat from collectiblesonlinedaily.com

I have a similar sort of mat now but it lies flat. It is too small to roll out a regular pie crust on. Same problem with moving around the counter and dough sticking to it as the larger version. This mat does work well for stamping out biscuits though.

Small mat

Tired of my too small mat, I decided to research my options. From reviews, it looked like the old fashioned pastry cloth was the tried and true choice. Let’s face it, sometimes things can not be improved on too much. After looking around for a pastry cloth, I decided I did not have anything to lose as the pastry cloths were cheaper than the mats. I would not be out much if I did not like it.

Upon reading the reviews, I took the advice of hand washing my cloth in cold water and line drying. This is to avoid an shrinkage that may occur. My pastry cloth came out just fine by following these guidelines.

I have used my pastry cloth several times now. All times were successful. I really like the pastry cloth. In my oppinion it is a much better tool than the plastic mats. I used much less flour on the surface of the cloth than I had on the mats which is supposed to result in a more tender crust and the dough DID NOT STICK! Being a cloth, it was very flexible and easy to turn onto my pie tin. The clean-up was easy. I just shook out the excess flour over the trash and hand washed it in cold water and hung it to dry. I store it folded in a bag to keep it clean and ready to use. It hardly takes up any space. The only negative being that it still does move on the counter, but not too much. Apparently, it can be wrapped around a bread board or a non-stick mat can be placed under it. I am still working on that. However, I LOVE the pastry cloth and would not go back to the other version.

As always, Happy Baking!

DIY Toothpick Container

Projects

The toothpicks I bought came in a thin cardboard box. The typical packaging for toothpicks. I thought this annoying and a bit messy. What to do? The DIY toothpick container of course!

The thought of making my own toothpick container came to me as I was cleaning out the spice drawer. I came across a plastic spice container with a shaker lid, the kind with holes punched in the top to shake the spice out with. I decided to use this container to shake out my toothpicks instead. It was the perfect size to hold the toothpicks. So I washed it up and inserted my toothpicks. When given a little shake, the toothpicks pop out of the holes and I am able to grab however many I want.

For me, this DIY container is a much better option than the box the toothpicks came in. I am no longer finding toothpicks scattered about the drawer as they fall out of the flimsy box. I also like the fact that I did not have to spend money on a special container. It is always good to feel a bit more organized in the kitchen. As always, Happy Baking!

Homemade Granola

Cooking

Granola can be a difficult item to shop for if needing to avoid nut allergies. It can also be on the expensive side and sometimes the flavors are not exactly what one prefers. Why not make it yourself!

Granola is not hard to make. Having said that, one does need to be careful not to over-bake the granola. It can over-cook and burn easily, so attention is needed.

The great advantage to making granola is that it tastes fresher and almost anything can be added to it. It lasts a long time on the counter in a sealed container, so it does not have to be made all that often. Granola can be eaten on it’s own, sprinkled on top of yogurt, ice cream, oatmeal, fruit, etc…

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (A baking sheet with edges is prefered.)

Step 2: Get the ingredients together…

1/4 cup olive oil (or oil of preference)

1 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp honey

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 c brown sugar

2 1/4 c old fashioned oats

3/4 – 1 c dark chocolate chopped into small pieces

Dark chocolate squares
Chopped

1/4 – 1/2 c unsweetened coconut flakes

If chocolate and coconut are not desired, dried fruits could be added instead.

Step 3: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Step 4: In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients EXCEPT oats, chocolate, and coconut.

Step 5: Turn the burner to medium-low and stir ingredients until butter melts and mixture is smooth. Take off heat.

Step 6: Add oats to pan and stir together.

Step 7: Dump the mixture unto the baking sheet and spread out evenly.

Step 8: Pop in oven and set the timer for 30 minutes.

Step 9: Take the granola out of oven and stir the granola every 10 minutes. At 30 minutes, remove granola from oven. The granola will harden and become crisp after it leaves the oven so do not bake it until it is hard. It should still be golden in color not darkened or it will taste burnt.

Step 10: Slide the parchment paper with granola onto a wire rack to cool.

Step 11: If coconut is desired…place a new sheet of parchment paper on baking sheet and spread the coconut out onto the sheet. Pop in the oven (same temperature) for about 5 minutes. Watch this like a hawk! Coconut can cook quite fast as well. I like to stir this half-way through cook time. It should turn pale golden but not dark in color or it will be burnt.

Step 12: Remove the coconut from oven and slide the parchment paper with coconut directly onto a wire rack to cool.

Step 13: Once all are cool, mix together in a bowl and store in an air-tight container. Note: The granola will need to be broken up when removing from parchment. Just break into pieces with hands.

Ready to eat

I hope I did not scare anyone with 13 steps! It really is not hard. I just stretched the instructions out. If anyone makes this recipe let me know how it was.

As always Happy Baking!

Monarchs Are Back – 2020

gardening

Last year I penned a post about Monarch Butterflies in our garden. They are back again this year. The caterpillars have eaten almost all of our milkweed plants. Today, I saw one lone caterpillar cleaning up the scraps.

Caterpillar eating milkweed

Even more exciting is that, when I was sweeping the front porch, I spotted a chrysalis on the side of the house. This one being on the opposite side that I spotted one last year. There are also the remains of two chrysalises where I had spotted the one last year.

Remains of chrysalis
Chrysalis

Every day is a little different in the garden. I have to remind myself to be more observant on a daily basis or I could easily miss the little things that blend in so well. As always, Happy Gardening!

Paczki – Baked Polish Filled Donuts

Cooking

I am back to baking donuts again. This time it is Paczki, a baked Polish donut. But instead of filling this donut with jelly, I chose to fill it with custard.

These donuts rose and puffed up very nicely. I brushed them with melted butter and rolled them in sugar and they looked so yummy and I had not even filled them yet. I chose to fill them right before eating them. I made the custard ahead of time and kept it in a container in the fridge to chill.

Not even filled and see how yummy they look!
Custard filling

I poked a hole in the side of the donut with a wooden skewer and then inserted the tip of a decorating tube into the side of the donut and gave it a good squeeze. Custard donuts are a favorite of mine at the local donut shop. Now I can make them at home myself. They are very easy to make. They just take a bit of time for the rising.

Poking hole in side with skewer.
Filling with custard. This little pastry filler would not be my choice…hard to see when enough filling is inserted.
The standard pastry bag and tube worked well at filling the donuts.
Voila! The finished Paczki. Ready to eat.

For the recipe: https://www.jennycancook.com/recipes/custard-filled-paczki/ There is even a video to watch.

Quick version of the recipe with a few minor changes…

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet = 7 grams) yeast (instant or regular)

Mix dry ingredients in stand mixer then add:

  • 2/3 cup 2% milk – warmed to 120°F for instant/110°F for regular yeast
  • 3 Tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Mix and beat for about 2 minutes then add

  • about 1/2 cup extra flour

Beat until thick and kneadable. Transfer to a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 10 minutes.

Roll dough to 1/2″ thick and cut into circles using a 2 1/2″ round biscuit cutter. Lift the cut doughnuts onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Cover with a tea towel and place in a warm spot to rise for 45 minutes.

(While this is rising make the custard filling.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Pop the doughnuts into the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and cool on rack.

Brush cool donuts with:

  • 1 Tablespoon melted butter

Then roll in:

  • 1/3 cup sugar for coating

Fill with custard. Make a small hole in side of donut. Using a pastry bag, squeeze custard into the side of donut.

Recipe for custard:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup milk, low fat or whole
  • one egg yolk

Instructions:

  1. In a small saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch.
  2. Slowly stir in milk and egg yolk. Bring to a boil at medium high heat. Cook & stir about a minute on low heat. (it thickens more as it cools)
  3. Spread onto a dinner plate and let it stand, undisturbed, to cool thoroughly before using or refrigerate to cool.

As always, Happy Baking!

Propagating Plants

gardening

I have big plans for our backyard. Part of the plan is to plant more lavender (which is doing quite well in our yard) and blue potato bushes (which are relatively low maintenance). Since we already have these in the yard, I decided to try to propagate my own plants from cuttings.

I have been saving large yogurt containers for a little while now with the intention of using them as pots. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the labels came right off and I could write on them with a Sharpie. I also poked holes in the bottoms of the containers with an awl for drainage.

Yogurt containers with awl

Next, a little research in propagation. April through June is a good time to propagate plants. I am in the window of time, early June. I took a cutting just below where the green part of the stem meets the woody part of the stem. Then I striped the leaves, leaving a few at the top and cut off the tips of the plants. Then I poked them into my soil-filled containers and gave them a good watering. I will just have to wait and see if I did this correctly.

Lavender Cutting

If this works, I figure I will be saving myself a little money from not having to purchase new plants. Of course, they will be smaller and take longer to grow, but I can spend the saved money for other things to complete the yard project. I will also have had a little fun trying something new. As always, Happy Gardening!