D-I-Y cookie stamps and pleated cookie wrapping

November 28, 2010 § 21 Comments

It’s that wonderful time of year when our regular household kitchens are converted ad hoc into ambitious cookie factories.  Over the years, you’ve probably collected an extensive inventory of cookie-making gadgets and supplies, all of which have eaten through a bit of your holiday budget.  This holiday season, instead of heading out to the store for another investment (five dollars here and there do add up), you can design and make your own cookie stamps to emboss your sugar cookies.  They’re absolutely inexpensive to make and add a special touch to your creations.   Then wrap your beautifully embossed sugar cookies in beautifully pleated packages.

I often work backwards when creating most of my favors, as I did for this project.  I found this striking holly berry-printed tissue paper first, before it became the inspiration for the theme of my cookie stamps.  This project is also very suitable for making monogrammed cookies, for a more personal touch.

To make your reusable cookie stamps, you will need an old plastic cutting sheet that you will no longer use, a pencil, a sharp X-Acto knife, a pair of scissors, and a cutting mat.

1.  Using  a pair of scissors, cut your plastic sheet into a circle.  The size depends on the cookie cutter you will be using to cut the cookies.  If you would like an embossed border around the perimeter of your cookie, cut the circle smaller than the size of your cookie cutter.  Draw your desired image with a pencil.

2. Take a sharp X-Acto knife and cut an opening in your image, then slide in a pair of scissors and cut the image.

3. Thoroughly wash and dry your cookie stamps and it’s time for stamping!

4. Take your favorite sugar cookie recipe.  Press the stamp onto the rolled cookie dough with your fingers.  You can use the tip of a knife to lift the stamp off the cookie.

5. Cut the cookies with a cookie cutter and you’re ready to bake!

For beautifully wrapped cookies, you will need tissue paper, printed labels, and tape.  Buying circle labels can be expensive, so if you already have a circle punch at home (as I do), simply print your label design on a regular sheet of paper, punch into circles, and adhere with tape.

1. Layer two sheets of tissue paper and cut into a circle about three times the diameter of your cookies.  Stack the cookies in the center.

2. Fold and pleat the tissue paper all the way around the cookies.

3. Adhere your label.

May all your days of cookie-making and cookie-giving be merry and bright!

peppermint favor boxes

November 27, 2010 § 6 Comments

As I mentioned in a post almost two weeks ago, I was preparing favor boxes for the fundraiser, Music + Kids = Joy! on Saturday, November 20th.  For this year’s event, I designed these tempting peppermint favor boxes, which I filled with some of my delicious peppermint candy cane Po’ Boy Truffles.  These charming packages are also perfect for any homemade peppermint bark or candy cane shortbread.

They are uncomplicated and extremely cheap, each requiring only two styrofoam bowls and some strips of red electrical tape.  You can get a package of 50 styrofoam bowls for about $2 at grocery stores and a spool of red electrical tape for less than $1 at hardware stores.  That means, for a total $3, you can make 25 of these adorably cute boxes!

1. Take two styrofoam bowls and cut off the rim.  With your scissors, you can follow the innermost ridge on the rim of the bowl to ensure the circle is cut evenly.

2. Fill one bowl with treats and top with the second bowl as a lid.  Tape closed with strips of red electrical tape at four quadrants of the bowl.

3. Cut narrow strips of red electrical tape (you can divide the tape into three equal widths).  Tape a narrow strip in the middle of each quadrant.

Here’s a handy assembly tip: I measured the length of the curve of the bowl and multiplied that by two to get the full length of each strip.  Then, I measured and cut all the strips.  To make the narrow strips, I placed pre-cut lengths on a cutting mat and cut each lengthwise into three equal widths.  All of my strips were ready before applying them to the bowls.  When I create favor boxes in huge quantities, I often embody a one-woman revolving assembly line.

turkish delights

November 26, 2010 § 2 Comments

Well, with all the talk of turkey this American Thanksgiving weekend, I am reminded of the hearty food adventures that filled my time and tummy while in Turkey over the summer.  In Istanbul, you will find food along every street and at every corner of the city.  Turkey’s gastronomic spread is wide, with the flavors of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and East Asian in their dishes.  Comparing with my firsthand food adventures in Italy, I have to bestow, without reservation, the title of “Food Mecca” to Istanbul.

Of course, I will begin the adventure with legendary Turkish delights, which gained their worldwide claim to fame by the endorsement of the witch in Chronicles of Narnia.  The Turkish delights often found tough and stale on North American grocery shelves are no justice to the real stuff found on the streets of Turkey.  I bought slices off a tall tower of delights at the Spice Bazaar (left picture).  They come in all sorts of flavors with all sorts of nuts.  I especially love the ones with hazelnuts and pistachios.

My absolute favorite discovery in Turkey is Turkish ice cream, also called Maraş dondurma.  It is found in food carts, served eagerly by jovial young Turkish men, paddle in hand and fez on head.  And it’s also found in tubs at the grocery stores.  It is what I always wished gelato could be — chewy.  It’s the most peculiar and most delicious scoop of ice cream I’ve ever had.  I can best describe it as this: it’s as though ice cream and Japanese mochi melted together into a fateful concoction and got reconstituted in a frozen state of inseparability.  When you have a bite, the ice cream stretches as mochi would, but still maintains the texture of ice cream.  Odd, but so, so, so good.

Then, there is syrupy-sweet baklava.  It’s a heavy debate where baklava originated.  Some stand true that baklava is a Turkish creation.  Others believe it is Greek or Arabic in origin.

If I could make a few suggestions on the dishes to try in Istanbul, I would exclaim: FISH.  Istanbul is situated along the Bosphorus Strait, flanked by the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara.  There is nothing there as ubiquitous as fish, which come fresh out of the sea and are both inexpensive and delicious.

1. There are anchored boats lining the strait that sell and cook fish.

2. You can buy a dish of fish from a boat and eat in a covered patio along the water.

3. Fish markets are as plenty as fruit markets.

4. I had a grilled fish sandwich from a food cart.  It was even better than I expected.

5. There are many varieties of bass available.  The Turks often pan-fry their fish, which is exactly how I like my fish prepared.

Let’s not forget Turkish coffee.  It is nothing like café Americano.  And it makes Italian espresso taste mild.  Turkish coffee is strong and thick.  The coffee grinds are served in an espress0-size cup and eventually settle to the bottom.  Tasseology is customary in Turkey, when the coffee grinds are read as a fortune.

Ah, street food.  Food carts and stalls galore!  And some of the carts in Istanbul are the most stunningly decorated carts I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

6. I had a simit (Turkish sesame bread, similar to bagel) from a food vendor just outside of the Hagia Sofia.

7. A cart of pickles, for snacking, and pickle juices, for drinking.  Drinking pickle juice was my least favorite experience in Istanbul, though certainly one of the most memorable.

8. Roasted chestnut cart.

9. A stall selling skewered deep fried mussels.  They are to-die-for (hopefully not by a heart attack).

10. Doner is Turkey’s version of shawarma.  I eat this so often in Toronto, but it wouldn’t have been a complete trip to Istanbul without one.

And lastly, the wafer helva sold on streets.  These are oversize wafers sandwiched together with a sweet cream filling.  They are children’s treats.  One would assume the street furnishings are for children, too, but those miniature chairs and tables are used by adults during tea time, which is all the time in Turkey.

Looking back, I think the name “Turkish delight” can be used for just about any type of food found in dazzling, delightful Turkey.

enchanting lace wreath

November 24, 2010 § 2 Comments

For at least two years, we’ve watched the runways and discovered lace isn’t just a phenomenon in grandmother’s closet.  It is the one trend that manages to be classic, romantic, edgy, and modern all at once.

For this enchanting wreath project, I molded an inexpensive large lace doily (those, also, are not only from grandmother’s time).  Unlike me, if you crochet, you can create your own one-of-a-kind lace design.

You will need:

A large 14″ red lace doily, a long balloon or a 10″ Styrofoam wreath (I was resourceful and used a balloon as I had plenty left over from my Halloween balloon body parts project), a small disposable bowl, white glue, and black satin ribbon.

1. Inflate balloon and tie the ends to create a wreath shape.

2. Cut the center out of the doily.

3. Mix about 1/4 c white glue and 1/4 c water in a bowl and dip the doily until it absorbs all of the glue mixture.

4. Carefully arrange the doily on the balloon.  Let dry for at least 2 hours.

5. Turn over and remove the balloon.  Either way, you can display the wreath with the concave side out (as shown in this picture) or convex side out (as shown in the main picture).  Finish with a dramatic black satin bow.

I got four doilies in a pack from Dollarama.  I think I can afford to make one for every room inside the house!

smoked oyster ricotta in cracker cups

November 23, 2010 § 3 Comments

It was only two years ago that I was introduced to canned smoked oysters by a friend at a New Year’s party.  I say better late than never!  Canned smoked oysters make for some sophisticated appetizers without so much a sophisticated price.  You can find them on the shelf beside the sardines and tuna at the grocery store and won’t break the bank at less than $2 a can.  When I had them at the party two years ago, they were served directly out of the can onto crackers, drizzled with a bit of the oil out of the can, and some cilantro.  I loved it the way it was, but I also wanted to make something quite different and a little more elaborate to call my own.

I made a mixture of processed smoked oysters, ricotta, and lemon juice, piped into homemade whole wheat mini cracker cups lined with a couple of leaves of cilantro.

mini cracker cups:

1 c hot water

1/4 c butter

2 c whole wheat flour

1 tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

yields 6 dozen

Combine the water and butter until butter has melted.  In a separate bowl, combine whole wheat flour, sugar, and salt.  Add the water/butter mixture to the flour mixture slowly mixing with a wooden spoon until it forms a dough.  Add additional flour by the tablespoon if the dough is sticky.  Divide the dough in 3 parts and cover with a damp towel.  Take the first part and roll on a floured surface until very thin (less than 1/8″).  Cut into circles using a 3″ circle cookie cutter.  Place the circles in a non-stick mini-muffin pan.  Each third of the dough will make 24 mini muffin cups.  Repeat for the other two thirds of the dough.  Bake at 400°F for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown.

smoked oyster ricotta:

2 85g or 3 oz cans of smoked oysters

1 c ricotta

1 lemon, juiced

1/4 tsp salt

cilantro leaves, washed and dried with a paper towel

Process the oysters including the oil until it turns to a paste.  In a bowl, mix the ricotta with lemon juice and add the processed smoked oysters.  Add salt.

Take your cracker cups and line with two or three leaves of cilantro.  This will bring a depth of flavor to the recipe, as well as act as a barrier between the smoked oyster ricotta and cracker so that the cracker does not become soggy.  Spoon some of the smoked oyster ricotta mixture into a piping bag and pipe into the crackers.  Enjoy!

decorative pine cone using paper recyclables

November 22, 2010 § 4 Comments

About two weeks ago, I was approached by Reena, the owner of eco-artware.com, requesting my permission to feature my butternut squashes on the eco-artware-notes blog site for this week of Thanksgiving.  I was very flattered.  Thank you, Reena.  Eco-artware has some of the most wonderful sustainable art and décor you could find online, and a long list of very intriguing, creative artists and environmental advocates.  With all my wonder came guilt.  I often craft without bringing to mind the impact my work makes on the environment, especially with my significant use of paper.  The topic of sustainability was an emphasis in my architecture training, and today, I am reminded and shamed of how little it’s been in my consciousness in recent years.  I hope to get some reprieve for the less ecological crafts I’ve made and will be making in the future.  Today, I want to take a greener approach to a fun holiday craft: making a large decorative pine cone out of paper recyclables.

This summer, I had my first encounter with giant sequoia trees while hiking in Tuolumne Grove in Yosemite.   O.T. and I took the time to scour the grounds for the most handsome fallen giant cones to take home.  It occurred to me that since my “real” home is Toronto and not San Jose, I would require a clean pass through customs.  I would never risk consequential penalties with the law for a couple of mammoth cones, so I let the experience of these amusing novelties remain south of the border.  There are no sequoia trees anywhere near Toronto, so a homemade version will do.  *Edit: I thought O.T. and I had picked up sequoia cones, but as Suzi commented, these are in fact sugar pine cones.  Thanks, Suzi!

For this project, I repurposed a used paper towel core cut to about 7″ long and a few kraft paper bags.

1. Cut strips of the kraft paper bags in decreasing size, from about 8″ wide to 2″ wide.  They don’t have to be exact.  Fold each strip in half so that the print is hidden inside.  You will have folded strips about 4″ wide to 1″ wide.

2. Cut each strip into several slices, each being no more than 2″ wide.  Continue for all the strips, each time getting narrower, but no less than 1″ wide.

3. Fold each piece in half, and cut a curve on the open side.

4. Open each piece and cut a slit from the bottom, up to about 1″.

5.  With the crease facing upwards, fold the bottom sides up with a slight angle away from the crease.

6. Slit your paper towel core in four quadrants and tape the sides to form a peak.

7. Start taping the pieces to the paper towel core, starting from the peak of the paper towel core, and using the smallest pieces first.

8. Continue adhering all the strips, working towards the widest pieces, until you reach the bottom.

9. Once you reach the bottom, tuck and tape the last pieces into the paper towel core.

I decided to use my 7″ wide hurricane vase to display my giant paper sugar pine cone, but it’s up to you to place it wherever you feel it brings life to a room!

advent calendar: lego-inspired stackable treat boxes

November 19, 2010 § 48 Comments

Did I ever say how much I lovvvvve designing and making boxes?  I hope that it shows in the harvest candy corn and itsy bitsy spider treat boxes that I’ve done previously.  For my advent calendar, I summoned my inner child (as I do for most things) and was subjected to the most amusing time I’ve ever had making treat boxes (thus far, anyway). I can’t wait to start counting down to Christmas!

I admit, I sat on this idea for two weeks before lifting a finger in attempts at creating it.   All I had was a very vague, incalculable vision: Lego + treat boxes = nifty advent calendar.   But how?  I knew if I were to make Lego-like boxes, they’d have to be pretty darn functional — it would be an affront to Lego if these imitative boxes couldn’t work as carefully as their real Lego counterparts.  And it would also be a dirty waste to make them without any aim or purpose.  It became imperative to plan them in such a way that, by Christmas day, there would be a built project to appreciate (not that anyone wouldn’t appreciate a treat box daily for the duration of nearly one month, but I know it would be more rewarding if the boxes were constructed to create something joyful and in the spirit of Christmas.

So, for the first time, I was overwhelmed with the thought of boxes.  Many boxes.  To be exact, twenty-five boxes.  Boxes that have little nibs that fit through little nib-size holes with unforgiving mathematic precision.  I sketched it out, scratched it over, and sketched it out again.  It turns out twenty-five of these cute little things can make for a pretty festive Christmas tree wall, with the last and only yellow piece appropriately placed as the star on Christmas day.  So my adventure proceeded.

To recreate this harder-than-it-looks project (don’t say I didn’t warn you!), you will need: card stock in red, green, white, and yellow, foam sheets in red, green, white, and yellow, 1/4″ hole punch, white glue, double-sided tape, and of course templates for the boxes which I am happy to provide here.  Print the boxes in the following quantities: three 3″ red, three 2″ red, three 1″ red, four 3″ green, two 2″ green, three 1″ green, two 3″ white, two 2″ white, two 1″ white, and one 1″ yellow.

1. Using a 1/4″ hole punch, punch the foam sheets to make pieces in the following quantities: 216 red, 228 green, 144 white, and 12 yellow.  That sums up to an even 600 punches.  Yipee!

2. Glue together 3 punched foam circles of the same color to form a stack.  These will be the nibs.  In the end you will have stacks in the following quantities: 72 red, 76 green, 48 white, and 4 yellow.  Set aside.

3. Using a 1/4″ hole punch, accurately punch the holes on the bottom of the boxes.

4. Slowly insert a pencil through each hole to expand it.  This will allow the nibs to fit through with ease.  There’s a total of 200 holes in this project, believe it or not!

5. Adhere double-sided tape on the tab of each box.

6. Fold each box.  There are only 25, so it doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?

7. Dip the nibs in glue one by one and accurately place in the faintly outlined circles on the top of each box, in corresponding color.  200 nibs to go and you’re done!

You have some long eleven days to complete this project by December 1st!  Happy box-making!

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