Tuesday, November 27, 2012

'tis the season...

Life is even crazier than usual during the holidays.  I'm not sure how much blogging I'll be doing in the upcoming weeks, I'll be pretty busy having fun, but I'll try my best to post a few fun projects.

I've got lots of homemade Christmas gifts in mind.  Here's hoping I'll have time to get them finished in time!

Right now I'm in the midst of getting this house holiday ready.  It looks pretty bad right now, but I'm hoping for a major improvement by the end of the week.

Yesterday I made the big trek to Ikea (with baby in tow) and we came away with some good stuff.  I'm not always a huge ikea fan, but I'm pretty happy with my most recent finds!  I didn't find the battery powered lights that I was after but...

here are the goodies that I did find!

{1} striped wrapping paper ~ this is just too festive to resist.
{2} striped ribbon ~ this looks like a larger version of baker's twine ~ I was so sad that they were almost out.  It might (almost) be worth another trip to ikea.
{3} plain brown wrapping paper ~ my go to for gifts all year ~ I've got some new holiday plans for this paper.
{4} twinkle lights ~ I was on the hunt for the battery powered plain strands which were already sold OUT ~ these little snowflakes are pretty cute too.
{5} tree topper ~ for $1.99, I couldn't pass it up ~ it doesn't quite match my decor, but I've got a couple ideas in mind.
{6} simple red striped kitchen towels ~ you can never have too many kitchen towels + they're festive + they'd be perfect to throw in a hostess gift!
{7} garland ~ I love that this garland is thin ~ It will actually fit on my mantle.
{8} tablecloth ~ vintage looking red and gray stripes ~ might have to keep this out all year. 

I've got a few more stops on my list, but soon enough our house will be ready for a visit from old St. Nick.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

so grateful

I try to remember to be grateful each and every day, but today is the perfect day to reflect.

so thankful for so many things, these are just a few...

my amazing family and friends
my sweet little guy and each day filled with new discoveries
every new adventure with my favorite partner in crime (my hubby)
an inspiring and challenging job
hot coffee first thing in the morning
a cuddly cavalier named jake
rainy days
sunday morning bike rides
my sis (and bff) as my next door neighbor
early bedtimes
long distance calls to Oregon
shared recipes (especially today's apple pie recipe from our favorite Oregon neighbor, Erika)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

smells so good! creating chemical free reed diffusers

I LOVE the smell of the holidays!  I wish my house always smelled like it does it today with a homemade apple pie in the oven.

I used to use air fresheners and scented candles to give me that yummy scent all the time, but now, with all the talk about chemicals, I think I'm done with all of those.  (OK, I just can't get rid of my candles, but I will stick with soy since it's the cleanest burning.)  It seems like EVERYTHING has nasty chemicals in it these days.  I'm constantly trying to avoid BPA, pthalates, etc. etc.  I'm sure we still come in contact with way too much of that stuff, but I do my best to avoid them.

I've searched high and low for scent options that don't contain any pthalates, but they are REALLY hard to find.  It seems that reed diffusers are the best option, but those even have chemicals in the fragrance oil when you purchase them!

So, I set out to make my own and it worked.  The house smells pretty delicious.  They aren't as strong as my old air wick, but I'll trade that for less chemicals in our home.  I was able to purchase the essential oils and rattan diffuser reeds on good old amazon!  The essential oils definitely go a long way.  I plan to use them to create my own cleaning products one of these days too!

Here's how I made my scented reed diffusers:
  • Small vase or glass bottle
  • Mineral oil 
  • Vodka
  • Diffuser reeds
  • Essential oil(s) 
Pour a 1/4 cup of mineral oil into a container (with a lid so you can shake it up), add 2 Tablespoon vodka (this thins the oil so the mixture will travel up the reeds), then add your fragrance and shake it up!
I came up with a spicy wintery scent (think spiced cider) and a fresh fir scent (think Christmas trees).

I kept adding drops here and there to get the right scent, but I think it came out something like this:

winter spice scent
  • 10 drops sweet orange
  • 5 drops ginger
  • 8 drops cinnamon leaf
  • 1 drop nutmeg
fir  scent
  • 5 drops balsam fir
  • 5 drops cedarwood
  • 5 drops juniper berry

I've got the winter spice scent in the kitchen and the living room right now and I'm loving it.  The fir scent is sealed up in a jar until we decorate for christmas (and I've already got some lavender oil ready for spring).  Whenever I want more scent I simply turn the reeds around!

Monday, November 19, 2012

diy: Thanksgiving pillows

I know it's a little late to be decorating for Thanksgiving but...

I came across one lonely old pottery barn drape in the garage and I suddenly HAD to make a couple of pillows out of the soft fabric. 

These were definitely influenced by the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, but they're pretty understated so they could stay out all year.

Now that I know how simple these are to throw together, I think I'll make a few for Christmas too!

Here's what you need to make them:

Fabric (I used that soft old drape)
Iron on paper (I used this kind)
An inkjet printer
A sewing machine or some iron on seam tape

Here's what you do:

Step 1:
Create your "pillow art".
I downloaded a couple of free fonts and just typed up my phrases in Word.  I wanted them larger than the largest possible font size, so I printed them out and enlarged them on my printer.

Step 2:
Print your art on iron on paper.  If you're using words or phrases make sure you flip the image so it doesn't turn out backward. (I was able to just google my printer "Canon MG6220 + reverse image" and quickly figure out how to flip the image).

Step 3:
Cut fabric to size.  I had two 18" pillow forms.  My pillows were pretty floppy so I made the cases on the smaller side so they would fit snugly.  I made envelope style pillow covers  because I'm a total amateur on the sewing machine and I definitely didn't want to deal with a zipper.
For each 18" cover I cut one 19" square (front) and two rectangles 19" x 12" (back).

Step 4:
Iron your image onto the square piece of fabric.  Follow the directions on your iron on paper.  My paper said not to use an ironing board so I just used a wooden bench and it worked great.

Step 5:
Sew the pieces together (or iron if you're not sewing).  Since I used a drape with finished edges, I was able to cut my back pieces so that they already had a hem.  Usually my first step would be to hem one of the longer edges on both back pieces.

Lay the pillow out so it's inside out (your image should be on the inside).  Put a few pins in it to keep it in place.  Sew it up!  I left a about 1/2" from the edge.

Step 6:
Turn it right side out and stuff your pillow into the case.  New pillows!

"Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving"

I'll be making more Christmas pillows soon!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

diy: wooden growth chart

Here's a fun little project that only took me 2 naptimes (or about 4 hours).  I just LOVE all of the growth charts that are currently at Pottery Barn kids, on etsy and all over pinterest, so I decided to go ahead and make my own.  A wooden growth chart is the perfect way to keep track of how incredibly fast our little ones grow (and it doubles as cute wall art).  You can pack em' up and take em' with you if/when you relocate. 

I made one of these for my niece, Mari, a few months ago and I couldn't resist making one for Carson while I was at it.  It was simple and fun.  Now that I know exactly what I'm doing, I'll probably gift them off to a few more of my favorite little ones!

I promised a friend of mine that I would get this tutorial up so she could make one of these too.  As promised, here it is!

Here's what you need:

  • a 1"x6" pine board (I used a 6', but I guess you could go longer depending upon how tall you think your kiddo will be)
  • tape measure
  • pencil
  • painters tape
  • an electric sander and 100 grit sandpaper (or just sandpaper and some elbow grease) 
I happened to have everything I needed in my garage (hmmm...maybe that's why we can't fit our cars in there).

Step 1:
Quickly sand your board.  Just make sure it's not going to give you/your little one any slivers.

Step 2:
Stain the whole board front and back.  Follow the directions on your choice of stain.  Most stains are left on for 10 mins. or so then wiped off.  I used quick drying, so I was on to the next step very quickly.

Step 3:
Measure and tape.  I started with a brown stain stripe at the bottom because I wanted white numbers.  Tape off six inch stripes.

Step 4:
Paint your white stripes.  I used paint + primer and I knew I was going for that distressed look, so it only took one coat.  If you want a more uniform look you may want two coats.

Step 5:
Stencil your numbers.  I carefully did this while my white stripes were drying.  My stenciled numbers were far from perfect.  That's the beauty of a distressed piece!  Little smudges just give it more character.  Truth is, I didn't even tape down my stencils.  I just held them down and dabbed the paint in.  You may want to tape them down for more control.  A couple of them did move slightly on me, but I didn't mind.

Step 6:
Remove all tape and stencils and let dry completely. 

Step 7:
Once completely dry, you're ready to distress to your liking.  Just go to it with your sander (or your sand paper and muscle power)!

I sanded the front and back.  I added a little finishing touch by stamping initials and birthdate with my handy stamp kit.
Step 7:
Seal your artwork.  I used Minwax wipe-on poly.

Final Step:
Add your growth milestones!  You can write directly on the board or I created little hang tags.
For the tags I simply used some paper key tags that I had lying around.  I printed out the date and Carson's height and weight and cut it to fit the tag.  I think it would be just as cute to just write on the tags.  In fact, I might make new ones...
I used mod podge to seal the tags and hung them with tiny little eye screws.

Here's the finished project!  He sure grew a lot in year #1!

Monday, November 12, 2012

pumpkin rosemary risotto

Here's one of my favorite fall recipes!  We've finally got chilly weather here in LA and this made for the perfect Sunday dinner.  Even Carson (the pickiest eater in CA) enjoyed it.

This can be made in a slow cooker (that's the route I took this time) or in a pan like a traditional risotto.  I think you either love the slow cooker or you don't.  I used to be in the don't love it at all camp, but I changed my mind after becoming a parent.  I wish I had time to dote on my risotto but I don't.  So, the slow cooker is a life saver.  If you are one of the lucky ones who can steal away an hour and a half or so to dedicate to this risotto, it's well worth the effort!  But, it's pretty delicious in the slow cooker too...


Pumpkin puree:

1 box/can pumpkin puree (homemade would be great too - 1.5 cups)
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. rosemary (I used a fresh sprig from my garden but I'm sure dried would work)

Pumpkin/squash cubes:

1/2 butternut squash or eating pumpkin (I used a butternut this time)
2 t. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t.  rosemary
pinch of white pepper


3 1/2 C. vegetable stock
2 T. butter
1/2 C. diced onion
1 1/2 C. brown rice (or arborio)
1/2 C. sherry (or any white cooking wine)

1/2 C. freshly grated parmesan cheese (I threw in some extra - maybe 3/4 C. - I like it cheesy)
1/4 C. half and half

salt and pepper to taste

First, prepare your pumpkin puree and squash cubes (I cooked a whole butternut and saved half to make my butternut squash mac n' cheese later this week).

Peel your squash of choice and cube (you can also buy cubed butternut squash all ready to go at Trader Joe's).  Toss with ingredients listed above and and roast at 400 for 25-35 mins. until slightly browned.  OR refrigerate uncooked squash and cook during the last 30 mins. of risotto prep.  (I cooked it first since bedtime get's a little crazy and just gave it an extra five minutes in the slow cooker to heat it up).

Mix your pureed pumpkin with ingredients listed above and set aside (refrigerate if using slow cooker method).

Now for the risotto.  Melt butter in a pan and add onion.  Sautee until lightly browned.  Add rice and sautee for 2 additional minutes.  If you'd prefer to take the easy way out (like I did), here's the slow cooker method:
dump your rice/onion mix, sherry and chicken stock in the slow cooker and cook for 3.5 hours on low or 2 hours on high (may vary with different slow cookers).  After 3.5 hrs. on low or 2 on high add the pumpkin puree and give it another 30 minutes.  (Now's the time to bake that cubed squash if you haven't yet.)  For the final touch, gently stir in the half and half and parmesan, then add the cubed squash.  Garnish with additional rosemary and parmesan.

If you've got the time to do this the traditional way:
add sherry and stir until absorbed, add chicken stock 1 cup at a time while stirring slowly and constantly at a gentle simmer until fully absorbed.  When it's time to add your last 1/2 cup of stock, add the pumpkin puree. (Bake the cubed squash if you haven't done so yet!)  Once it's absorbed add the half and half and parmesan. Lightly stir in the cubed squash and garnish with additional rosemary and parmesan.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

sweet little potatoes

We just returned from a lovely weekend in Mexico.  Congrats to my long time best friend on a beautiful wedding!

The weather was picture perfect, but all that sun made me eager to get back to fall.  Our timing was great, the weather in LA is wonderfully cloudy and I couldn't be happier.  We might even get rain on Friday!

In light of the wet weather, it's the perfect time for me to plant the sweet potato project that Carson and I have been growing.  This is such a fun idea and it all started with a forgotten pantry staple.  Carson loves sweet potatoes, so I'm constantly roasting them up for him.  As some point I let one sit for too long and it started to sprout.  I couldn't stand to trash my little potato so our project began.

I separated the potato into 8 pieces and submerged half of each piece in a glass jar.  I used toothpicks to hold the smaller pieces up and keep them only partially submerged.

This is my sprout 2 weeks into the project

 They grew incredibly fast!  Carson and I loved checking their progress.  As they grew, they doubled as the perfect fall centerpiece.  In fact, I'd do this project again just to have the pretty vines to decorate my table!

I further separated my sprouts into plantable pieces, carefully keeping the the roots in tact, and transferred them out to my raised bed (more about building a raised bed to follow).

Here are the planted sweet potatoes!  Can't wait for the harvest in a couple of months.

This is such a fun and easy project!  If it works out, it will definitely be an annual tradition.  Carson especially loved the planting/digging in the dirt step.  Hopefully I'm creating a little gardener - I could certainly use the help!

A few things to keep in mind:
It takes about 4 months from start to finish to get a sweet potato.
If you want to try this out in colder climates, sweet potatoes sprouts (I think they're technically called slips) must be transplanted after the last frost.  Lucky Southern Californians can grow them all year long!
Sweet potatoes like plenty of water in the beginning, then NO water for the last 3-4 weeks before harvesting.
They're ready to harvest when the leaves start to yellow and fall off.