Saturday, July 12, 2014

Wedding Cake 101: Introduction

Wedding Cake 101:

So You Want to Make a Wedding Cake...


I would just like to take a moment to acknowledge that about a month ago, this happened:
And this:
And this, too!
About two months ago, I was "voluntold"/asked to make a cake for an acquaintance.  I think the only reason she asked is because her family member who had agreed to make her cake backed out and she knew that I like to cook. But cooking a great dinner and single-handedly creating a wedding cake to feed 150 people are a little different. Now, I know that these cakes are far from perfect, but the reason I want to bring attention to them is because I AM NOT A BAKER... nor am I a cake decorator... and I rarely even eat cake!  But, the important part is that if I can do this, so can you!
And why would you want to be able to make a wedding cake?  Well, for starters, to purchase the baking and decorating supplies for these cakes, it cost right around $250... which is insanely cheap for a semi-professional cake along with 3 dozen gluten-free cupcakes. Every bride deserves a great wedding cake, regardless of their budget.  Whether you make the cake for yourself, a friend, or family member, it can definitely be a great option for many.  Plus, the pride associated with it is a wonderful plus!
I spent a lot of time researching the best methods for creating the cake... from frosting to construction. There is tons of information out there available to you, and many of them may be better than my suggestions because, again, I am by no means a professional.  I encourage you to do your research before you take on the endeavor.  Being prepared is the only thing that got me through and helped everything turn out as well as it did. 
One of the problems I experienced was that while the information is available, you have to search it out and piece it all together. Unfortunately, most of it is not all sitting in one convenient location. So, to help the beginner cake makers out there, I will be posting on several different topics to guide you through your first cake:
- Necessary and helpful supplies
- How to accomplish an ombre frosting technique
- How to construct the cake
- How to make simple gumpaste flowers
Check back soon for more in this series!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Make your own Sushi in Five Easy Steps!

I love sushi!  However, I have always been very intimidated by the sushi-making process.  It seemed like the food equivalent of painting a masterpiece.... and I am not a very good painter!

So, for a fun girls' night activity, we summoned our courage and decided that we would make our own sushi.  The results surprised us all!  Not only did it LOOK like sushi, but it TASTED like sushi as well!  It was delicious actually!  And the best part:  It was really simple to make! It was so simple that I can see this becoming a regular meal!

So, grab your chopsticks and let's get started!

 Ingredients you will need:
- Nori (Seaweed sheets)
- Sushi Rice or Sticky Rice (We were very intimidated by the process to make sushi rice, so we bought microwavable sticky rice from Annie Chunn - "Annie Chun's Rice Express White Sticky Rice" - it was fast and worked amazingly well!)
- Vegetables of Choice: Carrots, Avocado, Green Onion, Mushroom, Cucumber, etc!
- Crab Substitute: Again, totally intimidated by real raw fish!  If you decide to be brave, be sure to buy high-quality sushi-grade fish.
- Cream Cheese
- Bamboo Rolling Mat (we used dollar store reed place mats. If you don't have any, don't worry - I tried rolling the sushi without a mat and it worked just fine!)
- Soy Sauce and Wasabi for dipping

We popped our rice into the microwave and once it was done microwaving, we mixed in a little rice vinegar and sugar, then placed it in the fridge to cool.  While it cools, you can chop all your veggies into long thin strips.

Now that you have everything chopped and your rice has had time to cool down a little, it is time to start assembling your sushi roll!  Lay your Nori on a flat surface or your bamboo rolling mat.  Begin by getting your fingers wet with cold water and spreading a layer of rice over the Nori.  The water will help you be able to spread the rice without it sticking to your fingertips. Once the rice is spread out, add your other ingredients.  Keep them clustered on one end of the Nori (see the picture above).

Roll everything up!  Start at the end with the veggies.  If you are using a rolling mat, lift the edge of the mat and begin slowly rolling. As you go, roll the extra mat back towards yourself in the opposite direction of the sushi roll (see picture).  If you are not using a rolling mat, slowly lift the edge of the Nori and roll it over onto itself.  Continue to roll until you reach the end of the Nori.  Wet your fingers and use the water to seal the edge of the Nori to the roll.

Move your sushi roll to your serving plate. Use a sharp knife to cut the sushi roll into slices about one inch thick. You may need to use the point of the knife to begin the cut into the Nori.  Cut gently so that you don't end up with a squished sushi roll!  Arrange the slices on your plate and ENJOY!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Welcome 2014 with FREE New Year's Printables!

To all my readers, I can't express how much I have appreciated your support in 2013. To ring in 2014, I have created two new printables for my readers!  And they are absolutely FREE for you! 

"Best of 2013" Printable
Use the "Best of 2013" printable to remember all your favorite moments from 2013.  You can use this printable to reminisce over the past year, or turn it into a fun activity for the entire family.  You can print a copy for each family member and set a kitchen timer for 15 minutes.  Write as many great memories as you can in the time limit.  When the timer goes off, take turns sharing your favorite memories with each other.

"This is the Year" Printable
Use the "This is the Year" printable to dream about your goals and ambitions for the New Year.  Think about and share the attitudes that you will choose for the new year and what you will do to make it the best year yet! Write down your top three goals and a personal motto for the year.  You can frame the printable, decorate the frame, and place it in a spot where you will see it often throughout the year as a reminder of your goals and intentions!

I have had so much fun in 2013 creating this blog and sharing my creations with you all.  I hope it has sparked a bit of joy in your life as well!  I can't wait for all the wonderful things that 2014 will bring!

Cheers to you and happy New Year!

**These printables are for private use only. Feel free to use, share and re-post, but please re-post using the link to this blog page rather than linking directly to the PDF file.** 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Elf Coupons - Free Printable!

The Elf on the Shelf tradition has quickly become a favorite in many households! If your little ones have been extra good this year, the elf may want to leave them a little treat!  I created these Elf Coupons as a fun way to reward that great behavior by having a special coupon they can redeem for a fun Christmas activity.  The best part of the Elf Coupons is that it focuses on enjoying the Christmas season instead of getting things.  Plus, there are tons of fun and free activities you can do with your little ones to celebrate the season! I hope your family enjoys the Elf Coupons as much as I enjoyed creating them.

Merry Christmas!

Click Here to get your free printable!
**This download is for private use only. Feel free to use, share and re-post, but please re-post using the link to this blog page rather than linking directly to the PDF file.**

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Why I have the Ugliest Christmas Star

I have the world’s ugliest tree topper… And here’s why.

I love Christmas.  And I especially love decorating.  Everything looks so magical through the twinkle and glow of lights. However, Christmas decorating can be quite a stressful event for me. My type-A personality tends to creep up and often times makes me yell things like “You can’t put that garland there!” or “That ornament doesn’t match the theme!”

However, there is one Christmas decoration that graces our home every year that can be described completely and unabashedly hideous.  It doesn’t match any theme… it wasn’t handmade with love… it’s not a keepsake passed down from generations.  It is a Christmas star tree topper adorned with gaudy tinsel and plastic lights.  When the star is lit up, it glows like a beacon… there is no way to avoid noticing this little treasure. There was a poor attempt made to tear the price tag off the box it came in and what is left of the tag reveals that the tree topper is from the high-end luxury store, Family Dollar.

Despite the star’s obvious shortcomings, I can’t help but smile every year as I unpack the star from the box of Christmas decorations.  And I know that when the day comes that the little star stops working, I probably still won’t be able to part with it.

Several years ago, I was working at an after-school program for low-income and at-risk youth.  The community center that the program was held at was in a public housing apartment complex that primarily housed refugees.  This particular community center was the red-headed step-child of the community center family compared to its modern and well-funded counterparts.  It was nothing more than a large room with a sink, two fold out tables, and two archaic computers.  But that room became much more when everyone came together in it.

On Christmas Eve, a group of children came bouncing into the community center, yelling in Turkish and African accents, “Teacher! We got you present! We got you present!” They produced a poorly wrapped box and stood beaming from ear to ear as I unwrapped it.  The ugly star was staring back at me.  But as I looked up, I saw the faces behind the gift.  Their grins were uncontainable.  These children had nothing.  I can only imagine the excitement as they all pooled their little collections of coins and dollar bills and proudly marched into the dollar store to purchase their prize.

Every time I unpack that star and look at it, I don’t see the cheap plastic holding it together or the flashy gold tinsel, I see the contagious joy in the faces of those children that I was blessed to spend a year getting to know… those children that I will never forget.

And that is why, long after the star stops shining, I will continue to cherish it.  The star is a symbol of a lesson I learned from a roomful of children with ragged clothes and broken English. A lesson about the joy of giving and the humbleness of receiving.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

DIY Photo Christmas Cards on a Dime

I love the look of photo Christmas cards.  I always have so much fun searching the photo printing websites for the perfect one and waiting anxiously for them to arrive.  I found the perfect card that I couldn't wait to order.  Unfortunately the design I fell in love with was going to cost over $2.00 per card for the forty cards I needed. Sigh....

I searched a bunch of printing companies for a more affordable option, but I just couldn't find another design that I could really fall for.  Finally, I gave up and fiddled with the idea of just printing photos and making my own cards.  While looking into this option, I realized that I could have 5x7's printed for as little as $0.18 per photo!  Music to my ears!

So this year, I created my own photo cards that are original, beautiful, and affordable! And you can create your own too!  And no need for pricey photo-editing software!  In this tutorial, I will show you how to use Microsoft PowerPoint to create beautiful photo Christmas cards in twelve steps!

Keep in mind that different versions of PowerPoint will have slightly different settings or button locations, but all the basic functions will be the same no matter which version you are using.  I used Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 version… because, again, we have a shoestring budget and definitely don’t have the newest and greatest technology at our fingertips.  But the good news is this: You don’t always need the newest and greatest!  You can use what you have and create a masterpiece! 

12 Easy Steps to Create Your Photo Christmas Card:

Step One- Strike a pose and then download your picture to your computer.  Save it in your pictures folder on your computer
Step Two- Open Microsoft PowerPoint.
Step Three- Delete any pre-existing text boxes that may be on the slide.

Step Four- Insert your Picture: 
1. Select the “Insert” tab
2. Click “Picture” to add a picture from a file on your computer.

Step Five- Select Picture from Computer File
Select the picture from your My Pictures file and click “Insert”.  The picture should now be inserted into your PowerPoint slide.
Step Six- Explore the Picture Format Tab:   
Select the picture by clicking on it and then click the “Format” tab.  The tools available in this tab allow you to edit and change your photo.  Take a few moments to explore the options available.  I have highlighted the ones that I used below. 

Step Seven- Edit your Photo: 
Once you feel comfortable with the options available to you in the Format Tab, you can begin editing your photo.  I slightly cropped the edges of my photo and changed the color to a sepia tone.  I also slightly adjusted the contrast to make the twinkle lights in the background “pop”. At this point, my photo looks like this 

Now that the photo is edited, it is time to start creating the card.  This is where your creativity will kick in!  There is so much that you can do depending on the type of card you want.  In this tutorial, I am going to explain the process I used to create my photo card, but please know that the possibilities are endless when it comes to creating your card!
Step Eight- Add Text: 
To add text to your photo, Select the Insert tab and then click on “Text Box” and drag your cursor to create the text box.    

Type your text and then select the size, color and type of front.  For my card, I used four different text boxes. 

Step Nine- Create Layers:
To layer text boxes (or any other item for that matter) right click on the item, and a then select “Bring to Front” from the menu options.   

Step Ten- Group Everything Together: 
Once you have your card created and all the finishing touches made, you will want to group all the items together.  Hold down the control key as you right click on all the text boxes and the picture itself.   

Once all the items on the card are highlighted, let go of the control key and right click on the picture.  Select “Group” and then “Group” again.  Now that all the items are grouped, you will be able to move and re-size the picture and text as one whole piece.

Step Eleven- Size the photo: 
Right click on the photo.  Select “Size and Position”. 

Set the height and width of the picture to a standard printing size such as 4x6 or 5x7.  I set mine to 5x7 for printing purposes. 

Step Twelve- Save the picture: 
Now it is time to save your picture to you My Pictures file on your computer.  Right click on the photo and select “Save As Picture”.   

Select the file you wish to save your photo to.  Name the file.  From the “Save As Type” drop-down menu, select JPEG.  Click Save.

Your photo is now saved as a picture on your computer an you can upload it to any photo printing site.  I used for mine and had them printed as 5x7’s.  I had 40 cards printed for a total cost of only $23!

Merry Christmas and Happy Creating!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Gift Idea: The Christmas Cash Challenge

My parents are evil geniuses.

On Halloween this year, they gave each of their children $150 dollars in cash. And along with the cash came these instructions: 

This is your Christmas gift from us.  You may use it however you want, but you must follow these basic rules: 
  1. The money must be spent on a want, not a need. 
  2. You can buy one thing or you can buy many. 
  3. You can add to the money if you wish, but you must spend the entire amount by Christmas.
  4. You cannot tell anyone what you spend the money on. 
  5. You cannot use the items you purchase until after Christmas. 
  6. Whatever you purchase must be kept a secret and wrapped up to be opened in front of everyone on Christmas Day.   
  7. $25 must be donated to a charity of your choice.

While being handed $150 sounds exciting at first, the truth quickly sets in: As if finding the perfect gift for everyone else wasn’t stressful enough, now I have to find the perfect gift for myself as well!  And my evil genius parents get to sit around enjoying a completely relaxing holiday season without the stress of holiday shopping.  Pure evil genius.  I only wish I had thought had thought of it first.

Let the challenge begin....