Saturday, January 29, 2011

Be My Valentine??

I have an enigmatic love for Valentine's Day cards.  I mean, I haven't had a huge number of people to make Valentines for since I was in elementary school.  Yet, every year, I still find myself wildly attracted to all of the new Valentine's Day paper-crafting products available in the stores.  (I'm in love with all of the heart-themed home decorating stuff, too, but that's a whole 'nother blog post.)  And, usually I end up buying a few new things and making waaaaay more Valentine cards than one gal could ever need or use.

As far as this year, let me just say that if you haven't been to Michael's lately, you should definitely go!  They have a fantastic selection of Valentine products out this year, from new paper pads to 3-D embellishments to sparkly rhinestones in pinks and reds.  I went a little bit overboard this year and bought lots of new stuff, so I thought I might as well showcase some of my recent cards here on my blog.

The two cards in the top photo are among my favorites, mostly because I love that green checked paper from K&Co.  It's from a pad of papers designed by Kelly Panacci, and I used the same pad for almost all of the cards featured in today's post.  The green checked paper is already printed with cute swirls and flowers along the sides and bottom of each sheet, so these cards were a simple matter of cutting the paper in an attractive way and adding a few additional embellishments, such as dimensional flowers with sparkly centers and 3-D greeting labels.  Oh, for the card on the left, I used my newest Martha Stewart edge punch.  It's called the Loop Double Edge Deep Edge Punch (say THAT five times in a row!), and I had coveted this great punch for literally months before I actually broke down and bought it.  And now, boy am I glad that I did!  It works great and punches very easily, even through thin cardstock.  It's pretty intricate, so I'm guessing that it won't go through super heavy cardstock, but I'm fine with that. 
 Here are a couple more cards, where I incorporated some of my new purchases with some scraps and older things I had lying around.  The bird stamp is from Michael's as well, it's one of their wood-mounted $1 stamps.  The bird's body makes the shape of a heart, perfect for Valentine's Day!  For this particular image, I stamped with waterprook black ink and used regular old watercolor paints to color it.  I used that edge punch again, too, and gave it a different look by adhering a strip of narrow ribbon right down the center.  Below is a close-up of the 3-D key sentiment on the card on the right.  Oh, and I could get away with the circles of green dotted paper (cut from scraps) because that multi-heart paper actually has some pale green hearts in it, although they are difficult to see in these photos. 

Above are a couple more cards that feature mostly my new supplies, although the puffy heart embellishments on the card on the right are actually from my stash.  The package has some crazy colors of hearts in it, so up til now, I hadn't used too many of them.  But, as it turns out, they go great with some of the papers in my new Kelly Panacci pad.

For whatever reason, I am still loving banners and flags on both cards and scrapbook pages.  I suppose they've been done to death, but I'll confess that I'm not tired of them yet.  I saw the basic design for the card on the right in the January/February issue of Paper Crafts magazine, and what caught my eye was that the flags were different shapes and sizes.  So I played around with the design a bit and came up with these two cards.  The sparkly flowers are Jolee's, and they are currently one of my favorite card embellishments.  They seem to go with everything!  Oh, and the red rick-rack is a leftover bit from a sewing project that I'm currently working on.  I hope to show the finished item here on my blog very soon.  

So, let me know.  Are you as crazy about as Valentine's Day as I am?  In parting, I'll tell you one thing that I do that actually helps me use all of the Valentines that I make almost every year.  I don't stamp or print any sentiment on the INSIDES of my cards.  Instead, I leave the insides blank, so they're more like notecards.  I have a couple of people in my life that I send snail mail to on a regular basis, and making my Valentines into notecards allows me to get a lot more use out of them.  And since I'm trying to be more frugal these days, along with everyone else, that makes me happy. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Too Much Chocolate Cake

Hmmm, I probably shouldn't be posting a chocolate cake recipe in mid-January, should I?  I mean, everyone is trying to lose weight and get healthy, and all of that.  Ok, so maybe this isn't the best timing, but the next time you NEED to make a chocolate cake for some occasion (like, maybe, Valentine's Day?), I highly recommend this one.  It's truly delicious and the name says it all.

Too Much Chocolate Cake

1 package devil's food cake mix
1 6 oz. package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups mini semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, mix together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, beaten eggs, and water.  Stir in the chocolate chips and pour batter into a well-greased 12-cup bundt pan.  Bake for 50-55 minutes, until top is springy to the touch and a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool cake thoroughly in the pan for at least an hour and a half before inverting onto a plate.  Glaze with Satiny Chocolate Glaze.

Satiny Chocolate Glaze:  In a double boiler over hot, but not boiling water, combine 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, 3 T. butter and 1 T. light corn syrup.  Stir until chips are melted and mixture is smooth, then add 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract.  Let glaze cool a bit until it has thickened, but is still warm.  Spread warm glaze over top of cake, letting it dribble down the sides.

I love bundt cakes (even though they are kind of dated) because they are easy to tote to another location, and they are super easy to slice.  Thus, they are the perfect type of cake to take to a work celebration.  Now, truthfully, you can use any good glaze recipe for this cake, you don't have to use the recipe that I gave.  In fact, this cake would be delicious with a different flavor of glaze, such as vanilla or raspberry.  Notice how, in these photos, the glaze has dripped perfectly down the sides of the cake, stopping before it made messy puddles on the cake plate.  There is a trick to getting glaze to do that.  The trick is that the glaze has to be fairly thick when you put it on.  Remember that it's going to be dripping down a surface that's close to vertical, so you want whatever glaze you make you to be just thin enough that it will drip somewhat, but not so thin that it will make it the whole way down the side of the cake.  Experiment with one section of cake, and if the glaze isn't thick enough, either wait til it has cooled a little more, or if you are making a glaze that uses confectioner's sugar, simply add more sugar to make the glaze thicker.

I like to top the cake with chocolate sprinkles (as I did here), chopped nuts, or something along those lines.  Again, not completely necessary, but it really adds a nice, finished look to the cake.

If you'd like, you can serve this cake with fresh berries, such as raspberries or sliced fresh strawberries.  Because this cake is sooooo chocolaty, the fruit makes a nice contrast in taste and texture.  But, however you serve it, enjoy!  And no, you don't have to tell anyone that this fabulous recipe starts with a BOXED cake mix!  Oh, I should probably add that this recipe originally came from, which is one of my favorite recipe sites ever.  If you haven't ever checked them out, I highly recommend that you do.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rag Quilt for My Dad

 First of all, Happy New Year! I was pretty bad last year with keeping up with this blog, and my NY "resolution" is to try to do a better job with that in 2011!  I actually really like blogging and showing projects and how-to's and recipes, I just don't have a good handle on fitting blogging time into my schedule.  So that's what I'm going to work on in the new year.  That being said, for my first post of the new year, I thought I would show off the rag quilt that I made my dad for Christmas.  I really wanted to do more homemade gifts this Christmas, and I've actually had it in mind to make my dad a rag quilt for more than a year.  In fact, I bought the fabric right after Thanksgiving LAST year (in 2009), and just never got around to doing anything with it then.

To begin with, a rag quilt is really just a blanket made of three layers of flannel blocks that are sewn together with the seams on the OUTSIDE.  After all of the seams are sewn, you clip all of the seam allowances with special clippers.  Then when you wash the quilt, the seams allowances "rag" and they develop a wavy, soft, comfy look.  The HUGE advantage of a rag quilt is that it isn't anything like a traditional quilt, so it goes together in a very short period of time.  There are lots of people on the internet who say that they can make one in a weekend.  For me, that would be pretty ambitious, but it's true that these quilts are relatively fast projects.

I got interested in making a rag quilt after reading this blog post:  Rag Quilt  If you Google "rag quilt," you can find all kinds of pictures and posts and videos.  But, what I really loved about the blog post that I linked is that it gives MEASUREMENTS and ACTUAL DIRECTIONS.  Most posts give information about making a rag quilt, but they don't give specifics.  I like specifics.  They make my life easier!  After reading through all of Kelly's fabulous directions and looking at her photos, I decided to just make my quilt using all same-size blocks, instead of making some "4 square" blocks like Kelly did.  My reasoning was just that I wanted to keep things as simple as possible.  I also made my quilt a little larger than the ones that Kelly did, as my dad is a big guy, and I wanted something that he would really find useful.  So, my quilt ended up being made out of 8-1/2" blocks, with 8 rows of 6 blocks.  That's a total of 48 blocks, and since I was using three different prints, that's 16 blocks of each print for the front of the quilt.  The "middle" layer of the quilt I made out of white flannel, and the back (which is visible in the photo above) is a pale blue.

Here's a photo of my flannel squares all stacked up, after I was finished cutting:

And here is a close-up of the three fabrics that I chose.  Now tell me that that skiing moose fabric isn't the cutest thing you've ever seen!  One word of advice -- I chose a stripe (the moose) and a very "even" pattern (the red snowflake print) as two of my fabrics, and that probably wasn't the best idea for a novice like me.  The reason is that when you cut the fabric, it's easy for it to get off-grain just a little bit.  While those small variances wouldn't be noticeable in a small, all-over print, they are noticeable with plaids, stripes, and the like.  I did have this problem to some degree -- some of the red snowflakes squares are "off" just a little.  But, I decided to just not worry about it and maybe do a more careful job of picking prints next time.

As I said, you can read Kelly's blog for complete instructions on cutting and sewing a rag quilt.  She gives some tips along that way that are very helpful, too.  For example, it's definitely worth it to buy special "nippers" to clip the seam allowances, rather than using regular scissors.  The nippers are spring loaded, so they are MUCH easier on your hands and wrists.  These were a necessity for me, as I have arthritis in both my hands, but I'd recommend them for everyone.  They were around $20 at Jo-Ann's, and I used a 50% off coupon, so the nippers were less than $10.  Totally worth it. 

The other thing that is really, really helpful when doing a rag quilt is using a "walking foot" to sew the seams.  I resisted this idea, until I saw what a walking foot really does.  It helps keep all of the layers of fabric together as they are sewn together by the sewing machine.  That sounds like a small thing, but when you are sewing two blocks of a rag quilt together, you are sewing SIX LAYERS of flannel together!  Without a walking foot, it will be hard, if not impossible, for all those layers to feed into the machine evenly.  I have a Kenmore sewing machine, and I found a walking foot for it right at my local Sears store.  In fact, for $30, I got a boxed assortment of different feet for particular tasks.  Again, totally worth it.  If you can't find a walking foot for your exact sewing machine model, they do make generic ones, but I can't speak to how well those may work.  The big secret for me with the walking foot was to GO SLOW.  I got the best results when I sewed my seams slowly and carefully. 

Ok, last photo.  This is a picture of what the "ragged" seams look like when the whole quilt is finished and has been washed.

See how the seams get kind of wavy and raggy-looking?  Really a cute look!  Oh, one last comment.  Most people (including Kelly, I think) will tell you NOT to wash your fabrics before you cut, because you will get the best results with "ragging" when you have unwashed fabrics in the finished quilt.  I somehow didn't read this advice, and I washed everything before cutting my square.  I was worried about the flannel shrinking too much and I wanted to know the real size that my quilt was going to end up being.  I have to say that I don't think it probably made that much difference that I washed the fabrics first.  The clipped seam allowances still frayed and ragged beautifully.  So, I'd say to do whatever you feel most comfortable with as far as washing your fabrics first.  I think your quilt will come out fine either way.

So, the final bit of this story is that my dad LOVED his quilt!  My dad is at that age where he is very, very hard to buy gifts for.  He doesn't really go anywhere, and he leads a quiet life.  He lives far away from me, so it's not like I can take him to dinner or do personal things with him.  So all of the types of gifts I used to get him when he was younger just aren't good choices anymore.  I confess that I really wasn't sure how well the rag quilt would go over.  But, Dad told me that he likes to take a nap every afternoon, and he had been thinking that he needed to get a warmer blanket to throw across his legs when he napped.  Well, problem solved!  There's not much warmer than three layers of cuddly flannel!

Bottom line -- this is a pretty easy project and you end up with a GREAT finished piece, with big impact.  You do have to take your time when cutting the blocks and also sewing, but the end result is worth it.  I bought a TON of flannel and Jo-Ann's Black Friday sale this year, and I'm planning on whipping up a few more of these quilts to give as gifts next Christmas!