Friday, March 30, 2012

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Browned Butter and Sage

Did you know that yesterday was 'Gnocchi Day'? Of course, I happen to find out about this just one day late - and one week after I whipped up some delicious, feather-light sweet potato gnocchi. The good news is that we only have to wait one month until it's Gnocchi Day again (lest you begin to think I'm crazy or making all this up, here's the Wikipedia article that proves it...because everyone knows that Wikipedia is the very highest standard in incontrovertible, scholarly proof).

Apparently, in some parts of South America, particularly Argentina and Uruguay, the 29th of every month is Gnocchi Day, or Dia de Ñoquis. You can catch a bit of the backstory here, but the important takeaway is that there's now a dedicated day, every month (well, except most Februarys) when you have full and free license to stuff your face with delicious pillows of potato pasta. As if you needed any excuse!

I've a shared a gnocchi recipe on this blog before - in fact, it was my first-ever homemade gnocchi experience - but this one is a little different: it's made with sweet potatoes. If you want a bit of information about the history of the dish, as well as a very detailed method for creating the perfect gnocchi, I recommend reading that earlier post. I also heartily recommend that recipe for first-time gnocchi makers because it's pretty foolproof and delivers light, airy gnocchi almost every time.

Today's recipe, for me anyway, has been a bit more finicky. In fact, my first try of the original recipe yielded dough much too soft to shape. The gnocchi may have been light, but they were amorphous blobs that fell apart at the slightest touch. I've played with some of the quantities since, and come up with a version that worked well for me - I hope it will for you also.

If you can manage the rolling technique and find the line between overworked and under-floured (the trick is to work and flour the dough as little as possible, to keep it light but still manageable), this recipe yields wonderfully flavorful pillows of perfection. I love the bit of sweetness from the potatoes paired with the savory parmesan, but the flavor of the gnocchi is subtle, so don't drown it in strong sauces. Browned butter and sage is a good choice, as is a light pesto, or just some olive oil and a sprinkling of grated, aged cheese.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring Pea Salad (with Bacon!)

Yesterday I shared a small slice of springtime with my grow-your-own-green-onions tutorial - and today I have a recipe to put them to good use!

I guess you could whip up this light, easy 'salad' any time of year, but for some reason I always associate it with springtime - perhaps because it's often a regular feature of Easter potlucks. In addition to being quick and easy to make, it's also a great way to incorporate peas in your diet (because how often do you cook up a big bowl o' peas?) and also makes a nice change from the usual broccoli salad or coleslaw.

Since Matt was skeptical when I mentioned I'd be making a pea salad, I decided I'd bring this along to a church potluck. Unfortunately, I had to cancel at the last minute, which left us with a big bowlful for just the two of us. I thought I'd be eating pea salad for the rest of my days, but as soon as Matt saw that it included bacon (that's right, BACON!), he was happy to test it out. I think I got maybe two servings before he'd finished the whole thing off - so it's definitely husband approved!

There are endless variations of this recipe - and now that Matt's convinced, I hope to test more of them out -  but this one is pretty darn tasty. Don't be afraid to have a little fun with your mix-ins, just be sure to use frozen peas (they're sweeter than canned, but softer than fresh)...and don't forget the bacon!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pinned There, Done That: Grow Your Own Green Onions!

It's Springtime - and that means lots of green, growing things. To be honest, it's felt like spring for weeks around here, but now that the dogwood tree outside our apartment is in full bloom (it's one of my favorite trees - how lucky am I!), I know that the warm, sunny days and increasingly temperate evenings are here to stay.

I love this time of year, when the world wakes up after winter and we can slowly peel off our layers and enjoy the sunshine. I love the first sign of buds on a tree, and the way even the most desolate places spring to life at the promise of warm, wet days (believe me, I spent a few years in the desert in Arizona, and spring there is just as much a marvel as it is on the verdant East Coast).

Ever since I was a child, I've loved growing things - which is why I'm doubly disappointed to have somehow ended up with two black thumbs! I nurtured gardens all through childhood, with great success, but somehow my skill with plants must have gotten lost with my baby teeth...until now.  Early in the year, I decided to give my green thumbs a second chance. That may have been a bit ambitious, given that Matt and I don't have so much as a patch of dirt to our names, but thanks to this simple project, I'm off to a pretty good start.

I've shared my admittedly checkered gardening past because I want to convince you just how easy it is to grown your own green onions. If I can do it, anyone can. And we have Pinterest to show us how!

The Pinspiration:

The Product:

So here's how to grow your own onions:
1. Using your last ever bunch of store-bought green onions, cut off the green flesh, leaving about two inches of white flesh above the root (I cut mine a little too short and they grew more slowly as a result).

2. Fill a shallow glass container with enough water to just submerge the roots and stand the cut onions in the water (you may need to bundle the onions with an elastic band to get the to stay upright at first).

3. Change the water daily and keep your onions in a sunny place. You should see growth within the first day or two.

4. Continue to water the onions daily until they're long enough to harvest. You can repeat the process as often as your onions will keep growing. You may need to start afresh after a few cycles.

From start to salad, it took me about three weeks to grown my onions (I'm sorry I don't have a final picture - we were hungry!), but your timeline may vary depending on light conditions and such. Also, although my onions grew just fine in a Mason jar, I don't think I'd recommend it. A few onions seemed 'stunted' by the sides of the jar - although that could just be the lingering influence of my black thumbs!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Let me introduce you...

A couple of weeks ago, I received my first blog award. Thanks to Sarah at All Things Blogs, I'm one of the newest recipients of the Liebster Blog Award!

I'm so pleased to receive this honor, especially since my blog is still quite small. In fact, that's one of the best things about this award. It's passed around the blogging community as a way to draw attention to 'up and coming' blogs (i.e. cool blogs with less than 200 followers). Each nominee then selects 5 more recipients - so here are a few of my 'small and mighty' favorites:

1. Dreaming of White Chocolate
Michelle's blog is stuffed full of delicious desserts - from Cadbury Mini Egg Cookies (you just knew I'd notice those!), to Birthday Cake Fudge, and homemade Baklava (impressive, huh?). As you'd expect, there are also lots and lots of white chocolate recipes!

2. Whatchu Got Cookin'?
I may be a bit biased - this blog is the property of my good friend, Ashley - but she really does post some unique recipes. And they all look delicious: like these homemade pop-tarts, her amazingly creamy crockpot hot chocolate, and her butternut squash ravioli! I met Ashley shortly after Matt and I turned up at this duty station, and we quickly bonded over our love of food and our shared experience of being married to the Army. Ashley's also one of my blog heroes, somehow finding the time to update a second blog about her experiences as a military spouse. Be sure to check it out!

3. Baking for Britain
Sadly, this blog is no longer updated, but I just loved the concept so much that I had to share it (I hope that's not against the rules?). Each post is so well-researched and lovingly crafted, it's like a mini history lesson - through the lens of iconic British food. Longtime readers know that I love a good backstory, and this blog is full of them, from this history of Digestive Biscuits to a treatise on scones.

4. Catalina Bakes
Catalina blogs from the Czech Republic, where she bakes the most intriguing things. Her photography is gorgeous and her recipes are things you won't find of ever baking blog. My own Czech heritage makes her choices even more appealing, but I think her luscious photos and great desserts would appeal to anyone who loves food! For staters, check out her show-stopping Meringue Coffee Cake, her Vanilla Crescents (a Czech classic), and her yummy-looking mince pies.

5. Jenn's Travelogue Blog
I'd be remiss if I didn't include a travel blog in mix, and this one is a real gem. Our families have been friends since before I was born (her dad gave me my first compass - which started a life of traveler's itch!), but that doesn't make me any less jealous of Jenn's amazing life on the road! Until recently, Jenn had a months-long travel streak going - and she still manages to pack in some amazing trips, taking her readers along for the ride. Her posts are full of great recommendations and reviews, as well as some great thoughts about self-improvement and social responsibility. Head over to Jenn's blog for an account of her latest trip to D.C. - during Cherry Blossom season, no less (can you tell I'm jealous?)!

Congrats, ladies - you're the new recipients of the Liebster Blog Award! Here are the rules, should you choose to participate:

1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog
2. Link back to the blogger that presented the award to you
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog
4. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 5 more blogs with 200 followers or less who you feel deserve to be noticed
5. Let them know they've be chosen by e-mailing them and commenting on their blog

...and that's all! Thanks again, Sarah, for allowing me to be a part of this fun award!

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Short-Cut (10 minute) Sundried Tomato, Blue Cheese and Garlic Bread

There are few aromas more comforting and richly satisfying than the smell of fresh bread. I've been making my own bread for years, and while I find the all the measuring, mixing, and kneading somewhat therapeutic (especially the kneading!), my favorite part is that moment during baking when the first scent of the finished product begins to escape from the oven.

I love the way it starts out faint and haunting, and then expands to fill the kitchen with its earthy goodness. Soon it's seeping into every crack and corner of the apartment, and suffusing it with a healthy, homey glow. On bread-baking days, Matt says he can smell it from the outdoor staircase, beckoning him home.

Okay, so my love of yeasty goodness may be a little extreme, but I know I'm not entirely alone. I mean, why else would they make bread-scented air freshener! At least I'm not afraid to come by mine via a little old-fashioned elbow grease.

But, lest you think I'm some sort of salt-of-the-earth, back-to-nature, daily bread baker (there's nothing wrong with that, by the way, it's just not me), I'll admit that I don't always take the high road when it comes to homemade bread.  Perhaps the kitchen is cold, or I'm strapped for time, or maybe I'm just really, really hungry. Whatever the reason, there are some days when I just don't feel like waiting three, four or even five hours for a loaf of bread - I'm sure I'm not alone in that, either.

So, for those days, I give you this wonderful, short-cut recipe. The prep takes maybe 10 minutes, which means you can have a loaf of delicious, fragrant, artisan bread in less than half an hour. And the best part? Your nose (and tastebuds!) won't be able to tell the difference.

The combination of tangy sundried tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese, and sautéed garlic is one I heartily endorse (the blue cheese melts away as the bread bakes, leaving pockets of richness, and the garlic and sundried tomatoes capture a little bit of Tuscany - which is always nice on a Tennessee afternoon) but, you could try all sorts of combinations; olives, grated hard cheeses, Italian spices - the possibilities are enormous. What's important is that it's flavorful and fresh - oh yeah, and fragrant, too!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Pinned There, Done That: Lofthouse Cookie Bars

A couple of weeks ago, I shared with you all my first Lofthouse Sugar Cookie experience. I expected a lot of backlash for admitting that this experience was a little underwhelming - but I should have known that my wonderful readers would be lovely and positive.

In fact, your positive reaction led me to give Lofthouse a second try. I've been seeing Lofthouse copycat bars all over the web (okay, mostly on Pinterest, and here, and here), and since I have a crazy obsession with bar desserts (as demonstrated here, here, and here), and didn't feel like rolling out dozens of cookies, I decided to go this route.

I also thought this would be the perfect opportunity for another Pinned There, Done That - but you may notice that I'm skipping the usual fanfare. That's because I saw so many versions that I can't attribute the final product to a single one. The closest version comes from Two Peas & Their Pod, mostly because I wanted a recipe that used sour cream instead of cream cheese (confession: I was cleaning out our fridge!).

But enough preamble. After all the hours and hours of research spent on Pinterest (tough job, I know), was the Lofthouse rematch a success? Well, yes and no.  These bars are made with butter, sugar, flour, and eggs, so naturally they're pretty tasty, but I'll be honest, I wasn't wowed.

My biggest regret was that I baked mine in a 9x13-inch pan which made them incredibly thick and cake-like (and we all know how I feel about cake things that aren't actually cakes), so I've made the switch in the recipe to a jelly roll pan. I really think this - coupled with a generous slick of icing - should be enough to make them more Lofthouse-like, but if you're a lover of cake, by all means go for the 9x13!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The best things in life are free...

I'll be honest, I've got a bit of a bone to pick with the person who coined that phrase. Sure, I understand the sentiment - you can't put a price on happiness, contentment, joy, experience, etcetera - but for all the other nice things, you'd better be prepared to pay. I mean, I'm pretty most of us have to pay for stylish household furnishings (unless you're an absolute DIY diva!), trips round the world and, of course, chocolate.


In today's economy, the price of life's little luxuries just seems to be getting higher and higher - which is why it's so exciting when you find something stylish, adventurous and utterly delicious...that doesn't cost a penny. It's even better, when it can be delivered right into your home! I'm talking about the recently-launched, online Wayfare Magazine, of course.

Its pilot issue premiered last month and let me tell you, it is chock full of gems for the road. My dear Budget Travel and beloved Lonely Planet had better watch out, because not only is it beautifully designed (it's sleek, modern and oh-so-easy to navigate, with rich color images and attention-grabbing copy), it's also full of insider tips and well-written, informative articles. Truth be told, there's so much information crammed into the first issue that I've yet to finish reading every last bit.

So many magazines dazzle and instruct for about 50 pages (once you discount all the ad space) and then leave you wanting more; not so with Wayfare. The magazine is content-rich and the few ads included are relevant and unobtrusive. Even better, the online format of the magazine allows for the inclusion of hyperlinks, as well as audio and video clips. This is a great feature for those who like to 'read around' the content or get a little background on the contributors.

The scope of the magazine is also pretty impressive; the pilot issue effortlessly dovetails a feature on treehouse hotels in Sweden with one on truffle foraging, and another on retro travel accessories for the Pan Am jetsetter. It's a lot to tackle in one issue, but the editors of Wayfare seem to have it all in stride. Let's just hope they can keep it up for their next issue!

In the meantime, you can satisfy your wanderlust on their blog or by viewing the travel- and design-centric links on their Pinterest boards. I've browsed both and found a lot to enjoy, whether you're planning a trip or just indulging an itch for armchair travel.

Just a note: I haven't been compensated by Wayfare or contacted in any way by those associated, regarding this review. I just like sharing good things when I find them. Sometimes the best things in life really are free!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spaghetti Squash Carbonara

In the very early days of The Traveling Spoon, I went on a virtual journey in search of my culinary ancestry. I told you of my love for Czech dumplings and my passion for German pastries - and I love these things, I really do, but one of the best things about traveling the world is that I've had the chance to taste all kinds of regional cuisines. I've eaten curried goat in Uganda, sampled schnitzel in Bavaria, and drunk the local wine in Spain. No matter where I go, I always find a new dish to love - and one of my Italian favorites is carbonara.

I love a good carbonara. I mean really, really love it. So much so that it was one of the last meals I ate as a single girl, before Matt and I got married. The saltiness of the pancetta, the prickle of pepper in the mouth, and the velvety way the egg just barely clings to the pasta - perfection!

Okay, so it may not win any beauty prizes, but just let your tastebuds be the judge!

Since I don't typically eat a lot of pasta, I've always treated the dish as a rare treat - until now. By substituting spaghetti squash for the usual pasta, I've transformed the dish from a somewhat guilty pleasure into a meal fit for everyday. So often I find myself sharing new or unusual recipes on the blog and forgetting all about my old favorites. I'm working on changing that and this recipe is a good start - it's such a favorite that I've actually eaten it three times in the past couple of weeks!

I'll be the first to admit that my version isn't very authentic - I don't add oil, butter, or parmesan, and I like to throw in some sautéed mushrooms for a bit of healthy flavor - but it is extraordinarily delicious and so, so easy. If you follow my simple, microwave method for cooking your squash, you can make this meal in under 20 minutes. Cook your squash beforehand (I usually cook both halves at once and just refrigerate the extra squash for up to 5 days) and you can have it on the table in 10 minutes. It really doesn't get much better than that!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Homemade Artisanal Cheese Crackers

I've been reading food blogs for quite a few years and I've discovered that almost everyone has a 'holy grail' recipe or two. You know, that one elusive food that you're just dying to perfect; the one that sends you back into the kitchen time and time again, searching for the perfect ingredients, in just the right ratio, combined in just the right way to create kitchen alchemy.

Some bloggers have a whole list of 'holy grail' foods - usually topped by French macarons and laminate dough - and while these fancy foods would make The Traveling Spoon's list, they'd be topped by something far more ordinary: homemade Goldfish crackers.

There's just something so wholesome and nostalgic about those cheesy, cheddary little fishes. Devoured by the handful, or eaten patiently one by one, Goldfish crackers always remind me of childhood Sunday school lessons - all Elmer's glue and dixie cups of apple juice.

Matt gets so many compliments on his Goldfish snack containers -
even tough soldiers like Goldfish!

Since Matt and I don't have kids yet, it's hard to come up with excuses to buy Goldfish, which is why I've decided to take matters into my own hands. I've been looking for The Perfect Goldfish Recipe for weeks. I even bought Matt a Goldfish-shaped snack container to take his crackers to work - which is why I'm doubly sad that this recipe is not it.

I made some square ones too - just like gourmet Cheez-Its!

Don't get me wrong, it's a good recipe. It makes delicious, buttery crackers that are rich with the tangy flavor of cheddar, but their open, airy texture and ultra-butteryness makes them more like gourmet Cheez-Its or cheese straws than Goldfish. I guess it doesn't help that mine also look a little bit like sharks! I'm sharing the recipe nonetheless, because these crackers are pretty darn tasty, but you can be sure that the search for the holy grail of Goldfish recipes will continue!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Budget Travel: Foreign Food Etiquette

Boy, has it been a long time since we've had a travel-related post around here. I know, I know - everyone comes for the cookies and bacon, but this is The Traveling Spoon, after all.

Writing about travel was simple when we'd just moved back from Germany, or when we were hiking across the American West, but it's a little trickier now that the furthest I typically get from home is the hour drive to Nashville. That makes me doubly grateful for (and jealous of) the stories in my Budget Travel magazines.

It's okay to drink and walk in Poland......if you're a giant beer mascot

I'm so lonesome for the road that I've signed up for their e-mails, too. Last week's edition delivered a little gem about the 15 International Food Etiquette Rules That Might Surprise You. A few were well-known to me ("Don't eat with your left hand in the Middle East," "Never stick your chopsticks upright in your rice," etc.) while others were a complete surprise (You really shouldn't use your hands to eat anything in Chile? And, after spending all my youth in the UK, I'd never heard the one about the Bishop of Norwich).

Cream tea in Cambridge, England

Although I won't share the full article here, I recommend reading it. It's useful information for any frequent or wanna-be-frequent traveler. It's also useful for bringing back foreign food memories. Thankfully, I don't have many faux pas on my record (yet!), but I do have a lot of good food memories from the road: dining on termites in southern Africa, traveling through Istria during truffle season, sharing lavish pilgrim feasts on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and - of course - that unforgettable meal of tilapia, plucked from the depths of Lake Victoria.

German liver dumpling soup 

After many years of travel, I've come to realize that trying new foods is one of my favorite parts of seeing the world. Food culture is something we all have in common, even if it often takes very different forms. Take a few minutes to educate yourself about foreign customs and you'll never have to worry about etiquette getting in the way of your enjoyment.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Leftover-Lofthouse Gooey Bars

Until yesterday, I'd never met a 'leftover' cookie. Any cookies that turn up in our house usually fulfill their delicious destiny pretty quickly. Occasionally, a handful will be saved 'for later,' and one or two might be set aside for a special occasion, but they pretty much always get eaten and they're never, ever 'leftover'...until yesterday.

You see, yesterday I bought my first package of Lofthouse sugar cookies. That's right, my first ever. The truth is, I like baking cookies so much that I almost never buy them. Of course, that doesn't mean that those pillowy sugar cookies, spread thickly with colorful icing have never piqued my interest. So, when I saw some that had been festively decked out for St. Patrick's Day, I snapped them right up.

I carried them home, all excited for the first bite...and I have to admit, it was a bit of a letdown. I'm sure I won't be popular for saying this - I know lots of you love, love, love them - but maybe Lofthouse cookies just aren't my thing? The flavor was nice - super-sweet and sugary - but I'm a gooey, chewy cookie girl and these cookies were just a little too cakey.

After I'd polished off the first one, I still had nine more cookies on my hands: my first ever leftover cookies. I suppose I could have left them all for Matt, but instead I racked my brain for a way to make them chewy, and came up with these gooey bars.

A thin sugar cookie base, covered with crumbled sugar cookies and topped with sweetened condensed milk (and an optional sprinkling of white chocolate chips). Can it get any sweeter? You can use pre-made sugar cookie dough for the base, or substitute your favorite recipe - it's really just a vehicle for the best part of these bars: the way the Lofthouse frosting crisps up during baking. A little goes a long way with these, though, so cut them up small!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chewy Biscoff Blondies

Take a look at these ooey, gooey blondies. I mean really look at them.

Now imagine how good they taste, warm from the oven and rich with brown sugar, melted chocolate, and the lightly spiced creaminess of Biscoff spread. Multiply that by ten and you have some idea of just how good these bars really are. They're not green and there are no rainbows, leprechauns, or other St. Patrick's Day paraphernalia. Just pure, unadulterated deliciousness.

The flavor of these bars is pretty remarkable, but the best part is that I stumbled upon them completely by accident.

I think it's time I let you in on a little secret: there are bloggers that plan their posts, recipes, and themes weeks, and even months in advance. There are bloggers that write posts by the dozen, that cook, bake, and create according to a predetermined schedule. I am not one of those bloggers.

Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for those bloggers - particularly since many of them do it all while juggling kids, work, and home - but I'm something of a seat-of-my-pants blogger. I write as the mood takes me, often just minutes or hours before post goes live, and I tend to cook and bake the same way. I'm sure things will change when Matt and I have a family (and when I stop being such a cheapskate when it comes to buying luxury or specialty ingredients!) but for now, I tend to bake as and when the mood strikes, using nothing but the ingredients I have on hand.

Then, too, there's the little problem I sometimes have with sticking to recipes. For every recipe I post on the blog, there are six or seven things I've made 'off-recipe.' Sometimes these are just ordinary, but every once in a while, they're magical enough to send me running for a pen and paper so I can get them down before they're forever forgotten. This recipe was one of those special few.

Back in the Biscoff heyday of a few months ago, I purchased a jar with the intent of baking up a Biscoff storm (this a was a big deal since it was one of those specialty ingredients I just mentioned). Little by little, the spread diminished until I was left with a scant quarter cup (no surprises there - it's delicious!) . I was determined to finally bake with it, and these bars were the result.

The spiciness of the Biscoff is a nice counterpoint to bittersweet chocolate. Coconut oil rounds out the flavor and prevents the bars from becoming cloyingly sweet. The result is a grown-up blondie; perfectly chewy and wonderfully subtle (although if super-sweetness is you thing, try subbing white chocolate chips for the regular - it's a whole different dessert).

The last word on these blondies? Make them. Even if it means you have to buy the fancy, pricey Biscoff spread to do it. Bake them on a whim or write them into your monthly menu plan. Follow the recipe to the letter or create your own special version. Just make sure you make them. You won't regret it!

Chewy Biscoff Blondies

3 generous Tablespoons coconut oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Biscoff Spread
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 - 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8x8-inch baking pan lightly with coconut oil. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt coconut oil, Biscoff spread, and brown sugar until just combined. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside. Stir egg and vanilla into the cooled Biscoff mixture, until just blended. Add the dry ingredients and stir until smooth. The mixture will be very thick. Fold in chocolate chips.

Transfer mixture into the prepared pan, spreading evenly with the back of a spoon (or by hand , if necessary). Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the edges just begin to brown. Cool in pan on a wire rack. These blondes are delicious at any temperature, but most indulgent when served slightly warm and a la mode!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pinned There, Done That: Lace Earring Tutorial

Okay, so this post isn't exactly 'green', or St. Patrick's-themed, but if you look closely, you'll see little four-leaf clovers in the center of the earrings - which makes them perfect for this week's Pinned There, Done That!

There's something so lovely and romantic about lace - soft and delicate, with intricate patterns that speak to the skill and care of its maker. Of course, lace is just as likely to be made by machine these days, but that doesn't detract from its delicate beauty.

I was swept along on the lace earring trend long before I joined Pinterest, but that didn't stop me pinning a few examples! As far as I can tell, it was a series of pretty lace earrings from Anthropologie  that sparked the DIY lace earring craze. That's hardly surprising - every visit to Anthropologie is like an injection of inspiration - but what surprised me was just how easy they are to make. Just 5 minutes, start-to-finish, was all I needed to craft my own pair of elegant earrings. Naturally, I couldn't stop at just one pair!

The shape and design of your earrings will depend on the lace you use, but even a single piece of lace will likely offer you enough possible variations for several pairs of earrings. The process is so simple that it's almost addictive. Pretty soon you'll be making lace earrings for all your friends and relations!

The Pinspiration:

The Product(s):

To make your own lace earrings you'll need lace, scissors, pilers (I use round-nose), and ear wires. If you want your earrings to be stiff (or your lace is very soft or fragile), you'll also want some water and Elmer's glue.

Here's what you need!

1. The first step is to cut the desired shape from the lace. Here's where your creativity can shine through - all the earrings in this post were made from the same piece of lace, cut in different ways.

2. Once you have your lace, you have the option to paint it with a few coats of watered-down Elmer's glue. I left my earrings uncoated, but if your lace is very delicate, this will make it stronger and stiffer. Allow the lace to dry before proceeding.

3. Thread the lace onto the bottom loop of the ear wire. You may need your pliers to open the loop. After the lace is attached, be sure to close the loop with the pliers.

And that's all, folks! If you want to make pendant/drop earrings (like the one shown above), you'll need some jewelry wire to attach the pieces of lace together, but otherwise, it's as easy as 1-2-3!

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Shamrock Butter-Mints

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I'm carrying on the 'green' theme from last week...

St Patrick's Day is a great holiday for celebrating with kids. There are so many fun crafts (I mean, you've got shamrocks, leprechauns and rainbows to work with!) and lots of fun treats to make. Sadly, I didn't really 'discover' this holiday until I was older. It wasn't widely celebrated when I was a child in England, so my fondest St. Patrick's Day memories come from my college years.

Since my family lived in England and I was at school in the States, I spent my holiday weekends with friends. St. Patrick's Day, in particular, was spent with the family of a friend who just happened to have Irish heritage. Every year, they made a lavish celebratory feast with all the trimmings like corned beef and cabbage, soda bread, and Irish coffees. We dressed in green, listened to Irish music, and watched 'Darby O'Gill and The Little People'. I was always grateful to be included in their family celebrations, and this evening of festivity and laughter made up for all the St. Patrick's Days I'd missed in the years before.

Of course, St. Patrick's Day is fun for adults, too. It's a great excuse to sip Bailey's and indulge in green-tinted treats like these festive mints. Their buttery, minty flavor will please any adult palate, but they're easy enough to whip up with your kids.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How to Freeze Avocado

Did you know that you can freeze avocados? Until last week, I didn't either - and the discovery came just in the nick of time.

You see, I have a little avocado addiction. Every time I have a salad, I scoop the flesh of half an avocado into it. It works as a great substitute for salad dressing, adding some much appreciated flavor and a helping of healthy fats without any unusual chemicals or unwanted oiliness. I buy up handfuls of avocados when the price is good, ripening them one by one on my kitchen counter and keeping the others in the fridge until they're needed. This system works well as long as I keep eating them, but last week's stomach flu left me with no appetite and a bowlful of overripe avocados.

Even without the flu, it can be tough to catch an avocado when it's perfectly ripe. I'm sure some of you have been there - you poke and prod your avocado, thinking you have a few days before it reaches peak softness and then, suddenly, it's going downhill fast and you're desperately trying to figure out ways to add guacamole to every meal.

I couldn't bear the thought of wasting one more of these gorgeous green gems, so I decided to give freezing a try. After a few minutes on the internet, I came up with the following method - which I can honestly say is pretty amazing. The avocado is pureed and combined with lime juice (to prevent oxidation), so its use will be slightly limited, but it's still great thawed over salads, stirred into guacamole, or eaten, as is, with tortilla chips.

The best part: you're only three steps away from never having to waste another avocado again!

Step 1. Scoop avocado flesh into a blender and combine with 1 Tablespoon lime (or lemon) juice for each avocado. Puree until the mixture is smooth (this also helps distribute the lime just evenly, so your avocado won't turn brown).

Step 2. Spoon into airtight containers or resealable bags (folding the top of the bag over, as shown above, will prevent the seal from becoming dirty during this process). Seal bags, removing as much air as possible. Using a pair of chopsticks, create a grid of indentations (as shown below) in the unfrozen avocado. This will make it easier to remove and thaw the frozen avocado as you need it.

Step 3. Place on a flat surface in the freezer until avocado is frozen solid. To use, 'break' off as many sections of avocado as you require and return the rest to the freezer. Thaw in the refrigerator (you can thaw at room temperature, but the avocado may brown slightly - if you need to speed the process, try stirring the frozen avocado).

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