Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Vanilla Sugar

I've been working on tons of projects lately, and feel like I may have bitten off a little more than I can chew. I'm going to use the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday to play a little catch up (as well as do lots of cooking and eating). Here is a recipe for vanilla sugar you can make ahead and use in some of your holiday baking, or give as gifts!

To make your own vanilla sugar at home you will need:

granulated sugar
vanilla beans

I ordered my vanilla beans online from Beanilla. I would recommend them (especially if you want to make up a ton of this for gifts). They have great bulk prices and my beans arrived super fast (the shipping was also free!).

Cut open your vanilla beans lenthwise and scrape out all of the caviar (all the little bits inside the bean) with a small spoon. Add the caviar and the vanilla pods to your sugar and mix together very well. I generally use one vanilla bean for every 1-1.5 cups of sugar. Put your sugar and vanilla bean mixture into an air tight container and store in a cool, dry place (preferably out of direct light as well). Allow 2 weeks for the vanilla to properly flavor your sugar.

Add this to any recipe calling for sugar that you'd like to add a little extra vanilla flavor to. You may add more sugar and vanilla beans as necessary (if you use a vanilla bean in something else, put the pod into your sugar--add more sugar as space allows and stir well).

If vanilla sugar isn't your thing, you can try your hand at making your own vanilla extract instead!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Easiest Mug Cake Ever

Anyone looking through the recipes I have posted here in the past may notice that I have a bit of a sweet tooth. I also like things to be easily accessible. Enter this awesome mug cake, introduced to me by some of my coworkers.

To make this at home you will need:

1 box Angel Food cake mix
1 box any other flavor cake mix (I used spice cake)
1 microwave safe mug

To start out, you will mix together your 2 boxes of cake mix. I usually put mine in a large freezer bag (you can store it in the bag for a short period of time, I usually put mine in a small Tupperware container.

I've seen this recipe on some other sites called 3-2-1 cake. The reason for this is that once your cake mixture is created to make your cake you use 3 Tablespoons of the mix, 2 Tablespoons water and microwave your cake in a mug for 1 minute on high. I let mine sit in the microwave an additional minute or 2 to cool.

I have tried several cake flavors, and I have to say that you will probably be disappointed with any kind of chocolate cake. It just doesn't have the chocolatey flavor when mixed with the angel food cake. My favorites have been carrot cake and spice cake. Fruit cake mixes (lemon and strawberry) have also been tasty. You can also add frosting or whipped cream to your final cake--I like strawberries sliced onto the lemon cake MMMM.

This is a great option if you like dessert but don't necessarily want a whole cake sitting on your counter tempting you. It makes about 24 servings of cake and each serving is around 100 calories (without frosting added). Also, since you mix it with water only there is no added fat or oil-- you can feel a little less guilty. :)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Gift Bow Roundup

The holidays are fast approaching, and there is no better time to start making a batch of your very own handmade gift bows! I found the awesome sweater patterned paper above in a photorealistic package of papers and had to make some snuggly bows of my own. Below you will find a big list of options to choose from (and many can be completed by using fabric, felt or Ribbon instead of cutting paper). Settle down with a great holiday movie and some paper and whip up a stack of ribbons this week!

Paper Bows from How About Orange

Accordion Fold(Snowflake)Bows

Small Gift Bows

Jumbo Gift Bows

If flowers are more your style, you can check out these paper flowers or some easy tissue paper flowers. Happy Wrapping!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Giving Back

It's that time of year: everyone is getting ready for the upcoming holiday season. There will be plenty of posts here on The Craftinomicon devoted to DIY gifts, packaging and yes, even some recipes. However, don't let all the hustle and bustle allow you to forget that you still have time to help those in need! There are tons of ways you can help out someone less fortunate-- and many of them don't involve donating money. If the holiday budget is tight, your time is a gift that can be far more valuable. If you'd like some great ideas on how to make this holiday season a little brighter for people in need, keep reading!

When lots of people think about giving to charity at the holidays it is a food drive around Thanksgiving, or donating toys for kids at Christmas/Chanukah. Both of these are great, but don't forget that food drives are great all year round and not only children, but the elderly and everyone in between could use some holiday cheer. You can also volunteer to serve a meal at a local shelter, or contact a local Meals on Wheels program to see if they need help this season.

I am fortunate to work for a company that has it's own charitable foundation. We can have a small deduction taken out of each paycheck and the foundation partners with several other local charities. We work in long term care facilities, and part of our mission is to include our residents in many of our charitable activities. I would strongly encourage you to take a look at the webpage and maybe get some ideas that you could practice in your own community! You can also like the Vital Life Foundation on facebook to find out about activities going on throughout the year (we are based in OR, but have facilities in several other states).

One thing many people don't think about is their local blood bank. I know that donating blood isn't for everyone, but there is always a need and many people don't consider donating blood to their local blood bank unless a tragedy has happened somewhere in the world. Contact your local Red Cross or think about setting up a blood drive in your community or at your workplace this season!

Consider volunteering at a long term care facility or assisted living center. Whether reading a book to a senior or just visiting with them for a short while, I can assure you it will be appreciated. If you have a child that sings in a school choir or plays in a band or orchestra, you may also want to see if they could perform for residents (and possibly work something out between the facility and the school to keep this going year after year!).

For those of you with artsy/crafty kids, consider making Holiday cards to send to a local Hospital or long term care facility.

Donate books to a local school or include books along with toys in your local holiday toy drive. I know I always loved getting books and reading when I was young. I know I liked getting toys too, but I can't off the top of my head name a toy that impacted my life the way books did. If you have "like new" books in your collection that your children have outgrown or no longer read, inquire about donating them to a local school or reading program. One of my favorite publishing companies, Chronicle Books, is also having a holiday book campaign by tweeting, pinning or giving an online signature, you will be donating a children's book to First Book through Chronicle!

Last but not least (as this IS a crafting blog), you can find organizations online like Made 4 Aid, where you can donate various craft projects to be sold (the money is then donated to charity). You can also sell your wares at a local craft fair and donate a percentage of your sales to the charity of your choice (make sure to post that you are doing so, and leave a small donations jar on your table for anyone that may want to toss in their loose change as well!).

What are some of your favorite ways to give back around the holidays?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Embroidered Sugar Skulls

Happy (belated) Dia de Los Muertos! I made this sugar skull embroidery pattern for the holiday and just had to share it! You can find out how to make some of your own great sugar skull embroidery patterns here.

To stitch your own sugar skull you will need:

Fabric of your choosing
A variety of embroidery flosses (I prefer bright colors for these)
embroidery hoop
transfer pen

You can use the above pattern that I created, or make one of your own using the templates on my Sugar Skull Embroidery Pattern post. Once you are satisfied with your pattern, use an embroidery transfer pen to trace it onto your fabric. Then stitch away in the colors of your choosing.

I found these neat glow in the dark threads online and ordered some to weave in with my embroidery floss. I'll be honest, the pink didn't work at glowing nearly as well as the green or white, so in the future I'd probably leave it out, but it was fun to try something new!. This would also be a great project to experiment with adding small beads (you could even get small strands of beads and use the couching technique to stitch your patterns with them!).

Happy November!