Burlap Summer Wreath

I make a lot of wreaths . . .  But I wanted something for summer that I could put up after the 4th of July, and I’ve been wanting to try a burlap wreath, so there you go.

 

So, the key factor here is that I had virtually no idea how you’re supposed to make a burlap wreath.  I don’t know if I did mine the “right” way or not, but I like how it turned out so I guess that’s all that matters.

 

Here is what I started with:

 

 

I should start writing the cost of each item and taking a picture of that because I can’t remember exactly how much these were.  I know the burlap was the more expensive item, $5 or $6, and I think the wreath frame was under $3.  I got both in Walmart in the same aisle as flowers and wreath supplies.

 

 

 

To loop the burlap, I just went through every other space.  I think maybe you’re supposed to loop the burlap through the innermost and outermost slots to get bigger loops, but like I said, I really don’t know.

 

 

Each time I looped the burlap through the slots, I adjusted the material to make it loopy.

.

 

 

Then I alternated which slots I went through  (that is, if I went over-under-over-under on one pass, I went under-over-under-over right next to it).

 

Again, after pulling the burlap through, I fluffed it up.

 

 

I ended up doing three “rows” of burlap for each section of the wreath (counting the space between the cross pieces as a section).

 

 

Then I just kept going, not really sure if I was going to like the result or not (I think the loops are supposed to be bigger and fluffier than what I did), until I ended up with this:

 

 

There was only a little bit of burlap left so I tied it into a huge bow and made that the top of the wreath.

 

 

 

 

This is how mine looked up close.

 

Finally, I went to the Dollar Tree and bought five bunches of flowers.  I love the dark centers of the daisies.

 

 

 

 

 

I just stuck the flowers right into the burlap.  Eventually I will probably hot glue them to make them more permanent.

 

 

I think it’s pretty good for not knowing what I was doing!    I’ll leave it up until it’s time to change to fall decor . . . such a bittersweet thought.  Summer has gone by way too fast!

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To be or not to be (careful)

I spent a lot of time online during what I call the Golden Age of Message Boards.  You know, before Facebook went public, long after Myspace was decidedly uncool, and shortly before texting became a global phenomenon?  A few years ago, message boarding was how people from anywhere around the world could communicate about any given subject, serious or trivial, for any length of time.  On the message board I frequented, most of the heavy traffic discussions were of the headier sort – theology, philosophy, ethics, politics (the latter of which I mostly stayed away from).  I learned a lot about other people’s beliefs, I became more certain of my own, and some of mine even changed as a direct result of the conversations I had with people way more intelligent or educated than myself.

 

In one such discussion, the subject of heresy came up, and I’ll never forget what one friend said: “Heresy is a conversation ender.”  It’s like what debate enthusiasts now call the “Hitler fallacy” – when one side of the debate makes a reference to Hitler or Nazism, the debate is over because the other side realizes that rather than trying to prove their point, they now have to prove they don’t support world domination and genocide.  There are certain words or statements that, once you bring them up, end the possibility of all future discussion.  “Heresy” is one of those words.  When you call someone a heretic, or label the belief they are defending heresy, you are saying there is no way you can respect or even listen to what they say.  At that point, why keep talking?

 

Fortunately, very few people use the word “heresy” in the conversations I participate in or silently follow (one of the things I learned from message boarding, actually, was the value of occasionally not participating), which is encouraging because it shows the Church has made some progress in getting along with its minority members in the last 500 years or so.  But I do see a phrase emerging in its place, for when one person wants to let another person know that what they believe is either heretical or very close to it, but doesn’t want to come right out and say so.  It’s the phrase “be careful.”

 

I see this when somebody defends a belief that is outside evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity.  I see it with nontraditional systems that seek to do away with established hierarchies or limitations.  And I especially see it with comments ending in question marks, to the effect of “What if the traditional model of church, or the mainstream interpretation of this Bible passage, or the popular doctrine of this subject, isn’t the correct one?” – “Be careful.”

 

Why is it apparently dangerous if a person asks questions about their faith, and why does it freak others out to the point that they caution them against doing so?  I grew up in a home that criticized other religions for prohibiting critical thinking and questioning the faith, but if that’s not allowed within the Church, how do we differ from a cult?

 

What is going to happen to a person who gives up the current popular doctrine in favor of one that was commonly held in the early church?  They may discover a deeper, more contextually appropriate understanding of Scripture that has been lost to modern readers.

 

What is so bad about a person trying to understand Paul’s statement “In Christ there is no male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free” in a contemporary setting?  Two hundred years ago, a lot of people probably told abolitionists to “be careful” lest they upset the God-ordained institution of slavery.  A lot of people probably said the same thing to suffragettes and civil rights activists in the 20th century.

 

Don’t get me wrong; I think we should be careful about many things.  We should give careful thought to how we use our resources (Haggai 1), we should be careful not to do good for the sake of our reputation (Matthew 6:1), we should be careful to do what is right (Romans 12:17), we should be careful how we build the Church (1 Corinthians 3:10), we should be careful not to make others stumble simply by exercising the freedom we have in Christ (1 Corinthians 8:9), we should be careful not to become prideful and thus fall into sin (1 Corinthians 10:12), we should be careful to live wisely and make the most of our time (Ephesians 5:15), we must be careful about falling into unbelief or disobedience (Hebrews 4:1), and yes, we must be careful of teachers and teachings that may lead us to hypocrisy or unbelief (Matthew 16:6).  In other words, we shouldn’t let any part of our life be thoughtless; we have to pay attention to what we think, who we believe, and what we choose to do about it.

 

But here’s the catch: that is exactly what a lot of these “unorthodox” people are doing.  Having grown up in the Church, having been told from early childhood what to believe and how to think, they – or I guess I should say “we” – have decided that is not a careful way to live.  We are reexamining our faith in order to make it stronger, more biblical, and more central to our lives.  This involves questions.  This involves branching out to different traditions, some old and some new.  This may involve reaching conclusions that are different from what we were originally taught.  And believe me – it’s just as scary for us as it is for the people watching us do it.  So yes, actually, we are being careful in how we go about it.

 

I started writing this post with the intention of concluding that “be careful” is just as much a conversation ender as the Hitler fallacy or the heresy card.  Now I’m thinking, it’s not so much that it’s a bad thing to say, but it’s not very useful.  Consider the following scene from my favorite TV show, The Big Bang Theory.

 

Sheldon is searching for a cricket in the shaft of the apartment’s broken elevator (long story – two long stories, actually).  Raj, watching from above, shouts down to him, ” Be careful!”  Sheldon replies candidly, “If I were not being careful, your telling me to be careful would not make me careful.”

 

We have good intentions when we tell people to be careful, but what are we really saying?  Do we mean “you are bordering on heresy here and need to stop pursuing this line of thought?”  Because not only is that a discussion-stopper, it might actually be you who is wrong.  Or do we simply mean “be careful in your exploration to thoughtfully examine what you read or hear, and to study the Bible and pray over what you are discovering?”  Because the person you’re saying it to might already be doing that.  More importantly, maybe the person you should be saying it to is yourself.  “Be careful” – I think we should all take these words to heart.

Fourth of July Rag Wreath

 

Edit: I got a new camera!  You can see the difference between the new one (first and last picture) and the old one (all the other pictures in this post).

 

Here’s a project that anyone can do!  I know because I first did this in second grade (except I didn’t have to cut the fabric then).  It’s easy, fun, and requires few materials.

 

You will need:

 

  • a foam or straw wreath (I got mine from Walmart for under $3.  I opted for straw because it was slightly cheaper than the foam, and because I figured if I didn’t have enough fabric, maybe I could leave some of the straw showing and it would look okay.

 

 

  • about 3 yards of cotton fabric – I used three different kinds (there are four in the picture but I didn’t use the red print).  Check your fabric scraps before you buy anything – the flag fabric is actually from  my mom’s scrap bin.  I spent about $10 on fabric but if I hadn’t bought the red bandanna print I could’ve spent a few dollars less.

 

 

  • a sharpened pencil, pen, chopstick, knitting needle – something that comes to a blunt point (too sharp and it will poke holes in the fabric, but if it doesn’t have a point it’ll be really hard to drive into the wreath) – I went through all my chopsticks and found one that was a little more tapered at the end than the others

Step 1. Cut all the fabric into 4-inch squares using pinking shears – not only is it cute, it prevents the material from fraying.  The best part is, it doesn’t matter if the measurements aren’t exact or if you don’t cut in a straight line.  The fabric is going to get all crumpled up anyway so it won’t make any difference.

 

 

 

Step 2.  Wrap a fabric square around your chopstick (or whatever) – you want the tip of the chopstick to be  in the center of the fabric.  Drive it into the wreath so that the fabric is secure.

 

Step 3. Repeat Step 2 until you run out of fabric. I alternated patterns, but you could also create stripes or a different pattern depending on what you want your wreath to look like.

 

 

 

 

And there you go!  The finished product is full, fluffy, and lots of fun!  I added some adhesive foam stars in red, silver, and blue (the silver showed up best).  I love my wreath so much I think I’ll make another non-patriotic one to put up for the rest of the summer.

 

 

The one thing I would have done differently is, I would have left the plastic wrap on the wreath.  That straw is messy!  But I ended up with a really nice piece of holiday decor for about $10!

 

Garlic Chicken Pasta with Roasted Asparagus

 

I love fresh asparagus.  Love, love, love.  This week I got it from our local farmer’s market, but next year I really want to grow my own.  Did you know asparagus is a weed?  It will grow wild in dry areas.  I just need to find a place to grow it (you need full sun, and I don’t have any).

 

But that’s only part of the recipe.

 

The other part of the recipe is adapted from a recipe for Smokey Garlic Chicken Pasta which you can find below:

(Source: Dinners Dishes & Desserts)

 

Here is the recipe as written:

 

****

16 oz. Pasta, any short cut will do

3/4 cup half and half

1/4 cup skim milk

1/4 cup butter

2 large garlic cloves, grated

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1/2 Tbls pepper

1/2 cup bacon, crumbled

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 1/2 cup Lawry’s Garlic and Herb Marinade (or Italian Dressing)

1/4 cup Barbeque Sauce (I used Sweet Baby Rays)

In a shallow baking dish cover the chicken with the Marinade and Barbeque Sauce.  Bake at 300 for 30 minutes, or until cooked through. Shred chicken.

Meanwhile cook the pasta according to package directions.

In a small saucepan melt butter.  Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Add in the half and half, milk, pepper, and cheese.  Whisk until smooth.  Add in the crumbled bacon.  Cook for 3-4 minutes.

In a large bowl mix the chicken, pasta and sauce together.  To serve top with additional cheese if desired.

****

I never buy half-and-half or skim milk so I figured a cup of 2% would more or less substitute.  But oops!  I forgot to look at how much milk we had, and we were completely out by the time I made this recipe!  So instead I added the last little bit of low-fat sour cream we had in the fridge (maybe 1/3-1/2 cup?) and about a cup of water, and oh my goodness that was the best sauce I’ve ever tasted!  It may have helped that I used 3 cloves garlic instead of 2 . . . I also really like garlic.  I left out the bacon because we didn’t have any, but hey, I did have Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce (my husband’s favorite, but the first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup . . . so I’m thinking we need a replacement).

As you can see from my picture, I didn’t shred the chicken.  I had half breasts so they still had the bones and skin.  When you cook chicken, the skin can help keep the meat moist.  If you don’t want the extra Calories and fat, just peel the skin off after cooking.  Easy peasy.  (Personally, I love the skin.)

Back to the asparagus.  You put fresh asparagus on a baking dish and drizle with olive oil, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.  I don’t know what the amounts are, just eyeball it.  Cook at 400 for 10-15 minutes, or until cooked through.  Or, you can be like me and put it in with the chicken.  It just takes a little bit longer that way and may not get crispy (I took the chicken out and turned up the oven for the last 5 minutes or so to make up for it).

This was an amazingly delicious meal!  Also, it was a lesson in the rule that cooking is a forgiving art – you don’t always have to follow the recipe 100% to get good results (with certain exceptions, but I don’t usually make those kinds of food).  I am still learning to experiment in the kitchen but this was fun!

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

 

I love soup.  I love baked potatoes.  So it’s no surprise that I really love loaded baked potato soup.  It’s really easy to make and doesn’t take very long.  The recipe below is adapted from The Pampered Chef – they want you to make it all in the microwave, and you can do that, but know that it won’t save you any time.  I made mine on the stove because I don’t actually have a big enough dish that’s microwave safe! (the one thing I don’t like about melamine).

 

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

 

  • 3 large baking potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 3 cups milk (more if you boil potatoes in milk)*
  • 4 oz cream cheese*
  • 2 Tbsp butter*
  • 4 oz cheddar cheese, shredded*

Optional toppings:

  • green onions, thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • additional cheese
  • bacon, crumbled*
  • sour cream*
  • whatever else you put on a baked potato!

*To make this recipe low-fat, use fat-free milk, nonfat or reduced fat cream cheese, and a low-fat spread with no trans fat (if it says “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients, throw it away!).  Also either eliminate sour cream and bacon, or use turkey bacon and low-fat or nonfat sour cream.  And if you can find it, Weight Watchers has reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese (or maybe it’s a Mexican blend; I can’t remember).

 

1. Boil and mash potatoes (takes about 20 minutes).

2. While potatoes are cooking, whisk cream cheese until smooth, then slowly add 3 cups milk and continue to whisk until smooth.

3.  Once you’ve mashed your potatoes, add milk mixture and butter and heat, stirring until smooth (it will be very thin, but don’t worry).

4.  Add shredded cheese and stir until melted.

5.  Serve with whatever toppings you want!

 

Note that you can add salt and pepper to the whole pot, but I never do – just like with my turkey chili, I know that no matter how much salt or pepper is already in the recipe, my husband and I always add more.  Plus, when it comes to salt, you get the most bang for your buck when you add it right at the end.  So try making this recipe without any salt and you’ll find out that you really don’t need very much (if any – I didn’t add salt to my last bowl and I didn’t miss it).

 

Try it!

Paleo Pork Roast

Okay, so I definitely don’t live on the Paleolithic diet.  I just found this recipe on Pinterest and it looked good, so I tried it.

 

 

The recipe is pretty simple:

 

  • 1 pork tenderloin (I just used a petite pork roast so the result wasn’t as fall-apart tender but it still tasted delicious)
  • 1 bag baby carrots
  • 2 green bell peppers, chopped
  • 5 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock (the recipe calls for natural sodium-free chicken stock; I used low sodium)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder

Combine the spices and rub them on the pork.  Combine the veggies, put half in your crockpot, making a “nest” for the tenderloin.  Place the seasoned pork in the crockpot, top with the rest of the veggies, and pour the chicken stock over all.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

 

Now, considering that the Paleo diet is supposed to consist only of foods that can be hunted/fished or gathered, I think the inclusion of salt and chicken stock is a bit of a stretch, as is opting for garlic and onion powder rather than pure garlic and onion (I don’t even have onion powder in my house, so instead I added about 1/2 chopped onion to the vegetables.  You can probably use a couple cloves of garlic instead of garlic powder (if you cut it into thin slices, then cut slits in your meat, you can insert the garlic slices into the slits and it will season the meat).  But like I said, I don’t follow the Paleo diet, so I don’t care how accurate it is (if you’re interested in the Paleo diet, there is plenty of information available online, but I would research the pros and cons because a lot of dietitians and even anthropologists are critical of the contemporary Paleo diet).

 

Despite the beautiful picture, I wasn’t totally sure how this recipe would turn out because I don’t like celery or peppers.  But I know they’re really good for you so I figured it was worth a shot.  And guess what?  it was delicious!  Granted, my husband won’t eat the vegetables, but he likes the pork at least.  And in this case, I don’t mind that he doesn’t like the vegetables because roasted carrots are pretty much my favorite thing on earth.  When I lived at home, I had to compete with my dad and little brother over who got the most, but now I can have them all to myself unless I cook them a certain way that Justin likes.

 

If you use low-sodium or sodium-free chicken stock, this is a great recipe without a ton of salt.  And because pork is leaner than beef, this is a great low-fat alternative to chuck roast (plus it’s cheaper).  I will definitely be making this again in the future.

 

Mother’s Day Cupcakes and My First Fondant!

Happy Mother’s Day!  I love my mom, and I love making presents rather than buying them, and I love baking, and my mom loves chocolate.  Add it all together and you get cupcakes!

 

A few months ago I came across these adorable cupcakes on Pinterest:

 

 

 

Those tiny little roses are too cute!  I had to try them.

 

I had never made or even worked with fondant before so I was a little hesitant.  I mean, I didn’t even know what fondant was made out of.  Fortunately, there is a super simple and super cheap way to make fondant, and it happens also to be super delicious.  Instead of using shortening and powdered sugar, which tastes about as gross as it sounds, you use marshmallows and powdered sugar – yum!

 

I’m going to write out the basic recipe, then give a link to a more detailed recipe that gives a lot more instruction on how to work with fondant (which if I had read it, I probably would have had an easier time!).

 

Basic marshmallow fondant recipe:

  • One large package mini marshmallows (my recipe said 16 oz, another said 21 oz, and the bags at the store were either 10 or 20 oz, so I think it doesn’t really matter that much)
  • 2 lb powdered sugar (one large bag)
  • water
  • food coloring

Melt the marshmallows in a double-boiler with a few tablespoons of water (you can also put them in a microwave-safe bowl, stirring them every 30 seconds until melted).  Add about 1/2 to 3/4 of the powdered sugar and stir until combined (you may need to add a little bit more water).  Then knead the rest of the powdered sugar in.  Very important: this stuff is sticky so keep your hands and kneading surface dusted with powdered sugar.  Alternatively, you can grease your hands and kneading surface with Crisco, but according to the in-depth recipe below, as well as my own experience, greasy fondant is harder to work with.

 

Add your food coloring and continue to knead until the fondant is smooth and firm – about 5-7 minutes.  Ta-da!  (Taste it – it’s yummy)

 

That’s the bare-bones idea so you can see that it’s not really very complicated.  But you should also read this recipe because it gives more instruction and details.

 

Anyway, so I tried making the tiny rosebuds, and considering that it was my first time ever working with fondant, I think I did pretty well.  I couldn’t get them as tiny or delicate as the ones in the picture, but again, I think this was partly because I used Crisco instead of powdered sugar to keep the fondant from sticking.  Next time I will try powdered sugar and see how it goes!

 

I frosted the cupcakes with buttercream frosting (Betty Crocker recipe – I hate store-bought frosting) before putting the fondant on.  I was surprised at how easily the fondant stayed on the frosting, even after the frosting had set (homemade buttercream frosting turns hard after a while).  The fondant flowers also sort of stuck to each other so I didn’t have any trouble keeping them on the cupcake – which was fortunate, because the cupcakes felt a little top-heavy!

 

 

Making those little rolled flowers takes a lot of time.  I didn’t have all night, so for half my cupcakes I used a cookie cutter to make a simpler flower.

 

I think they look really cute together!

 

 

It’s fun to experiment, and I think overall this was a success.  I am excited to work with fondant again!