Apple and Sweet Onion Macaroni and Cheese

Thursday, April 28, 2011

This is a favorite in our house. I'm pretty sure it would make the top of the list. Everytime I do make this dish, there is always an excitement in the air. It is a really decadent twist on a favorite and simple American staple: Mac and Cheese.

1 bag/box of Large shells; Conchiglie are among my favorites for this recipe

2 medium crisp apples

1 small or 1/2 of 1 large sweet onion

1 c. milk / half and half

4 tsp Butter

2 tsp Flour

Optional: Prosciutto (cut small mix in with onions and apples only for a about a minute or two)

Cheese: approx. 2 c. (Here is where it is up to you. I use a combo of 1 c. cheddar and
1/2 c. mozzarella and about 1/4 to 1/2 cup Vintage aged Gouda, this Gouda has a smoked and nutty flavor that is heavenly in this recipe. However, you don't have to use Gouda at all, or you can replace with Parmesan, Romano, etc.)

Start Cooking: This is a meal where you will be doing three things pretty much at once so that everything is done at the same time. Note: It is most important that the cheese sauce be the last thing done and food served directly upon it's completion.)

Start your water for boiling noodles. If using the suggested large shells use a large pot to boil so they don't get stuck together. Add a little salt to water for taste.

While water is starting to boil: Cut onions and apples into smallish cubes. And shred your cheeses. Set items aside.

Place noodles in to boil.

Over Med/Low heat (more on the low side) start to saute onions and apples in 2 tbs butter making sure to lightly soften but not burn.

In a small pot start making cheese sauce:
First you will need to make a roux (this is to thicken the sauce - you can skip this step but your sauce will not have the same consistency as the photos, the flavor will be the same however and it will still be yummy!)
Over med/low heat add and melt 2 tsp butter. Then add 2 tsp flour. Whisk and stir together for about 3 to 4 minutes to cook out the four flavor.

Add cold milk to warm roux. Stir/Whisk

Slowly add cheeses. You may need to lower your heat just a tad for it to melt nice and smoothly. (I usually put my heat between med/low and low - but keep in mind all stoves are different). Stir lightly to melt cheeses evenly.

While cheese is melting: Drain noodles and place in serving dish. Add apple and onion saute.

Once cheese sauce is completely melted pour over noodles in serving dish and fold together.

Serve immediately.

Sewing & Crafting Tips: Because I learned the hard way.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I believe crafting should be as enjoyable as possible. As a young girl/woman I crafted for entertainment, because I wanted to make something I couldn't otherwise have afforded and as a way to express myself. I still craft for the same reasons to day. When you craft remember to allow yourself to enjoy it; if you're not enjoying just put it down and come back to it later, or find more resolve by regaining your inspiration by looking at books, blogs or just envisioning the end product. Sometimes I just think of the way I want to be feeling about crafting and it works.

I have had a lot of trials and errors with crafting, and I still do. But there are some tips and tricks I have picked along the way that make a big, big difference. I am still learning all the time, I have some training in sewing but other that I am completely self taught - I have made many mistakes! But there are few things that can set one the right direction. On that note, for you experienced crafters, please I am always interested in hearing practical tips!!! Feel free to add to the list...

1. First and foremost any tutorial is a guide. You are in control of the craft and it's okay to color outside the lines, expand the lines, or pull them in to your comfort level. What works for one person does not always work for another.

My Favorites: Gingher

2. Scissors! Snip Snip...A good pair of scissors is a must have! Actually I have a few pair of dedicated scissors. I have my Fabric Scissors which are never used on ANYTHING else but fabric. And no one in my house is allowed to even look at them. Buying a pair of quality, really quality, scissors is an absolute necessity in my book. The initial cost can be around $35+, but you save so much money, because when you spend that much for a pair of scissors I guarantee you will not use them for anything else and you will not need to replace them. they will also cut like magic! Embroidery scissors for cutting threads, small pieces of felt or other details. Utility/Paper scissors for cutting paper, velcro, or anything that doesn't qualify as fabric.

These are my favorite Embroidery scissors, however, (I also have a gingher pair). I paid about 4 dollars for these and I panic when I can't find them. They are such great scissors! More doesn't always mean better!

3. Iron: So, truth be told I had this old iron that I had been using for years. I hated ironing my fabric because it took forever, so I rarely did, which made the whole process of sewing a lot more precocious and frustrating and time consuming. Finally, I broke down and bought a Rowenta. Wow! It really does make a difference. Using a good iron is something I don't think I had ever experienced. Ironing shouldn't take longer than sewing it! An ironing board, even if it's a very small one is pretty good to have on hand too. But a towel and table will work as well.

This is the lesser expensive model which works great for me. They run from about $40-60.00

4. Ruler: These come in handy all the time. I like the 2x18. It's perfect for sewing and other crafting projects. This one is see through and even has holes which will help you make perfect circles. Oh and it's one of the least expensive, between 3-6 bucks! The companion to the ruler is a fabric marker of some sort, I prefer the chalk. AKA "tailors chalk." You can just lick your finger and rub it off if you make a mistake in marking, and I like that.

5. Gauge: This is great, great, great for hems! Use it along your hemline to double check your measurements as you pin your hem down. You can pay up to 15 dollars for these, but I have tried those ones too, and, I don't like them. I suggest paying under $1.50 for this one.

6. Freezer Paper: Oh the things that Freezer Paper can do! Stenciling, stabilizing for cutting out motifs, appliques, quilting shapes, a perfect assistant in helping with printing on fabric. (I plan to explore most of the wonders of Freezer Paper in my blog posts.) I love the stuff. It's great to have on hand. And I guess you can use it in your freezer, but I have no idea how : )
7. Straight Pins for keeping your fabric in place. Glass head pins are best because they won't melt if you go over them with your iron. I never leave my pins in when I am sewing. It's just not a good idea. A pin cushion is actually important too!

8. Fusible web and applique sheets. This is basically like double-sided tape for fabric. Buying off the bolt is much less expensive than buying it in individual packages and it still comes with instructions. Needs iron.

9. Wash your fabric BEFORE sewing with it. I know it's a pain, but it's so important. The only exception is if you are never going to wash your item, then don't bother. And, yes, ironing your fabric before use is a good idea too, but I wouldn't say you always have to.

10. Use a polyester blend thread. Unless your project specifically calls for cotton, or other thread. Cotton threads can shrink with washing and pucker fabric.

11. Peruse crafting books and craft blogs: even if you don't do the projects, they are great for inspiration!

12. Document your crafts: if you are making up a project on the fly, like I do most of the time, and it turns out great, it's so nice to have written down or taken photos of the process so you can do it again later, or pass it along to a friend or blog site. Eventually you might have enough material to start your own blog!

13. Wool Felt: This is great stuff to have on hand. It is so, so user friendly. And it also can add a fun, modern element and texture to so many projects. Of course wool felt can be a vast source of project material in itself. P.S. DO NOT iron synthetic felt! It melts onto your iron. yuck. You can iron wool felt however.

14. A variety of sewing needles is also good to have on hand for all crafting. Beading, sewing, embroidery, big eye, little eye, sharp, blunt...

15. A super inexpensive glue gun. You never know when you are going to say, "oh, yeah, I am going to go get glue gun!" You will be happy now and then that you spent the $5.00

16. Do-dads: Embroidery thread, buttons, sequins, a few bottles of acrylic paint/a few brushes and other "fun" items. Just because. And these items are really inexpensive, of course it adds up, but it's nice to spend a few dollars to get your inventory started.

17. Take care of your sewing machine. One thing that is a must-do, again, is to make sure all your pins are out before you sew. Make sure you are using the right needle for your fabric, the right bobbin holder for you machine, the right settings and foot for your fabric. Oh, all these things do make a difference and can turn a fruitful sewing session into one of a combination of irritation and frustration, broken needles, wads of tangled threads and so on. I do love to avoid these situations as much as possible.

18: Practice stitches: while I am a fervent advocate for just winging it and letting your inner crafter emerge in the process, but, well, sewing is different. There is a learning curve involved. I always, test my stitches on a scrap of the fabric I will be using to make sure my settings are right, which says a lot, because I love to cut corners. And if you are really new to sewing, practice all the different stiches and different seams, it's actually kind of fun to do. It will make sewing easier and afford you the "instinct" you can go-to later. It's the courting period between you and your machines long life together. The same is true with embroidery stitches. Really setting down to practice a stitch before you try to use it on a project will save you the hassle of having to rip out mistakes later. I do a lot of sewing and embroidery and I still, everytime, do a little practice round, then I know I am going into my project with confidence. It doesn't mean I don't end up with some ripping out of threads and do-overs, because I do, but it certainly lessens the amount of times I do this.

19: Antique Store/Malls and Thirt Shops: These are great places to get some of your extra items. Like buttons, threads, wool sweaters (for fabric use, but follow the felting process before using) and fabrics which can be spendy at stores, can be purchased for pennies, and there's just something about the retro and vintage items that can invite a nostalgic vigor to a crafting project. Not to mention, the positive benefits of up-cycling and re-purposing has on our environment.

So, here is a beginning/beginners list of tips and my favorite items to have on hand. I find most of these items are frequently used in craft projects, so it's great to have a little inventory. I try to buy my sewing items at local stores because I find the prices are comparable and, well, the fabrics are amazingly higher quality - so I want them to stay in business. But all of these items can be found at the big chain stores or online too. Lastly, I recommend these items on my own accord, I have not gotten any monetary gains, promises or prizes for my suggestions. I just really like them and I do believe having the right tools in your tool box makes a very big difference between.

Happy Crafting!

Freezer-Paper Stencils: With Kids!

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Super awesome Tee-Shirt made by my very talented 13 year-old!

Freezer-Paper Stenciling is a very easy way to decorate clothing, or even give new life to any old t-shirt, bag, pants, or any fabric item! My boys love, really love, wearing clothes with pictures that they like on them. I find it difficult to find these items that still meet my aesthetic (meaning I don't generally like to buy kids for my clothes that are busy with logo's or statements; I also like to dress them in 100% cotton as much as possible). A solution I found is to buy plain t-shirts, or when those older tee's start getting faded and worn, we can breathe new life with Freezer-Paper stenciling.

Did I mention how easy this?!

What you need:

T-shirt (or other cotton fabric item)
Freezer-Paper (it's with the foil and plastic bags at your local grocery store.)
Acrylic Paint or Fabric Paint
Paint brush
X-acto knife (for adult use only! or with supervision for the older child)
Iron (make sure the steam is off!)
Piece of cardboard, clean cutting board or self-healing mat

This is a great project to do in the evening because the shirt will need to be left alone for about 12 hours, and if your children are like mine, it's just easier to let that time pass while they are sleeping. Plus when they wake up they can wear their new shirt right away!

First Step (adult and kids): You will need to make a stencil. You can draw this yourself  or a trick I do, is look on line for "silhouettes," print it out and then trace over on the rough side of the Freezer-Paper (the shiny side will be ironed down onto the tee shirt).

Tip: As long as you are using this for yourself with no intention to sell, this is a-okay. I use true silhouettes, especially with children, one large blank space where the paint will goo on. For older crafters you can get a little more creative and intricate. For example search "Dinosaur silhouette." Also make sure your stencil is inside a large piece of paper so that when you child(ren) paint you don't have to worry about the paint getting on the parts of the shirt it doesn't belong. No stress, no mess...okay, less mess.

Step Two (for adult): Cut out the shape using an x-acto knife.  Cut on your peice of cardboard or self-healing mat. Carefully remove the center of the picture and discard.

Tip: when I did this for the first time I drove myself crazy trying to get it exactly right, which I didn't of course, but it still turned out great. And kids, well they will be more concerned with the image itself than any imperfections with it!

Step Three (for adult): Iron the stencil (shiny side down) onto your t-shirt. It only takes about 10 seconds 

Tip: Do make sure all of the smaller sections around the image is nice and secure, because if they are not they can flip up when you or your child are painting.

Step Four (for kids!):  Start painting the inside of your stencil. This will be a generous amount, which is great because kids are pretty generous with their paint : ) The shirt will absorb a lot, but you will want to make sure that there are not excess, no globs.

Tip: Place a piece of Freezer-Paper, magazine, cardboard or anything inbetween your fabrics to prevent the paint leaking onto the other side of the fabric.

Step Five (adult and kids): Allow the shirt to dry overnight.

Tip: When I do this with my kids I check on the shirt before I go to bed and apply any touch-ups that may be needed if, as it dries, you see some paint-free spaces. This is pretty common, so it's nice to get it done so the shirt will be ready by morning for the tots.

Step Six (for kids): Remove the stencil, just peel it off and away.

Tip: If you think you want to re-use it, which is possible, I've re-used mine more than once. Peel carefully as not to rip it.

Step Seven: Heat-Set the stencil on your shirt. I usually will just place a piece of paper over the painted on stencil and go back over it with the iron for about 30-45 seconds. You can also throw it in the dryer for 15 minutes.

Tip: When I made these on onsies and my babies were real little I always washed them before they were allow to wear them. Now, not so much, however they should be washed first in cold water and alone or with wash you are okay risking getting some bleeding from the paint. I have never had an issue with bleeding in the wash myself. But after that first wash you can safely wash them as you would anything else.

A very proud boy!

Paint will fade over time and with additional washings. Finally, while there are several steps involved this is extraordinarily easy, fun, inexpensive and has a gratifying result! Enjoy!!!

Here are a couple "mom" made Freezer Stencil Projects:
Dressing up Zip up Hoodies

This photo is what our sweatshirt stencil looks like after a year of washing and wearing.

PS Sorry for the terrible phone pics!

Dessert for Breakfast: Warm Jasmine Rice with Mango and Coconut Milk

Thursday, April 14, 2011

This is one of my and my kids favorite breakfast treats! It is also fabulous as a dessert dish. And did I mention it's healthy, gluten free and easy to prepare! woohoo!

This recipe yeilds approximately 2 large servings (for breakfast) or 4 small servings (for desert)

What you need:

1 cup Jasmine Rice
1 large ripe Mango
6-8 oz of canned coconut milk
2 tbsp Brown Sugar
1 tsp butter or oil for rice
Optional: Garnish with loose lavendar

Prepare rice: 2 cups water to 1 cup rice. Boil water with 1 tsp butter or oil; add rice, return to boil, stir, set to low heat, cover for 20 minutes. (see package for directions for other types of rice)

You will want to serve this dish while the rice is still warm (will cool quickly)

While rice is cooking slice mango (small cubed pieces work best for little ones)

Once the rice is done place in individual bowls, top with mango slices, pour about a 1/4 cup of coconut milk on top of mago (for larger serving sizes), sprinkle with brown sugar and lavendar.

This is so simple and yet so delicious!

served for tots with a sweet potato banana pudding bread


You can also place your lavendar in with the rice as it cooks, which will give it a beautiful frangrance as well as flavor. Use long grain brown rice as a healthier and more hearty option, or combine the Jasmine and brown rice. Drizzle with honey rather than sugar. Use almond milk, cream or goat milk instead of coconut (although, it's really best with the coconut!)


Book Review: Doodle-Stiching by Aimee Ray

Monday, April 11, 2011

Doodle-Stitching by Aimee Ray
Visit Powells for online Purchase (it's worth it!)

I love embroidery! I can't quite remember what got me inspired to take up embroidery again, (I was known to stitch some "hippy-esque" sunshines and such on my cut-off jeans and backpacks as a teenager), but I do remember picking up the needle and thread a couple years ago and having a whole new feeling of discovery. I did not remember loving embroidery, in fact I remember it frustrating me to no end, when I tried it as a teen. But this time it felt magical, it felt nostalgic and it felt pretty simple once I had done my time doing "practice" stitches. It is a cozy craft, or perhaps it just feels that way to me because I picked up the craft in the middle of winter, but I truly think it is. It is one of those amazing crafts that is actually relaxing once you get the hang of it. It doesn't take an entire craft room to store your materials, just a small little basket or box for your threads, needles and hoops.

Once I decided I loved embroidery, I found that it was making a pretty serious comeback, and there were really cute iron on transfers like those from Sublime Stitching, and books like Doodle-Stitching, which I loved!

The projects in Doodle-Stitching vary in skill level. Aimee Ray did a great job starting with the very basics and building from there (It's a great book for learning!). Even a very experienced embroiderer can be inspired by the book.

Taken right from the pages of Doodle-Stitching, a gnome and owl, that I and my 12 year old made for the twins out of wool felt.

For many folks out there, your first thought may be "Okay, embroidery is cool...but what can you actually do with it once you make your tea towel set?" Well, Doodle Stitching is great at giving you tons of ideas where embroidery can be used. And what I love most about this book is, not only does it have templates and wonderful things to "copy," but it truly does inspire you to do your 'own thing,' she has so many great examples you end up thinking of your own great ideas.

I highly recommend this book and the craft of embroidery. If you are thinking about trying it out, I encourage you to do so, it is such a small investment it's completely worth it to give it a try! And once you have this little book in your hands you won't be able to help yourself!

Some Napkins I made for a Christmas Gift. (I just lightly penciled my drawings on to the napkins and stitched over the pencil marks.) And of course I ironed them before they were gifted ; )

Craftastrophe: When Good Crafts Go Bad

Sunday, April 10, 2011

We ALL have craftastrophes. Here is one of mine - the reversable hat. Don't let these photos fool you, the proportions were terrible and I had to cut the back and to add a little room just to get it on his head. It was a really cute idea though, no?

Oregon Coast: Trip Inspired By Play

Saturday, April 2, 2011

After playing with our new seashells, I couldn't get the beach off my mind. I kept thinking just how close we are, (a mere 2 hours away), and the fact that my almost-2 1/2 year old- twins have never been (criminal!). So we loaded up and went for a day trip to the fabulous Newport Beach, Oregon. Here are some photos of the lovely Oregon Coast.

First we stopped by the very cool (even if you don't pay to go inside) Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, which is right on the way from Portland!

Hello Ocean

It was a beautiful day!

Breaking Waves

The last drop of sun of the day

Then we headed to the Aquarium. A always highly anticipated destination. The jellyfish exhibit is my favorite!

Ocean Litter Art. I have to admit this was one of the amazing exhibits of "litter" being showcased. It really was breathtaking.

Visiting Sea Lions from down south, California

I love finding great signs! We found this one at Cape Foulweather.

Special Treats for a Special Day.

Crab Baskets

The bay front. The sun gave way to a perfect grey one.
Perfect way to end the trip. A steamy and creamy bowl of garlic crab soup from Local Ocean (the best restuarant on the Oregon Coast!)

In the end I was still happy with our bag of craft store seashells because we didn't find a single one on the beach!

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