Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cooling Down with Ice Cream

It is officially hot! With 30 degree temperatures (that feel like 40 with the humidity) and no air conditioning in our house, my husband Chris and I have resigned ourselves to evenings of watching TV in front of a fan. Even just sitting with a computer on my lap is causing me to break a sweat so I can guarantee that this will be a short entry!

One good thing about this heat wave is that it's a great excuse to indulge in ice cream. I feel like even thinking about it lowers my temperature a bit. If that's the case then I think I should be filling my house with ice cream related things. You might think that finding such things would be a challenge but, if you do, then you haven't spent much time on Etsy. Here are some of the awesome pieces that a search for "ice cream art" turned up!

 Willowcreeksigns makes these awesome wall art decal kits that I think would make a great addition to my kitchen. And at $19.99 they are completely affordable.

You can show your love of ice cream to the world by wearing this pendant from BlackDawgStudio. It's super sweet and made from vintage images.
I think this would make a cute gift for a little girl as well. It's only $10!

If your taste is a little more expensive you could always go with original paintings like these ones from RozArt ($135.00) or AnArtChoasmos ($50.00)

Lastly, my favourite search result is this set of adorable felt ice cream cones from FeltFoodFeast. At $18 for a set of four they would make the perfect addition to any little one's tea party. I like them so much I want to gather my own stuffed animals for a little get together just so I have a reason to buy the cones!

 So, what do you think? Feeling cooler yet?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Something for Nothing - Digital Scrapbooking

I love scrapbooking and the endless varieties of layouts and designs that you can create. What I don't love is how much stuff you need to buy to make it happen. I know, I know, there are people who can make really great pages with very few supplies but I would argue that those people are much more artistically gifted than I am! And thus I have boxes and drawers full of scrapbooking supplies, so much stuff that I don't even really remember half of what I've got stashed away. And when it's so much work just getting everything out, I rarely find myself motivated to get creative.

That's where digital scrapbooking comes in. Nothing to buy (except the odd layout or element online) and everything neatly stored on your computer. It can sometimes take a bit to master but, once you've got a handle on it, it's so easy to create your own scrapbooking works of art. Tonight I want to share two of my favourite digital scrapping resources.

The first is paint.net. In order to scrapbook on your computer you need a program that can edit photos and that lets you pull elements together. I will admit that the Adobe suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.) are my favourite programs for this. The problem is that they are really expensive. Enter paint.net! It's a photo editing program that you can download for free from www.getpaint.net. It doesn't have all the functionality of Photoshop but it has everything you need to create awesome layouts. If you've used photo editing programs before then paint.net is a cinch to use. If you're a complete beginner then there are help files and a forum where you can pose questions to other users.

The second resource I want to share tonight is ShabbyPrincess.com They've got a great selection of free kits to download. They come with paper, letters and matching elements and they make putting together pages a snap. The downloads are pretty big so they can take a while depending on your connection speed but they are well worth it. Last Christmas I used the Holiday Recipe Collection to create a cookbook for our work recipe exchange and I got a lot of compliments. I've also used the Promise kit to make really pretty baby shower cards. All of these kits are great for cards and I plan to use the Holiday Magic kit to make my Christmas cards this year!

The other thing I love about ShabbyPrincess is their blog called the Shabby Shoppe Blog. If their main site doesn't provide you enough inspiration just hit the blog for more free downloads, reader layouts of the week and unique project ideas. They also post a free wallpaper each month that you can customize with your own photo. Check out September's wallpaper that I've customized with my favourite wedding picture. And I did it in paint.net :)

So to recap: paint.net + ShabbyPrincess equals no muss, no fuss, no cost digital scrapbooking that anyone can do. Happy scrapping!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I Heart Wedding DIY - Centrepieces

Our weekend guests have headed home and the last load of laundry is in the dryer so I now have the chance to write an entry!

Yesterday we attended the wedding of our friends Ryan and Carla at the Southshore Centre in Barrie. The last time I was there for an event it was my high school prom so I was really curious to see how they would transform the venue for their wedding. I am pleased to report that the bride and her family did a beautiful job of decorating and it looked nothing like I remember from all those (*cough*10*cough*) years ago. The chairs were set up very similarly to this picture (that I took from the City of Barrie's website) but they had lined the aisle and the area where the ceremony took place with a variety of coloured crystals hung from fishing line. The effect was really lovely and, as a nice tie-in, they gave crystal bracelets to all the female guests. My favourite part of the wedding was the flowers. The centrepieces were done with gorgeous cream hydrangeas in square vases. And, in a very roundabout way, I've arrived at the subject of tonight's post: DIY wedding centrepieces!

For my wedding I wanted floral centrepieces but I didn't want to spend an arm and a leg. So I was super excited when we found the Snartig bud vase at Ikea. They were incredibly affordable (they are actually on sale for a dollar each at the moment!) and so we decided to buy enough to have one for each couple at each table. For flowers I went to the Floral Department at Costco the day before the wedding and bought several mixed flower bouquets in my wedding colours and put one flower in each vase. We grouped them in the centre of each table around the table numbers and they doubled as both centrepieces and favours. My bridesmaid Christina, who helped set up the venue, thought I was crazy to wait to buy flowers on the day before the wedding but I think because I didn't have a specific type or colour of flower in mind I was going to be ok as long as Costco wasn't completely sold out. 

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture that is specifically of the centrepieces but these should give you an idea of how they turned out. 


I would totally recommend going this route if you want fresh flowers but don't want to pay a florist to create your arrangements!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hello, Cupcake!

We have guests coming to stay with us for the weekend so, instead of working on new projects, I've been cleaning my house. The fact of the matter is that my life definitely doesn't allow for daily baking and crafting (though I wish it did!) so on days where I don't get to be creative, I'm going to share things that inspire me.

Today's inspiration is the book Hello, Cupcake and its follow up What's New, Cupcake?

These two books are full of incredibly cute cupcake designs mostly made of candy and snacks. I won't claim that all of them are easy (hand painting butterflies in chocolate was not the simplest thing I've ever done) but many of them are quite quick to put together. Every design I've tried has turned out great and received a ton of compliments. The best part is that, aside from candy, you don't really need to purchase any special tools. The authors encourage you to decorate with icing in a Ziploc bag with the corner cut off!

Who would have thought that you could create cupcakes like these with nothing but icing, candy, chocolate melting wafers, plastic bags and a little patience!

Here are two of the types I have tried that I happen to have pictures of. The first is chocolate painted monarch butterflies and the second are "petit fours" I made for a baby shower. The cake in the middle was my own wacky design! Click on the pictures for bigger versions if you want to see more detail.

I absolutely recommend these; they are my go-to inspiration anytime I need a unique dessert. And once I've worked my way through all the ideas (it'll take a while!) the authors even have a blog that you can read here for more inspiration. Happy cupcaking!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Truffle Slices

For my first post I blogged about the Scotch Shortbread recipe in the 150 Delicious Squares cookbook. It was one of two recipes from that book that I tried this last weekend, the second being Truffle Slices. I picked Truffle Slices partly because they sounded delicious but also because I already had most of the ingredients (margarine, icing sugar and cocoa) and only had to run to the store for pecan pieces.

As you can see, I'm a big fan of No Name products. I've been in arguments with other bakers who believe it's important to buy top quality ingredients and, while I see their point, I disagree. I think if you put care into what you're making and you're using a good recipe, it doesn't matter what the brand name on your cocoa is. But that's just my opinion.

I also fully believe in substituting margarine for butter in most every recipe, the Scotch Shortbread being one of my rare exceptions. Does it change the end product a bit? Yes but not for the worse.

This was another super simple recipe; simply mix the first three ingredients together until well combined and then roll into a log. This proved a bit tricky as the mixture was pretty sticky but I managed by putting a bit of icing sugar down on the counter. Then you roll the log in the pecans. What I learned is that I should have smashed my pecan pieces into much smaller bits because it was nearly impossible to roll the sticky truffle log to get it covered evenly. In the end I found myself actually pressing the pecans into the log and then flipping it over to repeat on each side. It worked but it changed the shape entirely. You finish by wrapping it all in plastic wrap. The end result, I've got to be honest, did not look all that appetizing. Plus, somehow with all that rolling my log had doubled in size so I ended up with two skinner pieces.

That was pretty much the end of the recipe since after that you just chill in the refrigerator for an hour and then remove the plastic and cut into slices. Again, this would have been much easier with smaller pecan pieces. The size of mine prevented me from cutting clean slices so my final product really didn't look much like the one in the cookbook. Presentation aside, these things are delicious! I got rave reviews from my husband and my parents and I would definitely make them again.

Unfortunately, I can't find this recipe online anywhere so I can't share a link but if you'd like a copy, leave your email address in the comments and I'll send it along!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Scotch Shortbread

Hello and welcome to my blog, Sugar and Shimmer! I've often thought of starting a blog where I could have a place to share my ideas, trials and successes with baking and crafting. That's what this blog aims to be: I'll share with you the projects I'm working on as well as some of the things I've made in the past, from random rainy day crafts to some of my DIY wedding projects. I hope you'll find inspiration that you can use and you'll enjoy seeing my creations.

For my first post I'm going to share a baking experience from this past weekend. My husband and I were having a lazy Sunday at home and so I decided to let him pick a recipe for me to make. I gave him the 150 Delicious Squares book (one of the wonderful Company's Coming series) and he chose Scotch Shortbread. I assume it would be a copyright infringement to post the entire recipe but, if you're interested, someone else beat me to it here.

I've never made shortbread before but with only three ingredients (butter, flour and icing sugar), I figured that it wouldn't be too difficult. It definitely wasn't!

All you had to do was combine the ingredients in a bowl and work them together with your hands until they formed a ball. I will confess that I love any recipe that instructs me to use my hands. They are so much easier to work with than anything else and clean up is a snap!

Once you've got your dough, you simply press it into the pan, poke it through with a fork all over and then pop it in the oven. Not the best summer recipe because it bakes for 50 minutes which is a long time to have the oven on in an already overheated house but the results were well worth it.

Here is what the finished product looked like. I cut the shortbread into bite-size pieces because it turned out wonderfully flaky (read: crumbly and messy) but you could easily turn it into bars if you preferred. I also thought it could be neat to bake it in a round cake pan and then cut it into wedges for a different sort of presentation.

And that's it for my first entry. Give the recipe a try yourself and hit the comments to let me know how it turned out. Or feel free to give me suggestions for what I can make next, or just let me know that you're reading.

More later this week as I also made Truffle Slices on Sunday!