Saturday, November 26, 2011

Operation BFF: Black Friday Deals!

So earlier I posted about our Black Friday traditions, and I'm proud to announce that Operation Black Friday Fabric was once again a success.
Our caravan.  Yup, all shopping carts in this shot are ours.

This year we added two people to our team, making five able-bodied people to maneuver carts (or baby-sit them), coordinate fabric, and apparently entertain the JoAnn staff.

We got in line a little after five, chatting with other crafters about the Cricut and sipping hot chocolate.  The line seemed longer, which my seasoned Black Friday Shopping sister (who had been shopping since 10 pm the night before) attributed to the earlier openings of other stores.  With so many people and pretty much no major deals in scrapbooking, baking, or painting, we were clearly doomed.

Once the doors opened at six, we snagged carts and went about grabbing fabric.  Within minutes we had a Christmas tree, several bolts of fabric, and scored cutting number 73.  As we waited for our number to be called, we continued browsing fabric and making alterations to our selections.  Then the cutting process began....for all five of our carts full of flannel and fleece. (By the time they were done cutting our order, they were on cutting number 91!)

303 yards of flannel and fleece, 30 yards of batting, 10 patterns, a few thousand yards of thread, and numerous buttons later, we carefully navigated through the store before we decided that attempting to shop for anything else at the time was futile.  So we decided to check out what we had to avoid creating an avalanche in the middle of JoAnn's.
Our legendary special ops team.  And order.  Mission accomplished.

When we reached the register we found out that we had become the talk of JoAnn's as the one cashier excitedly claimed the opportunity to ring up our order.  Our 333 yards of fabric/batting, patterns, thread, and other notions that jumped into our cart, er, carts ended up saving us more than $2,200 (costing us under 30% of the retail value) with the sales and the 25% off coupon (not applicable on the flannel because it was a Friday doorbuster, but applied to the fleece).

This was probably the largest amount of fabric we've ever gotten on Black Friday, and amazingly enough, it was the fastest we've ever gotten out of there too.  In two hours we went from the pathetic people standing outside to the proud owners of flannel, fleece, batting, and a Christmas tree.
Operation BFF is a success.
And if you're jealous of our deals, the fleece is still $2.99/yard through Sunday, and if you got the mailer or massive stack of ads in the Thanksgiving paper, there is a coupon for 25% off your total purchase for Saturday morning, making the fleece $2.25/yard.  How can you pass that up?
What was your big Black Friday deal?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Growing Like a Weed: DIY Instructions for a Growth Chart

Buying things for babies always proves difficult for me.  I have a need to be somewhat practical, but also a desire to give something creative and meaningful.  What do you buy them when they already have everything they need?  Do they really need another toy that they'll outgrow in six months?  What does another outfit really do for them?  But I don't want to give overly practical gifts like savings bonds (although I'm sure would be much appreciated about fifteen years down the line).

When these children are my nieces, all of these needs are heightened.  I want to give something cool, but nothing that just anyone would give them.

Then, scrolling through a friend's facebook I found my solution: a growth chart.  It was simple, inexpensive, and something that is meaningful.

To make your own growth chart you will need:
6" x 6' board - I used pine (did you know that a 6" board is actually 5 1/2"?)
Sand paper
Spray paint
Ruler, yardstick, or tape measure
Acrylic paint
Paint brushes

For lettering and numbers:
Printed text and tracing paper (or a stencil)

First sand the board.  Next, spray paint it- first adding a sparse coat to help the paint stick to the board.  Then spray an even coat over the board.

A light, sparse coat will help the paint stick the the board.


Once the board dries, use a tape measure to mark the measurements.  I marked both sides of the tape measure, then went back through making each line an inch long (the ruler I use to cut fabric with was great for this).  Mark enough lines to start the measurements just under a foot (so that the number 1 will be on the board) and to finish just over six feet (or if you're using a 4 foot board you could start the board around a foot and a half and go to around five feet).

Print out the name and numbers, and trace them using graphite .  (I liked this way better because I wasn't limited to the fonts and sizes at the craft store, but it was more time consuming and took a very steady hand when painting).

Paint the lines, making the lines at each foot slightly longer than the other lines.  Paint the numbers and name.  Add a design if desired (I used a design based on a fabric I used for another project for her birthday- more to come on that project later).

Voila- growth chart!  A great baby shower gift, first birthday present, or Christmas gift.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

'Tis the Season- for Bargains!

Its the weekend before Thanksgiving, and while I'm trying to figure out when summer even ended, my family is gearing up for the holidays.  The lit candy canes are already lining the driveway and my mother has begun ferreting away mysterious packages that have arrived.  And we have begun to prepare for Black Friday.

My sister is a serious bargain hunter, which means Black Friday to her is better than Christmas or her birthday.  At the beginning of November she begins scouting out sketchy copies of ads posted online.  Once the ads show up with the paper, it's serious planning time.  She makes lists of what she needs from each store, clips coupons and devises a schedule.  For my sister I think it's more about the experience and the savings rather than having to get that perfect gift.  For me, there isn't really anything that inspires me to wait in line all night, hoping the crowds won't get too crazy, or to hope that there is enough in the store.

Until we started going to JoAnn's.  How can you ignore flannel at $1.50 per yard?  Black Friday at JoAnn's is unlike any other store the morning after Thanksgiving.

My sister and I started going to JoAnn's five years ago.  Fearing long lines, we arrived two hours early.  We ended up waiting in the car for an hour before anyone else arrived, and even then it was the employees.  The line begins to form about an hour before the store starts, and we've made friends with other regulars who we've stood next to in line for the past few years, discussing what we're shopping for, swapping craft ideas and sharing knowledge.  We go every year for flannel for my grandmother who makes baby blankets to donate.  Another woman gets fabric to make Christmas gifts for her family.  Someone is always there for the Cri-cut deal.  The line remains orderly, and we help people scope out where trees, the Cri-cuts and other various deals are, and people calculate how many people ahead of them want the same item to determine their odds of getting the deals.

Once the doors open, everyone gathers buggies and begins shopping.  I've never seen anyone snatch anything from another or snag something from someone's cart, rather they ask others if they could have the bolt once another got their piece of fabric cut.

Yes, the line to cut fabric is long.  And it is even longer as several people (like ourselves) have carts (yes, more than one) overflowing with bolts of fabric to get cut.  The best solution is to shop with more than one person: one waits while others shop, bringing fabric to the cart and making decisions as you wait.

In the end, buying about a hundred yards of flannel at JoAnn's does take us about four hours, but the savings of more than $5 per yard is more than worth it.  And of course we always walk out with some other wonderful deals on fleece and scrapbooking supplies.

We've already started making our Black Friday list.  Where do you shop and what are you planning on buying this year on Black Friday?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Sweet Thank You to our Veterans: Chocolate Camo Cake

It's easy to get caught up in our lives- in work, in social events, in the daily grind.  It's so simple to forget about our history and the people who have served our country.  Whether you agree with politicians or not, and whether you support the issues going on overseas in the present (or in the past), one thing that I think all people can agree with is that our country's soldiers face a great deal of danger.  They bravely face these dangers doing what they feel they can to serve our country.  Today is a day to honor these soldiers, those who have left their families and risked their lives serving our country.

My grandfather served in World War II, and my father and uncle both served in Korea.  Once a month my grandma makes dinner for a handful of veterans as a way to say thank you.  These men have certainly faced a lot- from head injuries to emotional turmoil.

This month I made them a cake.

I love this chocolate camo and wanted to share the technique with you.  It can be prepared ahead of time to make a simple, easy decoration on a cake.  It also beats flowers and ruffle boarders for guys who hate frilly stuff (soldiers and hunters are prime examples).

You will need:
Black Chocolate Wafers (Merkens black chocolate tastes like Oreos.  Not even kidding)
Dark Chocolate Wafers
Milk Chocolate Wafers
Dark Green Chocolate Wafers
White Chocolate Wafers
Parchment Paper (needs to be slightly longer than the sides of the cake you want to cover or size pieces you want to have)

The amount you need will vary depending on the size cake you're making, but using so many colors I needed maybe one third to one half cup of each color (my estimates are extremely generous) for a quarter sheet cake.

Melt the chocolate.  I used a nifty warming tray my mom had that becomes a buffet server.  This particular warming tray had temperature control, allowing me to set it on low and put the chocolate in glass dishes in a water bath.  (I have used a warming tray in the past without temperature control, but for whatever reason lately it has been burning the more delicate chocolates- white and colors.)

Chocolate burns easily so you want to melt your chocolate slow and low.  Other options include microwaving in 15 second intervals.  Dark and milk chocolate can be melted at half power.  White and colored chocolate should be melted at 40% power.  I've been told that putting chocolate in glass dishes in a water bath in an electric skillet set low also works.

I melted black chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and green chocolate.  I didn't like the original color of the green chocolate so I added a little bit of the dark chocolate to it to make it fit in the color scheme better.  I also made light brown by adding some milk or dark chocolate to white chocolate and light green by adding some of my darker green to white.  I don't have exact amounts, but add a couple pieces or a small spoonful of the colored chocolate at a time until you get a color that you like.

Once your chocolate is melted, you will start doling it out onto the parchment paper.  I made mine slightly longer than the sides of my cake just to make sure it fit nicely.  I work from dark to light in my chocolate, to keep dark chocolate from showing through lighter chocolate as the new layers inevitably overlap the old.
I used another piece of parchment paper as a guide to make sure my line was straight.

Make spaced out drops of black chocolate with a spoon.  You don't need a lot of chocolate on the spoon.  Spread it around a little in different shapes to resemble the random shapes in traditional camouflage.  Once you finish with one color it should be somewhat set (unless you're some kind of crazy speed demon you don't need to wait any), it just needs to be set enough to not smear into the next color.
Black chocolate.  Remember that you have several other colors too add!

Add dark chocolate in the same manner, overlapping on some of the black pieces and adding some pieces not touching the black.  Try to make it look random.  Follow suit with dark green, milk, light green, and light brown chocolates.
Adding dark chocolate
Adding dark green chocolate.
A few spaces left to fill in.
Completed Chocolate Sides

Fill in any empty spaces.  You'll know what color to use by what is already surrounding the empty spaces.

Frost the cake, making the frosting a little heavier on the sides.  This will make sure that all of the chocolate is attached to the cake, allow something for the somewhat bumpy chocolate pieces to sink into and help keep it from cracking.

Next, determine exactly how long you need your pieces of chocolate to be. (I laid a piece of parchment paper next to the cake and marked it to determine an exact length, then was able to lay that same piece next to the chocolate.)  I peeled the strips of chocolate off the paper first, then cut the pieces of chocolate to that length.  To prevent cracking make sure the flat side of the chocolate is down and use a hot knife (if you still have your warming tray on just stick the blade against the surface for a few seconds to warm it).

Place the cut pieces flat side out on the sides of the cake, sinking the rough side into the frosting.

I know it's a hunting cake, but this camo looks awesome on chocolate frosting!

Voila!  Simple, masculine, camouflage cake.

Thank you to all who have served.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Piece of Cake: Easy Pumpkin Cake

Pumpkin has been on the menu a lot lately, and I realized I left you hanging telling you how to roast pumpkin without giving you a way to use it.  I'm a fan of delicious, and when delicious is quick and easy, it's major bonus points.  Both of the recipes I've been using for pumpkin cake are cake-mix-based, making them simple and quick.

Moist Pumpkin Cake
This recipe is from a recent issue of the Kraft Food & Family magazine, originally intended for cupcakes but still makes a great cake.  A spice cake is recommended, but for less spice, you could use a yellow or white cake mix and add a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice.

1 spice cake mix
1 cup sour cream
15 ounces fresh pumpkin (or one 15 ounce can of pumpkin)
1/4 cup oil
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the cake mix, sour cream, pumpkin, oil and eggs together.  Bake 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Easy Pumpkin Cake
This recipe also uses a cake mix and doesn't come out quite as moist, but is a little more stable if you're going to carve the cake.

Follow the directions for a yellow or white cake mix, using 1/3 to 1/2 cup less water than called for and adding 15 ounces fresh pumpkin (or one 15 ounce can).

Bake according to the directions, until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Pumpkin pumpkin cake? Yes, please!

Now to convince my mother that pumpkin cake is better with cream cheese frosting rather than whipped cream...