Monday, December 19, 2011

Apple Nachos

Our small group had a Christmas party on Friday night, and I signed up to bring appetizers.  I love spinach and artichoke dip, so I jump at any excuse to make it.  (I'll share my recipe another day.)  I decided that spin-art dip wasn't enough for a party of 20 people, and I know that sadly not everyone likes it.  I decided that I should make something else, and I saw this amazing idea for apple nachos on Pinterest, but there wasn't a recipe, so I made mine up using some recipes for a caramel sauce and chocolate/peanut butter drizzle that I stole from some other recipes.  They ended up tasting even better together than I had anticipated.  I love it when food surprises me like that; don't you?  It's the perfect combination of sweet and salty with a "healthy" kind of crunch.

What you'll need:

4-5 apples (I used Braeburn, but any crisp or slightly tart apple would work well)
lemon juice
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
2/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans

How you make it:

First, slice your apples and soak them in a water and lemon juice mixture.  I would recommend a 3:1 water to lemon juice ratio.  I started with 2 c. water and 2/3 c. lemon juice and added more as I needed it.  Make sure that the apple slices are completely submerged in water.  This will keep your apple slices from browning.  I let mine soak for a little over an hour, and the apple slices stayed white until after we got home from the party that night.  (Of course your results might also vary depending on the type of apple you use.)

Once your apples have soaked, drain the water, and pat the apple slices with a towel to remove any excess water.  Lay the slices out on a plate or tray.

To make the caramel sauce:  In a saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, and vanilla.  Warm on medium heat until the caramel sauce starts to boil, whisking constantly.  Continue to stir until sauce begins to thicken and change color slightly.  If you leave it on the burner too long, it will begin to burn; you only want it on long enough to thicken and caramelize.

Remove from heat and let cool for 1-2 minutes.  Transfer to a liquid measuring cup for easier pouring, and drizzle over top of the apple slices.

To make the chocolate/peanut butter drizzle: Melt together chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and peanut butter.  Transfer to a liquid measuring cup for easier pouring, and drizzle over top of the apple slices.

Top with chopped pecans.

I hope you love them as much as we do!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Paper Snowflakes

I love making paper snowflakes.  Any of my former students and roommates can attest to it.   When I student taught 7th graders, we had homeroom each morning, which every once in a while had something that actually needed to be done, but most of the time it was just a free little chunk of minutes to help students feel connected to a teacher in the school and a group of students they could fit in with.  It also meant random games and little activities.  That's where I worked hard at the skill of paper snowflake making.

Every year now, my husband and I put on a few Christmas movies and work at folding and cutting so that we can decorate with a new batch of wintery goodness.  There's just something about not knowing exactly what it's going to look like until you unfold it that makes cutting out snowflakes  really exciting to me in an admittedly totally craft-geeky way.

I often hear comments from people about how cool my snowflakes look and how they wonder why mine looks so cool.  So I thought that I'd take the time to make up a little tutorial on how to fold six-pointed and five-pointed snowflakes along with some tips that I use to make them look the way they do.  Maybe some of you have some awesome tips you'd like to share, too.  If you already know how to fold your paper into five or six points, you can skip those parts.  

I've also included separate sections on tips that will make some nice-looking snowflakes.  The tips can be mixed together in any number of combinations and can be used with five- or six-pointed snowflakes.  

Five-Pointed Snowflake

First, always start with a square piece of paper.  (Mine are 8.5 x 8.5 in)

For the five-pointed snowflake, you need to fold your square paper from corner to corner so that it forms a triangle that looks like this:

For the next could of folds, you won't actually the fold the paper all the way through.  You want to simply make a mini-crease so that you'll be able to figure out more accurately where to make the next fold.  (You can also measure and use a pencil to mark the points, but I think it's faster to just make a small crease.)

Along the bottom fold you just created, make a mini-crease at the halfway point so that you have a way to mark the middle of that fold.

Next, open your paper back to the triangle with the fold at the bottom.  Then make a mini-crease to mark the halfway point between the far-right point and the top point of your triangle.  (Sorry, I turned my paper in the picture below, so now the "top" corner is actually on the right because it was easier to hold for the picture.)

Fold open your paper back to the triangle with the fold on the bottom.  Then make a mini-crease to mark the halfway point between the second mini-crease you just made (marked with a circled "two" in the picture below) and the top point of the triangle.

Unfold again to the triangle you first made with the fold on the bottom.  Take the far-right point and fold it (not a mini-crease!) so that your fold starts at the first mini-crease you made (marked in the picture below with a circled "one") and lines up over the third mini-crease you just made (marked with a circled "three).  The fold will be longer than the bottom part of the paper.  Hopefully this picture will make more sense:

Take the far-left corner and fold it over so that the bottom edge lines up with the fold you just made from the picture above.

Then fold your entire origami-ed craziness in half one more time to make an even skinnier "triangle."  It should look something like this when you're done:

Six-Pointed Snowflakes

Just like with the other folding technique, you need to start with a square piece of paper.  Then fold in half to form a long rectangle.

Then make a mini-crease to make the halfway point of the bottom fold you just made.

Take the bottom left corner and fold it, using the bottom mini-crease you just made as the starting point of your fold so that you make the folded-over section the same angle as the leftover piece on the right.  In the picture below, my angles labeled "here" and "here" are the same size:

Next, fold the right tab under so that it lines up under the top one you just made.  (For mine, the right-hand "here" got completely folded under.  Sorry the picture is a little blurry.  I guess I don't know what I was focusing on.)

Then fold your piece in half again so that it's an even skinnier "triangle."  Your final piece should look something like this (hopefully minus the writing and arrows):

Tips for Snowflake Making

These first tips i used the five-pointed snowflake to demonstrate.  You can use these tips on the six-pointed snowflake, too, though.  They look good using either technique.

Most importantly, you always want to make sure that you cut off the extra sticking-out pieces, because those will make your snowflake look strangely not uniform in an awkward kind of way.  Trust me--my husband doubted me once and tried it.  Not pretty.  Make sure that you've cut off enough excess that every layer of your paper goes up to the top edge.

Tip #1: Cutting triangles, large or small, along long edges gives a cool look.  I'd recommend spacing them out evenly.  It can also look pretty to make some of the lines run parallel (like I did below with the two lines in the middle).

Tip #2: Cut long tines that are evenly spaced apart.  Don't be afraid of making big cuts into your snowflake that go from one edge close to the other other.  Generally, the less white space you have left, the better your snowflake will probably look.  I'd recommend evenly spacing apart your cuts to make them look more planned and purposeful.

Tip #3: Cut from the opposite side so that it's parallel to to the lines you've already cut.

Using the tips that I just shared, your snowflake using these tips just as I shared them would look like this:

These next set of tips are demonstrated using the six-pointed snowflake I showed you how to fold earlier.  These tips can also be used with the five-pointed snowflake technique.

Tip #4: Cutting different angles for the top edge makes for an interesting look.

Tip #5:  Just like tip #1, try cutting smaller triangles of the same size evenly spaced apart.

Tip #6:  You don't have to limit yourself to cutting straight lines.  You can also cut curved lines.  Create a pattern with it--cut more than one curved line, and space them evenly apart.

Tip #7:  Cut the tip off at an angle.  Additionally, you can also cut some lines out that run parallel to the line you just created by cutting off the tip.

Tip #8: Cut long lines along a crease.  You could even line it up with another cut you've already made.

Using the tips I just shared, you can make a snowflake that looks like this one:

Get creative and combine any number of different ideas.  Also, it never hurts to look at other people's snowflakes that you like and copy their ideas.  That can often help you learn what you like and don't like and how to do certain techniques well or improve on them.  Happy snowflake making, everybody!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Book Page Wreath

I've wanted to decorate for Christmas for a while now, but it's hard to find baby-safe things to decorate with that don't involve my having to watch Aubrey and Emma like a paranoid person.  Decorations that hang on the wall and Christmas trees in non-baby rooms will just have to do this year I fear.  Hence this project.

A few days ago, I created this book page wreath using an old book, a basic wreath I already had in the house, and a lot of hot glue.  I got the idea from Delia over at delia creates.

For those of you who know me well, you might be shocked that I would actually tear up a book, even for the sake of a good home decor project.  My husband couldn't believe it, either.  However, I assure you that book was tear-worthy.  It was entitled Nineteen from Seventeen: Stories from Seventeen Magazine selected by Bryna Ivens, Fiction Editor of Seventeen.  I'll let your imagination run wild with the cheesiness of that one.  (I apologize, Bryna, if you felt that this was the culmination of your most important life work.  Honestly, I doubt that, though.)

In fact, I'm not the only one who wasn't a fan of this book.  I got it free from a library cast-off pile, and on the back someone had scrawled in pencil, "I hate this book."  Harsh words, but  I guess I don't have a right to judge since I just ripped it apart.  It was for a good cause, though.

For those of you who have/had small children, do you have any tips and tricks for how to keep your Christmas decorations safe, or did you just resolve yourself to decorating in future years when it wasn't so hard to keep curious hands from committing ultimate destruction?  (I type this as Aubrey honestly just got ahold of a stray book page that didn't make it into the wreath and just took a bite out of the page.)