CRAFT: Great Gift Idea, Handmade Wine Charms

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The idea of wine charms I can't take credit for, but I must give credit to the other domestic diva I know and love, my sister Jacki. She gave me a large set of wine charms for Christmas, and I plan on doing smaller sets as gifts for coworkers this year. You can make them based on themes or subject matter that the recipient is into. You can make them wine themed, or just color themed to match their dining room or kitchen decor. For instance, my sister chose dark red beads and burnished metals, because my dining room has vintage light fixtures and the room has bold accents of red. She bought single charms with a small jump ring attached for easy threading, and she got them all related to me and my interests as well as what other guest's interests may be. Guests like to pick a wine charm that expresses who they are or what mood they are in at the time for the event, so it is good to have a mix of subject matter and gender related charms. A couple nights in front of the TV threading charms and beads after a quick trip to the jewelry aisle of your local craft superstore, and you are good to go. You can get cute, small jewelery boxes to give them in as well. Get inspired when you walk the jewelry aisle at the craft store, they have different colored wire you can bend and shape around beads, various stones or glass beads that can be the main attraction on the charm while surrounded by smaller beads or wire. You can even have some fun creating bottle cap art. If you poke a whole in the outer edge of the bottle cap with a jewelery hole punch, you can thread that as well and it can be the main attraction of the charm. Bottle cap art is more time intensive and needs a little more creative muscle, but if you are up for it, you can create some pretty unique wine charms that your recipients will really appreciate! Here is a kit for kids to get you started ( I have this for my daughter and we made some cool keychains for her backpack) before making more sophisticated caps for your wine charms. (http://www.klutz.com/bottle-cap-art/book/Capsters)

You will need:

A large charm, stone, bead or cap as the "Main Attraction" of each charm

Various smaller beads to have 3-6 on each side of the main piece, depending how large the rings are


Wire hoop earrings that easily latch but are thin enough to thread beads and charms, as many as you need for your gifts. Remember, wine glasses are usually in sets of 8, 10 or 12.


Instructions-



Working backward, thread the smaller, right-flanking beads first, then thread the main charm, then mirror the left flanking beads with the right so there is symmetry. Clasp it close so nothing falls off.

Place them in a cute box for the hostess to store them in, and wrap it up! Nicely done!

RECIPE: Amazing "Feed a Mob" Macaroni and Cheese

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This Mac & Cheese recipe was outstanding on a lot of different levels. First, it was just plain REALLY good. It is very rich and cheesy, great for kids and adults a like. The second reason why this was outstanding was that it easily will feed a mob, no joke. We made this for my daughter's karate school's Halloween party. There were easily 100 people there. Everyone was supposed to bring a dish, and as usual pot lucks go, many people "lamed out" and brought only crackers or chips. There were very few solid entrees to eat. And as we watched these same adults pile their plates high with our mac & cheese and other scarce proteins, my husband became angrier and angrier. To top it off, many of these adults were eating before the children got to eat-which is incredibly selfish...but I digress. We waited until most everyone ate before we went up, and I was shocked that there was still a good third of the macaroni still left. I was able to calm my husband down, assuring him there would be plenty for anyone that hadn't eaten yet. So rude, lame parents aside...this macaroni dish will feed many people! We used the Rival electric baking dish to keep it warm after baked, but you can bake it right in there if you want to make some for Thanksgiving-freeing up your oven. (for a review of this pan, visit my post: http://www.urbandomesticdiva.com/2009/04/cooking-rival-skillet-has-saved-my.html)  We are going to make it as a side for the 13 kids descending on our home this holiday. This recipe was adapted from the Gooseberry Patch cookbook for Church Suppers, and has many great "feed a mob" recipes. Their cookbooks are charming and old fashioned, a great addition to your cookbook collection.

Amazing "Feed a Mob" Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

10 cups (about 36 oz.) elbow macaroni, uncooked
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk (2 more cups if needed)
1 1/2 lb. Velveeta, cubed
16 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cup bread crumbs and
another 4 Tbsp. butter

Directions

Prepare macaroni to package directions in a very large stockpot. Drain and leave in the colander for the time being. In the same stockpot over medium heat, melt 3/4 cup butter. Add the flour and whisk into a rue (a smooth paste). Continue whisking while adding the milk slowly to blend well and begin to thicken. If feeling a little too thick, add milk a half cup at a time as needed until smooth and creamy. Stir in the Velveeta until melted and smooth. Add the shredded cheese and stir until melted. Add the cooked macaroni and stir until all well coated and combined. Turn off heat. Lightly grease a 15" x 12" deep pan. Pour the macaroni evenly into the pan. In a small skillet, melt 4 Tbsp. butter and add the bread crumbs. Toss the bread crumbs in the butter until well coated and toasted. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the macaroni. Bake uncovered at 350˚ for about 30 minutes, until golden and bubbly.



LIFESTYLE: Proof That Information is Power! (THANK YOU INTERNET!)

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First of all, I would like to ask what people did before the Internet? It must have been so much work to gather and stay up on the current laws, events and topics of the day. With the amount of information you can find at your fingertips, there is just no excuse to not educate yourself on issues impacting you, your family or your community. This thought came to me full force this week as a fellow team mate and I have been trying to put green initiatives in place at our company.

The process has been very difficult, which was very surprising for us in this day and age. The company our office rents from said they offered paper recycling but anything above and beyond, we would have to do and pay extra. SO trying to find another company to do it, and how has been a mess. The building owner gave us two very small blue trash cans for a staff of 20+, not adequate for even the measly paper recycling that they were offering us. In all this, I found it hard to believe that our building owners could not do more-or wouldn't want to!

In an effort to look for recycling drop offs in the city so we could manually bring bags, I came across a web page and city ordinance that basically said that corporate buildings must provide a recycling program to their tenants! Why or how we were not aware of this? How could we be? But here I was searching the city web page and googling recycling in Chicago, and there it was! SO all this time trying to find places to drag recycling bags to on our own personal time. Spending time to research when the blue carts were coming, or how much it would cost for our own office to do it ourselves (which I am sure the building owners would have preferred). And then we discover that the building owners were skirting the law and trying to get out of paying for a service that they should have been providing us. We had our office manager share the ordinance documents with the building owner, so we don't know if they will comply or not. We will see. If they don't, now we have a direct course of action with the city, and we can get something DONE. Education is power! Take it!

RECIPE: Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Filling and Maple Pumpkin Frosting

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Well, of course it's pumpkin season, and maybe you are getting sick of pumpkin this and pumpkin that? But Thanksgiving is around the corner, and if you are having a ton of kids come over, this recipe is the ticket for them. It seems inspired by a well-loved dessert my husband pines for that his mother makes called "Pumpkin Roll". I decided to make these for his birthday last week in honor of that recipe. It has a great seasonal flair but is still a cupcake that makes it great for small hands and finger food desserts. The frosting has a maple flavor that is a great compliment to the creaminess of the cupcake itself. Decorate them with Halloween candy corn or orange colored sugar. If you need something for the kids to do on Thanksgiving, have each child decorate their own! Oh, and the base of the cupcake recipe I found on Rachel Ray's website (I know....hard to believe..not a big fan...a discussion for another time...) but the frosting is all mine, and I think "makes" the cupcake (not to toot my own horn).

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Filling and Maple Pumpkin Frosting

Ingredients:

Filling:
1 8oz. package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 egg white
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Cupcake:
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla

Frosting:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/8 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
2 Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla
dash of ground cinnamon
dash of salt
generous 1/2 tsp. maple flavoring
fall decorations or colored sugar, optional





Preheat oven to  350˚ and make sure you have your rack in the middle third of the oven. Line 12-15 cups in a muffin pan (s) and set aside. In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth and add the sugar, egg white and vanilla. Continue beating until smooth. Set aside.





In another medium bowl, whisk together with a fork the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and salt. In a larger bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the pumpkin puree, oil and vanilla. Whisk until combined and fluffy, then whisk in the flour mixture. Whisk until just combined-don't over mix.






Layer in each cupcake liner with a generous tablespoon of batter, followed by 1/2 tablespoon or so of cream cheese filling with another tablespoon of batter on top. Bake until springy to the touch, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.



While baking, prepare the frosting. In a medium bowl, whisk the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the pumpkin puree and powdered sugar and whisk until combined. I then add the flour to thicken things up a little so I can pipe the frosting through a pastry bag. Add the vanilla, cinnamon and maple flavoring and dash of salt. Whisk to get things fluffy and whipped. Pour into a pastry bag with a the tip you desire, and pipe the frosting around the tops of the cupcakes. Decorate as desired. Store in the fridge and let warm a little to room temp when serving.


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