February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!  Wishing you a day filled with LOVE ... and cake!


Merrill 
P.S.  Scrumptious baked goodies available at Vegan Treats.

January 24, 2015

Random Acts of Kindess: Martin Luther King Day of Service

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked, "What are you doing to help others?"  Our merry band of volunteers celebrated Dr. King's birthday by preparing, cooking and serving 83 hot meals for those in need through a local Community Meals program sponsored by the Pottstown Cluster.  Twenty volunteers of all ages worked together to make this meal a success!



On the menu was a delicious pasta with a creamy butternut squash sauce (see recipe below), made possible by a generous donation of beautiful, fresh butternut squash and onions by Barry Davis Produce Stand.  Be sure to like them on Facebook, and visit their stand for fresh fruit and vegetables.  A huge thank you to Barry and Peggy Davis!



Preparation for this Monday meal started on Saturday, when volunteers arrived at our house armed with cutting boards, peelers and knives.  Six hours later, the veggies were prepped, cooked and the sauce was very close to being ready.  Emmanuel Lutheran Church donated a ham that we diced, pan fried and added to the yummy sauce.


Everyone loved the meal!

Here is the pasta recipe that makes 4 servings.  I multiplied it many, many, many times, using 100 cups of onions and about 14 squashes, although I may have lost track. 

PASTA WITH A CREAMY BUTTERNUT SQUASH SAUCE
PRINTER-FRIENDLY RECIPE

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, diced
2 cloves minced garlic (I use the stuff in a jar from Costco)
4 heaping cups peeled and diced butternut squash
2 cups chicken stock (I used the concentrated kind in a jar, also from Costco)
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper, to taste, being sure to taste as you go
12 oz. ham, diced (optional)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
2/3 lb. pasta, cooked to al dente (I used farfalle)

Directions:

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Sauté diced onion until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and diced butternut squash and cook another 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until squash is tender. Remove bay leaf and puree in blender until completely smooth. Heat skillet.  Add diced ham and fry until browned.  Stir in ham bits, Parmesan cheese and cream. Toss with cooked pasta, serve and enjoy!


The Pottstown Cluster helps individuals make real progress in moving from dependence to productive self-sufficiency.  In addition to providing hot meals to those in need in the Pottstown community, the Cluster distributes groceries through its Food Pantry, and its Dry Goods program provides clothing, personal hygiene products and cleaning supplies.  Read about these wonderful programs and others HERE.

You can help!  Make an online donation through the secure website, and learn how you can volunteer"The time is always right to do what is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

~Merrill

January 23, 2015

Ivy Lane Designs Real Simple Feature

Real Simple magazine included my Valentine's Day conversation heart crayons in their "19 Cute Valentines Day Gifts for Kids."  Who's a HAPPY girl!

Here's what my new friends at Real Simple had to say:  Stamped with messages like “Be Mine” and “True Love,” these handmade heart-shaped crayons are modeled after the classic Valentine’s Day treat. The set of five comes packaged like a box of chocolates—each brightly colored crayon sits in a cupcake liner and looks almost good enough to eat.

Get yours in my Ivy Lane Designs Etsy shop


Thanks, Real Simple!


Happy crafting!

Merrill 

December 23, 2014

DIY Glass Photo Ornaments

Around the holidays, we like to give our friends and neighbors a little something to thank them for making the world a better place.  For years, we gifted living Christmas treesThis year, we made glass photo ornaments.  

Below, you will find examples, as well as a materials list and illustrated instructions so that you can make your own DIY glass photo ornaments.

We made this ornament to celebrate the birth of a good friend's grandson.




 And, several for neighbors ...


What you will need:
  • Glass ornaments.  I used 3-inch ornaments.
  • Resized photo so that the picture lends itself well to a 3-inch circle.  I tweaked mine using Microsoft Publisher, then emailed them to Costco.  I ordered extras to allow for trial and error.
  • A 3-inch hole punch, or a 3-inch template and a pen (I used a 50% off coupon to purchase an EK Tools Circle Scissor Pro at Michaels - Soooo worth it for this project.  If you are making one or two, hand cutting is fine.  More than that, think about buying a three-inch hole punch or this cutter).  
  • Cutting board, if using the EK Tools Circle Scissors Pro
  • Buffalo snow (I found this at AC Moore.  It's nice and sparkly)
  • Funnel
  • Scissors
  • Fishing line
  • Tape
  • Glue - I used my favorite glue that I wrote about HERE
  • Two bamboo skewers (chopsticks might work) to straighten out the photo after you've rolled it up and inserted it in your ornament.
  • Colored scrapbook paper for back of ornament (year or sentiment printed, optional but I think adds something)
  • Printer, if adding the year or sentiment
  • Ribbon (grosgrain ribbon works the best - not wired)
  • Silver metallic thread for hanging (optional) 
  • Tags (optional) 
  • Treat boxes, or bags (optional) 

HERE'S HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN GLASS PHOTO ORNAMENTS (written and illustrated instructions below):

Cut two three-inch circles, one from your photo, one from color-coordinated scrapbook paper.  I printed 2014 on the back of the scrapbook paper.

Use a funnel to put buffalo snow in your ornament.

Cut a piece of fishing line about 12" long.  Tape the center of the line on the bottom of the middle of the photo (see photo below).  Then tape it again at the top.  You will use the fishing line to help position the photo.

Glue the photo circle to the colored scrapbook circle.  

Roll glued circle and insert in ornament.  

Use bamboo skewers to flatten out the circle.  It will be a little like building a ship in a bottle, which I have never actually done but seen on TV.

Poke the ends of the fishing line through the two little holes in the ornament cap.  Tie knot.  Trim ends.

Return cap.

Add ribbon.

Add silver metallic thread for hanging.

Add personalized tag.

Tuck inside gift bag or box.


ILLUSTRATED INSTRUCTIONS:




Happy crafting!

Merrill 



 

November 20, 2014

DIY :: Sharpie Mugs

I fell in love with all of the Sharpie mugs I was seeing on Pinterest and knew I had to make one to celebrate my husband's birthday.  After a bit of trial and error, I learned that Sharpies don't actually work on coffee mugs.  I found great success using a lovely Porcelain pen by a French company, Pebeo, that doesn't smudge or wipe off, even after 30-ish rounds in the dishwasher.  It's the same pen I used on my tile coaster project


I drew my beloved's name and colored it in with the porcelain pen, adding doodles of his favorite things and terms of endearment.  I filled the empty spaces with splashes of flowers and hearts.   


A handful of Almond Joy candy bars made the gift complete.  He loves it and uses it every day!


Even if you can't draw, you can write sweet things to express your undying love to that someone special.  I think doodle mugs would be great with signatures to commemorate a graduation or other special event.  The creative juices are flowing!

For tips on how to erase, as well as instructions on setting the ink to make it permanent (you bake it in the oven), check out my tile coaster project.

HAPPY CRAFTING!

~Merrill

August 19, 2014

For You It's Bread, but for Some - It's Life

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of cooking beside a friend, Chef Myke Eggers, who volunteered his time to help prepare the Community Meal at Christ Episcopal Church for those in need through a program sponsored by the Pottstown Cluster.  

We introduced our diners to Indian cuisine.  Chef Myke prepared delicious naan that he baked from scratch.  Naan is a leavened, oven-baked flatbread that is often served with Indian food.


Chef Myke expressed himself beautifully on his Facebook page, that you should follow right now --> HERE

 

For our entree, we made chicken tikka masala where chunks of chicken are marinated in fragrant spices (coriander and cumin) and yogurt, cooked and served in a creamy tomato sauce over rice.  I adapted my slow cooker recipe found HERE by multiplying the ingredient amounts by 12.  

Chef Myke and my wonderful husband, Bob, prepped the chicken, zucchini (from our backyard garden) and onions.  Iced tea was served, brewed with fresh mint from Chef Myke's garden.


Many returned for seconds, and even thirds. 


Pottstown Cluster board president, Allan Altschull, stopped by to personally thank Chef Myke.


Volunteers make it happen.


Anna and Larissa reminded us to introduce the idea of volunteering at an early age to our children.  Anna (right), who wants to be a cupcake baker when she grows up, baked all of the scrumptious muffins that were served for dessert. 


In the words of Chef Myke,  
"Remember the next time you enjoy your meal to be thankful.  For you it's just bread, but for some - it's life."
No one in our community should go hungry.  Contact the Pottstown Cluster at 610-970-5995 to learn more about how you can help.  

~Merrill

July 22, 2014

Stuffed Zucchini Boats and 6 Other Yummy Zucchini Recipes

This time of year, when our garden is overflowing, we are always in search of delicious and creative ways to prepare zucchini.  This recipe for stuffed zucchini boats hits a home run.  I have my next-door neighbor to thank for the inspiration.  It's super easy and kid-friendly.  Win win! 

On to our stuffed zucchini boats...    



STUFFED ZUCCHINI BOATS

Printer-Friendly Recipe

INGREDIENTS
 
2 large zucchini (or 5 smaller), cut in half, insides scooped out (reserve insides)
1 1/2 cup pearl couscous (sometimes called Israeli couscous)
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
3 scallions (green and white parts), diced
1/4 cup portobella mushrooms (or any raw mushrooms you have on hand), diced
1/4 tsp. cayenne
2 tsp. dried parsley
3 tbsp. crumbled feta (you may substitute a dairy-free cheese, like Daiya provolone, for the feta)
2 tbsp. pine nuts, toasted (for topping)
½ tsp. salt, or more to taste (add gradually, thoroughly mixing and tasting each time)
¼ tsp. pepper
Juice of 1 lemon

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Add vegetable broth to large pot and bring to a boil.  Add couscous and a pinch of salt to pot.  Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook 10-15 minutes, until all veggie broth absorbs.

Trim the ends off zucchini.  Cut zucchini in half lengthwise, then scoop out pulp, leaving about 1/2 inch shells.  Finely dice pulp and place in bowl.  Set aside.

Warm a large skillet over medium heat, then add 1 tbsp. olive oil.  Once oil is hot, add red peppers and scallions.  Cook and stir occasionally, until peppers soften, about 8 minutes.  Add remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil, mushrooms and zucchini pulp and cook another 3-5 minutes.  Season with cayenne, parsley, salt and pepper.  Remove from heat, then add couscous and mix.

Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat, then add pine nuts.  Toast until golden brown, flipping pan occasionally, about 3-5 minutes.

Divide couscous mixture evenly among zucchini. Top with crumbled feta and toasted pine nuts.

Line two baking sheets with parchment, or lightly spray the baking sheets with cooking spray. Place zucchini on tray then put in preheated oven for 25 minutes until zucchini softens.  Once cooked through, remove from oven.  Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top of all zucchini.

Serve and enjoy! 

Here are six additional tried and true zucchini recipes:



Fried Zucchini with Creamy Horseradish Dipping Sauce (my favorite!  I could eat the dipping sauce with a spoon! 



Quinoa Casserole with Zucchini (super versatile, and it's vegetarian, or vegan, and gluten-free) 

Panang Curry with Zucchini (you'll never miss the meat)

Fresh Roasted Tomato Pasta Sauce (a great way to use your garden veggies, and freezes nicely)

If you have a zucchini recipe that you love, please share it with me!

Happy cooking,

~Merrill