It’s a piece of cake

This pre-Valentine’s Day post is dedicated to my sweet son, Jack, who suffers from severe food allergies.   vday cupcake

If any of you suffer from food allergies or know someone who does, finding good SAFE recipes can be a nightmare.  And the more ingredient exclusions you have, the harder it gets.  Appropriate baked goods can be particularly difficult to find or make due to the fact that they frequently contain the most-common food allergens — milk, wheat, eggs, and nuts.

My son suffers from two life-threatening allergies — eggs and nuts.  Luckily, he is a great sport and has been my willing guinea pig over the years in trying “alternative” recipes with many deviations or substitutions.  One super-simple cake recipe we use is good enough for anyone, regardless of whether you have food allergies, and may be especially appreciated by busy parents like me.

Take a store-bought cake mix* and add 12 ounces of soft drink (e.g., a can or small bottle).  No other ingredients required.  Bake according to the directions on the box.

That’s it!  No eggs, no milk, no oil.  The result is a very moist, delicious cake (or cupcakes), whipped up in a jiffy!  You can use any type of cake mix* and any type of soda, even diet — with no diet after-taste. 🙂

While it may not win awards for “most decadent cake of the year”… or be praised for its all-natural ingredients or old-fashioned homeade preparation, it sure works well for me and my family, as well as many friends who have followed suit.

Happy easy baking — without an Easy-Bake Oven — especially as we head into Valentine’s Week! 🙂

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*For those suffering from or cooking for those with food allergies, please read the cake box ingredients to ensure that the cake mix itself does not contain the offending allergen ingredients.

 

 

 

It’s still rack-n-roll to me

Sometimes I think about all those people out there with their nifty little “craft rooms” and “gift-wrap stations,” largely commercialized by the Martha Stewarts of the world.  And sometimes — in my head — I secretly make fun of them, telling myself that it is all just gratuitous luxury for people with too much time and money on their hands.  (But also secretly — I’m just plain jealous!) 🙂

So while I’m working my way up to admitting that I want this… and figuring out a way to make it happen, I’ve discovered a great way to house rolls of wrapping paper in a very simple and inexpensive way — via free-standing wine racks.

Wine rack for wrapping paper

Okay, I know what you’re thinking.  Didn’t this chic JUST talk about wine racks in one of her last posts — for storing rolled magazines?  Why yes, yes I did.  Who knew how much one could be inspired by wine… er… wine racks. 🙂

This idea actually came to me a while back, when I moved into a house with this lovely rack sitting in a closet.  (Sadly), I didn’t have nearly enough wine bottles to fill it, so I started thinking of ways to repurpose it.

Prior to using the wine rack for my wrapping paper, I stored my rolls in horizontal plastic bins and containers — one for the long rolls… one for the short rolls… one for Christmas… one for birthdays.  Before I knew it, I was laden with bins… or is that bin-laden?  (Okay, bad joke. :-))

Regardless, you get the picture.  This was taking up a lot of space, bin-wise, and some of the rolls were just standing against my closet walls — anxious to fall out whenever I opened the door. Plus, whenever I wanted to find a roll, I would have to pull out all the bins, open each one, and do a seek-and-find.  This did not bode well for my impatient temperament.

So I found peace in marrying the practical with the pretty and using my wine rack for my wrapping paper rolls — standing them upright.  Now the rack sits in my finished basement, next to a counter, and allows me to easily store and see what I have, making quick work for my wrapping projects.

While I may continue to secretly dream of having a glorious craft room, all pimped out with various crafting stations, multi-tiered shelving, and proper task-lighting, I can get some comfort in using my repurposed wine rack.  Oh… and drinking wine. 🙂

 

 

Win, place(mat) and show!

Sometimes you get lucky when you’re out shopping, and tonight was one of those nights. I found an unexpected bargain at Big Lots with these great rectangular jute placemats for $4 each.  Neutral with an interesting texture, jute placemats are a great way to add casual sophistication to your dinner table.  Think of how pretty your colorful or even white dinnerware and napkins will look against these!

jute placemats

Compare with similar products from the likes of Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, and other trendy home decor stores, and you will find prices ranging from $10 (good sale) to $20 apiece.

They seem to be excellent quality and are even well-bound around the edges. Get ’em while supplies last!  (And send me pictures once you dress your table. :-))

As good as gold

Yellow is a fabulous color. Energetic, warm, fun.  But you may not feel comfortable wearing it because you think it’s too bold.  Or maybe you love the color but don’t like to wear it near your face if it doesn’t complement your skin tone.  If either is the case, consider incorporating the color into your wardrobe through skirts or pants.

yellow skirt

Many yellows, or golds/mustards, can act as a semi-neutral when paired with other colors.  Although pigment-rich, it is highly versatile in its ability to pair with other shades and is also a color which is easy to dress up or down.  Whether wool in winter or a silk or cotton-blend in the warmer months, it can be a new staple in your wardrobe which goes a long way — and, thus, is a good investment.

What can you mix with it?  White t-shirts or blouses…. navy or brown blazers… patterned shirts with a variety of colors…  a jean jacket.  What about a grey, ivory or black sweater?  Even maroon or turquoise can be a great complement as long as you choose the right hue.  If you want to play it safe, keep the top very neutral and add a colorful necklace, scarf, or shoes.

GM6 - mustard jeansman with mustard pants

 

 

 

 

 

Finding this color in the stores is particularly easy right now, since it’s been trending this season.  Discount department stores, such as Old Navy and Target, have plenty of styles from which to choose, including skinny jeans, corduroys, and pencil skirts. It’s also a great time to get a near end-of-season bargain with wool.  I recently bought a designer mustard wool skirt on clearance for $15 at TJ Maxx.  Cha-ching!

So lose the excuse that you’re not young enough, confident enough, or too “creatively challenged” to wear this lovely color.  It can be as cool or as classic as you style it.  Make it work for YOU!

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Photo credits:  Three skirt ensembles from Polyvore.  Polka-dot blouse and yellow pants from Delusions of Grandeur.  Dark denim jacket and mustard pants compliments of Man Up Style.

 

Fabulous Baker Boy

All of you who are foodies (and even those who are not) will love my friend’s blog, JoePastry.  With his fun and down-to-earth writing style, he delivers great baking facts, tips, and recipes that you are sure to enjoy.  Check him out!

Also, for a very quick and very easy recipe, try these two-ingredient (that’s right, just the two!) lemon bars.

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TWO-INGREDIENT LEMON BARS

2IngredientLemonBars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix gently the two ingredients below — just until cake mix is moistened:
  • 1 Angel Food Cake Mix – Just add water kind (any brand)
  • 1 15 oz can of Lemon Pie Filling (any brand)
Spread into an ungreased 9 X 13 inch cake pan.  Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until golden brown on top. The consistency will be dense and moist, rather than fluffy and cake-like.
If you’re just dying to add another ingredient, dust with powdered sugar when you take them out of the oven.  Allow to cool before cutting.  Delicious, pretty… and easy.
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Thanks to Tori for the great recipe – At Home With Tori.

How’s it hangin’?

While I know we are all neck-deep into digital (thanks blog-readers!), I also know many of us still enjoy reading actual, hard-copy magazines and newspapers from time to time. If you’re throwing yours into a catch-all basket or bin, you’re missing a great opportunity to do something far more clever — and even beautiful — with your stash.

As is my mantra, if it’s not “pretty” and “easy,” it won’t end up on my blog.  Here are a few ways you can organize/display your mags and newspapers which meet both criteria in a very inexpensive way.

towel rack -magazine, wall artTowel bar(s):  This photo may showcase a more elaborate “collection” than you have, but what a great way to house your magazines by hanging them on a series of towel bars.

Obviously, this concept can be done in a much simpler way, with only a couple of bars — taking up a small corner wall or an area over a desk. Maybe you just want a single, long bar to drape your newspapers.  Regardless, choose your style of hardware and, voila, you have highly practical wall art.

magazine wine rackWine rack:  This idea is beyond easy — no drilling or hanging involved. Just take a free-standing wine rack of any style and place your rolled magazines in the compartments, tabletop- or floor-style.

If you do want to put a bit more effort into this same idea, buy a wall-mount wine rack and follow suit.  There are plenty of contemporary takes on this last idea, and lateral towel racks can serve the same purpose — with rolled magazines instead of rolled towels.

 

shutter-magazineShutter:  If you like the “cottage” look, this technique is right up your alley. An old shutter — as distressed as you want it — can be transformed into an interesting display, with publications folded right into the louvers.  Hang it… or stand it against the wall (small ones can sit atop a table).  This style is particularly simpatico with a screened-in porch or outdoor covered area… with a nice margarita next to it. (Well?! :-))

What about doing the same with your kids’ skinny picture books?  You could even paint each slat a different color.
ladder magazine rack

Ladder:  Keeping with the vertical theme, this next idea is one which, while simple, might appear a little more sophisticated.  By propping a ladder against a wall, you add a new dimension to your room — large enough for visual impact but compact enough that it can actually be a space-saver.

Wood may transmit a more rustic vibe, while metal may lend itself to a modern feel.  Whichever you select, for heaven’s sake, do not spend big $$ getting one from Pottery Barn!  Ladders abound at salvage and “junk” shops and usually come with built-in character.

Magazine file folder rackFile organizer:  Still too much trouble?  Check out this next idea.

One of the easiest methods for organizing magazines is to hang them over a stacked or “incline” wire file organizer.

A few months ago, I purchased one for a buck at Goodwill, and it took mere minutes to set this up on the lower shelf of my nightstand for convenient bedtime reading.  I get compliments all the time for this super-simple, cheap-o  display.  Ha!

 

Sure, you can buy some very nice (and very expensive) containers, organizers, or display units to perform the same function, but then you will be out dollars that are better-spent elsewhere… and you won’t be able to say “Ha!” like me. Just be a copycat and try some of the easier, less costly ideas above… and make sure to send me your photos and feedback!

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Photo credits:  Towel bar design from Sweethomestyle.tumblr.com.  Wine rack compliments of JunkChicCottage.blogspot.com.  Shutter design from MyRepurposedLife.net. Ladder style from CoryConnorDesigns.com.  File folder organizer photo from Christy Charlton (aka me!).

 

Pretty in… plastic?

Like many, I love to entertain.  Also like many, I rarely have the time or money to throw elaborate parties (but still want to at least give the impression that I do!)  One way to add some pizazz to your gatherings is to use simple, inexpensive plastic tablecloths — and not necessarily in the traditional way of placing them on your tables.

Plastic Tablecloth Ceiling TreatmentTake a look at this easy idea of draping them across your ceiling, canopy-style, with a few balloon embellishments and streamers.  What a great way to add color and texture in a dramatic, eye-catching fashion, with few dollars and little effort.

 

This decorating technique could be used for a variety of parties — celebrating birthdays, baby or wedding showers, and holidays (e.g., Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas) –and could feature any number of color combinations to support a range of fun-to-elegant themes.

tablecloth door entrancePlastic tablecloths can also be used to create a festive entrance to your party room, by draping them, in swag-curtain style, from your doorframe.

Use bows, ribbons, tulle or any other thematic or seasonal flair (pine cones? baby rattles?) to complete the look.  Again, you can use one color or many, depending on the design you’re after; and these can be pulled to one side only… or hung so that they drape both sides of your doorframe.  Maybe you want to drop them all the way to the floor so that they “puddle” like fabric draperies.

 

Last but not least, who has parties without photos, right?  Whether people are taking them for casual Facebook posts or to eventually print and frame as a remembrance of the occasion, snapshots are a given. How about using plastic tablecloths to make an interesting backdrop for your guests?  rainbow-photo-booth-backdrop-11Whether you go a bit whimsical with a rainbow design or opt for something more subtle, alternating light colors, this is sure to delight your party-goers.  You’ve not only created a conversation piece but a pseudo photo booth!  Add an empty picture frame or other props if you want to allow for more variety.

 

Whatever your party purpose, plastic tablecloths are an inexpensive and versatile way to add a temporary design to your room(s), without taking hours of preparation to deliver an interesting and memorable effect.  What are you waiting for?  The Dollar Store is just a few minutes away…

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Photo credits:  Ceiling canopy photo provided by Toni Roberts (DesignDazzle.com) .  Doorway photo provided by Jaime Costiglio (ThatsMyLetter.blogspot.com).  Backdrop photo provided by Camille (Makoodle.com). For details on the “how to” behind these projects, please visit these sites.

The power of “3”

1068808_38960541, 3 vases of flowers

Years ago, a friend told me that one fail-safe design tip was to always work with odd numbers – and that arrangements or groupings of “3” seemed to be the most magical.  I’ve worked under this premise as long as I can remember and always thought that most people did the same.  However, I’ve recently discovered that, if you’re not in the design world, this may be one of the best-kept secrets locked away from the masses!

Grouping of 5 Art Pieces

This is a very simple concept that lends to great aesthetics in almost any situation. (There are always exceptions, but this is a great rule of thumb.)   Whether you’re arranging flowers, pictures, vases, items on a mantle… or even shrubbery in your yard, sticking to an odd-numbered grouping will create harmony and more visual interest.  Allowing your eye to survey the entire scene and land in the middle – and sometimes a purposeful focal point – does much to generate an overall appealing design.

Whether you see it as a cross between feng shui and psychology or, as some of the ancients referred to it, “the mystical power of 3,” it works.  Try it!

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Daisies photo taken by Karen Barefoot.  Art grouping photo taken by Christy Charlton.