Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Making Punch Art Christmas Cards & Gift Wrap

To make these gorgeous, intricate, three dimensional cards, I put a paper punch to a new and innovative use. The punch used was not a traditional Christmas tree, but rather a punch of a bare branched tree. Put lots of these punched elements together and you come up with the designs for the cards on this page. For the cards above we built paper wreath frames to set off some favorite photos. These are like little mini Christmas scrapbooks you can mail to friends and family, and give them a chance to visually catch up with your family.

If you don't have any photos you want to use in your cards, no problem. You can use the same punch to create elegant Christmas Tree cards like the ones at right. Whether your recipient is the old fashioned type or a hipster, you can use the same punch to create a unique card in either style.

Paper Punch Christmas Cards and Gift Wrap
For Detailed instructions on how to make the cards on this page, as well as a gift wrap using the same technique, click the links below.

Shop for Paper Punches at Amazon.com.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Book Feature - The Pastry Queen Christmas

The title of this book is somewhat misleading. While fine pastry recipes are definitely well represented in these pages, there's much, much more. There are holiday recipes of all kinds - from cocktail party appetizers to the formal main feast to thoughtful gifts you make in your own kitchen. Author Rebecca Rather also shares party plans for five unique holiday get togethers: Holiday Open House, Ranch Barn Brunch, Christmas Even, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.

Since the author is the Pastry Queen of Fredericksburg, Texas (in the hill country) and owner of the Rather Sweet Bakery and Cafe, the book really shines when it comes to desserts. You'll find many spectacular, reputation making recipes you'll turn to over and over again, whenever you need to impress. There's also a substantial chapter on making gingerbread houses, so your holiday treats will look as good as they taste.

Rebecca's recipes are clear and well thought out, so you don't have to be a chef to get great results. Peppered throughout the pages are her tips and ideas for holiday decorating, gift giving, entertaining and fun. And while the subtitle of this book is "Big Hearted Entertaining Texas Style," the recipes and party ideas will work equally well outside the Lone Star State.

Click here for more information or to order through Amazon.com.

Sample Recipes from The Pastry Queen Christmas: Big Hearted Entertaining Texas Style

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thanksgiving History and Traditions

Have you ever been curious about why we celebrate holidays the way we do? Today I thought we'd explore the history behind Thanksgiving.

The Pilgrims may be the quintessential symbol of Thanksgiving, but the truth is, the Pilgrims never held a "Thanksgiving" feast.

The actual "First Thanksgiving" most likely refers to a mid October feast the pilgrims held in 1621, after their first successful harvest in the new land. Since the pilgrims never repeated the celebration, it can't really be called the start of a tradition. It is also doubtful that the devoutly religious Pilgrims would have had termed it a "Thanksgiving feast" either, as giving thanks would have called for a day of fasting and prayer.

A Native American named Squanto was said to befriend the Pilgrims and it is doubtful they would have survived the first harsh New England winter without him. Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to tap maple trees for sap, how to plant Indian corn and other crops as well as which plants in the surrounding areas were poisonous and which had healing powers.

The resulting October harvest was so successful, the Pilgrims had stored enough food to sustain them through the winter with plenty to spare. There were smoked cured meats, fish packed in salt cures, fruits, vegetables and the American staff of life, corn.

We do know a few facts about the first feast. For instance it can be assumed that it was held in the great outdoors, as the colonists didn't have buildings large enough to accommodate the large number of guests. If you've ever spent an autumn in New England, you know this can be a chilly proposition. Turkey was probably served, as was pumpkin or squash in one form or another. One entree that hasn't stood the test of time is venison, a staple of the ninety or so Native Americans who were invited to the celebration, including Squanto and Chief Massasoit.

The first feast was, in essence, a big pot luck dinner that went on for three (count them) days! In addition to turkeys and venison, the dinner probably included ducks, geese and even swans. There were games, races and demonstrations of skills with bows and arrows and muskets, making a true festival atmosphere.

Customs of celebrating an annual day of Thanksgiving after the autumn harvest began to spring up in the colonies, but didn't get national recognition until the late 1770's when it was suggested by the Continental Congress during the American Revolution. New York officially adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom in 1817, and many other states soon followed suit, but it wasn't until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of Thanksgiving. Since then, each president has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, usually designating the fourth Thursday of each November as the holiday.

Our neighbors in Canada celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October, a time closer in fact to the date of the first feast. Official Canadian observance of Thanksgiving began in 1879.

While that covers the traditions of modern Thanksgiving in a nutshell, the day's true history actually goes back far before the Pilgrims arrived in the New World. Harvest festivals were held by many ancient civilizations. The ancient Greeks honored Demeter, the goddess of grains, each autumn at the festival of Thesmosphoria. The Romans celebrated a harvest festival called Cehrefia, which honored Ceres their goddess of corn. The harvest festival, Chung Ch'ui was celebrated by the ancient Chinese with the full moon that fell on the 15th day of the 8th month. Hebrew families have celebrated a harvest festival called Sukkoth for over 3000 years. The ancient Egyptians celebrated their harvest festival in the spring to honor Min, their god of vegetation and fertility.

So this Thanksgiving when you sit down to feast, think about the ancient tradition that is still kept alive today through the sharing of food, family, friends, and love.

More on Thanksgiving

The Care and Cleaning of Rubber Stamps and Ink Pads

Care for your rubber stamps and ink pads and they will last a long, long, long time.

Storing Rubber Stamps
The most important thing to remember is to store your rubber stamps away from direct sunlight as this can eventually damage the rubber. Other than that, where you keep them is up to you. Many people like shallow boxes where the stamps can be stored in a single, easy to look at, layer. I use hanging clear shoe bags to store a lot of stamps in the closet. If you have a creative stamp storage solution, let us know!

Cleaning Rubber Stamps
It's important to keep your rubber stamps clean, otherwise the ink from one project is likely to bleed onto the prints of another. That said, some inks stain and will be impossible to get completely clean. Learn the difference between a stain, which won't effect future use of the stamp, and dried on ink, which will.

Try to clean rubber stamps as soon after using them as possible. If you clean your stamps quickly, water is often all that's necessary. You can also buy special stamp cleaning fluid from your crafts store (this is especially necessary when using solvent inks.

Another handy item available at your stamp or craft supply store is a stamp cleaning pad. This resembles a large white ink pad but instead of foam it has a fabric scrubbing surface. You spray your stamps with cleaning fluid, then scrub it back and forth on one side of the scrubber pad to get the ink off, then the other side to dry the stamp.

A couple of household items can also come in handy when cleaning rubber stamps. An old toothbrush can help to gently scrub stubborn ink out of detail areas of a stamp.

Baby wipes also do a good job of cleaning inked rubber stamps, providing they are alcohol and lint free.

Storing and Caring for Stamp Pads
Old stamp pads never die -- they just get re-inked. Don't throw out your stamp pads, you can buy bottles of refill ink and bring them back to life. Inks come in small squeeze bottles. To re-ink your pad, spread a thin layer of ink as evenly as possible over the pad, then use a stiff piece of card stock or a piece of heavy plastic (such as an old credit card) to drag across the pad and spread the ink.

There is no need to store foam pads upside down, although felt dye based ink pads can benefit from this. Be careful storing rainbow pads -- keep them level or their inks could run together.

More on Rubber Stamping

Autumn Leaves Greeting Card

This easy to make greeting card is perfect for Thanksgiving or any autumn occasion.

You Will Need:
green blank card to match your envelope size
coordinating green paper for mat
maple leaf rubber stamp and ink
ribbon scraps
small pop dots adhesives
glue stick or adhesive of choice
ribbon threading punch or craft knife
leaves background stamp (optional)

Cut and fold card blank.

Cut a piece of coordinating green paper for mat.

If desired, use a leafy background stamp and dark green ink to stamp a background pattern on the green papers (this is a subtle effect that is barely visible in the photo). Use the same dark green ink to ink the edges of the front of the card and the mat. You could, alternatively, leave the green paper blank.

Stamp 3 small maple leaves, color them with markers and cut out. Use pop dot adhesives to attach the leaves in a 3-dimensional form to the front of the card as shown.

Use a ribbon punch or a craft knife to cut small parallel slits in the paper through which to thread your ribbon. Tie top ribbon in a bow as shown in the photo above.