chal-lenge: noun a calling to account or into question

Follow along as I challenge the tricks, tips, clever craft and decorating ideas and "simple" recipes that we clip, bookmark, and "pin" for trial at a later date.

Are they really worth the effort? Time (and I) will tell!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Space Bags

I decided to take that leap of faith today and believe that warmer weather is really on the way by switching out my winter clothes for my summer clothes. This is always a chore, both physically and mentally as I wrestle with myself about packing my sweaters away for the season. Is it really going to be warm enough?

The first step in the process is to sort through my dresser drawers and closet creating three piles of clothes. The “keeper” category speaks for itself. These are items that I really like and that fit my lifestyle. The second category includes the clothes I have not worn this year and most probably not last year either. This category contains clothes I either bought on sale or were gifts that really don’t suit me. It’s a tough category because most of the clothes are fairly new, causing me to feel a little guilty about passing them on. The third category is easy. These are the clothes that are just plain worn out. You know the type.

Once all the decisions are made, it’s time to find alternative living solutions for each category of clothing. Now that my daughters have moved to their own places, I get to use their closets. I don’t know what I ever did without that space. Maybe I should be a little more ruthless with the category #2 clothes but what if I need to dress like a grown-up again someday and need my old suits and dresses? I guess I’ll just wait until they are hopelessly out of style before parting with them.

On the advice of a friend, I decided to try the Space Bags to store my sweaters and anything else that folds nicely. The concept of these bags is great. You fill the bags with whatever; close the zip lock and the vacuum out all the air. The bag compresses and becomes quite firm and easy to move around. The bags can be easily stacked wherever you store your clothes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they don’t hold their seal. After about 15 minutes, the air had leaked back into the bags. I resealed them and tried again, but to no avail. Well, the bags are made out of a sturdy plastic and will still be useful for storing clothes whether or not they hold a seal.

The job is done and it’s nice to see the light spring colors hanging in my closet and stacks of t-shirts in my drawers. I’m ready for a nice warm spring and a wonderful summer. Note to self: Stop shopping so I won’t have to worry about where to store my seasonal clothes.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

T-Shirt Necklace

All my April magazines featured “green” ideas for Earth Month. I feel pretty good about incorporating earth-friendly ideas into my everyday life. Although I have a way to go, I think I’m doing pretty well. I use my own tote bags for grocery shopping, I have CFL’s in all the lights that stay on for any extended period of time, I have a HE front loading washer and I wash all my laundry in cold water. I’m making a gradual switch to green cleaning products, use paper towels very sparingly and grow some of my own pesticide-free vegetables.

I have also increased the amount of “stuff” that gets recycled rather than thrown into the dumpster and am a great recycler of clothing by donating whatever I cannot use or turning them into cleaning rags. I found the t-shirt necklace featured in Body and Soul Magazine quite intriguing as a new use for old t-shirts and being in an eco-friendly state of mind, decided to give it a try.

The directions for the project are quite simple, although gathering supplies may not be. The first step for me was to find an old t-shirt. Now who doesn’t have an old t-shirt hanging around? Well, me for one. Because I donate all my unused clothing, an old t-shirt was not to be found in my drawers. After a bit of a search, I found a pink t-shirt in my daughter’s room. I hope she won’t miss it!

Next I needed to find scissors. I don’t know what it is about scissors in my house, but I can rarely find a pair when I need them. My search ended in the garage where I found my good sewing scissors covered in dry wall compound. I guess that’s my fault for leaving them out in plain sight. I washed them off as best I could but I think it’s fair to say that they are not going to be much use to me any longer. Fortunately, my mother had given me a nice rotary cutter which was ideal for the job.

Once you find your t-shirt and scissors, you are ready to start. Honestly, it took me longer to find the supplies than it did to complete the project. Cut the hem off the shirt and measure out 20, ¾ inch strips up the shirt. I used a women’s medium shirt so this measurement took me right up to the arm seam. After cutting 20 strips, hold one seam in each hand and pull. This stretches the fabric and forms the strips into little tubes. Pile all the strips together, twist them in a figure 8 and use a six inch strip of the shirt to wrap around the back to secure. It’s really that simple.

I think the end result is really pretty cute. I would suggest that if you decide to make your own necklace that you use a shirt larger than a women’s medium or make sure you put the necklace on before you apply your makeup. Otherwise, your make-up will end up on your necklace as it's a pretty tight fit going over your head.

Actually, I’m not sure I would call this project a necklace as much as a scarf. I think it has great potential as a nice summer-time scarf that can help to hide the skin of an aging neck. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wear a turtleneck all summer long.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I enjoy reading through my issue of Martha Stewart Living each month. Martha’s ideas for making the ordinary extraordinary are truly inspirational. She makes everything look so easy and wonderful. The latest issue of her magazine featured an article and recipe for pierogi. The glossy pages of the magazine showed some beautiful pictures of the pierogi-making process and the end result. I was tempted to try but the article said they were tricky. If Martha admitted something was tricky it would certainly be too much for me.

As I was catching up on the shows on my DVR, I came across an episode of Martha making pierogi with her nieces. It didn’t look that hard to me and they all just raved about how much they loved them. Feeling up to the challenge, I pulled the issue out of the recycling bin and decided to give it a try.

A pierogi is actually a dumpling. The outside is dough and the inside can be filled with cabbage, potato or a variety of fruit. The potato pierogi seemed like a good choice for dinner. The dough was a very simple mix of flour, egg, milk and water. After kneading it for the required 8-10 minutes, the dough was ready to “rest”. I was the one who needed the rest; kneading dough is the perfect exercise for arms and abs. I know I’ll be hurting tomorrow!

With the potatoes cooked and mashed with cream cheese and butter and the dough rolled to perfection, I was ready to start assembly. Three inch circles of dough were filled with the potato mixture, crimped and then dropped into a pot of boiling water. They looked just like the picture. Well, close enough anyway. When they were finished, I fished them out of the water and set them on a plate with butter. I drizzled browned butter on the top and was ready to give them a try.

Let’s just say that boiled dough is not my thing. The filling was very tasty but the consistency of the dumpling bothered me. Even though I only made half of the recipe, I have many pierogi left to eat. I think tomorrow I will deep fry them to crisp up the soggy dumpling part. Fried pierogi, I hope it’s a good thing!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Happy Easter, Happy Spring

I just love Easter. No matter what the temperature is, the day feels like the real beginning of spring to me. We were lucky this year and had a few days of nice warm weather that made the daffodils bloom. I think I could actually see the leaves erupting from the trees and bushes these past few days and the grass is so green. It was truly a wonderful spring day.

I especially like Easter dinner. The food is so light and refreshing compared to the holiday meals during the fall and winter season. My sister hosts Easter dinner every year. We’ve fine-tuned our menu over the years, adjusting for the number of people who will be attending. She cooks the ham, twice-baked potatoes, bread and broccoli casserole and I bring the hors d’oeurvres, devilled eggs, pineapple stuffing and dessert. Out comes the old recipe box as I plan what to bring as my contribution.

After all these years, there are still cooking techniques for me to learn. I thought I had making devilled eggs down to a science. Enter Rachael Ray with a new technique: cover the eggs with cold water, bring the eggs to a boil, cover and remove them from the heat. After 10 minutes you have perfectly cooked eggs. In the past, I boiled the eggs for about 10 minutes and there was always at least one that would crack and run. Who knew? Filling the eggs is always fun. I am lucky enough to own a Super Shooter Cookie Press that has a star attachment just for fancy fillings. This cookie press is electric and is no longer in production. I’d better take care of it. I may learn new cooking techniques, but it just would feel right if I couldn’t fill the eggs with my Super Shooter.

My dessert recipe is one I haven’t made in quite a while: lemon bars. As I was shopping for the ingredients, I found a box mix and was very tempted to use it instead of baking the squares from scratch. I’ll have to try them some day, but didn’t want to take a chance at a holiday dinner. I used real lemon juice and added lemon zest to the original recipe. After baking, cooling and cutting, I melted some chocolate and drizzled it over the top of the squares. They were very yummy and disappeared pretty quickly.

The entire meal was delicious and the company was wonderful. I have to admit, though, I much prefer having dinner at someone else’s house. No house to clean, no extra dishes to wash, no table linens to coordinate. Dinner at Julie’s house, it’s a good thing!