Friday, November 30, 2012

Hints for Holiday Entertaining • Soup

I always make a big pot of soup, chili, or stew before holiday company comes. I mean the company that is coming to stay, not just the folks for the big dinner. Holiday entertaining generally means 3-6 extra people in the house and they are often hungry and not necessarily on my schedule. I have learned to have a big container of soup in the fridge for everyone. It isn't assigned to a meal, it is just there for the emergency hunger pangs between meals, late evening or when schedules get mixed up. Everyone knows that there is a lot in the fridge that can't be touched, but the soup is always available to be enjoyed. My sons-in-laws truly appreciate this.



I have several recipes that I use but here is a favorite super easy winter-time soup created by my husband David. He read the label on a classic can of tomato soup and was stunned to see how much sugar is in it. He started creating his own version with very, very little added sugar. We call it Zesty Pantry Tomato Soup because it can be made from pantry stock.  Here is the recipe. You'll need a good can opener.

Zesty Pantry Tomato Soup

by David Roy

  • 1 can 14.5 oz. fat free chicken broth (veggie broth for a vegetarian version)
  • 1 can water
  • 1 can 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 1 can 15 1/4 oz. no salt whole kernel corn
  • 1 can 15.5 oz. Petite Cut Diced Tomatoes with JalapeƱos
  • 1 can 15.5 oz. Diced Tomatoes with Zesty Mild Green Chiles
  • 1 can 15.5 oz. Red Kidney Beans
  • 1 can 15.5 oz. Great Northern White Beans
  • 1/3 cup Israeli Couscous
  • 1 Tbs. dried Basil
  • 1 Tbs. dried Oregano
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • fresh grated parmesan cheese


Combine all the ingredients in a large dutch oven. Heat over medium high heat until hot, stirring occassionally. Allow to simmer for about 15 minutes. Serve topped with grated parmesan cheese. If you like your tomato soup creamy then just blend this with a stick blender right in the pot. Yum! Reheats well by the bowlful in the microwave.

And what did I do with all those empty cans?
I spray painted them flat black, glued them together using hot glue and a wide burlap ribbon, and added another ribbon and a few of my autumn book page leaves. These were used for distributing silverware on Thanksgiving.


With twenty-one for dinner I had to split the group up. I had one large buffet and then had a table in the dining area, one in the family room, and one on the sun porch. Each had a centerpiece and then silverware, napkins and place mats for 8. The silverware was in one of these three can containers on each table. Got a little recycling in as well.

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©2012 Ashbee Design, Marji Roy



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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hints for Holiday Entertaining • Shared Lists

Lists are an obvious solution for just about everything. I have always been a list maker and it is a critical part of holiday entertaining. In addition to shopping lists, menus, and to-do lists I have a shared list. This list appears 2-3 days ahead of a big event and it is placed right on the end of the the kitchen island for all to see. It is the critical game plan for the last 24 hours before the big event.


Anyone can add to the list although I do most of it. But everyone helps with completing the chores. We have been doing this long enough now that even my sons-in-laws woke up Thanksgiving morning, made their own breakfasts, cleaned up and went straight to the list. They pick the chore they can do, complete it and then cross it off the list. And then they choose the next thing that interests them. One son-in-law vacuumed the entire house, the other cleaned the upstairs bathroom and always chops anything that needs chopping. My daughters have been working off the list since they were little. It makes the holiday more of a family event when all help in the hosting of the party.

The success of the list is that everyone independently chooses what they feel comfortable with. And, it is so very true that many hands make light work. With everyone chipping in, dinner for twenty-one wasn't that big a deal.

We had a great time!


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©2012 Ashbee Design, Marji Roy

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hints for Holiday Entertaining • Balloons?

My house is holiday central, has been for years. That means lots of entertaining - super sized.  Thanksgiving is behind us (twenty-one for dinner and house guests for 7 days) and we are all well into the beginning of the next holiday season be it Christmas or Hanukah or some other celebration. In our home it gets even a little more hectic because my birthday is during the Thanksgiving time frame and my daughter's is the day after Christmas. We celebrate, celebrate, any then celebrate again. I have developed some "routines" that help keep my sanity during these times. I expect others could uses some of these techniques as well. So, today I start a short series on Hints for Holiday Entertaining.

My first hint involves balloons - cut up balloons that is. We had six house guests staying with us during the Thanksgiving holiday, three for seven days and three more for four days. I have learned that with a crew that size, we go through tons of glassware during a day. Often the glasses got scattered around the house but it seems like I was always washing glasses because the cupboard was bare. Several years ago I started the balloon trick.

I had a package of balloons in assorted colors. These were the medium 11" balloons. I cut a band from the center of each ballon. Each family member choose a color and placed the balloon band over their glass. 



That glass became their glass for the day. It could be washed with the band on it, even put in the dishwasher. But at anytime each person wanted a drink, they had to locate their glass. Glasses stopped collecting in the upstairs bedrooms or the sunroom. And instead of 6-8 glasses per day per person, we reduced it to 1-2. One chore greatly reduced.

The kids (Kids? Right! The youngest is 30.) automatically go to the balloon drawer upon arrival and choose their color with the first drink they pour. When the grand generation migrates out of bottles and sippy cups I'll buy the pastel package as well as the classic colors to expand the choices.

This is a simple solution that helps with the sanity. Try it!


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©2012 Ashbee Design, Marji Roy


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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Silhouette #3 • Lacy Trees

I am starting to get the hang of my new Silhouette cutting tool. I am exploring more of the software tools and learning as I go. My third project is based on a simply beautiful design I found on Pinterest and had saved in my Christmas Ideas folder. I used the shared .pdf template from Ninuska, learned how to import it into the Silhouette software and transfer it to cutting lines to create this lacy Christmas Tree in white card stock.

And then I made two more........
Aren't they stunning?

The design of the lace pattern is not mine but offered for download on the Ninuska blog here. The craft person demonstrating cuts this beautiful design out by hand and if you don't have a cutting machine, you can as well. Gotta say, I am glad I have a cutting machine!

Source: Ninuskan Blog

What I did with the design was to download the pdf at the above site. I then opened it in photoshop and filled the outline with black. 

I didn't do that first time round though. There was a learning process of course. I opened the file within the Silhouette software, investigated in the help files how to trace an imported design. I followed them and came up with the following cutting pattern. Notice how each line is outlined on both sides? That translates into every line being cut twice with a slight space between them.


I was fairly sure this wasn't what I wanted. I played with the various trace settings and couldn't get it to read the black lines as a single cut line. I decided to try the cut anyhow and see what happened. Yup, the tree cut but there were all these double cuts leaving a filigree ribbon.


After a little Googling I decided the shape need to be filled with black. After exploring the different tools in Silhouette and being unsuccessful in filling the shape, I opened the pdf in Photoshop and filled it with black. The trace command worked beautifully with the default settings and I cut out two trees using the Silhouette. MUCH faster than with an exacto knife!


My skill at separating the paper from the mat has improved and I didn't experience the tearing problems I had on the first project. I don't pull the paper off. Instead, using the little chisel tool that came with the cutter, I pry it up from the bottom side. I sneak the plastic chisel under and the paper lifts.
The other change is I arrange my paper and the mat so the feeder rolls don't press on the paper but instead track on the edges of the mat.



I cut two identical trees and then, using my sewing machine, I stitched them together right up the center.


I folded them along the stitched seam on both sides to create a standing tree.


Using the re-sizing tools built in to the Silhouette software, I reduced the pattern, cut two trees, reduced it again and cut two more. This created three trees of different sizes.

The display potential of these delicate trees is endless.

Right now I have them on the coffee table between the sofa and the wood stove. There! My first Christmas decoration is in place. 

I think I need to build a fire. It is snowing outside. Time to sit, enjoy a fire, some hot chocolate and admire the trees, both inside and out!

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Silhouette Learning • Jar Labels

Keeping it simple here folks. Today I tried my second project on my new Silhouette cutting machine. I wanted to combine printing and cutting to make jar labels. These are jars in my almost finished laundry room that has me over-the-moon happy. I haven't shared the big reveal yet but you will get a sneak peak of a corner to see the new jar labels.


I collected peanut butter jars- the plastic ones. I keep them all because I know someday I will have a perfect use for them and it has appeared in the laundry room project. I built narrow under-the cabinet shelves for small odds and ends. When I built them I knew I would line up these peanut butter jars for organization. In them I keep my laundry treasures- things I find in pockets or at the bottom of the washing machine. In my house she who does the laundry gets to keep the money!


I will be spray painting the tops once the weather warms up again. (That might be wishful thinking and I may have to wait until spring!) My plan was simple - design a label in the Silhouette software, print the letters, have the machine cut the squares and then cut a border out of a contrasting color. Although registration wasn't critical I decided to try the registration feature on a simple project to see how it worked.

Below is the basic plan for squares on a sage green.  I am tying to wing it on this project. I want to see how intuitive the software is. So I entered the letters, filled them with black, switched the edge line to black and created the squares. I sent it to my printer and the words printed beautifully.


I then sent the file to the cutter and it cut beautifully. Registration worked but not only did it cut out the squares but it cut out every single letter also. That hadn't been part of the plan! I guess I need to figure out how to create things that aren't cut lines.

It was impressive to watch it quickly cut each letter. When I peeled off the squares the letters stayed on the mat.


The effect was kind of cool so I glued it down on a border piece which I cut out of dark green using the fancy border in the standard image file included with the Cameo - and then it wasn't so cool.


The labels looked silly without the letter centers and peeling the letter centers, applying glue and repositioning wasn't going to happen in a 48 pt font.

So I regrouped and created the printed labels in Pages and cut them on the paper cutter- probably the correct approach for the squares anyhow.



I then created a file with 9 back pieces and cut all of those on the cutting machine. Worked beautifully.

Using the box that the Cameo came in as a spray booth, I applied spray adhesive to the back of the squares, glued them each to a border, and then glued that to one of the plastic jars.

Now I need to go and read some directions and figure out how to add lines that don't cut!


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©2012 Ashbee Design, Marji Roy