Saturday, December 31, 2011

Repurposed gift wrap

After Christmas (and before) I had little inspiration for wrapping a birthday present. Thankfully my mom bought a pair of shoes that came in an amazing box  – it was visually interesting, and it didn't need anything else. I wonder how many other interesting boxes I have thrown out that could have been reused in one of many ways. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cooking Solves Everything

Mark Bittman's book, Cooking Solves Everything, has inspired me to do a better job of doing more cooking for myself next quarter, even if I have to cook all of my meals on the weekends and freeze them for the coming weeks.

The book focuses on the importance of eating homemade meals not only for your personal health, but also as a political and social statement. 

Although this book did not tell me anything particularly new, and if you follow the local food movement or have read any of Michael Pollan's books, including Food Rules or The Omnivore's Dilemma, then this book won't leave you with any shocking new revelations. But it still might inspire you to dig through your cupboards and throw something together for yourself instead of relying on frozen or restaurant food. If you are feeling uninspired and have been relying on the frozen food aisle, I would highly recommend this short, cheap book. 

Image courtesy of Barnes and Nobel

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holiday slump

I am always exhausted and worn out after major holidays, especially Christmas. The hours of baking, onslaught of company, and what seems to be an endless amount of dishes after each and every meal leaves me tired for days afterward. Yesterday I finally gained some strength and patience to clean the entire house. It feels better to have everything back in it's place and the mess of the baking and everything else taken care of.

Due to my dismal, tired state, I won't post anything magnificent today. But in the near future I will post some green cleaning tips that work amazingly in the dorm, or any other living space. I also read a great book, one that I will tell you all about tomorrow, that has inspired me to put in more effort to cook for myself this coming quarter. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Used textbooks: cheap and sustainable

Right before Christmas I had that awful realization that break was more than halfway over. It was horrid. But with that realization comes the nagging in the back of my mind that I should start crossing things off my list of everything I need to do before school starts. 

One of the most important things on that list is to buy my books. I buy mine online so I can get the best deal on a used book, which not only saves me money, but also keeps that book out of the landfill and decreases the need to print a new one. The only downside with buying used books is that you need to plan ahead. Unless you are willing to pay for quick shipping (I am not), it is important to buy your books at least 2 weeks in advanced. That way you get the best deals and they come before your teacher assigns a massive amount of reading on the first day of class. 

The weekend after finals my roommate and I were sitting around watching TV when she suddenly starts talking about how expensive her textbooks are for the next quarter. It was horrifying to even be considering school at that point instead of enjoying break, but I ended up becoming curious and buying all of my books for the next quarter. I'm not sure I would plan ahead that much again. Getting the books in the mail throughout break has been slightly upsetting. But at least I'm done. 

For more hints on places to look for used textbooks, go here. Happy textbook hunting. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve in the kitchen

Every year my family and I spend a great deal of time over the holidays in the kitchen. Whether we are cooking our meal or baking for friends and family, we typically have a great time turning simple ingredients into great food. 

This year I made sweet potato fries to keep us fueled for our long day ahead. 

We made most of the deserts that we are giving away today, including homemade peppermint bark, Linzer cookies three ways, and "Zebra Cookies." Tomorrow we will make cream puffs and put our holiday plates together to give as gifts. 

These are my favorite cookies. I love biting into them and having the delicious, flavorful jam burst out. They are just the right hint of sweet and fruity. I made sure we made extra of these so we would have plenty to keep after we give away our plates. 

Last year I got my wisdom teeth removed a week before Christmas. On Christmas day I still could not eat solid food, and I missed the chance to eat all of the amazing holiday treats. To make up for my missed chances last year, we made a lot of cookies and peppermint bark. The snowflake cookies above are drizzled in chocolate and topped with crushed candy cane that was left over from our peppermint bark. We made them on a whim, but they turned out great. 

In order to make the most out of the dough, we split our batch into thirds and made one the jam, another the snow flakes, and the last one we chopped up dried cranberries and added them in. We finished them with a light drizzle of orange icing (made by simply adding juice from a fresh orange to powdered sugar until we liked the consistency). 

I hope you all are enjoying your holiday weekend as much as I am. Merry Christmas.

Goodbye plastic: Seventh Generation's new bottle

With plans to do some massive holiday baking and cooking tomorrow, my mom and I headed off to our local market. I was entertaining myself in the cleaning aisle (I know, I know, that's weird. But I'm a clean freak), while my mom shopped for some form of meat (she only buys meat for dad and brother on major holidays and their birthday's when requested. It makes me nauseous just looking at it, hence the cleaning aisle). While I was passing the time I came across a detergent bottle made out of cardboard instead of the typical plastic.

Image courtesy of USA Today

I had read an article about how Seventh Generation was going to unveil their new, cardboard bottle last year, but this was the first time I had witnessed one in person, and I have to say I was pretty impressed. Although I am disappointed it is not 100 percent plastic free (even though I completely understand why it isn't), I still appreciate the major progress made. The company claims that the bottle uses 66 percent less plastic overall, and it appears to be much easier to recycle than the previous plastic solution. For more information about the lifecycle of the bottle, go here

I hope more companies, and Seventh Generation especially, will continue to innovate new, sustainable packaging until it is all that is used. Good bye plastic, I won't miss you. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Homemade gift wrap, Christmas edition

So you made your gifts, but now what? Traditional wrapping can be expensive and often involves a great deal of waste. If you have ever looked in the trash after Christmas morning the amount of paper, bows, and other wrapping is depressing. 

In the past I came up with a few creative ways to wrap gifts, including using old maps, which turned out really well, and plain white paper (which my brother and I may have glued macaroni onto to create a winter wonderland scene... last year). I also really like to use linens as wrapping. This year for my mom's birthday I used a kitchen towel (that she picked out) to wrap her new pie plate. We have also used baby blankets and wash cloths to wrap a baby shower gift. 

But this year I was feeling particularly uninspired, that is until I stumbled across a few ideas. I prefer things that can be reused (like towels and blankets, or pieces of fabric that can be tied into a tote bag), but recylced/upcycled materials are really nice too:

Image courtesy of A Pair of Pairs

 Image courtesy of Sunset

Image courtesy of Sunset

Image courtesy of A Beautiful Mess

Image courtesy of A Beautiful Mess

Image courtesy of Elize Blaha

I really like the use of recycled paper and magazine pages. For more ideas, check out Sunset, A Beautiful Mess, and A Pair of Pairs.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Best homemade birthday cake ever

For our birthdays we always have a homemade cake and dinner of the birthday person's choosing. This year I went all out on the cake for my mom's birthday.

Every year my mom gives me my birthday or Christmas gifts before the actual date, or at least tells me what they are. She and I have some sort of gene where it is nearly impossible for us to keep secrets. This means that I often get my gifts a few days before Christmas or my birthday because my mom can't wait to give it to me. This year she gave me a book this week that was supposed to be in my stocking. It is a book from a local San Francisco based bakery, and we picked out the cake that was on the cover to make for her birthday. 

Image courtesy of Miette

This cookbook is absolutely incredible. It is beautifully designed, from the adorable scalloped edges to the stunning photography and page designs. It is a great book to leave out on the coffee table or on a shelf as a piece of art and interest. The recipes in it all look incredibly delicious, and if I had more time I would probably try to make them all before the end of break, but I will restrain myself for now. It was such cool gift that my excitement about it will last until at least Christmas. (I plan on going to visit the shop in the Ferry Building in downtown San Francisco – it looks incredible in the book.) 

With my inspiration from the book I set off to make the cake on the cover, the Tomboy. It is a moist, amazing chocolate cake with a raspberry buttercream frosting. My cake however, does not look much like the one of the cover... turns out I am terrible at piping. But I will work on that by making many more cakes like this one... once I get over how hard this one was. This is truly the most difficult thing I have ever set out to bake. I love the size, it is a 6 inch cake with 1 inch layers. It is absolutely adorable on the small cake stand my mom bought. All in all, even though I spent 3-4 hours on it, it was rewarding and worth it. 

It may not be beautiful, but I am definitely proud of it. 

homemade gift ideas: tie dye

I live in California, so tie dye never died here, but for the rest of the U.S., tie dye is back, and it could lead to a fun, homemade gift. Tote bags, shirts, pillow cases, and just about any other natural cloth item are great options. There are tons of instructions online for everything from your basic t-shirt to intense, complicated patterns. You can make anything from the flash-back to your youth camp shirt to chic clothing or household decor. 
Image courtesy of A Beautiful Mess

Image courtesy of Honesty WTF

Saturday, December 17, 2011

homemade gift ideas: flavored popcorn

I was at the mall today (I know, it was horrible) and I was shocked at the prices of gifts that are modeled after homemade gifts. Cookie mix in a jar was $17 and hot chocolate mix was just as expensive as well. It's nice to know that corporations see the value in homemade gifts, I just hope that people opt to make them instead of buy them. 

As for homemade gifts, this one is kind of quirky and easy to do last minute. It would be great to be paired with vouchers to a movie or a coupon to see a movie with you. It can also be paired with a family fun gift or something along the same lines. 

Image and idea courtesy of A Beautiful Mess

Homemade popcorn kits should include the popcorn, instructions on how to make it, the flavoring, and possibly something to eat it out of. You can make cinnamon sugar, salt and pepper, tex-mex, and any other flavors you can come up with. Instructions for how to make it can be found here. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Homemade gift idea: release your creativity

It seems like everyone is good at something, whether or not they embrace it is a whole different story. When looking for ideas for a homemade gift it helps to think of the things you are good at. Especially if you can find an artistic outlet you are good at. I am terrible at painting or drawing, but I can do a few crafts well. 

However, some ideas you can make work even if you are not all that creative, and I feel like this is one of them. It is a mix of craft and art that leads to something quite interesting:

Instructions to make this here.

Images courtesy of Elise Blaha Cripe

Things that appear simple can be meaningful and interesting art/gifts. You can also make digital versions and have them printed out in addition to the examples on canvas above. The hardest part will be deciding what you will say – consider an original phrase or a quote from a song, literature, or someone famous. Embrace your creativity and make something unique and interesting. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My new years resolution?

I doubt anyone knows this, but I keep little, random keepsakes in boxes. I have the tickets to every concert I have ever been to, a piece of lava from Hawaii, the sticker from the skating rink from my first date, birthday cards, movie tickets, and doodles from friends all piled in boxes in my closet. This year instead of shoving them in a box only to be forgotten, I think I might turn them into a book like this:

Image and Idea courtesy of Elise Blaha

And the best part is, I can buy the skeleton of the book and fill the rest in... tempting. This would also make a great gift for someone you have a lot of memories with. 

Homemade gift idea: homemade journal

After eating a cookie from a batch my dad tried to make today, I realized I needed more gifts that did not involve baking as well as a wider variety of things, that way more people can find a gift they can easily make. I don't go anywhere without a journal or something to write in, so this post is something that caught my eye. Currently all of my journals are covered in fabric, and I love them.

I have never considered making my own journal, but after seeing how easy it is, I may just try it in the future. There are a lot of other instructions online that look helpful, but before looking I would recommend deciding the basic materials you want to use to narrow your search. A homemade journal can be anything from a large, intense bound journal to a few pieces of paper carefully tied together. 

Image courtesy of andchristina

Image courtesy of Serena3116

If making a journal seems like too much work you can also decorate one with fabric, painting, markers, or just a few inscriptions. 

Image courtesy of A Beautiful Mess

For instructions on how to make a fabric covered journal, check out this post as well as look for more instructions online. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Homemade gift idea: fabric laptop case

I typically avoid anything that has sewing involved, not only because figuring out how much material you need can be confusing, but also because I am terrible at sewing. However, with Katie's clear instructions, this laptop case seems easy to make. It would be a great gift for girls and guys, as long as you pick the right fabric. Organic, cotton fabric is always the best. Also, try to pick something sturdy that won't show dirt. 

Images courtesy of A Beautiful Mess

For the instructions on how to make this, go to A Beautiful Mess

Friday, December 9, 2011

Homemade gift idea: sugar scrub

I am a huge fan of homemade body care items. After finding out about all the chemicals in most store bought items, I started making my own moisturizer and body oil (a replacement for body lotion). What most people do not realize is not only how much better for you the homemade items are, but how easy and cheap they are.  

Spicy Holiday Sugar Scrub
Recipe from Gorgeously Green

Yields: about 8 oz scrub
Storage: dark glass or plastic jar in cool dark cupboard
Shelf life: 6 months

3/4 cup organic sugar
2tsp ground cloves
1tbsp dried rose petals (Mountain Rose Herbs)
2 tsp grated orange zest
1 cup sesame or sweet almond oil
Combine all the ingredients together making sure all is well mixed
Spoon into your jar.

Don't forget to put the scrub in a nice jar with a label.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Homemade gift ideas: picture frame or memory box

Instead of worrying about making something memorable, why not make something that memories go into? You can make or decorate a picture frame or a memory box. They can be anything from collages, to painted on quotes or song lyrics. 

I wouldn't recommend recreating the picture frame you made for your mom out of popsicle sticks in 2nd grade. Instead think of creating one out of real wood, mosaic, collage, or something full of meaning. You can even buy a plain picture frame and jazz it up. 

The same goes for a memory box. You can paint it or decorate it in some other way. My friend who suggested this idea made at least one for my friend in high school, and she always made them incredibly intricate. It helps if you know what kind of memories the box can keep that way you can theme it towards them. 

Thanks for the great idea Lauren!

 decorate/collage a picture frame or wooden box! (I've done both a number of times)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Homemade gift ideas: jams and preserves

With my last final tomorrow my brain has been less than creative at coming up with ideas for homemade Christmas gifts, but thankfully my friends were ready to help me out. My friend came up with the idea of homemade preserves, which I love!

I fell in love this summer with INNA jam, and since then it has made me crave homemade jam. When I was younger my mom would have my brother and I help her make delicious strawberry jam that we would give away and eat for the rest of the year. It was always so hard for me to wait for it to cool and solidify a bit before I could eat it. 

Jam or preserves are a great homemade gift that is incredibly easy to make in bulk. It's always an incredibly fun way to spend a few hours. The only problem is that it is hard to get fresh fruit in some places during the winter, but if you can find fresh, organic fruits, then happy jamming. 
Image courtesy of Manolo

Image courtesy of insidesocal

There are some great recipes online for homemade jam if you are interested. It helps if you know what fruit you will use as well as how many jars you want to make. As an added bonus, when you are done with your jam, you can use the jars as glasses.

Thanks Heather for the great idea! 

 glass mason jars filled with home-made preserves or a festive potpourri? tie a ribbon around that and call it a done deal!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Homemade gift ideas: mix tape

It's time to break out the music collection. Mix tapes are the go to gift when you really don't know what else to make, but that doesn't mean they can't be fun, interesting, or well received. 

Image courtesy of Gremmie

Mix tapes can be a range of different things:
1. A compilation of songs that you have memories with. From road trips to late night dance parties with friends, these are the best when both you and the recipient have a strong connection or memory to.

2. A mix of songs that you think they have never heard, but would enjoy. These are the most difficult to make because it's hard to know if they will like the song and if they have heard it before.

3. You can tell a story. Place all of the songs in a specific order so that they tell a story. These are fun if they tell the story of how you met or your friendship/relationship. It's typically easiest to craft a "story" out of the chorus or song titles. Sometimes it's helpful to include a card with some hints about the idea and what you are trying to say. 

No matter what you decide to do, mix tapes can be a fun way to give a gift. Just don't forget to dress it up a bit. You can make a CD case out of cardboard or some cardstock. You can also decorate the CD itself with markers or a printed out cover. 

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of Something Created Every Day

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Homemade gift ideas: photos

Although this idea is not ideal for everyone on your list, it is great for the people you really know well or are close to. By investing a little bit of time to take the perfect photo (or find the one you are thinking of on your computer), you can have a great gift that the person will appreciate. 

Sometimes it's nice to give people a photo of you together (I would recommend this for parents/ other family members, best friends, or significant others), but other times it's really best to keep yourself out of it and should include a favorite place/ scene instead. 

Once you have found the right picture you have to decide if you should decide how large you want it printed, what kind of frame you should put it in (definitely keep in mind their current living situation/decor) or if you should print it on canvas (I really love the look of this, but have yet to try it).

Image courtesy of Kelly Ward

You can also get an album printed online with space for captions, make a collage (other online or by physically cutting out the pictures), or turn it into a card. One of my friends even puts pictures together with music and quotes in iMovie and gives it to the person on a CD. Photos can be a relatively easy and meaningful gift to most people on your list. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Homemade gift ideas: baked treats

Every year my mom and I pull out our favorite recipes and plan out what we are making for family and friends that year. We make an assortment of cookies and pastries to mix and match for each person depending on their personal tastes. We put all of the goodies on platters or plates that can be reused by the person (we try to stay away from holiday themed items so that the recipient can use the dish year round). 
Image courtesy of ifood

It is not only relatively inexpensive, but it's also a huge hit with everyone we give it to. Just keep in mind that baking from scratch sends a greater message of putting time and effort into the gift rather than using a mix or pre-made dough. Another bonus is that my mom and I have a great time baking together, and it's a fun way to make every dessert we could possibly want and not have to eat them all ourselves.

Image courtesy of Country Living

We usually make amazing short bread cookies that can be customized in countless ways - my favorite is with jam. We also make at least 2 other kinds of cookies, sometimes cream puffs, and biscotti, but really anything can be made. Just keep in mind how far something might have to travel to get to the recipient and choose accordingly. Happy baking. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Desserts in a jar

One of the easiest gifts to make that people enjoy and appreciate is brownies/ any treat in a jar. Cookies, cakes, brownies, hot chocolate, and basically anything else that has dry ingredients can be made into a gift. All you need to do is layer the dry ingredients (appropriately measured out according to your recipe) in the jar, attach instructions for finishing the recipe and baking, and decorate it as you please. 

Image courtesy of At home with Kim Vallee

Image courtesy of The Creative Junkie

There is room to be creative and not only use the recipe you are famous for, but also customize your choice based on your recipients taste and preferences. Just do not forget to keep in mind any allergies the person might have. 

Image courtesy of My

They are also visually interesting and you can put your decorating and designing skills to work. They really remind me of making sand art as a kid with the different layers of colored sand. Plus, once your gift has been made and eaten, your recipient can use the jar you put it in. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Homemade gift ideas: day 1

I strongly believe that homemade gifts can be better than anything that can be bought in the store, but there are only so many scarves and cookies people need. I have decided to not only research what I will be making my friends and family for the holidays, but also share some ideas. The goal, (no promises on this) is to find something every day for the next 20 days. 

Today I figured I would start with a project that would take the longest. Knitting/crocheting a scarf or other small object. In the past I have made small coin purses for my friends, scarves, and a truly hideous blanket (that I never actually gave to anyone out of pure shame). For beginners I would recommend really simple patterns as well as felting. When you felt it shrinks what you have made and covers up any mistakes. 

Photo courtesy of Answers for Insight

 Image courtesy of feltcafe

Image courtesy of mi_entropia

Another great thing about knitting a gift for someone is that you can personalize it. And just remember, your mother and your grandmother will appreciate anything you made, no matter how completely ugly or awful it truly is. 

Image courtesy of rubies and pearls

I typically find my patterns online or in books from the library. One of the most helpful books for me so far is Stitch 'N Bitch. I would also highly recommend stopping into any local knitting store (I do not mean big name craft stores, but rather local, specialty knitting shops). They will not only help you pick out the right yarn, but they can help you find a pattern and even provide support later on while you are knitting. 

I really like Knitting Help when I am lost or need some advice. To be honest I have tried to learn how to crochet, but it's still mind boggling to me, so I do not have any advice on where to look for help.

Want to give something homemade but don't want to actually make it? Check out etsy for incredible hand crafted items.