The sign, finished

I had quite a few craft fails getting up to this point. I had originally based this project on a giant logo with black words and multicolored buttons in the background. But since I stole all of the red and green buttons out of my stash for last year’s button wreaths, my multicolored buttons were looking mostly gray and brown.

So I headed to Michael’s to buy some more, and of course, they were completely out. Hancock Fabrics across the street was closed, but JoAnn finally came through with two packages of colored buttons.

When I got home I started arranging them, which was a very time-consuming process. At first I decided the colors were too bright, so I removed a bunch of pink and orange buttons to make it more subdued. Once I did that Mike announced that he couldn’t read the words. Gah!

So I took out all the multicolored buttons and replaced them with white. And since the board was looking a little empty at the top and bottom I added my tagline and my name to fill it in.

And after all that work… I still didn’t like it.

It was a tough decision, but I realized the project wasn’t worth doing if I didn’t love the final product, so I plucked off all the buttons, one-by-one. It finally occurred to me that what was wrong was the background. It was just too plain, and since a tapestry of buttons made it unreadable, I needed cool paper instead. I dug through my stash of Martha Stewart wrapping paper I got on clearance and found just the right pattern.

A-ha!

So after buying all those buttons, I only ended up using a few, but oh well. I have the cute and kitschy sign I wanted, and I’m feeling ready to tackle the many, many craft fairs that are going on this fall. Even last year there was only really one that appealed to my demographic, but now I can hardly keep up with all the emails about new craft fairs. This makes me very, very happy.

Spaghetti and ‘meat’ balls

Mozzarella-stuffed “meat” balls

plus homemade tomato sauce from garden veggies

plus hot pasta

equals one of the heartiest meatless meals I’ve had in a long time.

This is actually a Rachael Ray recipe from Food Network that calls for 1 1/4 pounds ground sirloin, but we substitute Gimme Lean meatless ground beef in the recipe. I also used my own sauce because I had just made a big batch the other day. AND, the best part is the addition of tiny cubes of mozzarella cheese inside each meatball.

So here’s the meatball recipe, and feel free to use whatever meat or meatless substitute you prefer:

1 tube Gimme Lean meatless ground beef
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (when I realized we were out I just toasted two slices of wheat bread and grated them)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Dash of salt and pepper
1/4 pound mozzarella cheese cut into 1 centimeter cubes

Combine all ingredients except mozzarella in a big bowl and squish it all together with your hands. Roll meatballs about 1 inch in diameter, then flatten them out, drop in a cheese cube, and reroll them into round shapes.

Heat 1/4 inch of vegetable/olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook a few meatballs at a time, until they get brown and crispy on the outside. If you’re using real meat, you might need to test one to make sure they’re getting done on the inside. Then transfer them to a plate covered with paper towels to drain.

While you’re cooking the meatballs, boil your spaghetti noodles.

When all the meatballs are done, drain off the oil. Dump in your sauce (the equivalent of a jar of spaghetti sauce) just to heat it, and then add all your meatballs back into the warm sauce. If you had any leftover mozzarella cubes, sprinkle them on top and let them melt down. Spoon over noodles and serve.

It’s so fun to cut into the meatballs and discover that oozy bit of cheese inside. And while I don’t like to rely on fake meat products too much in my diet, they are great to use every once in a while.

And the big announcement is…

My knits have a new home!

I’ve thought for a while that all the items I knit or crochet don’t really fit into the “recycled and rescued” philosophy of my Etsy shop, so I decided to give them their own shop, Mary Marie Knits.

As Mike can tell you, I have a real passion for knitting, and I love experimenting with new designs that are both stylish and useful.

So please check it out when you get a chance. I have so many goodies just in time for fall and winter, and lots more to come.

Today’s breakfast bowl

Peach Cultural Revolution yogurt, a sliced banana and a sprinkle of Grape Nuts.

I tried buying a fat-free yogurt with Splenda when I couldn’t find my regular kind at the store and it was so sweet it almost burned. I am completely spoiled when it comes to yogurt now.

Devil’s food cake

At first this cake made me mad, and I thought I was going to have to go on some kind of diatribe about how from-scratch cakes never turn out as well for me as a good ‘ole boxed cake mix. The cakes came out of the oven a little flat, lopsided and crumbly (when I tried to remove them from the pans). And the icing consistency seemed more like cement until I added a few extra tablespoons of milk. All frosted up I just thought it looked sort of sad. Also, way too light in color for a devil’s food cake, which in my experience (and that would be the phenomenal version at the nearby Drake Diner, where they also toss the cake into vanilla shakes for the most decadent dessert of all time) is supposed to be dark, dark, dark.

But then I tasted the cake. And holy crap was it good.

It is dense, moist, sweet but not too sweet. Could it even be a contender for wedding cake?

I think the only problem was that it needed to be baked in narrower pans. And obviously the frosting needed a little adjustment. But one of my big complaints about cake is that either the frosting tastes way too sweet or there is way too much of it. This made just the perfect amount of delish frosting for a 2-layer cake. And I bet if I sprung for some high-quality dark chocolate squares instead of cocoa powder I would have the genuinely super-dark cake I was looking for.

In short, Betty knows her shizz, and she wants you to make this cake.

Devil’s food cake

from Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook, with a few adjustments

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 2/3 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
2/3 cup baking cocoa
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs

Chocolate buttercream frosting

3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup baking cocoa
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 to 5 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 2 round baking pans.

Beat all cake ingredients in a mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scrape the sides, then turn it up to medium speed for 3 minutes. The recipe called for high speed, but I couldn’t get it past medium without spewing batter all over my kitchen, and the consistency seemed fine.

Ultimately it looked like this.

Pour into pans and bake 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then move the cakes onto a flat surface. A wire rack did not work well for me since the cakes were so moist.

Also, my camera battery died so I have no more photos of the process.

For the frosting, combine all ingredients in your mixer on low speed and adjust the amount of milk to desired thickness. I have a small offset spatula that I always use for frosting cakes, and I love it.

I think there is a lesson here, and that is that sometimes the process is messy but the final product is good. Don’t judge a lopsided cake until the first bite!

Shelf updated

Remember this garage sale bargain?

It now looks like this!

I swapped out the ugly knobs for some more modern ones, then painted the sides of the drawer lavender and lined the inside with polka dot Contact paper. I love it, and can’t wait to see it filled with all my handmade goodies.

Eggplant pizza and roasted zucchini

Yesterday as we were running errands we kept finding that one store led to another led to another… because there was always one thing the first store didn’t have. So finally we ended up at Gateway Market (the closest thing we’ve got to Whole Foods in town), and as usual our eyes got big and we started throwing expensive things into the basket.

But I’m very glad we splurged a little because our dinner was fantastic. Mike took a whole grain pizza dough and some gourmet mozzarella and provolone, plus a fresh eggplant and turned it into this.

He rolled the eggplant slices in breadcrumbs and cornmeal (a great, crunchy addition) and fried it just as if we were having eggplant parmesan. They were SO good.

And I made my go-to side dish of late, roasted zucchini. Even on the grill I don’t think zucchini is as good as it is roasted in the oven with a little salt, pepper and olive oil plus a few sweet onion slices. Then, after I take the zucchini out of the oven I add a dab of butter for a little extra richness.

Of course, it’s even better if you make it in a cute Pyrex dish.

Retro ripple blanket finished!

The other day as I was slogging away at the zillionth row of my ripple blanket, I realized that if I made it as big as I originally planned it was going to be absolutely gigantic. I definitely overestimated the width. And not that a huge cozy blanket isn’t a good thing, but I didn’t want to invest any more time or money into something that was big enough already. So I flip-flopped the orientation, measured it, and found that it would already fit on our queen sized bed. It is something like 63 by 87 inches.

So, I wove in the ends and called it a finished blanket.

I think it will actually live on the couch as a throw or a guest comforter because the dogs jump on our bed too much for me to be comfortable leaving it there. I can just see doggie toenails digging into all those pretty rows – yikes!

Next up, I am going to start bulking up my scarf supply for winter sales and experimenting with petite baby blankets. I will also have a big announcement soon – stay tuned! (Don’t worry, it has nothing to do with me needing baby blankets).

Downward facing Kong

It’s so funny watching a dog try to get every last lick of peanut butter out of a rubber Kong toy.

Sign before/after

A while back I got this idea for a sign to put in my booth at craft fairs. I wanted the name of my business to be spelled out in buttons. And I wanted the sign itself to be a frame of some sort – something that conveyed my “recycled and rescued” theme. I looked and looked for the perfect frame in the right size and shape and with some kind of detailing that made it truly unique. I even bought a frame at a garage sale, but I knew I had the perfect frame when my mom came up with this.

Sorry for the crappy photo, but hopefully you can tell it’s a mirror with ornate details on the top and bottom.

The mirror itself is very heavy, so I decided to remove it and replace it with a piece of cardboard cut to shape. I spraypainted both the frame and the cardboard purple and then got to work glueing buttons on top.

I think it came out pretty good. My next goal is to fill in the background with buttons. I think that will really turn it into a one-of-a-kind sign. But seeing as how I’ve already gone through my button collection and picked out all the good multicolored ones for other projects, I’m gonna have to get some more!