Not Martha

Seattle’s Gingerbread Village

Each year here in Seattle chefs from the Sheraton hotel pair with architects from various firms to create a Gingerbread Village display that is truly stunning. The village is free to view and donations are taken for the JDFR. This is the 21st year and the theme is “there is a rhyme and reason this holiday season” and the various structures are based on classic nursery rhymes. If you’re here in Seattle I highly recommend making a visit to see the gingerbread village part of your Christmas tradition. It opens this year on November 27th and stays up for viewing in the Sheraton lobby under the new year. If you like to avoid the crowds, or if you just want to extend the holiday as long as possible, going in to see the village after Dec. 25th means you’ll have more time to linger and study the details.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to get a peek at the gingerbread structures in the midst of construction. I managed to play it cool but I was so excited to learn what goes on behind the scenes.

From the factoids I got: “The gingerbread creations are made from an estimated 1,200 pounds of dough, 800 pounds of icing and hundreds of pounds of chocolate, almond paste and candy. Creations are designed in partnership with Seattle’s top architecture firms and trade associations, and are made possible by more than 2,500 volunteer hours from the Sheraton’s hotel staff.”

Chef John Armstrong told us that people keep an eye out for candy they can use all throughout the year.

Since the display is up for over a month they do have to use some non-edible interior support. By the time this is ready to be viewed by the public nothing inedible will be showing.

He also showed us the industrial oven which was massive and has eight surfaces that can each hold a bunch of full sheet pans. Yet in order to bake some of the gingerbread pieces needed they had to extend the baking surfaces to be large enough to hold them. That, people, is some serious gingerbread.

This boat has to be built in pieces because, no joke, it’s too tall to fit inside the room where it’s being constructed.

Kids respond most to the past gingerbread creations that have lights and movement so almost each sculpture will incorporate some of that. This entire ship will sway back and forth, I cannot wait to see it’s finished state.

All the details in the walls here are hand carved into the gingerbread before being baked.

The clock shown here was created by coloring dried pasta then embedding it into a pane of sugar while it was still hot. So smart.

Figurines awaiting showtime.

I love the Gingerbread Village every year but I think this year is going to be really special. Thanks again to the Sheraton and Chef Armstrong for taking the time to show me behind the scenes!

· comments [3] · 11-21-2013 · categories:christmas · seattle ·

Hell Yeah Bonfire In A Corn Maze

The sky even put on it’s best spooky display for us that evening.

Remember back when we managed to sidestep the issue of a tiny house keeping us from holding a dinner party by renting the back room of a restaurant and the result was an awesome time? Well that experience led us to holding another gathering in a setting that I wish I owned — we held a bonfire party in the midst of a corn maze. And it was festive as hell. If you can manage to find something similar I highly recommend doing this. Heck, let’s all make it an annual tradition.

It was late September but the corn was really, really tall.

Last year Scott and I visited half a dozen corn mazes because I love them. We went to one night maze at Bob’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Farm and it was spooky and fun but half way through the maze we were surprised to come across an area with bonfires and a little concession stand selling cider and s’mores kits and suddenly it was THE BEST THING EVER. Turns out? Bob’s Farm has totally dialed into my desires because they have small and large private bonfires areas that they rent out.

I thought about this for an entire year until Busywork was headed over for a visit and responded to my subtle suggestion (Can we do this? Let’s do this! Please!?) with a yes. So, we invited a bunch of people, gathered all foods that can be heated on sticks (hot dogs, s’mores), borrowed some commercial thermal carafes for hot cider (thanks again Maggi for the hook up with Caffe Vita!) and we were on our way.

We warned everybody to wear waterproof shoes and bring flashlights and we took care of the rest. The idea was to find your way through the first half of the maze, join us for warm sugary foods and head back through the rest of the maze. A few people became stuck in the corn maze for a while and we had to send Scott (former Eagle Scout) in to retrieve them which was a bummer. The corn maze was so much easier last year, I swear! If we do it again I’ll suggest joining us first to fuel up before heading into the maze.

You guys, if you can you should totally do this. It was great.

All photos above belong to Laura and are used with permission. Thanks Laura!

· comments [4] · 10-18-2013 · categories:events · halloween ·

Star shaped foods for the Fourth

We aren’t doing anything special for this July 4th, unless you count sitting on our deck reveling in the sunshine. Ahhhh. But I do want to point towards my post from earlier this year talking about star shaped foods. I made these for the Oscars but hey, stars are versatile. I’m definitely going to make the star shaped corn chips again, they were easy to make and strong enough to stand up to guacamole but not so strong that they Captain Crunch the inside of your mouth. You know?

Other star foods I’m eyeing include the star shaped mini pies at Say Yes to Hoboken and, of course, the star shaped watermelon slices for fruit salad.

· comments [3] · 07-3-2013 · categories:food · holidays ·

links: Easter

Eggs! – The Crafts Dept. Sources for quail and duck eggs for Easter.

DIY Sprinkle Easter Eggs | Studio DIY. Very cute.

Modern Parents Messy Kids: Creative Play Easter Basket Idea: Water Bead Eggs. I love the glowy transparency she has going on here.

Unique Easter Gift Basket Ideas for Adults – Creature Comforts.

glitter pissing: creme egg showdown.

· comments [6] · 03-27-2013 · categories:holidays · links ·

A Dozen Fabulous Easter Egg Ideas

I’m a bit in love with all the possibilities that surround Easter Eggs, here are a dozen of my favorite Easter egg crafts and ideas. (Over at Babble.)

· comments [3] · 02-28-2013 · categories:holidays ·

Valentine’s Day Treasure Hunt, Three Ideas

Scott and I have a tradition of creating treasure hunts for each other. He started it! When we were first dating I came back to my apartment one day after a business trip (or long day at work? or maybe just a Monday?) to find a small trail of clues from my kitchen to a closet to my computer and then to a stuffed animal. I was smitten.

Treasure Hunt Idea #1

Here is one hunt I set up for Scott on the first Valentine’s Day that we lived in the same apartment after we moved to San Francisco. I hid a dozen small cards around the apartment with messages. I put them in spots where he’d find them while getting ready for work in the morning. For example I tucked a card that said “I love your smile” in the medicine cabinet next to the toothpaste. I hid more inside a coffee cup, under his pillow, his computer bag, the pocket of his coat and inside the shoes that I knew he’d be putting on.

I made the cards above by cutting 1.5 inch cards out of colorful cardstock and using a heart punch, though you can cut the hearts by hand. My original cards were created with scissors (all I had at the time) and were all a bit off center.

Treasure Hunt Idea #2

If you want to send a message why not scramble it? This is an idea I’d been planning on using this year but, oops, I guess he’ll be expecting it. For these I bought tiny envelopes, found at a local scrapbooking store, and filled them with punched out hearts.

Each heart has one or two letters on the front and a number on the back. Once each one is found and put in order they spell out a sweet message. You can use as many hearts as you need for whatever message you have in mind.

Treasure Hunt Idea #3

Scott did this for my birthday a while back but it would be just as great at Valentine’s Day. He hid little toy capsules filled with toy rings (they echoed my engagement ring) around the house. Then, at different times, I was given two maps. One was numbered on vellum, the other was a layout of the house. Put together they revealed locations of the capsules.

Treasure hunts like these don’t have to be elaborate to create utter delight. Scott and I have been together for 13 (14?) Valentine’s days and there have been flowers and restaurants and probably chocolates but it’s the treasure hunts like these that I remember the most of all.

· comments [12] · 02-12-2013 · categories:holidays ·

links: Valentine’s Day

Nerd Valentine: Top 10 Valentines for Geeks  | Mighty Girl.

Bake The Book: Bouchon Bakery Marshmallow Eggs | Serious Eats: Sweets.

swissmiss | Heartshaped Straws. These are cute, and I really want them.

Valentine’s Day Candy Buttons · Edible Crafts. Love this idea!

Play Food « bakerella.com. These cookies are teenier than they seem at first and they are absolutely adorable.

swissmiss | Valentine’s Multi Tattly Pack.

oh meaghan: locket valentines for gal pals. Simple and so sweet!

Heart Balloons in a Closet at Oh Happy Day.

Candy Filled Straws « Sweet Simple Stuff. Very simple and sweet idea for a unique valentine. Via Edible Crafts.

Assemble Shop and Studio: Crafty Project: Junior High Love Note Folding.

· comments [4] · 02-11-2013 · categories:holidays · links ·

Ten Clever DIY Ideas for Valentine’s Day

I adore clever things for Valentine’s Day and I’ve collected a few of my favorites. These are all things that give my brain a little spark.

Go see them all in my post over at Babble!

Pictured above is the Heart Attack by The House That Lars Built.

· comments [2] · 02-8-2013 · categories:holidays ·

links: holidays

The Stocking Series, Part 5: The Legend of the Christmas Stocking | Threaded. The history of the Christmas stocking from the Smithsonian

How To: Broken Glass Ornaments Into New Ornaments – Grathio Labs. Via The Hairpin.

3 Wreaths to Make for the Holidays, at Oh Happy Day.

How To: Make a DIY Modern Wooden Christmas Tree Set » Curbly.

Candy Cane Vodka – Shutterbean. So easy!

Kids Craft: Santa Beard Disguise | Say Yes to Hoboken. Adorable! Also see the Quick and Easy Festive Tabletop.

Ginger Syrup and Grandadine gifts at the Ugly Green Chair. With drink recipes.

· comments [0] · 12-21-2012 · categories:christmas · holidays · links ·

links: holidays

Gingerbread Block Project | Kitchen Table Scraps. Remember the fabulous gingerbread brownstone? This year Renee is organizing a gingerbread block project, to be displayed and benefiting City Harvest. You can join in!

BY HAND Gift Guides: BUILD. A story that led By Hand magazine to Lee Valley via an offline friend and then validated by Ron Swanson. Lee Valley is catalog store that I’ve loved since high school (which was, ahem, pre-internet shopping era).

A beer/bicycling guide to Portland here, Hop in the Saddle. Via Foodie Gift Guide: Part Deux | The Urban Grocer

Munchkin Munchies: Peppermint Stick Platter. I love this, but I suspect the whole platter would melt quickly in our humidity. I would have to seal it with something food safe and right about there it sounds like too much work.

Cool Tools – Guide to Gift Guides 2012. Lots of tools and gadgets things in the practical to awesome spectrum.

· comments [5] · 12-17-2012 · categories:holidays · links ·

A Hip Handmade Holiday (and a giveaway!)

My friends Freshly Picked and The Alison Show got together as The Craft Pack and made a book full of delightful and easy (really, seriously) DIY holiday gifts. The book is called A Hip Handmade Holiday: Gifts For Everyone On You List For $10 Or Less and I super duper love it. It’s a PDF download and includes nine how-to videos, pro tips and lots and lots of printables.

Susan and Alison gave a presentation at Camp Mighty last month and Alison said (to applause) that if your idea of crafting is printing something onto sticker paper and slapping it on a jar, then this book is for you. There are also project with great instructions that teach you a technique and give some room to improvise if you’d like.

There are projects for women, men, pets, the house, things to treasure for years and those gifts for last minute print-and-glue moments. Susan and Alison have curated their offerings incredibly well so the book offers just a few projects for each category but every single one is gorgeous, clever and well explained. If you want to follow each project by the numbers they’re great, but there is also room to use the technique as a starting point. There are pro tips and how-to videos scattered throughout the book. The printables include every holiday card you could wish for, all the stencils you need and stickers to cover treats served in jars, paint cans and bottles.

I’m highly impressed with the balance they’ve struck here and if this is the type of quality that can come through non-traditional forms of publishing I clearly need to be paying closer attention. Susan and Alison have labeled this book “No. 1″ and I hope there are many more to come.

I’m a little obsessed with the Ho Ho Ho pillows.

Just so you know: If you buy the book through the link here I get a percentage. That percentage goes right back into hosting costs for this here website which are doubling due to higher traffic. This isn’t something I’m complaining about. Just, you know, noting. So thanks.

As a way of saying hello The Craft Pack is offering a $50 Michael’s gift card to Not Martha readers. Yay, thank you The Craft Pack!

If you’d like to enter just leave a message with this post, and if you want answer this question: Have you ever sent a DIY gift to a family member? What was the most successful or the least? (My answer: a trio of candied nuts were beloved, but the hand knit scarves mostly got a polite thank you.) You’ve got until next Tuesday, Dec. 18th at 12 noon Pacific (my) time to enter, at that point I’ll close comments. The fine print applies. Good luck! Closed, thanks to everybody for entering!

· comments [180] · 12-13-2012 · categories:books · christmas ·

3D Christmas Tree Gingerbread Cookies, an update

In my 3D Christmas Tree Gingerbread Cookies post last year I explained how to create your own version from an existing cookie cutter and I also offered a ready to go printable version that you could use. I wasn’t ever happy with that pattern so I’m updating it. The pages to print out are below, and they have been added to the original project as well.

I’ll be making these again (as soon as I have a working dishwasher, because ugh) and using royal icing and sanding sugar to decorate the branches instead, I think it’ll look far nicer.

A view overhead showing how the cookies fit together to make them stand up.

Click on each of these to view or download and print them.

Happy creating!

· comments [3] · 12-10-2012 · categories:christmas · food ·

Seeking your favorite cookie swap recipes

I was going to show you my updated pattern for the 3D Christmas Tree Cookies today but yesterday morning my dishwasher decided it didn’t want to do it’s job anymore and I decided I was going to ignore it by not entering the kitchen, which means no baking is getting done right now. So! Instead let’s talk about cookie swaps.

I’ve got a few cookie swaps coming up and I am considering something new. My usual cookie swap recipe is of the slice-and-bake variety, the Cornmeal-Cherry Cookies from Martha Stewart are a go to. (Also very helpful is this slice-and-bake cookie palette over at Smitten Kitchen.) The slice-and-bake means I can lovingly mix the dough a day or two before hand then bake the night before or the day of the swap and, since I have not been stressing over six dozen cookies for the majority of the day, I’m a happy person at the gathering. This year I wanted to do something different that would let me cut out a bunch of shapes (since I’ve been doing a lot of that lately and have my technique down). These gingerbread wreath cookies are under consideration. And then yesterday I came across these:

Edge of the mug cookies cutters! I previously came across this concept when doing research for my tiny gingerbread houses that perch on the edge of a mug but at that time the only cookie cutter sets I could find were ones you’d order from the UK or were no longer available, just ghost catalog pages found through a vigorous search. You can also cut a slot into any cookie, see this page at I Am Baker for examples, but I think we’ll all agree that a dedicated cutter is faster. I know, this is me saying that. I am the one who is always making needlessly complicated things because they amuse me and suddenly this is too much bother. (In my defense, I had made a few test runs of DIY edge of the mug cookies and they all sort of tipped over and fell off the mug so I gave up on it.)

I think I’ll be using these edge of the mug cookie cutters and making cocoa-friendly cookies out of basic shortbread dough for my cookie swaps. They’ll be fun and quick and hopefully novel enough to delight people.

But I’m curious: What is your favorite recipe for cookie swaps? Do you bring something practical? Or a family recipe? Do you attempt to dazzle? Or do you pick a cookie that you know to be delicious but might not look like much? Have a cookie that is a consistent crowd favorite? Share!

· comments [41] · 12-7-2012 · categories:christmas · food ·

links: holidays

15 Easy Christmas Decorations | RealSimple.com. I like this one, a string of twinkle lights wrapped around a styrafoam ball. So simple.

Eye Candy: 20 DIY Ideas for Happy Holiday Party Decor » Curbly | DIY Design Community.

The Whisky Advent Calendar Whisky – Master of Malt. Oh yes, it exists. Via Sprizee on Twitter.

The Beer Advent Calendar · Edible Crafts. Beer! Advent! Candar!

Creativebug – Free Holiday Video Workshops. Creativebug, who offer subscriptions to view hundreds of instructional craft videos made by really great people, offer some lovely free video workshops. I’m charmed by that Burlap Bunting Advent Calendar.

Roundup: 14 Modern DIY Advent Calendars and Holiday Countdown Projects » Curbly | DIY Design Community.

Mini Christmas Cookies for an Advent Calendar · Edible Craft.

Bubble and Sweet: Lollipop and Candy Christmas Tree Cake tutorial. This is adorable. Via Edible Crafts.

· comments [4] · 12-3-2012 · categories:holidays · links ·

Urban Craft Uprising

Urban Craft Uprising, the winter edition, is coming up very soon here in Seattle! It’s December 1st and 2nd, 11am to 5pm at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall. As usual there are free craft demos and book signings as well as a swag bag for the first 100 people. Don’t wory, if you cannot make it in time to grab a bag they have have an hourly raffle. And this year there is a $1 coat check, so hopefully those aisles will be a little easier to navigate (the show is nearly too popular for it’s own good). I’m excited by all the artisan food vendors they have, and the number of new vendors as well. This is my favorite sort of shopping!

· comments [4] · 11-26-2012 · categories:holidays · seattle · shopping ·