The Joy of Gingerbread

Put a pastry bag with icing in my hand and there is a deep sense of joy that comes over me. It doesn’t matter how crazy messy my kitchen looks or how many things I have left to do on my holiday list. When I sit down to pipe and decorate it all just fades away. This is the reason that for nearly two decades I have continued the crazy tradition of baking gingerbread houses. There have certainly been years where I took on a little more than I should; usually my struggles have been with the architecture of a structure. One year in college I decided to make the Texas A&M football stadium and I had trouble with the steep sides sliding down onto my green coconut field. Since then I try to right size my projects so I can focus more on the fun of decorating it.

When I first started the tradition I was in high school and the Food Network was not in full swing yet and there wasn’t Pinterest or food blogs. So I had to teach myself everything from cookbooks. Looking back my early gingerbread houses are what made my truly fall in love with baking. Each year I would learn more and create something different. This year since I now have kitchen helpers, I decided to create a project we could each work on. This year I made little house fronts for my girls and I pieced together a series of facades to create my own gingerbread centerpiece. Usually, I create a full house, but this project was fun and left me with more time to focus on the piping details that I love.

All of my projects start with a little planning and some basic math to make sure that I have a structure that is going to fit together.

I took a cardboard gift box and cut it apart to create a square base and templates for my houses. Then once I had the structural details sorted out I began baking. To see my recipe and tips on baking your own gingerbread then see my recipe post here.

I made two basic groups of houses. The houses you see above were for one of the sets of sides.

This is the front side with extra pieces for doors and tree details.

This year I sculpted a few extra pieces with a moon and some tiny stars. So even if you don’t have a cookie cutter for the shape you want you can still sculpt your own details.

Then the joy of decorating. I had sketched out a few ideas on an extra envelope I had. This years inspiration was to create Wedgwood ornament like details on my houses with starry sky details.

I piped my house fronts before I assembled my centerpiece box, because it’s easier to get these crisp piping details when you can work on a flat surface. I was careful as I put my houses together to make sure the sides were each seven inches wide.

Then once I was done decorating the sides I put my box together using my royal icing and I added small vases (empty votive candle holders) to the center that I put some fresh greenery in to give it a finished look.

The little gingerbread village makes a fun holiday centerpiece and an added benefit is that my dining room smells amazing. I enjoyed this centerpiece project because it left more time for me to focus on the pretty little details that I love.

Want a smaller project then take a look at my girls’ houses. They both decided they wanted to create pink houses. So we went with a vintage look with a pretty pastel pink and mint green.

My four year old need a little help with the piping the windows, but she had fun designing the rest. She even came up with the idea of adding little bushes.

These house fronts were just the right size for my girls to work on. I cut milk cartons down to create some supports to hold up their houses and we have them displayed in our kitchen and back playroom area where we can all see and enjoy them.

My five year old had an easier time pipping her own details. I love her little village complete with a little person by the Christmas tree if you look closely.
These are the little cardboard supports that I attached to the back with some royal icing. Just decorating house shaped cookies made this a simpler project for little hands.

So if a full gingerbread house sounds like too much then try a smaller house front. It’s makes a festive centerpiece and holiday project to share with your family.

My bookcase has never looked so cute. My girls were right pink houses are so much fun!

The Queen of Christmas

For as long as I can remember my mom has been the queen of Christmas. Before the Internet and all those pictures on Pinterest and Instagram, she had her own swoon worthy sense of style. Growing up our house was always dressed in elegant ribbons, wreaths, garlands, Christmas villages and trees. Her bows and displays are so pretty that over the years she has tied holiday ribbons for neighbors and friends too. Her joy for the season extends far beyond December. Each year she spends countless hours needlepointing stockings for the latest grandchild and making hand stitched ornaments as presents for everyone in our family. Over the years, she has even stitched an elaborate nativity scene with the most exquisite details and beading I have ever seen.

Needlepoint ornaments created by my mom.

This year Christmas started a bit early in our house because a local magazine wanted to feature my mom’s beautiful needlepoint decorations. They wanted pictures of her ornaments so the day before Halloween. I turned on the Christmas music and pulled out our Christmas tree. This for the record, this is the earliest I have ever opened the Christmas boxes. I wondered as I began unwrap the ornaments how I could capture in a photograph or two what all these decorations mean to our family. How do you share the unbridled joy and twinkle in my mom’s eye that comes each Christmas season? Because the tradition of ornaments is only one small part of the magic and love at my parent’s house each Christmas.

Christmas together at my parent’s house a few years ago.

When my mom was visiting us the week before Thanksgiving, she watched my girls for a day while my husband and I took a short road trip. While we were out they were already thinking about Christmas. I got cell phone calls reassuring me that everything at home was fine, but they needed to know where I kept the paint and glue. Our kitchen table was quickly transformed into a mini Christmas workshop. Over the course of a day, they made nearly a trees worth of handmade angels, Christmas trees, penguins and stars and still my daughters were begging to make more. In the days that followed we made paper chains and still more ornaments and then we decided that all these ornaments needed their own tree. So we created a new kids tree for our back room decorated with ornaments made by my daughters.

My Girls’ Christmas Tree with a weighted and raised metal base to keep it safe from our curious puppy.

Even after my mom returned home my oldest daughter has been asking to make more ornaments like Abuela. There is a certain familiar twinkle in my daughter’s eye as she has been creating her own new decorations.

It seems we may have two new Christmas queens this year, because one of the best traditions shared by my mom is her ability to inspire creativity. Over the years my Mom was generous about letting us help her decorate. I know there were times when we were little that a little redecorating was needed after we had gone to bed, but she would still happily let us help.

It’s not always easy to have patience and juggle it all during the holidays, but her Christmas joy runs deep. Now as a mother I look back and I am grateful for her wisdom to include us in all the Christmas fun. So the spark has been lit and a new generation of Christmas decorators begins.

Santa’s Favorite Sugar Cookies

It’s just not officially Christmas time in our house without making a batch or two of these classic buttercream frosted sugar cookies. These cookies make delicious holiday gifts and they happen to be Santa’s favorite in our house. The cookie recipe is something I found in a farmhouse our family rented one time in the Fredericksburg, Texas. On a little corner table there was this book filled with handwritten family recipes. These traditional German Christmas cookies sounded like fun so I copied the recipe down. I have added my own icing and made just a few tweaks to the recipe over the years. These cookies have remained one of my all time favorites. I have been making these cookies since I was in high school and now it’s fun to share the recipe and holiday baking with my girls. I like to make snowflake shapes because it makes the frosting a little simpler when baking with young kids, however with a little food coloring you could bake and decorate any holiday design. I could see pipped candy canes, Christmas trees, stars or angels. These nostalgic and classic cookies are have crisp flakey edges with a soft chewy centers and the icing adds just the right amount of buttery sweetness. No matter what shape you make these cookies are just delicious.

Christmas Cookies (Weihnachts Plätzchen)- Makes two dozen cookies

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

First preheat your oven to 350 degrees

Next in the large bowl of your mixer beat your butter and sugar together at medium speed for about 2 minutes. Then add in your egg at low-speed mix until it is incorporated.

Then add in your vanilla and milk and beat a low-speed until they are mixed in and finally add in your baking soda and flour mixing on low-speed until your cookie dough just comes together.

This is what my cookie dough looked like when it just came together.

Then using a silicone pastry mat or a clean floured work surface roll out your cookie dough. I like slightly thicker cookies so I roll my dough to 1/4 inch thickness.

Then place your cookie dough on your baking stone or a baking pan liked with parchment paper or a silicone liner, like a Silpat.  When I am not baking with my seasoned baking stones, I like using parchment paper because it keeps your cookies from sticking.

Then bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes.

This is the front and back of my cookies so you can see what my cookies looked liked after baking.

All ovens are a little different so keep a close eye on your cookies I like mine to just barely have crisp golden edges. If you want a softer all white cookie then I would bake them for close to 7 minutes. Let your cookies cool and then you are ready to frost them.

Butter Cream Cookie Icing

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons of milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • White sanding sugar, dragees or sprinkles for decoration (optional)

The key to this icing is to let your butter sit out of the fridge for at least a couple of hours to get soft. Once your butter is softened  place it in the bowl of your mixer and add in your powdered sugar, vanilla and milk. Mix it on medium speed until your icing is fluffy and spreadable. I like the slightly thicker consistency of this icing in a piping bag, but if your want to spread it with a knife you may want to add a teaspoon or two more of milk to thin your icing a bit. But a little milk goes a long way when you are making icing so go slow on adding any additional milk.

Now you are ready to decorate your cookies. Place you icing in a piping bag and then using a small round tip pipe on your snowflake designs. (You can get a small piping kit and easy to use disposable plastic piping bags at any craft store.) If the thought of using a piping back sounds scary then just use a small butter knife and spread your icing on that way.

Then once you have piped on your icing you can add a few decorations like sanding sugar or white dragees or sprinkles. Have fun coming up with your own unique patterns and designs. These cookies taste best at room temperature and can sit out on your counter for a while, but they will need to be stored in your fridge because they have uncooked milk and butter in the icing.

When baking with young kids I like to use a rubber band on the end of my piping bag, so that even if they grab it from the middle the icing doesn’t come flying out the back-end. This little trick has made it easy for my daughters to decorate their own cookies.

Let the holiday baking fun begin! This recipe maybe titled Christmas Cookies, but we love these cookies so much that we make it for other holidays too. Valentines Day hearts, four leafed clovers, Easter eggs or spring flowers. These cookies are wonderful all year round.

This holiday season I am doing what I love most: baking. Come back soon because I am going to be sharing more baking ideas and recipes. So whether you are baking for Santa or just want to share a sweet treat with family and friends, then give these sugar cookies a try.

A Bespoke Blue and White Christmas Tree

I love how the twinkling lights of our Christmas tree can brighten my home and spirits almost instantly. It’s the first decoration I pull out from storage and the final to be put away each year. Last year I had to take down our tree in secret, in the wee hours of the night, to keep my daughters from crying. Our Christmas tree is so close to our hearts not because it’s department store perfect; instead it’s the memories and many handmade ornaments that make it ours. When I had my first place on my own I decided I would decorate my Christmas tree with stars. I love the shape and the symbolic meaning. In the Christmas story the star stands for hope and the promise of Jesus. Over the years my collection has grown. I have stars that have been given to me by friends and family that always make me think of them. I have stars I have found while traveling that remind me of great times and places. Then there are homemade ornaments, not all of them stars, that are my favorites because they remind me of the love that went into each stitch, painting, or drop of glitter glue.

This year we have double the tree excitement in our house because we decided to get a new larger tree for our living room, which had me creating a new look for our traditionally star studded tree. So with this new tree came a need for more ornaments.  So I decided to create some bespoke fabric stars that give our new tree a custom blue and white touch. I took some decorative fabrics remnants I had from other projects and I got some Pellon double-sided fusible interfacing from my fabric store.

Fabrics from previous projects made for some beautiful and inexpensive ornaments.

This stiff interfacing was easy to use and it allowed me to make double-sided stars without having to sew a stitch. All you need is an iron and some sharp scissors.

Here you can see the layers. I decided to use a different fabric on the front and back so each star has two different looks.

I just sandwiched my interfacing between two pieces of fabric that were cut into squares that were about the length and width of the stars I wanted to make. Then once my fabric was well ironed and attached on both sides, I used a cardboard star as a template and I cut out my star shape.

The finished star. I ironed it once more after I cut my shape just to make sure that all the edges were secure so they won’t peel or fray.

Here is a close up of a blue and white fabric stars on my tree. I used a needle and thread to add a simple thread loop on the top so I could hang them.

These stars were simple to make and I loved the look so I created some smaller stars for my mantle garland as well.

I change up my Christmas decor a little bit each year so no year is exactly the same. This Christmas I am loving our new tree and all the blue and white details.

I completed our tree with a new vintage inspired tree topper I created as well.

Then I got further carried away and even made some tartan terrier shaped ornaments for another garland in my dining room.

We have a Westie puppy we are very fond of, so it was fun to add a little bit of whimsy and Christmas fun on this garland.

Any basic cookie cutter like silhouette would work so you can customize and create your own one of a kind garland or ornament. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination. Choose your own favorite colors or patterns. You could do something more traditional like a cross or a snowflake, but I also think the silhouette of a flying bird or a butterfly would be pretty as well. I am still decorating and getting our house ready for the season so I will have to show you my girls’ tree and more decorating ideas and in the weeks to come. However, right now I am enjoying the view of our family’s tree and the warm fireplace as we defrost from all the winter snow and ice.

Want more greenery and garlands? Then here is a link to a previous post with more ideas.

Do you have a special collection of ornaments or a family tradition on how you decorate your tree? I would love to hear all about it.


Thanksgiving Sides: Cranberry and Pear Holiday Salad

When I was in law school Thanksgiving always signaled the count down to final exams, so time for baking and making Thanksgiving sides was limited. However, this salad is something that I created back then that can come together quickly. The gorgeous color of the green pears and red cranberries make it feel festive and the homemade salad dressing is so good that it is sure to impress your family and friends. This salad was such a hit with my family that I got requests to bring “that salad” to Christmas and other holiday events. I have learned that anytime a recipe gets the moniker of “that” then it’s a hit. So here is that holiday salad.

Cranberry and Pear Holiday Salad- Serves 8 to 10

  • 2 heads of butter lettuce, torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1 cup dried sweetened cranberries (I use Oceanspray Craisins)
  • 1 cup walnut pieces, candied (optional see recipe below)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 green Bartlett or Anjou pears, thinly sliced

Salad Dressing

  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup cranberry juice
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil

First assemble your salad dressing. In a mini or full-sized food processor combine your shallot, cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper. Then blend on high-speed until your shallots and ingredients are well blended.

Here you can see the salad dressing before I added my oil. The shallots are now finely chopped and the other ingredients are well blended.

Then pour in your oil and blend of an additional minute or so until the oil is fully emulsified and your salad dressing looks thick and well blended. This salad dressing can be made a day or two ahead and stored in an air tight container in your fridge.

The salad dressing after the oil has been fully incorporated.

Then prepare your toasted nuts in a small skillet place your sugar and walnuts and toast them over medium heat. Keep a close eye on your walnuts stirring them occasionally. As the sugar melts continue to stir the nuts to coat them evenly with the melted sugar. As soon as your sugar turns a caramel color get your nuts off the heat quickly your to a piece of aluminum foil or plate so they do not burn. You could also substitute store bought candied walnuts or pecans if you are short on time or if you have a nut allergy this salad would still be delicious without the addition of the candied nuts. If you want you can make the nuts in a day in advance.

Close to the time you plan to serve your salad you want to toss together your, lettuce, pears, cranberries and walnuts together in a large bowl. Then slowly drizzle on your dressing to taste stirring or tossing your salad to coat all your lettuce and pears evenly. If you are taking this salad to an event then I would prep my salad ingredients separately and place them in plastic bags and then toss your salad together close to meal time.

This week I will be having fun with my family in the kitchen making all these sides and a few other favorites too, but if you are looking for more last minute recipe ideas then here are some other holiday dishes.

Turkey Schnitzel and the story behind our less traditional turkey

Herbed Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Green Beans

Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce

Caramel Fudge Pie and my favorite recipe for pie dough

Wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Sides: Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is more than a condiment in our house; it is a celebrated side dish. My family’s recipe comes from an old Houston Chronicle recipe that has been shared around our family for years. Our family loves it so much that this cranberry sauce makes an appearance at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I should note that we don’t even serve turkey at Christmas. It’s just such a beloved side dish in our house that it wouldn’t be a holiday meal without it. So while my mom, the expert on Thanksgiving sides, was in town I got her help in the kitchen. I took notes and I am sharing all her tips for this delicious sauce.

Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce

  • 2 (12oz) bags of fresh cranberries, washed and drained
  • 3/4 cup of orange juice (about 3 medium oranges squeezed)
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier Liquor
  • The zest of one orange
  • The zest of 1/2 of one lemon
  • 2 cups of brown sugar

In a large sauce pan combine your cranberries, orange juice, Grand Marnier and citrus zest. Then heat your cranberry mixture on medium heat for about 15 minutes stirring intermittently, until you hear your cranberries popping as they cook. You want about 3/4 of your cranberries to have popped before you add in your brown sugar.

Then add in your brown sugar and stir. Continue to cook your sauce it at medium heat for about 5 minutes. The brown sugar will melt and your sauce will begin to thicken like a cranberry jam. Then let your sauce cool and refrigerate it. The sauce will thicken a little more as it cools. This cranberry sauce can be kept in your fridge for one week, so you can easily make it ahead and the flavors will only get better.

 

The orange juice and the orange liquor make this sauce special. The citrus and the brown sugar add some sweetness that balances without overpowering the signature tartness of the cranberries and has me wanting to eat it by the spoonful. I feel like Thanksgiving has snuck up so quickly this year, so if you too are just getting your meal plans together, then this easy make ahead side would be a great one to share with family and friends. I am sharing one last side dish this Sunday so come back for another quick and easy Thanksgiving recipe.

Thanksgiving Sides: Roasted Shallots and Green Beans

Thanksgiving in our family is all about the sides. So over the next couple of weeks I am going to share recipes for some of our family’s favorites. This first recipe is one I created for my family this fall, but it is so delicious that it’s definitely found a place on my table this year.

Move over traditional green bean casserole these roasted shallots and green beans have an amazing umami flavor that make them a memorable side. These aren’t your ordinary steamed beans. The savory umami flavor in this dish comes from the caramelized shallots when they cook with the green beans it creates an delicious flavor. The first time I tried this dish I found myself standing at the stove eating all the remaining green beans. They were just that good.

Roasted Shallots and Green Beans -Serves 4 (Can be doubled or tripled to serve a crowd)

  • 1 medium shallot, sliced into thin rings
  • 3/4 pound fresh green beans with the ends trimmed (about 2 rounded cups)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees

First peel and thinly slice your shallot into rings.

Next wash and trim your green beans.

Then in a large mixing bowl toss your beans and shallots in the olive oil. Then add your salt and pepper.

Pour your green beans and shallot mixture on a sheet pan.

I lined my pan in aluminum foil for easy clean up.

Roast them on a rack towards the top of your oven for 18 minutes. You will know they are done when your shallots turn a caramelized golden brown.

This recipe has just five ingredients so it’s a simple dish to assemble ahead of time and have ready to roast while your turkey is resting. But you don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to make this one. It also makes a great healthy weeknight side.

Fall Leaves And The All You Can Eat Tulip Buffet

The views are breathtaking; the air, cool and crisp. This year the ice and snow that traditionally love to nip at the heels of fall have stayed at bay a little longer. So the trees have put on an outrageous show. The displays of crimson, orange and ochre have made it the most gorgeous fall I have ever experienced. Streets lined in maples, ashes, ginkgos and burning bushes have each street corner and tree seeming more beautiful than the next.

Days like this are fleeting so I have been out walking and savoring the beauty. Trying to photograph and capture just a piece of this vibrant color parade. The leaves rustle in the wind and a leaf takes flight swirling towards the ground. Reminding you how delicate this view is.

A view from the botanical gardens

Falling leaves also mean it’s time to start planting for spring. As the temperatures have dropped and frosty days draw near, my girls and I set out to plant spring bulbs. We cleaned out the flowers beds from the last of the summer flowers and dug deep trenches. We carefully planted beds full of bulbs. Winter is coming but what I love about tulips is how hopeful they are. When it’s still too cold to venture out into the garden their bright green leaves pop from the ground. A beacon and sure sign that warmer flower filled days are near.

However, as soon as we finished planting nearly 200 bulbs the insatiably hungry neighborhood squirrels were out to investigate. Had they been watching us? Were they dreaming of an all you can eat tulip buffet? I caught a cheeky and curious few checking out my newly planted beds and the moment I opened the door to investigate they immediately sprinted across the street to the neighbor’s yard. The looks on their faces seemed to say “who me?” So I took to the garden with a bottle of red pepper flakes hoping the spicy topping might send my squirrels looking for another meal, but I may have to get some chicken wire to make sure they don’t come back looking for a tasty snack.

When I was looking for ways to keep my squirrels from digging in the flower beds I came across an article where the White House gardeners had similar frustrations. It seems those D.C. squirrels were an especially savvy crew, so as a last ditch effort to save the tulips the gardeners began setting up feeding boxes hoping that providing an alternative meal plan would solve the problem. However, the ultimate winner was definitely the squirrels. Once word got out that there was food it was like an out of control high school party. It turns out that those tulip loving squirrels had friends.

So what is a flower loving girl to do? The red pepper flakes seem to be working for now, but squirrels in my yard beware I will not be falling for the alternative buffet plan. These fall days may be numbered, but as the view changes I am already planning for spring.

Guest Room Roman Shades

Our guest room has had a serious case of the leftovers since we moved into our house three years ago. It has been filled with been a hodgepodge of left over furniture and bedding, but with the holidays coming soon it is finally time to do something about it. I repainted the room when we first moved in. It was originally a dark hunter green and we sheet rocked in an open doorway that had originally connected it to the master bedroom. The previous owners had used the room as an office, but when we moved in we needed a guest room for out-of-town family and friends. After I painted the room I got busy with other projects, but after I finished my girls’ rooms I decided our guest room could use a few updates. There is nothing like finishing another room and seeing the difference it makes to motivate you to finish other house projects.

I have liked John Robshaw’s fabrics for sometime so when I saw that his Prasana Bluebell fabric was available at one of my favorite discount designer fabric stores I decided to buy a couple of yards and sew some new pillows. In the end, I liked the fabric so much that I decided to order a few more yards to create some new fabric shades for the windows. I like the look of decorative shades, but having them custom-made can be expensive so keep my project on budget I decided to make my own shades. I have created a few of these shades for my kitchen and office so I decided I might share a  project guide for creating your own custom shades. You don’t have to have a sewing machine to make these relaxed Roman shades. Fusible sewing tape and an iron is all you need create your own designer shades.

Supply List:

  • Lining fabric (I used black out lining from an online fabric supply store called Sailrite, but you could use a lighter weight if light control is not an issue)
  • Decorative shade fabric
  • Measuring tape
  • Iron
  • Fabric pencil
  • Fusible interfacing tape
  • Iron on Roman shade rib tape (I ordered 12 yards for these 2 shades from Sailrite)
  • Sew on rings for Roman shades (one box was enough for two shades)
  • One drapery rod or a 1×2″ board cut to size of shade
  • Needle and thread

Measuring Is Everything

The key to any drapery project is to know your measurements and then double check them before you cut anything. The first thing I did was to order my fabric so I checked the width of the fabric and my windows and determined that the fabric was wide enough to that I did not have to add any side panels. Then lengthwise I determined that three yards would be enough to cover my two windows. I also ordered three yards of blackout lining which gives the fabric some weight and will help my guests sleep better.

Next, once I got my fabric, the first thing I did was cut my blackout lining to cover my window width plus the wooden window casing on the sides making sure to add a few inches extra on the height to allow for room to hang it from a drapery rod or board. I used a sewing board to help me measure and cut my shade. I ironed straight lines where I needed to cut my fabric to size. Ironing a straight line is my trick for key making sure I have straight lines.

Here is the blackout lining cut to fit my smaller window.

Once you cut your lining you are ready to add your fabric.

Finding Your Center Line: The Key To Getting A Professional Finish

Once you know that the lining is cut straight, then it is time to place the pattern of your decorative fabric. The key to making multiple window treatments look the same and to have your pattern look even is to find the center of your fabric. So I ironed a straight line down the center of my decorative fabric and my lining. Then I matched them up to double check my pattern placement. Since my vine fabric ran vertically I wanted to make sure that the pattern lined up evenly with one vine in the center and one on each side.

Here you can see where I was checking my pattern placement and beginning to iron straight lines on my side pieces so I could cut the side fabric evenly. You can also see that I left an extra three inches on the bottom so I would have extra fabric to fold over a border on the bottom.

Every fabric pattern is different so take the time to make sure it lines up evenly or if you have a floral fabric that the pattern placement is same for each shade. If you have a chintz or larger scaled pattern then you might need to order extra fabric so you have enough to match each shade. I found that this fabric was fairly easy to work with and it didn’t require extra yardage since the pattern ran vertically.

Iron Your Way to Pretty Drapes With Fusible Interfacing Tape

Once you get your pattern set then you want to pin the center lines together where the finished pattern side of your fabric is facing down on the ground or your board and the smooth fabric side of your lining is facing up. I then pinned my fabric at the top to make sure the center lines matched and the fabric was all even. Then I trimmed my fabric slightly and folded the edges over so I had a five inch border that folded over the back of my shade (you could have slightly less of a border if you have a wider window). You want to have to raw or cut side of the fabric folded under so you have a smooth finish.

Then when it is all iron and folded around your lining you are ready to attach it together using fusible interfacing tape. This tape acts like glue to hold your shade together. This tape is easy to find at Hobby Lobby or any fabric store. I have found that the super adhesive strength works best of this type of project. Cut a strip from the roll that exactly fits the length of your side and then put the fabric on top and use a hot iron to fuse the folded edge of your fabric to your lining.

Here you can see the roll of the fusible interfacing tape and how I placed it so it touched both the lining and the fabric edge.

Be patient with the ironing because it can take a little bit of time to make sure that it is well bonded.

Iron or Stitch Your Finished End

Once you finish your sides then you are ready to fold a straight finished end for your drape. I ironed mine and then stitched a straight line with my sewing machine to hold the bottom end, but you could use more fusible tape for an easy no sew finish.

Here is the backside of my shade so you can see how I pressed the edges.

I left a smaller fold on the top because I hand sewed my finished drape to a drapery rod, but if you are mounting it to a board (see further instructions below) then you could just leave it unfinished and use a staple gun to attach it to the back side of your board.

Iron On Rib Tape Is The Key To Attaching Your Rings Evenly

Now that your edges are finished you are ready to add your rings. I have found that the easiest way to do this is to use iron on rib tape. You can find plain rib tape or tape with the rings attached. I prefer plain rib tape because it lets me custom set my pleats or folds. The iron on tape has a subtle pattern to it that makes it easy to center you ring evenly on each side. I placed my rib tape five inches inside my drape on each side. Then I ironed it down to attach it.

Then I measured and marked the spacing of my rings. for these drapes I placed my rings six inches apart. I placed one at the edge of the fabric fold on the bottom and then with a fabric pencil I marked every six inches on each side. This ensure that you have even pleats or folds on each side.

Marking my ring spacing on each side of my roman shade.

Think Odd Numbers When It Comes To Rings

Now once you have your markings you need to sew on your rings using a needle and thread. This is the one part of the project that does require just a tiny bit of sewing. You need to sew your rings through the lining and the decorative fabric on front. Even if you have tape with pre-sewn rings you still need to sew them through the decorative fabric with a couple of stitches around the rings. If you don’t then your fabric won’t pleat right. I used five rings or pleats on each side. I find that an odd number of pleats or rings to form those folds looks best. You don’t need to have rings all the way up the sides for a stationary shade like this. So decide how high you want it to hang and calculate your ring spacing based on that. I had 5 rings on each side which allowed my shade to fall at the center of my window height, but you can customize it to fit your window.

Here is a close up of the fabric so you can see how I sewed the rings on up close.

Now iron your finished shade to make it crisp and to get rid of the crease in your center line. Once you do that you are ready to hang your drape and gather your rings together with ribbon or a ring clip.

Options For Hanging Your New Shade: Attaching It To A Board Or A Drapery Rod

I had some existing blinds that were functional, but not pretty so I decided to keep the blinds but cover them with my shade. I used my existing wooden drapery rods to attach my shades to the wall. I just hand stitched the top fabric around my pole to create a pocket for the pole with tiny stitches that you cannot see.

Using the drapery rod allowed my draped to hang just a small distance from the wall so it covered the sun shades which were mounted to window casing.

I have made similar shades for my kitchen and office where I mounted them closer to the wall using a board that I had cut at the hardware store to fit the top of my window trim.

This is a picture of the window treatment that I made using the same technique on my kitchen window. I stapled the top of my drape to a piece of wood and then I used several wood screws to attach the board to the wall.

Here is a photo of the board that I attached my roman shade to using a staple gun to attach it to the backside of the wood. I painted my board the same color as my wall and I hot glued some fabric to the end caps for a seamless and custom finish.

This is a close up of the board so you can see how I attached it to the wall.

One note here when using boards, make sure they are very dry and straight. I had a problem on one window when I realized that my board was not perfectly dry and straight when I brought it home from the hardware store.

Here is one more photo of a shade I made for my office where I wrapped the board with fabric since I had to mount it to the ceiling to avoid issues with the concrete basement walls.

Here you can also see how I gathered my rings and tied them with ribbon before I hung my shade.

Each of my two shades took me about three hours to make, so all these details took a bit of time. However, the smile on my face every time I pass down the hallway makes it completely worth it. The entire project with all of the fabric and supplies cost just under one hundred dollars which kept this project budget friendly. If I had them custom made each shade would have been at least a two hundred dollars each. So I loved being able to make them myself.

I have more details to add before this guest room is finished, but a new apple green blanket some custom shades and pillows have our guest room ready to welcome our family and friends in style.

Pear and Praline Bundt Cake

Pumpkins and apples seem to steal all the attention when it comes to fall baking, but one of my favorite fruits of the fall season is red Bartlett pears.  They are sweeter than their yellow cousin and their light buttery flavor make them one of my very favorites for both eating and baking.

So this week I brought home a bag of these delicious pears and decided they were so good that I would bake a pear cake. When baking at home I love making bundt cakes because they are a fairly quick cake that is easy to decorate and serve. The pear cake is light so I wanted to add a little decadence with a sweet buttery praline frosting that compliments the buttery taste of the pears.

Pear Bundt Cake (Makes 1 ten inch bundt cake)

  • 2 cups Red Bartlett or Bosc Pears (2 medium pears) peeled and diced into small pieces
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) sticks of butter at room temperature
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees

First get your pears peeled and chopped and set them aside to fold them into your batter at the end.

Mix or cream your butter at medium speed for about two minutes. Then add in your sugar and continue to beat on medium for an addition two to three minutes until your butter and sugar are light and fluffy.

Next mix your eggs in one at a time until they are each incorporated into the butter mixture. Then add in your vanilla, cinnamon and allspice.

Then add in your baking soda and half of your flour and mix on low until just incorporated. Add in your milk and then the remaining half of your flour being careful not to over mix your batter.

Then using a rubber spatula or spoon fold in your chopped pears.

Grease and flour or spray your bunt pan with Baker’s Joy (my personal favorite for ensuring your bunt cake doesn’t stick). Once your pan is ready evenly pour your batter in the pan.

Bake for 1 hour until golden and a long skewer or cake tester comes out clean. Allow your cake to cool at least 10 minutes before you turn it out of the pan. Then allow it to cool before adding the praline frosting.

Praline Frosting

  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped (optional)

In a small sauce pan add in your butter, brown sugar and milk. Heat over medium high heat until it comes to a boil. Whisk it as it boils for one minute. Then take your pan off the heat and whisk in your vanilla and powdered sugar. Continue to whisk your praline mixture as it cools for about 2 to 3 minutes.

Then pour or drizzle your praline icing on top of your cake. If you want you can sprinkle on some chopped pecans, but the nuts are optional.

 

This cake is so light and sweet that it would make a wonderful coffee cake. I must admit that I loved it so much that I had a small slice for breakfast with my coffee this morning. If you are serving it for dessert then try adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream for rich and delicious treat. So bake with one of my favorite fall fruits and give this red pear and praline cake a try.