January 30, 2011

Mushroom Barley Soup


Mushroom Barley Soup is perfect for a cold night. It’s savory and hearty without being heavy. It’s also low-fat and chock full of whole grains and potassium-filled mushrooms so you don’t have to stray from your New Years resolutions (or if you’re like me and have already strayed, go ahead and add that dollop of sour cream on top).



1 Tbs olive oil

1 Tbs butter

2 lbs crimini mushrooms, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp pepper

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 cup red wine

2 cups barley, rinsed

8 cups beef stock, or 8 cups vegetable stock plus 1 Tbs soy sauce if you’re a vegetarian

1 Tbs oregano

2 Tbs tomato paste



In a large soup pot heat butter and olive oil over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown, about 15 minutes.

Add garlic, pepper and onion. Reduce heat to medium and cook until onions are golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Add wine, scraping bits off of the bottom of the pan.

Add barley, stock, oregano and tomato paste.  Cook, stirring occasionally until barley is tender, about 45 minutes. Add more stock if needed.

Add salt to taste. I found that the stock provided plenty of salt on its own.


Top with sour cream, shaved parmesan or thinly sliced strips of prosciutto.

Soup Night


Every once in awhile I host a Soup Night. It’s casual in a throw the soup pots and a few bottles of wine right on the table kind of way.


I usually make three different soups with lots of toppings and homemade bread or rolls. This time I made Mushroom Barley,


Chipotle Corn Chowder,


and Tomato Basil.


I served small dishes with toppings on the side including sour cream, grated sharp cheddar, chives, crumbled bacon and homemade croutons.


For dessert we had Apple Crumble with Oatmeal Streusel topped with vanilla ice cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.



One great thing about Soup Night is that you can do everything ahead and then just reheat the soup as your guests arrive. You can dress it up or keep it casual. It’s easy. It’s cozy and warm. The best reason, however, is that the cook isn’t tied to the kitchen so I can actually relax and enjoy the evening with my guests.

January 28, 2011

Conversation Heart Gift Boxes


When I think of Valentine’s Day the first thing that comes to mind are conversation hearts. Every year I always buy a couple of bags. They remind me of grade school Valentine’s parties where I would read meaning into every heart, wondering if the boy I liked really meant to give me the one that said, “Be Mine”.


What better way to say I love you than with a special gift or treat packaged in a conversation heart box?


To make a conversation heart box of your very own you will need heavy cardstock and adhesive. I used my Cricut for the letters but you could easily trace them and cut them out with scissors.

1. Cut a heart shape out of paper in the desired size. Trace it onto a piece of scrap cardstock. Add 1/2” tabs down each long side and two small tabs on each curved side. Cut out your pattern.


2. Using the pattern, cut two hearts out and 4 strips of paper 3” wide and long enough to go around one side of the heart plus an inch. My strips where 3”x12”.


3. Ok, it’s time to start gluing. First fold one strip over 1/2”.


4. Run a bead of glue along one of the long tabs of one of the hearts. Glue the strip onto the heart so that the folded end wraps around the point.


5. Continue wrapping the strip around the heart, gluing it to the tabs. When you get the the middle, fold the end of the strip back 1/2” so it follows the line of the heart.


6. Glue the second strip to the folded section of the first strip and continuing wrapping and gluing.


7. Repeat to make the other half of the box.

8. Glue the letters onto the top of the box and fill with candy, chocolates or a small gift.


January 27, 2011

Cheap and Easy Art: Door Pictures


Over the years we have acquired a collection of pictures of doors from all over the world.


Not only are they beautiful but they are a daily reminder of all of the places we’ve been and experiences we’ve had.


Do you have pictures from your travels or a special place in your home town? Here is an easy and inexpensive way to display them.


I bought 5 Ribba frames from Ikea. They are only $10 and come with a mat. Then I chose my favorite doors and had prints made from Costco. I stuck the pictures in the frames and hung them in a staggered line.


The whole thing took about 5 minutes. Cheap and easy – that’s my kind of decorating!


January 20, 2011

Homemade Croutons


Mmmm…croutons! I made these to go in soup but I ended up eating most of them on their own. Every time I walked by their little container I couldn’t resist popping a few in my mouth. Perhaps that’s why my jeans are so tight right now?



1/2 loaf of day old bread, cut into 1”x1”x1/2” squares. I used English muffin bread but any kind will work.

6 Tbs olive oil

2 Tbs Italian seasoning

1 tsp coarse sea salt

1 tsp ground black pepper or red chili flakes


1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Line two sheet pans with foil.

3. Spread the bread in a single layer on the two sheet pans. Drizzle 3 Tbs. of oil over each pan of bread. Sprinkle herbs, salt and pepper or chili flakes over the top. Mix well.

4. Bake until golden and toasted, about 10 minutes for chewy croutons, 12-15 for crunchy ones.



January 19, 2011

Paper Pine Trees


A couple of weeks ago I put together a winter tablescape with a forest them. To make the “forest” I made trees out of cardstock and scrapbook paper.




scrapbook paper

adhesive squares or glue dots



1. Use adhesive to stick two sheets of scrapbook paper together, wrong sides together. This should make the paper stiff enough to stand up.

I was out of adhesive squares and and glue dots (ack!) so I used liquid craft glue, which was a pain in the booty, prompting a number of expletives as my trees dripped and wobbled and then curled up as they dried.

2. Each tree requires two of the same print of paper (from here on out let’s just use paper and cardstock interchangeably to avoid confusion). Fold each piece of paper in half length-wise.

3. Starting at the bottom of the open side of the paper, cut tree branches. Mark the height of the tree on the second piece of paper so that both trees will be the same size. Cut the second tree in the same manner as the first.


4. Stack both folded trees on top of each other and mark both pieces in the same spot, about half way up the fold.

Cut along the fold UP to the half way mark on one tree and DOWN to the half way mark on the other tree.


5. Slide the bottom slit over the top slit to form one, tree dimensional tree.



6. Make a whole bunch more.




January 17, 2011

Hanging Jewelry Organizer


I have a ton of necklaces. They end up all over the house – in drawers, on the bathroom counter, in my jewelry box. The problem is that my jewelry box is in my bedroom and I get ready in the hall bathroom. So, I needed some place to keep my jewelry in the bathroom that wouldn’t be in the way.




12”x12” shadow box frame (on clearance Target)

spray paint

4 12”x12” cork board sheets

1 12”x12” piece of scrapbook paper

Modge Podge

foam brush

vinyl (I used a recycled shower curtain liner)

adhesive (I used a combo of E6000 and hot glue)

clear glass marbles, the kind that are flat on one side

scrap paper

clear plastic thumbtacks

wall hook



1. Take the frame apart. Spray the outside of the frame with spray paint and let it dry. I used Rustoleum Ultra Cover. I can’t even express how much I love it. It doesn’t drip. The nozzle doesn’t clog. It doesn’t spray all over the place and turn the garage floor red like that store brand that got me banned from spray painting.


2. While the paint is drying, glue all four layers of cork together in a stack.


3. Spread a layer of Modge Podge on the cork with the foam brush. Carefully lay the 12”x12” paper on top and then apply another layer of Modge Podge. Let it dry over night.

Before I resorted to Modge Podge, I tried to glue the paper to the cork with hot glue. Fail. Then I tried with craft glue. Fail. The cork sucks up the glue and then the paper peels off. So, I Modge Podged it. It’s a little shinier than I was going for and has a couple of wrinkles (ugh!) but it isn’t coming off. If I make another one, and I probably will because it’s bugging me, I will use fabric instead.

4. To make the pendant/ring pockets, cut a piece of vinyl that is 13”x6”. I used an old shower curtain liner.


5. Cut a 13” strip of ribbon and sew it along one long edge of the vinyl. It’s helpful to tuck a piece of tissue paper under it so it doesn’t stick to your sewing machine. The paper just peels away when you’re done.


6. Fold the vinyl in half with the ribbon on the outside. Sew across the strip of vinyl to form pockets.



7. Place the vinyl along the bottom of the cork board and fold the short edges over the cork. Glue the edges down.


8. Slide the cork into the painted frame (without the glass). Push the prongs on the back down to secure the cork.

9. For the pegs, glue the glass marbles onto scraps of paper so you can see the print through the glass.



When the glue is dry, cut around the glass. I found this was much easier that cutting the paper and then gluing it on.

10. Glue a thumbtack onto the back of each marble.


11. Glue two pieces of ribbon to the back of the frame, towards the top, one on each side. Tie a bow.

12. Attach the hook to a wall or door and hang up your jewelry organizer.


Whew! All done! Now I don’t have any excuses for not being able to find all my favorite pieces of jewelry.