DIY Cactus Rock Garden

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I am all on board the succulent train. I have one on my desk, I have one on my bedside table, and I’ve managed to convince both of my parents to plant them in their gardens. They make me smile when I see them along the walls of trendy L.A. coffee shops, and I must talk myself out of buying more whenever I pass the aisle at Home Depot. You get it, I like succulents.

So this past weekend when I went over to my friend Evie’s house and saw her homemade cactus rock garden, I got very VERY excited and she kindly showed me how she made it. This craft is perfect for kids, but also perfect for 22 year olds like myself. There is something about the smooth weight of the rocks and the way you can move them around in the sand/gravel that is so therapeutic – kind of like those zen sand trays. I could rake that sand for hours.

It’s a super cute addition to a book shelf or a coffee table, and the best part is we didn’t spend a penny to make it. This craft makes me smile. So thanks Evie, you’ve brought much happiness into my week.


Materials:

  • Smooth, somewhat flat rocks (we went hunting in the neighborhood)
  • A container (we used a recycled tomato can)
  • Sand or small pebbles (we used aquarium gravel)
  • Various shades of green paint
  • A sharpie
  • A glue gun
  • Pink embroidery thread
  • A fork
  • Scissors

First pick your rocks. You want to test them out with your container so that they aren’t so big that they fall out, but also aren’t so small that they look disproportionate. We used a large tomato can, but this craft could be done in any sort of container! Evie’s original was in a cute homemade box, and my next go at this will be in a wide but shallow ceramic pot so that I can use a lot more rocks.

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Fill your container just below the rim with gravel or sand.

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Mix your various shades of green. We did a different shade for each rock (and ended up omitting the neon green rock).

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Now patiently paint your rocks. I say patiently because you must do at least two coats and you have to do both sides. It takes forever and is pretty boring. It’s like watching paint dry. hehe.

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But the wait is worth it because now you have beautiful green stones. I loved them so much like this I was tempted to just leave them so that I could just look at them and hold them from time to time.

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We used a small stone and a big stone painted the same shade to make a cactus with a branch (that sounds wrong… is there a better word for that?). We simply glued it on with hot glue.

At this stage Evie turned to me and said “now  just make your pom pom.” Like I know how to make miniature pom poms… does anyone just know how to do that? Needless to say, I had her very carefully walk me through it and to be honest, it’s quite easy and now I can confidently make mini pom poms.

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So here are the secrets. Get a cute tiny fork with a cool swirly handle (or probably just a normal fork), and wrap your thread around it until it forms a thick bundle. Next, gently weave the end of the thread through the fork tongs underneath your “bundle”. Pull it through and tie it into a tight knot around the bundle. It should look like a oddly shaped bowtie. Remove it from the fork and cut both sides of the “bowtie”. Use your fingers to spread apart the threads and voila! you’ve got a little poof.

 

Glue your pom pom to the top of one of the rocks.

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Use a sharpie with a fine tip to draw on the thorns. We used a variety of patterns to depict them, including stripes, crosses, “v”s, and little lines that look like sprinkles.

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Now you can arrange your rocks however you would like in your little garden. And then you can rearrange them when you get bored. And then do it again. That’s the beautify of this sweet little craft.

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Happy “gardening”!

 

-Kirby

And The Oscar Cookie Goes To…

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The Oscars are coming up next weekend and I am beyond excited. It is my most anticipated televised event of the year (sorry, Superbowl). Michelle and I are hosting a small viewing party, for which we made ballots for guests to bet on the winners. Download our ballot here —> oscar-ballot-2017 if you would like to print it out for your own party! We also will be serving these Oscar statue sugar cookies and of course, what’s an Oscar celebration without a little champagne?

I make it my mission to see every movie nominated for the biggest awards so that I can formulate an honest (and passionate) opinion. I can’t speak for you all, but I don’t remember the last time I saw a bad movie… the contenders aren’t messing around this year! After much deliberation and a whole lot of crying at the movies, I’ve settled on MOONLIGHT as my favorite. The performances were so powerful and so believable, and I really admire the director’s choice in camera movements. It has been weeks and I’m still thinking about it. But that’s followed by a close second tie between HELL OR HIGH WATER, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, and LION. Oh and maybe LA LA LAND and HIDDEN FIGURES…. See, I have a lot of trouble deciding.

Who are your picks for the Oscars this year?

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Ingredients:

  • Sugar cookie dough (find our recipe here)
  • Cardboard, scissors, and a pencil (for the shape cutout)
  • Royal icing (find our recipe here)
  • Yellow and black food coloring
  • Ziplock baggies
  • Gold sprinkles (we used Wilton gold pearlized sugar, which also be found on amazon)

Use a pencil to draw an Oscar statue that is approximately six inches in height. Cut it out with scissors. Now you can use it to carefully cut the shapes out of the dough by tracing it with a sharp knife.

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Use a spatula to place the cookie cutouts on a greased baking sheet. Bake in a 400º F oven for 6-8 minutes and then allow to cool.

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Max a batch of stiff royal icing (meaning, do not add any water and make sure it forms stiff peaks when you lift it with a spoon). Divide your stiff royal icing into thirds, 1/3 for the black, and 2/3 for the yellow. Thoroughly mix your colors. Then divide those colors in half so that you can add a pinch of water to make a slightly runnier version of each color as well.

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Spoon the stiffer icing into plastic ziplock bags or piping bags and cut a tiny hole at the corner.

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Use the yellow icing to trace the statue with thick lines and make sure there are no gaps. Allow to dry for a minute or two.

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Use the runnier yellow icing to fill the border lines. You want them filled as much as they can without spilling over the edge.

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Cover the cookies in gold sprinkles. You may need to add a second coat since the sprinkles tend to sink into the icing. Once they dry, dust off all of the loose sprinkles and move the cookies to a clean surface.

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Now use the black icing to pipe the border of the statue’s stand.

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Fill those borders with the runnier black icing and allow to dry.

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And… ACTION! No shame in using your cookie to pretend you’ve won your own Oscar for a little while…

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Mardi Gras King Cake

king-24-of-26We hate to brag, but this is one of the most delicious king cake recipes ever. It is soft, it is cinnamon-y, it is nutty, and it is coated in thick, gooey vanilla icing. It doesn’t get much better than that!

The festive cake season started on January 5th, also known as the Twelfth Night or Epiphany Day, and ends on Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins. This year Mardi Gras takes place on February 28th so it is perfect timing to whip up your own king cake. Whoever finds the small baby hidden inside is blessed with luck and prosperity, and has to bring the king cake to the party next year!

We’ve learned a lot about the history and symbolism behind the cake throughout this project, but what we love the most is the joyful celebrations that surround this treat. We daydream about dancing in the streets of New Orleans every time we bite into this cake, but for now we’ll have to enjoy it from afar here in Los Angeles!


Ingredients

The Cake

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 package of yeast
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened, cut into small cubes

The Filling

  • 2/3 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cups chopped walnuts

The Icing

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

The Decoration

  • Yellow, purple, and dark green sprinkles or sanding sugar
  • A small, plastic baby

Mix 2 1/2 cups of flour with the package of yeast until completely blended.

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In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Using the paddle attachment on your mixer, combine the dry ingredients with the hot milk while the mixer is on low speed.

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Once the liquids are well incorporated, add the eggs one at a time. Mix until a gooey dough forms. Switch to a dough hook attachment. Mix in the remaining cup of flour and the salt.

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Add the softened butter, one cube at a time. Using the hook attachment, knead the dough for 8 minutes, pausing to clean the sides of the bowl every few minutes.

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Knead the dough a few times by hand on a floured surface.

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Then roll it into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rest and rise for an hour. It should almost double in size.

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While the dough is proofing, make your cinnamon filling. Combine all ingredients until it forms a thick paste.

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Once the dough has risen for an hour, remove it from the bowl and roll it out onto a floured surface. You want to roll it into a rectangle measuring approximately 10 x 20 inches.

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Smear the cinnamon filling onto one half (the long ways) of the dough. Don’t be afraid to use your clean fingers to get it evenly distributed! Fold the dough in half over the filling and press down firmly.

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Carefully slice the dough into three long, even strips. Then pinch the dough together, sealing any openings so that the cinnamon filling won’t leak out.

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Gently braid the dough. After you braid it you can stretch it out a little bit.

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Form the braided dough into a wreath shape on a foil-lined baking sheet (we used a pizza stone). We tucked the loose pieces of dough underneath each other in order to disguise them. Then cover and allow to sit for another hour.

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While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350º F. After an hour, when the dough has once again doubled in size, place it in the over and bake for 25-30 minutes. Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes or so once finished baking. The filling might have leaked a little bit (ours did!) but no worries, it comes off easily when you transfer the cake to a new plate.

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While it cools, make the icing by mixing the powdered sugar, vanilla and milk together until smooth. It should be viscous but not too runny.

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Onto the fun part – decoration! First, and most importantly, tuck the little plastic baby into the cake somewhere. It helps that it is braided because there are many secret little crevices.

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Using a spoon, pour the icing on top of the cake in thick globs. Allow it to ooze instead of spreading it.

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Then finish it off with green, purple, and yellow sprinkles! We did them in six alternating sections.

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Time to reap your reward! Pop your piece in the microwave for ten seconds if you want it warm and soft… really, does it get any better?

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A big thank you to our friend Evie, a cooking genius (and she is 12!!) for her help on this baking project.

 

Happy Mardi Gras!

-Kirby and Michelle

Origami Valentines

king-28-of-39Does anyone else feel nostalgic about Valentine’s day from elementary school years? We miss the shoebox mailboxes that we would customize and decorate to stash our valentines. We miss the sweet little cards from our peers with funny pun notes and lollipops taped on. We miss the cookies that our teachers would bring – the kind from the grocery store with heaps of neon pink frosting and heart-shaped sprinkles. Did anyone else stress way too much over which card to give to your secret crush? It had to be subtle but send a message at the same time… not the easiest task for a 4th grader with Spongebob valentines!

Anyways, this year we decided to throw it back to the good ol’ Valentine’s days and make homemade valentines for all of our closest girlfriends. It’s a sweet reminder that we love them. The day should be about celebrating all of your loved ones, not just the romantic ones.

We opted for paper origami pyramids. They are very easy to make and are perfect vessels for peanut and peanut butter m&ms. Mmmm!

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Materials

  • Paper in various shades of pink & red
  • Scissors
  • A pencil
  • A ruler
  • Glue
  • Thin ribbon
  • White paper
  • A black pen
  • White thread
  • Peanut & peanut butter m&ms (or whatever small candy you prefer)

Using a ruler, draw a square onto a piece of paper. Then draw triangles on each side. It is important to measure all of your angles and sides so that they are even, or else the pyramid won’t align properly. Add a rounded edge to each side of the triangles. These don’t have to be perfect because they will be folded inwards and hidden inside of the pyramid. Now carefully cut out your shape.

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Use the shape that you’ve cut to trace and then cut out all of your other shapes. For a cuter result, use a variety of pink and red paper colors.

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Now you get to assemble the pyramids! First, using a pencil or a hole punch, make a hole at the end of each triangle. Next, fold the rounded edges on the triangles inwards, so that the shape once again has perfect triangles pointing outwards. Finally, fold at the edges of the square, so that all four triangles point upwards.

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Once you have folded all of your pyramids, use a glue stick (or just Elmer’s school glue) to glue the edges of the pyramid together. Only glue three of the sides together, leaving one open.

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When the glue has dried, cut a piece of thin ribbon to tie your bow. If you are looking down at your pyramid with the open side pointing away from you, thread the ribbon into the hole on the right side of the pyramid as well as the hole in the center. Then thread that ribbon from the inside of the left hole outward. Loop it around and back through the center hole. You should have your ribbon looped through all holes, with both ends now coming out of the center hole on the inside. This sounds confusing, but if you follow the pictures it should be pretty straight forward. Thread the two ends of the ribbon through the hole of the open wall of the pyramid.

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Now you can tie your ribbon into a bow. The ribbon holds the walls together, but when you untie the bow, the wall easily slides open to reveal the goodies you’ve stashed inside.

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Fill your pyramids with candies until they are completely full! Then close the box and tie it together with a bow. We curled the edges of our ribbon since it was the plastic kind.

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Using plain white paper, scissors, and black pen, cut out small hearts and label them with the names of the people you are giving valentines to. We punched a tiny hole in each one with a pin, but you could also use your pen to do it. Then tie the name tags to the bows on the pyramids using thread.

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Voila! Your valentines are complete. We often forget how much a simple homemade gift can brighten someone’s day, and these are the perfect way to remind your friends how much you love them.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

-Kirby & Michelle