Archived Ideas for ‘Food’

IDEA 68
STAY POSITIVE

Feb
2014

Chocolate_Butterfly_cake_top

We all have our coping mechanisms, and it’s a good thing we do. Here in Minnesota, winter brings a boat-load of snow and this year, record below zero temperatures to boot. That’s why I was so delighted to see this sweet extra-curricular project my daughter fashioned. Here, in the midst of snow days and the occasional power outage, she didn’t just bake a cake. She baked a pink-and-chocolate-and-white cake with a lacy chocolate butterfly on top.

The cake is tiny, only about four inches across. It’s white cake, covered in chocolate buttercream frosting, with rolled white chocolate over that. She piped a ring of frosting around the bottom into which she pressed alternating light and dark pink m&m candies. But the true genius is the butterfly. After melting the chocolate, she folded a piece of parchment paper and placed it, unfolded, onto an open book. The parchment paper took the shape of the curved pages underneath, as did the chocolate, drizzled in a butterfly shape. Once cooled (in the fridge), the resulting winged creature stands 3-D atop the cake as if it just alighted temporarily before moving on to the next posy.

I can’t decide which was the more gratifying winter escape: The beautiful butterfly, or gobbling it up! Yum!

Chocolate_Butterfly_Cake_side

IDEA 66
GO FOR THE WIN-WIN

Nov
2013

Holiday_Dillybeans

Those of us with gardens are plagued by at least one fact: If we have enough of something, we more than likely have WAY too much of it.

Each year our family finds ourselves up to our eyeballs in SOMETHING. This year it was green beans. My husband planted a dandy crop of beans to climb his chicken-wire fence and form a natural shade wall to our patio. Once the beans appeared, it was lovely to snap off a few and munch while doing yard duty. But somewhere along the way, we realized we were LOUSY with green beans.

Greenbean_Haul

Keeping up with the harvest was no small feat. But worse was concocting ways to eat them all. I brought a few bag-loads to work and it was satisfying to watch them disappear. But the beans kept coming. And that’s how he (ingenious husband) came up with the idea to make Dilly Beans.

I can take absolutely no credit. He bought numerous flats of canning jars and we had everything but the vinegar. Using a few other things he either grew or got from the CSA, he put these together, lovely in their simple and organic manifestation of red and green. The recipe he used was from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. But if you don’t have the book, the recipe is very much like this one.

Dillybeans_2

The addition of red bell pepper slices to the lovely green prompted my declaration that they were now holiday gifts. And, of course, he made multiples of the recipe. Add some red or green grosgrain ribbon bows and if you’re feeling snappy, tie on a little card.

Dillybeans_ribbonDillybeans_red_ribbon

If you didn’t happen to grow green beans this year, you now have time to plan, plant, harvest and can for NEXT holiday season. But no need to wait. Just get your beans from the grocer. Then, spend one afternoon canning beans and you can wrap up a dozen of the same pretty packages. Just think. You could have your holiday shopping done in one weekend. Now that’s a BellaPamella idea if I’ve ever heard one!

Holidays can't happen

By the way, care to look stunning as you create your holiday gifts? How about buying yourself a gift of a BellaPamella apron here?!

IDEA 58
GINGERBREAD THERAPY

Dec
2012

Gingerbread_Animals_CU

Sometimes, during the holiday season, it’s all we can do to get the dang tree into the house. As the Big Day draws near, we start eliminating things from our To-Do list, aware of the fact that we just can’t get it all done. Then, other years, we look around and realize we’re pretty much ready, with days to spare. And somehow in our emotionally-charged state we can feel let down, wondering, what’s everyone else up to?

Gingerbread_Camel

It’s times like this we need to take charge. We need to buy some molasses (because that’s usually the only ingredient we don’t already have) and make some gingerbread cookie dough. Why? Because we can.

Gingerbread_Tiger

If you don’t have a bucket full of various cookie cutters, it’s time to start collecting!

Gingerbread_Donkey

I love to bring out the animals, as well as my perennial favorite, the pear.

Pear-shaped_Gingerbread_cookies

Cooking the cookies will fill the house with an awesome aroma. And decorating can be done very simply: with white icing (1 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, 4 or 5 teaspoons milk) and the occasional cinnamon red candy. Snip off the corner of a plastic bag and squeeze the icing out in a thin line or dots.

Gingerbread_Rhino

If you have a kid around they may come up with something more complicated, like this incredible, tiny gingerbread house made by my daughter.

Gingerbread_House_1Gingerbread_House

No matter what you do you should feel creative, and practical, since you can eat all mistakes and be amazed that they taste just as good as the masterpieces.

Gingerbread_Plate

Have a lovely, simple, happy, wonderful-smelling holiday this year!

IDEA 55
COMMUNICATE

Sep
2012

Birthday_invite

Birthday parties with small children in the house can be amazing events. Kid parties are, at best, a fulfilling creative outlet, and at the very least a heartfelt celebration of life. If you have children, you are probably compelled to do something special for each and every birthday.

And then one day you look around and see that all those kids have grown up. And they have different ideas of how one should celebrate a birthday. In a busy family, it’s easy to find that you’ve allowed life to drift away from some of your old traditions. Kids that once had a hard time falling asleep the night before a holiday now may seem not to really care too much about it. And as a mom you do your best to morph, to go with the flow. And that’s really just fine and no one should spend a single second worrying about it.

But even if you don’t feel like the ringleader you once were, guess what. You still are one. And you may be surprised that although a few of the rules have changed, these people are still your family and they really do respect your wises to make things happen.

This was evidenced to me when my middle son was turning 19. Our dinner table, once used to hosting our family of five almost every evening of the week, is now lucky to see three. With the kids’ jobs, school, activities and friends, most nights we are missing one or two. My son turning 19 was not going to be home for dinner on his birthday and I was resigned to lose this last vestige of childhood birthdays, the family birthday dinner. I was busy, and maybe a little bit of me was afraid if I pushed it, I would be disappointed to realize no one really cared. By letting the busy-ness be the culprit, I’d be able to avoid feeling silly, or let down.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how bad letting it go would make me feel. And in poignant contrast to all the emphasis I put on communicating, I couldn’t think of a way to bring it up to my family.

So, I surreptitiously asked around to find a night when everyone would be available. And when I found one, I decided not to leave it up to chance. I created a sign inviting everyone to the birthday dinner on that night, and posted it where I was sure everyone would see it.

Then I made a cake. My daughter made a cake. My other son and his girlfriend made two pies. And we had our party. It wasn’t such a big deal, (although we did have enough desserts for a week). But it was just exactly right.

And here’s the best part. That 19 year old really had a great time. We opened cards and small gifts and stayed at the table long into the night. And I see now that I wouldn’t have been the only one who would have felt a loss if we had decided we had simply outgrown the family birthday dinner.

Birthday_boy

IDEA 47
GIVE “OLD SCHOOL” A CHANCE

Nov
2011

Grocery_List_thickness

Are you constantly asking, “is there’s an app for that”?

Technology is currently on such a high, it’s pretty certain you’re caught up in at least some of it. And it’s often thrilling. How cool is it that you can do your banking at the coffee shop in between shopping for a car and emailing your mom?

So I want to be clear. I love technology. But sometimes I find the ‘old school’ way to work better. So I use a mix of both. Even though I can have a to-do list on my phone, sometimes I need to keep a paper one on my desk. Even though my computer has an address book, my actual desktop also sports a rolodex. (Really!)

Everyone owes it to themselves to create the personal combination of preferences that works for them, with no apologies. Even your “OS” has “preferences”, because even the most tech-minded thinking knows: people are different.

Grocery_List_buy

In tossing around this idea, I decided to create a BellaPamella shopping list. It’s a chunky 1/2 inch thick pad of long, narrow paper. At the top is a graphic of a grocery bag and one word: BUY. And I wondered, would people like such a simple tool? So, before I go deciding to sell BellaPamella shopping list pads, let’s see if there’s interest. The first ten people to contact me and ask for one will receive a free custom made BellaPamella shopping list pad in the mail. You don’t even have to include your mailing address unless you hear you are one of the ten, (in which case we will need it in order to send it to you). And we will NOT use, give away or sell your email or mailing address.

If I get a huge outpouring, I will be happy to offer the BellaPamella grocery list pad on the site. So, how bout it? Wanna try a little Old School?

Oh, and I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of another sweet “Old School” item: The apron!

Apron_Thanksgiving

IDEA 46
MAKE YOUR YARD A MULTI-TASKER

Aug
2011

Hanging_strawberries

On the radio one day I heard a master gardener suggest that if you live in the city and want to put something on a trellis, why not plant strawberries. The idea being, then you can have a snack every time you go out the back door. She must share a gene with my husband Mark who has made an art form out of using common growing things in an unorthodox way.

Bean_blossom_wall_cu

We thought our patio could use a sun/wind/privacy screen, but really didn’t want to build a wall or fence. Mark made a frame for a large piece of chicken wire and planted a mess of beans at the bottom. Very quickly our patio had a living fresh green backdrop.

Bean_garden_wall

Bean_blossom_wall

He planted basil in a stone wall nearby. This is a place that would normally be reserved for flowers, or something decorative. The basil is decorative, but it has also keeps us in fresh pesto all summer.

Basil_patio

In our hanging baskets that last year housed Lobelia blooms, this year are brimming with strawberries.

Hanging_strawberries

A sweet melon patch not only greens up the patio edge but provides a passel of mini cantaloupes.

Melon_patio_2Melon_patiomelon

But maybe my favorite Mark innovation this year was the single row of corn forming an architectural element for the outside space. Held upright by one of his now signature tied stick trellises, the corn was well past knee hi by the 4th of July and heading on in toward an elephant’s eye.

Corn_trellis_backtrellis_joint

Of course, he likes to plant flowers too.

BellaPamella_redleaf_Mom_daughter

IDEA 41
CELEBRATE THE DAY AFTER

Feb
2011

Flourless_dark_chocolate-cake

Every once in a while it occurs to me that as much as I love a great holiday, I love the day after it’s over even better. Why is this? I think partly because the day after the holiday is over, I take back control. Am I a control freak? Maybe. But that’s beside the point. We all need to feel as if our lives, and in particular our happiness, is within our control.

So, after the big winter holiday I might buy myself the gift I secretly hoped to get, (on sale of course), or snap up some 75%-off decorations. Well, here we are in February, So, the day after Valentines Day, why not make yourself this most decadent flour-less dark chocolate cake?

Flourless_dark_chocolate_cake_cu

Before you judge, keep in mind, dark chocolate is currently considered one of the super foods, due to its high antioxidant content.

But possibly more important, eating chocolate triggers the release of endorphins making you love the whole world just a little more. I found this recipe on line here. And making it will be just as pleasurable as eating it (the smell of dark chocolate infusing the house is worth it, right there).

So let’s move on and take back the day. Preferably, with raspberries!

Apron_chocolate

IDEA 39
SHORE UP YOUR DRAWERS

Jan
2011

Drawer_1

You could spend this month trying to keep all those resolutions you made. Or you could forget that, and just work on getting your kitchen drawers organized. I just love a well-organized drawer. It makes me feel just a little bit in control of things.

So, edit your stuff if you have too much. Buy a couple of drawer dividers. And have at it. Here are some photos of my drawers. I think my newer pot-holders were in the wash, and several of my food storage containers were in the freezer, but I took a “come-as-you-are-party” approach to these photos. They’re not bad. And real is good.

This drawer may have been my inspiration for it all. Years ago, when we put new cabinets in the kitchen, I got real live built-in dividers for the silverware drawer. (Previously I had used the plastic unit that you just pop into a drawer, with empty space around it, which collected other stuff). The fact that this drawer has remained organized all these years I think is a testament to how the right organization device will take care of itself. There’s a reason someone coined the phrase, “A place for everything, and everything in it’s place”!

Drawer_2

There are four drawers in my “peninsula” which house stuff to set the table:

Place mats

Drawer_9

Candles, candle holders, napkin rings and paper napkins. The box that the candles are in a woven box with a lid. Very sweet.

Drawer_8

Table cloths

Drawer_11

Fabric napkins

Drawer_10

The drawers below my main counter are arranged by task.

Baking, grilling and roasting: measuring cups and spoons, rubber spatulas, grilling utensils. Hint: use a heavy rubber-band (like the one found on broccoli in the produce section) to keep the grilling tongs from taking over the whole drawer. This drawer has adjustable dividers from IKEA. (Classy AND inexpensive!)

Drawer_1

This drawer is at the stove: Stirring spoons, wooden utensils, flipper, spatulas, etc.

Drawer_4

A second drawer at the stove: Hot pads, oven mitts, trivets and matches and stove lighter.

Drawer_5

Pie plates and tins, and of course rolling pins.

Drawer_3

Food storage. I find this drawer is also a good place to keep empty water bottles for re-use.

Drawer_7

If you’ve been inspired, try fixing up even one drawer per weekend. In no time your entire kitchen will be organized!

IDEA 38
MAKE A GINGERBREAD FAMILY TREE

Dec
2010

Gingerbread_Family_Tree

This holiday season you can be with your loved ones, even if no one is able to travel. This very sweet and inexpensive idea was inspired by my daughter who, during our holiday cookie bake this year, decided to represent each family member in gingerbread form. The resulting “Family Tree” (captured on our FaceBook page here) was such a hit that we’ve decided to give you some more details. And, as if that weren’t enough, the project was showcased on Twin Cities Live, a local Minnesota television program. Because of the show, our “Family Tree” includes the hosts, Elizabeth Ries, and John Hanson as well as Elizabeth’s Westie, Henry!

ElizJohnHenry_Gingerbread

You really could complete this project with only one cookie cutter, the gingerbread man. But since we happened to have a gingerbread girl and a mini cutter, we added dresses and babies to our group. Our little dog was hand cut-out, but if you have a dog-bone shaped cutter, that is another way to include the family pooches in the mix. Of course if you want to include the cat, fish, hamster or whatever, we encourage you to do so!

We used the gingerbread cookie recipe from a Williams-Sonoma cook book. Here’s a link to the recipe on-line. The trick with the cookie dough was to divide it into smallish hunks and chill before trying to roll out. You really need to move quickly and get the cut-out cookies onto the baking sheet before they have a chance to warm up. Bake lots of extras, then let the cookies cool completely.

As I’m sure you have realized there are lots of squeezable cookie frosting products available. And although I truly believe that you should do what works for you, I’m here to tell you that I still think the best option is to make your own. It’s much less expensive and gives you so many more color options. But also, in my not-at-all-official trial of a few of those products, I never found one as easy to control as my own. If for no other reason than, if you make your own you can vary the thickness until it’s right.

Frosting ingredients:

Powdered Sugar

milk

vanilla (optional)

food coloring

For each color, measure one cup of powdered sugar. Add about four teaspoons of milk (and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla if you like). Mix with a spoon to get a glossy-smooth mixture. Now add drops of food color. Here are the quantities we added to one cup of sugar to get our colors:

Poppy Red: 10 drops red

Goldenrod: 4 drops yellow

Blue: 8 drops blue

If your frosting gets too thin, add a little more powder. If it’s too think, add about 1/4 teaspoon milk at a time. For the large area background colors we found a little thinner frosting worked better. The frosting lines would “melt” into each other and form a smooth, even surface. When we made dots or other small designs we found having the frosting slightly thicker worked better.

Once you get all your colors mixed in individual cereal-sized bowls, it time to make your decorating tools. Each color will require a small freezer “zip” bag. Zip open the bag and place one corner of it in a short glass. Now turn the top edges out and down, draping over the glass rim on the outside. Pour the icing as close to the corner of the bag as you can.

Frosting_fill

Zip the bag closed, but keep each bag in it’s own glass. This will help keep the mess to a minimum, once you’ve cut them open and need a place to set them down.

Frosting_baggie

To decorate, snip the tiny corner off the bag. Grip the closed bag ‘behind’ the icing and gently force the icing out the hole. Of course the larger the hole, the thicker your line will be. If you find you’ve made the hole too big, put a new bag in the glass, cut a good inch off the too-big corner and use that nice big hole to squeeze the whole mess into the new bag. Then you can try again.

Now, pick a background color, for example John’s blue suit, and outline the shape of the suit. Now it is as easy a pie to fill in the area just like a coloring book. We found it easiest to fill in with repeated concentric shapes, starting just inside the outline and repeating the shape until they got smaller and smaller and eventually filled in. If you have mixed the icing to a glossy, viscous consistency, you will end up with a nice smooth solid shape. Wait until the background color dries completely, then add the details. This sequence shows the process.

John_process

Make your family members any way you want. Here are some of ours, in case you need ideas.

Gingerbread_Grandparents

Gingerbread_Parents

Gingerbread_In-Laws

Gingerbread_Brothers

Gingerbread_sister

Gingerbread_Babies

Of course I have to point out the ladies (my mom and I) in our BellaPamella aprons! My mom is wearing the Eunice in Kitchen Fruit and I’m sporting the Nora in Ruby Dot!

Gingerbread_aprons

Once your gingerbread family tree is finished you can display it on a platter, or bag each one up and tie it with a ribbon to hang on your tree, or theirs. Make a small paper tag with the name on it, slip the ribbon through, and you have a very special handmade gift to give. By the way, if you arrived here from the Twin Cities Live site and wish to see all the projects highlighted on that show, either click on the Twin Cities Live category to the right, or click here.

TCL_bagged_cookies

Happy Holidays! And don’t forget to have fun with your family, gingerbread and otherwise!

IDEA 37
SHOW YOUR THANKS

Nov
2010

Thanks_writing_Cait

Whether you are hosting a big dinner, or preparing to head out of town, if there’s a Thanksgiving meal in your near future, you know how lucky you are. Thanksgiving is often one of the few times of the year most of the family is together.

For this year’s table, why not make sweet little name place cards that do a little more than just point out where someone should sit? This simple idea combines a few things I love about Thanksgiving. It’ll make the table even more special, it’s an easy project, and doing it allows me to dwell on all the things I’m thankful for.

Thanks_Brn_setting

For the project you’ll need some pretty paper and tiny faux green apples from the craft store, a hot glue gun, a pencil, a black fine point pen, something about 3 1/2″ round to trace around, like a glass, and either plain or fancy scissors.

Thanks_tools

Use the glass and pencil to make 3 1/2″ circles on the pretty paper. You’ll need one per person. If there is a right and wrong side, make the circles on the wrong side. If you are using the fancy scissors, cut along the outside of the circle, so you will still see the drawn circle when it’s cut out.

Thanks_fancy_edge

Once you’ve cut all the circles, on the top side, you may put a very light pencil line in an arc about 5/8 ” or so from the edge. (This is optional). Then, with the pen, along an arc shape, hand write “Thanks for [NAME]” for each person that will be at the table. The last step is to hot glue a tiny faux apple to the center of the circle.

If you don’t want to tell people where to sit, another idea is to name things you are thankful for. Then, like “stem gems” people can pick whatever sentiment they like! Some thoughts could be:

Thanks for being here.

or

Thanks for the happy.

Thanks for the warm.

Thanks for the calm before the storm!

Thanks for this family.

Thanks for this meal.

Thanks for the jokes.

Thanks for how I feel.

Okay, I couldn’t resist a little rhyme! Here are a few more pictures. I almost can’t decide if I like the plain or fancy cut. Do what works for your decor and make your thankful table as plain or fancy as you like! And Thanks for reading!

Thanks_fancy

Thanks_plain

Thanks_setting_family

Thanks_ECU_family