Thursday, December 16, 2010

the best macaroon he ever ate?

Since classes are over for the semester, I set yesterday aside for my holiday baking. Just like my mom always did when I was growing up, I went a little overboard with the cookies. By the afternoon my counters were covered in sugar cookies (my favorite recipe), chocolate dipped pretzels, peppermint bark, and a few new recipes I tried for the year. Since I had a bag of shredded coconut in the house I decided to give macaroons a billing on the cast of cookies for the year. I read a few dozen recipes online and noticed that they all either called for sweetened condensed milk or egg whites whipped into meringue. I typically don't trust anything from About.com, but I had just about run out of steam for looking at recipes when I found this simple macaroon recipe that only called for two eggs (all I had left in the house).

Macaroons
2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups flaked coconut
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Grease baking sheets and preheat oven to 300°. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat egg whites and salt at high speed until soft peaks form. Slowly mix in sugar, beating well after each addition until sugar is completely dissolved. Beat until whites are in in stiff glossy peaks. Beat in vanilla. With a rubber spatula, fold in coconut and flour.
Drop coconut by teaspoonfuls about an inch apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake at 300° for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. With spatula, carefully remove cookies to rack to cool.
When I brought a tub of cookies into the lab this morning to spread the Christmas cheer I was surprised when one of my fellow research assistants told me that these macaroons were some of the best he'd ever eaten. I held back the urge to say, "Really, from an about.com recipe?"

Tree Skirt Envy

After a very long month at school I finally had a chance to catch up on the stack of magazines I hadn't paged through since before Thanksgiving and instantly fell in love with this beautiful poinsettia tree skirt from Garnet Hill when I saw a picture of it in the December issue of Real Simple.
Suddenly the base of my little artificial tree just looked so naked! Since I can't imagine spending $198 on a skirt for myself, much less my Christmas tree I hopped online to see what I could find out about this gem. With the help of Black & White Side by Side I found that I was not the first to decide that as beautiful as this tree skirt is, it could probably be replicated for a lot less.

I browsed this tutorial and took off to JoAnns to make my own. I brought my two yards of 72" wide white felt and two packages of 1 1/8" coverable metal buttons to the counter and tried not to act offended when the woman who rang me up informed me that people use fleece, not felt to make tie blankets. All together the materials set me back $11. Well, $12 if you count the tube of rubber cement I had left over from my Halloween costume.

I started by making a makeshift compass from some yarn and a golf pencil and sketched out a quarter circle on my felt about 45 inches in diameter. Leaving the felt folded in quarters, I used a small dish to marked off a 5 inch hole in the middle.

Then, I made two cardboard templates for my petals, one about 7 inches long and 2 inches wide, and the other about 4 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. I cut them out until I ran out of felt.

Following the directions from Jess's tutorial I stacked two large  (7") and one small (4") petals on top of one another to make each flower. I cinched them up in the center as I stacked them to save on time and effort. So basically I cinched a large petal, added another large petal by cinching it to the top, and then added a small petal by cinching it to the top in the other direction. Then, ran the thread through all three layers and tied off the end. Three Christmas movies and a few episodes of Glee later I had a mountain of white flowers on each side of me. I made 54 flowers all together.
I laid out the skirt so that I could only see half of it (for space conservation) and spaced half of the flowers around the edge. Then glued each one on with a dime sized dot of rubber cement. Update: Over the years, the rubber cement has not held up well. Hot glue, fabric glue, or even a quick stitch have all worked better. Once the glue was dry I flipped it and did the other side with the other half of the flowers.

I cut down one radius of the circle to make the opening for putting the skirt on the tree. To cover the buttons I cut out a circle of felt just a little smaller than the one on the template on the back of the button package. The felt made it too difficult to snap the pieces of the coverable buttons together by hand, so I had to resort to pliers. I covered 5 buttons and spaced them evenly, then stitched them onto one side of the split.

On the other side of the opening I used my sewing machine to attach 5 small loops of felt to act as button holes. Each strip was about half an inch wide and 5 inches long.
I am thrilled with the way it turned out! Although even if I were only making minimum wage, I doubt I could have made paid for the labor involved in making this skirt for $198, it was worth it to have a not terrible knock off of such a beautiful tree skirt.