Salt Dough Ornaments

In the weeks before Christmas J and I were racking our brains trying to come up with a good gift for the grandparents, aunts and uncles from Baby C.  The typical framed photo just wasn’t appealing, plus picture frames can get pricey.  Inspiration struck when I was browsing Pinterest and came across The Imagination Tree’s salt dough handprint ornaments.  I can remember making homemade ornaments as a kid with my mom, and it seemed like a fun project.

We decided to personalize the ornaments by putting a photo of Baby C and the recipient on the back side of the ornament.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have photos of everybody in the right size, so in those cases we just used a cute photo of Baby C.

I followed the dough recipe as written — 1 c flour, 1 c salt, up to 3/4 c water ; knead well — and then rolled the dough out to about 3/8″ thickness.  I pressed the mouth of a large plastic souvenir cup into the dough to mark the circle and traced the mark with a knife.  We then pressed Baby C’s hand into the center of each circle.  This was definitely a two person job!  J used a pen cap to make a hole in each ornament (to put ribbon through later), and then I transferred the ornaments to a cookie sheet to dry.


After two days, the ornaments still weren’t fully dry, so we put them in the oven at 175 degrees for a few hours to finish them off.

To cut out the photos, J used the mouth of a mason jar as a guide and then cut around it with an X-acto knife.  This method worked really well since he could see through the jar to make sure that we got the best part of the photo.

I then glued the photo to the back of the ornaments with some Mod Podge and wrote Baby C’s name and the year across the top with a Sharpie paint pen.  To finish them off, I painted both sides of the ornaments with Mod Podge, and then sprayed them with a quick-drying clear coat (letting the ornament dry thoroughly in between sides and coats, of course).  After everything was nice and dry, I threaded red ribbon through the holes, and the ornaments were finished.  I forgot to take a photo of the finished project, of course!


Everyone seemed to like their ornaments, and J and I had great time making them.  I look forward to hanging ours on our tree every year!

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Happy New Year – 2013!

I just re-read my post from New Years Day 2012.  I wrote, “We don’t know what the next year will bring, but I’m hoping that we will celebrate the start of 2013 as a family of three”.  And here we are.  2012 was an exciting, scary, and overwhelming year.  It was wonderful.  I hope everyone else has been as blessed as we have been.  Here’s to another great year!

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Checking In

Wow, it’s been almost a month since I last posted.  Life has gotten crazy.  A few updates:

Adoption – we met the expectant parents on April 21.  The meeting went really well, and they seem like great people.  She’s not due until Monday, but we’ve been waiting on pins and needles for the last week expecting a phone call at any moment.

Knitting – I’m currently knitting two teddy bears – one for the baby and one for the parents.  I’m almost done with the first, and I’ll definitely post pictures when it’s ready.

Moving – as if the adoption doesn’t add enough stress to our lives, we’ve decided to move.  This is actually a really great thing because it accompanies our recent decision to stay in Pittsburgh long term.  So we are moving out of this dilapidated rental and moving into a house we already own.  We’ve been painting like crazy the past week and half, and the house is looking really good.  It’s exciting to think about raising our child in our own home.

Garden – I think this year is going to be a bust.  My peas and spinach are growing great, but I don’t think we can transplant them to the new house when we move next month.  The tomato seeds I saved from last year sprouted great in my seed pots, but they have stopped growing.  Our current house just doesn’t get enough sun.  Instead we bought three heirloom tomato plants that we will plant at the new house in a week or two.  If they grow well, we will save the seeds and try again next year.  Otherwise, we aren’t going to do too much with the garden at the new house yet.  We don’t have a big yard, so I want to give some thought to the best use of the space.

Hopefully, next time I check in it will be to announce that we are parents 🙂

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Homemade Hard Cheeses

I took a major leap in my cheesemaking adventures by making not one, but two, hard cheeses in the past two weeks.  My farmhouse cheddar wheel is waxed and aging and my colby wheel is still drying.  I followed the recipes in Home Cheesemaking exactly, except I scaled the ingredients to use one gallon of milk instead of two.  I haven’t tasted the cheeses yet, but they look pretty good!


A few lessons I’ve learned:

  • Plan ahead.  There are a lot of steps that need to be completed at certain time intervals; it’s a five to six hour process to get to the twelve-hour press.
  • Read through the recipe several times beforehand, and make sure you have all of your materials clean and ready to go.
  • Cover the pot and place it in a cold oven with the light on to hold the temperature of the curds and whey steady.
  • Use just enough cheesecloth when pressing the cheese; if you have too much, the excess will create a dent in the cheese.
  • Use a natural bristle pastry brush to wax the cheese; don’t expect to use it for anything else ever again.
  • Wear an apron and move everything else out of the way when waxing the cheese.
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Peas and Spinach

I’m only having a 50% success rate with the seeds I planted a few weeks ago.  The sugar snap peas are growing great.  The recent cold snap we’ve had doesn’t seem to have bothered the little seedlings at all.  I look forward to a longer harvest period this season since last year I didn’t plant the peas until the beginning of May.  The spinach has also sprouted and seems to be slowly growing.  I had a few kale seeds sprout but only one has survived.  My lettuce has been a complete flop…not a single sprout.  I re-seeded the lettuce squares this past weekend, so I’m crossing my fingers that I have more luck this time.




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Dried Fruit and Crispy Nuts

Since J’s classes are back to back, he doesn’t get a break for lunch; he needs hearty, non-messy snacks to get him through the day.  Homemade granola bars work out well, but a little variety is nice.  Instead of stocking up on dried fruit (with tons of added sugar) at the grocery store, we decided to make our own.  We borrowed my dad’s dehydrator and made apple and banana chips.

To make the apple chips, I washed and cored the apples and then sliced them as thin as I could.  I just peeled and sliced the banana.  I arranged the slices in a single layer on the dehydrator racks, turned the machine on to 135 degrees and let it do its thing.  The drying time depends on how thin the slices are and how crispy you like your chips.  We let the apple chips dry for 6-7 hours and the banana chips took 8-9 hours.

Nuts also make a great snack, and they are easy to eat on the go.  Unfortunately, nuts are high in phytic acid, a substance which reduces your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients in the nuts.  According to Nourishing Traditions (NT), soaking the nuts in salt water for at least 7 hours helps to neutralize the phytic acid and makes the nuts more digestible.  Now I’m not entirely sold on the whole soaking thing, but…since J is eating so many nuts these days and we have a dehydrator on hand, it seemed like a good time to try crispy nuts.

Following the instructions in NT, I put 2 cups of raw almonds in a quart jar, added 1 1/2 tsp salt and added enough filtered water to cover the almonds.  I let the nuts sit overnight, and then I put them in the dehydrator.  I dried the nuts at 135 degrees along with the fruit.  Although NT and other internet sources suggest that it should take 12 – 24 hours to dry the nuts, I thought they were dry enough after about 8 hours.  The soaking/drying process doesn’t change the flavor of the nuts, but the texture is slightly softer.

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Fromage Blanc

When we were in Ohio over Christmas, I picked up a bunch of cheese cultures at Lehman’s, including a few packets of fromage blanc.  According to Home Cheesemaking, it’s a French cheese, similar to cream cheese but with “fraction of the calories and cholesterol” (if you care about such things).  Since good milk is easier for me to come across than good cream, this seemed like a better option than cream cheese for me.  Fromage blanc turned out to be super easy to make, and I’m very happy with the results.

Per Home Cheesemaking, I heated a half gallon of milk to 86 degrees and then stirred in 1/4 tsp (1/2 packet) of fromage blanc starter.  I let the covered pot sit in a cold oven (aiming for 72 degrees but closer to 80 degrees) for about 12 hours.  I ladled the curds into a sieve lined with butter muslin.  Then I gathered the corners of the cloth together to form a bag and let it hang for about 8 hours.  The final result is a bit crumbly but still smooth with a slight tang.  My yield was slightly less than a pound, but I assume the weight will vary with the hanging time.

So far I’ve been enjoying this cheese on crackers, stuffed into dates and as a dipper for raw veggies.  I have not tried it in a recipe in place of cream cheese, but I suspect it would work out fine.

I have big cheesemaking plans for this weekend — homemade cheddar!  Last weekend, J built me a homemade cheese press (post to come), and I just received my cheese mold in the mail yesterday.  I’m so excited to try a hard cheese (although it will be a few weeks before we can eat it)!

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