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Monthly Archives: September 2012

I know that Fall technically starts September 22nd. But I don’t think anyone will arrest us for celebrating fall a little bit early this year. Labor Day weekend really does feel like the start of Fall. And the calendar has turned from August to September.

Let’s look at what’s happening this weekend:

Halloween Costumes!!

Thanks to some good timing from my favorite on scene correspondent, she walked into the Spirit Halloween store in Wynnewood, PA on opening day and took a few pictures.

Full of Halloween costumes:

And some sort of haunted house decoration:

Oktoberfest

Here’s what’s on tap this weekend!

Oktoberfest in the Park at Choctaw Creek Park in Oklahoma
Cleveland Labor Day Oktoberfest in Ohio
Beaver Creek Oktoberfest in Colorado
Cannstatter Volkfest / Oktoberfest in Philadelphia, PA


Men celebrating Oktoberfest in Oklahoma.

Labor Day

Monday is Labor Day. That’s the holiday that is “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers”, according to the United States Department of Labor. So enjoy it! It’s been celebrated since the first Labor Day in New York City on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. In 1884, it was moved to the first Monday in September. Congress declared Labor Day a national holiday in 1894.

I will only partially observe Labor Day this weekend. I’ll be off from my day job (for the first time in years), but will have a ton of work here at Funtober that will keep me busy.

Enjoy your weekend!

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I’ve learned a thing or two about crafting both with kids and crafting when the kids in the house are awake. And bored.

1. It’s got to be simple. There’s no room for fancy sewing machines (as I’d originally

intended to use when making a fabric Halloween bunting) or other fancy equipment that require sharp needles around little, inquisitive hands.

2. It’s got to be fast. My kids give me about 10 minutes worth of good, focused attention on any given project. After that, I’ll find a baby with a gallon of glitter dumped on her head and my walls covered with cave drawings (created using my super-expensive scrapbooking markers, obviously).

This project fit the bill. We don’t have much by way of Halloween decor since we moved across the country this past June. Lucky for us, my craft supplies made it.

The inspiration for this project came from a blog I blindly clicked through a few weeks ago. I really liked the book pages used as the individual flags and after a quick trip to the local craft store, I came back with plenty of material that would be useful embellishments for a spooky theme.

Truth be told, I did feel a small pang of anguish as I ripped apart a book to use it’s pages for my Halloween fun…but it soon passed as soon as we got the glue and glitter on it.

They’re just too cute.

This particular project had pretty inexpensive and plentiful materials, so I made a smaller version for my 3-year-old (nicknamed “Boo” since birth, by the way) to work on while I did the larger version. He used stickers I had around the stash box to decorate his flags and it gave me a chance to work on my own project.

Use the supplies you have on hand!

Supplies:

  • Ribbon or raffia cut to desired bunting length
  • Book pages (I used a trade paperback and it was the perfect size)
  • Hot glue (I’m sure normal white glue would work, too…I just don’t have the patience to wait for it to dry!)
  • Acrylic paint and brush
  • Construction paper
  • Various colors of glitter
  • Assorted Halloween stickers or embellishments (I found medium-sized black bat stickers)

Instructions:

Glue ribbon edges down to prevent fraying.

1. I used my hot glue gun to secure the edges of the ribbon down to guard against fraying.  (And yes, I realize it was a gamble to bring this smoking hot accessory out with my 3-year-old around,but it was a risk I was willing to take).

2. Tear enough pages from a book (I used a book I picked up at a garage sale) to populate your banner. I used seven. Two for candy corn decorations, two bats, and three for the letters. Cut the rough edge you got from tearing, and then stack them together to cut some sort of fancy edge along the bottom. I chose to get rid of the page number, too.

Fold pages over the ribbon and secure with glue.

3. Lay the ribbon decorate side down and space out your flags. I placed the pages underneath the ribbon with enough room at the top to put a line of glue. When the glue was down, I folded the top down and secured the flag. I used tape to mark out the spacing between flags.

4. When the glue is no longer a danger to your fingers, children, or counter tops (I learned the hard way, thankee very much), flip it over and decorate. I used construction paper to make candy corn appliques and the bat stickers. The center three flags became B-O-O.

5. My last step was the glitter. What fun is a project without glitter? I dotted white glue randomly around the flags and sprinkled black and orange glitter around. I think my 15-month-old tried to eat some of the orange sparkles at one point, but, you know, no harm no foul. Everything’s better with glitter–even my kids!

Happy Funtober!

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Mini Apple Pies with Crumb Topping

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” –Carl Sagan

I’ve long held the suspicion that apples were invented so that humans could make them into pie. I mean, if Carl Sagan thinks so, I must be on the right track, right? Luckily, the universe has already been invented, so there’s only one thing left to do.

I don’t have to tell you that fall is the perfect time for making apple pie, what with the bounty of fresh apples – their sweet-tart scent filling the brisk air. Pie is just a natural vehicle for enjoying all those Honeycrisps, Mutsus, Pink Ladies, Galas, and Granny Smiths.

But as much as a fresh apple pie is enjoyable to eat, it can be intimidating to make and even trickier to serve. My solution? Miniature pies, baked in a muffin tin.

With press-in crusts and a simple crumb topping, these cupcake-sized desserts don’t require any special rolling, weaving, or fluting skills to create impressive little treats. Sturdy and self-contained, these pies offer a satisfying (but reasonable) portion that can be held in your hand – no jars, plates, or utensils required! Which makes them the perfect thing to share with friends on a crisp autumn hike, while inhaling the sharp smell of a distant wood-burning fire, listening to the sound of leaves crunching beneath your feet — and struggling to think of anything better in the whole universe.

Mini Apple Pies with Crumb Topping
(Prep: approx. 1 hour :: Bake: 25–30 minutes || Makes 12 mini pies :: Serves 1–12)

Mini Apple Pies - Make the Crumb Topping

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp sugar (granulated or raw cane sugar)
1/4 tsp salt
10 Tbsp cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 Tbsp ice water


To make the crust:

1. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in medium bowl; blend well.

2. Add butter and cut into mixture (with two knives crisscrossed, a dough blender, a food processor with dough blade, or your fingers) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

3. Add ice water, one tablespoon at a time and tossing with a fork after each addition, until dough just begins to come together.

4. Press dough together and divide into twelve pieces.

5. Take one piece of dough, form it into a ball and flatten it between your hands until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Center the flattened dough over a muffin cup — use a nonstick pan to ensure pies will be easy to remove after baking. Gently press the dough into the bottom of the cup, spreading it up along the sides with your fingers. (Take care not to stretch the dough or make it too thin — the thickness should be somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 inch.) To make removing the pies easier, make sure the dough extends about 1/8 inch above the top of the cup. Repeat for each muffin cup.

6. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Mini Apple Pies - Make the Crumb Topping

For the crumb topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar (granulated or raw cane sugar)
1 tsp cinnamon
6 Tbsp cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 Tbsp ice water
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)


To make the crumb topping:

1. Combine flour, sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl; blend well.

2. Add butter and blend with fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal.

3. Add ice water and toss with a fork to form a crumbly mixture.

4. Add pecans and toss until evenly distributed throughout mixture.

5. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Mini Apple Pies - Make the Filling

For the filling:
5 medium apples
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup raisins (optional)
1/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)


To make the filling:

1. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt.

2. Peel and core apples. Slice thin and cut into half-inch pieces. Place in a large mixing bowl.

3. Add sugar mixture, raisins, and dried cranberries to apples. Toss until apples are evenly coated. Deflect sneaky husbands as necessary.

Mini Apple Pies - Make the Filling
To assemble the pies:

1. Spoon apple mixture into crust, filling each crust to the top.

2. Generously sprinkle crumb mixture on top of each pie.

3. Bake for 25–30 minutes, until apples are bubbly and crumb begins to brown. Cool on a wire rack.

4. To remove pies from the pan, gently twist each pie until it releases from the sides of the cup and spins freely. Carefully lift each pie out of the pan. (Alternatively, after loosening the pies, hold a tea towel-lined cookie sheet over the pan and carefully flip the pan and cookie sheet over, so that the pies fall out onto the towel-lined cookie sheet.)

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It is tapped. The world’s biggest party has begun.

At noon in the Schottenhamel tent, which was twenty minutes ago according to my complex time zone analysis, the mayor of Munich, Christian Ude, swung a wooden mallet to tap the first keg at Oktoberfest 2012. He shouted, O’zapft is! A 12 gun salute followed to let all of the other tents know that they should begin serving the beer. The first mass, a Spatenbrau, went to Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer. This ceremony has happened at the start of Oktoberfest in the Schottenhamel Festzelt since 1950, when Munich Mayor Thomas Wimmer tapped the keg.

Schottenhamel

Before the keg was tapped today, a parade of horse-drawn carriages, floats and Oktoberfest bands made its way to Theresienwise for the start of Oktoberfest. If you missed the events, and would like to be there in spirit for the rest of the festivities, download the handy iPhone Oktoberfest app to see photos from the live webcams and learn which tents are full. Also checkout what’s new at the 179th Oktoberfest.

It’s definitely an action packed day. The autumnal equinox happens today at 10:49 AM EST. Not long after, at 11:30 AM EST, the largest Oktoberfest in the United States will tap its keg at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. And then there’s the world’s largest chicken dance a few hours later. So enjoy the first official day of Fall!

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Can a house have too much orange and black decor this time of year? I doubt it.
Around these parts, we love candles.

They’re cozy. They’re festive. And when you take a quick trip to the craft store, customizing them for whatever occasion you fancy is pretty easy. I had most of this on hand and had a few extra buttons in the sewing box that fell into the orange and black theme.

The best part of this project? It’s incredibly inexpensive. The total cost didn’t go over $4, and now I have extra glitter for more Funtober goodness!

Supplies:

  • Small glass votive holders
  • Mod Podge
  • Glitter
  • Glue gun/glue sticks
  • Decorative Ribbon
  • Buttons

 Directions:

These are so simple to make I almost feel guilty.

I started by removing those remarkably stubborn and remarkably annoying price stickers from the candle holders. (Did you know that baby wipes are a crafter’s secret when it comes to removing glued on bits of paper from glass? It’s true. And now you’re in on the big secret, too!)

You have a choice here when it comes to your set up. You can put the glitter on the inside or the outside of the glass. I went for the inside because I wasn’t looking forward to vacuuming glitter for the next six weeks. When you choose to put the glitter inside the glass, however, I recommend you use a battery-operated LED votives. Real flame votives might be a fire hazard.

I didn’t have much of a theme in mind for the first glass. I coated the entire inside with the Mod Podge and went crazy with the orange glitter. It was fun. I’d recommend shaking glitter around as a form of stress relief to anybody!

With the first one down, I got creative and painted a stripe in the center of the inside glass. I added black glitter and let it dry. I followed up with Mod Podge on either side of the black stripe and shook in orange glitter. Voila! A masterpiece!

To make it extra fancy, I fired up the glue gun and added a ribbon around the outside and secured it into place. To hide the glued-down ribbon flap (the scientific name for that annoying bump in your decor) I glued on a button or two.

The patterns and ribbon/button combinations are endless and can vary depending on what you have on hand.

Happy Funtober!

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Ghost Story Dice

“It was a dark and stormy night…”

Honestly, I’ve never been good at telling ghost stories. The best ones are too spooky for me to want to remember and anything else, well, just isn’t worth telling. But I’m always game for inventing a tale or two and for having a laugh with friends, and that’s exactly what story dice — or, in this case, ghost story dice — are good for.

Story dice are exactly that: dice, but with images printed on each of the sides to act as random visual cues for ad lib storytelling in turns by a group of people. But ghost story connoisseurs are notorious for becoming easily bored, which means that ghost story dice calls for more variety than the traditional six-sided cube could offer. This paper dodecahedron boasts twenty cues for ghost story characters, props, settings, and plot twists. With a printer, something to cut with, and a little glue, you’ll be ready to whip up dozens of spooky stories in no time.

Here’s how it works: A player rolls the dice. He or she must then continue (or start) the story, incorporating whatever image lands at the top of the dice.

The fine details are up to you, but here are a few suggestions to help get the wheels turning:

  • The player whose birthday is nearest, but not past, goes first. (Or the youngest. Or the oldest. Or the best at storytelling as determined by majority vote.)
  • You may just instinctively know when a person’s turn is over, but if you want more control, use a timer and give each player two or three minutes to tell their part of the story.
  • The same goes for ending the story. Usually, stories have a way of ending themselves but if yours refuses to lie down, set a limit to the number of rounds. Or offer the title of “winner” to the player who comes up with the killer ending. (Ha! Haha.)
  • Be flexible! The possibilities are almost limitless: the skull could be bones or a skeleton; fire could be a flame, torch, or candle; the graveyard could also be a grave or gravestone. Think about what the images represent rather than what they depict.
  • Record it! (If you dare.) You might just end up with something worth keeping.

Ghost Story Dice - Materials

MATERIALS

Ghost Story Dice - Assemble

1. Print and cut out the template. Print on regular text-weight 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper. Cut around the perimeter of the template along the solid lines using a craft knife and straight edge or scissors. If you use a craft knife and straight edge, I recommend keeping the knife toward the outside of the template; that way, if your knife slips away from the straight edge, you are less likely to slice into the actual die.

2. Fold the template. Fold along the dotted lines. (If you’re using plain printer paper, it isn’t necessary to score first with a bone folder tool, but you can if you like to make the folds crisper.) I like to start by folding in the gray tabs and then folding the rest to create the facets. By creasing the fold lines first, it will make gluing easier as the die will begin to take form and it will be more apparent which sides go together.

3. Glue the tabs. It’s easiest to start from the center of the template (the graveyard) and work outward. Draw a thin bead of glue along the tabs closest to the center and adhere to the underside of the adjacent facet. So, you’ll start by connecting the shadow to the pumpkin, the fire to the bats, and the spider to the skull. Continue working up and around.

HINT: Glue the house side last.

As you get closer to the end, you may find it more difficult to work with the tabs. I found it helpful to use one finger inside the die to help guide and press the tab from the inside, while adjusting the facets with my other hand from the outside.

When you’ve finished gluing, allow the die to dry for 30 minutes or more before use.

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Early numbers are in for the world’s largest 2012 beer festival. Despite Saturday’s rain, 850,000 people attended opening weekend of Oktoberfest in Munich. It didn’t slow beer consumption either: One million liters of beer were sold.

I put together a massive resource for those of you who are headed to Theresienwiese. And an extensive collection of Oktoberfest parties for those of you like me stuck in the United States. But I know that many more, like me, are stuck behind their computer monitor at work.

You definitely should not take advantage of one of these ways to enjoy Oktoberfest.

1. Watch it on Youtube.

Numerous people at Oktoberfest have already uploaded their videos from Oktoberfest to Youtube. You can enjoy everything from the keg tapping:

To the Oktoberfest parade:

2. Find Photos on the Internet.

Thanks to the popularity of Instagram, you can now see a steady stream of photos from people that are attending Oktoberfest. Try searching for my five favorite tags on Gramfeed: Oktoberfest, Wiesn, Dirndl, Munich, and Lederhosen.

You can also like these two Facebook Pages to see photos and updates on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/wiesn
http://www.facebook.com/Oktoberfest.Muenchen

3. Listen to Oktoberfest Songs.

Radio Gong 96,3, a Munich radio station, held their annual Wies’n Hit competition prior to the start of Oktoberfest. Over 200 songs were entered. The winner for 2012 was Rockaholixs Buam’s Bei uns in Bayern – “Here in Bavaria”

You can pretty easily put together a playlist of Oktoberfest hits on Youtube. You might start with some of these Oktoberfest songs. NPR Music has also put together a playlist of drinking songs.

4. Celebrate the end of the work day with an Oktoberfest beer.
Happy hour is one of the best ways to recover from a long day of work. Here are some suggestions for what to order. If you prefer to eat a home cooked meal, try these German recipes or this guide to cooking with beer for Oktoberfest from Whole Foods.

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Mulled Apple Cider
Mulled apple cider is the perfect way to warm up on a crisp fall day. It has a ‘choose your own adventure’ quality to it because there are a variety of spices you can use to make your own custom favoring.

If you can’t get your hands on apple cider for whatever reason this works almost as well with apple juice.

If you find yourself with leftovers (unlikely but possible) refrigerate them to reheat or drink cold later – it’s delicious either way.

To 1 Gallon of Apple Cider Add:
- 2 citrus fruits – lemons and/or oranges, sliced thin
- at least 1 cinnamon stick
And any combination of the following:
- up to ½ cup maple syrup or brown sugar
- 5-6 whole allspice berries
- 5-6 whole cloves
- up to ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- a pinch of cayenne pepper (not for everyone, proceed with caution!)
- a few splashes of rum, whiskey or bourbon if it’s an adults only situation

Mulling Spices

If using whole spices place them into a muslin infusing bag like this or tie them into a packet with cheesecloth. My blend of choice is a cinnamon stick, a few allspice berries, a few cloves, an orange and a lemon. I leave out the extra sugars entirely.

Pour the cider, citrus slices, sugar, syrup and/or spices into a large saucepan or stockpot. Heat over low heat until it comes to a simmer. At this point start to serve it or keep it warm – I find that simmering or boiling it tends to break down the flavors after a while so keeping it just warm enough is my first choice. Add a cinnamon stick or citrus slice as a garnish if you like!

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Homemade Pumpkin Puree

One of the more unexpected effects of Hurricane Irene last August was a shortage of canned pumpkin puree on the local supermarket shelves. Flooding had evidently destroyed a significant portion of the commercial pumpkin crop on the East Coast, and as a result, my husband, Keith, has been deprived of pumpkin pie, pumpkin butter, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, pumpkin soup, and anything else pumpkiny for well over a year. He’s pretty sad about it.

You see — failing to recognize the hard times that had fallen upon the canned pumpkin industry — we had blown off making our own pumpkin puree. I was newly pregnant and wanted to do nothing but sleep and avoid vegetables at all costs (or vegetable-like fruits, if you want to be picky); so wrangling a giant squash seemed out of the question. Of course, it was a decision we would live to regret when Keith decided to go shopping for pumpkin pie ingredients shortly before Thanksgiving, only to return home defeated and pumpkinless.

Never again. From now on, we know that there’s no excuse to not make our own pumpkin puree. It only takes a few hours — with breaks — and one 15-pound pumpkin will yield about 20 cups of fresh puree. That’s as much pumpkin as we’ll ever need for all of our fall and winter needs, done in the space of an afternoon.

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

INGREDIENTS

  • A pumpkin (or any winter squash)

EQUIPMENT

  • Sharp knife
  • Metal spoon
  • Oven
  • Food processor

When selecting a pumpkin, look for one that is free of visible mold or soft spots, and one that has a healthy green stem that’s not too dry or loose. Give the pumpkin a gentle knock in a few different places with your knuckle; you should hear a solid “thunk.” In hopes of getting one that’s a little fleshier, I try to select one that seems heavy for its size. The best way to do this — as far as I know — is to zero in on pumpkins of a particular size and pick each one up. This may or may not involve running back and forth at the local farm stand with a wagon, picking up the same three pumpkins for ten minutes.

We used a rather large pumpkin; yours can be smaller (or bigger!). The procedure is the same no matter what size pumpkin you use, but the cooking time will vary. Always keep an eye on it while cooking, and never leave a hot oven unattended.

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Wash the pumpkin with a little mild dish soap, warm water, and a vegetable brush. This will help avoid cross-contaminating the flesh with any dirt or bacteria that may be lingering on the surface when you cut into the pumpkin.

2. Remove the stem by cutting around it with a sharp knife, like you would to carve a jack o’lantern. To be extra safe, use a very sharp knife and cut with the blade facing away from yourself. Rotate the pumpkin as you work so that the knife is always at a safe angle.

3. Cut the pumpkin in half (top to bottom).

4. Use a metal spoon to scrape out the seeds and pulp (the stringy stuff). Scrape hard, removing as much of the pulp as possible.

5. Place each pumpkin half on a foil-lined cookie sheet, cut side down, and roast in the oven until you can easily pierce the pumpkin (skin and all) with a fork.

We could only fit one half of our 15-pound pumpkin in the oven at a time. Each half took about one hour to cook. Allow the pumpkin to cool to the touch (ours took about 45 minutes).

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

6. For easier and safer handling, cut each cooked half in half (top to bottom). Then flip so that they are flesh side up.

7. Use a spoon to scrape the flesh from the skin. Alternatively, you can try to peel the skin from the flesh (in which case, don’t flip it over). Put the flesh in the bowl of a food processor, fitted with a chopping blade.

8. Puree the pumpkin in the food processor until the flesh is no longer stringy and the consistency is the same throughout. It will be about the same consistency as applesauce.

9. Store the pumpkin in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or, if you don’t plan to use 20 cups of pumpkin puree within a week, measure puree into freezer bags. One or two-cup portions work well for me. When the puree is cooled to room temperature, squeeze as much air as possible out of the bags and seal. Lay flat in the freezer to save space (storing them this way also reduces thawing time when you’re ready to use it).

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Ahoy, matey!

International Talk Like a Pirate Day be here. Ye best be brushin’ up on yer pirate talk this morn or you’ll walk the plank:

Arrrr, it’s Davy Jones’ Locker fer ye skippers!

Want to know how Talk like a Pirate Day got started? Avast ye landlubber. There’s an interesting yarn. After a few years of celebrating the day with their friends, the inventors shot Dave Barry an email about it. He wrote a column in 2002. Now ya best batten down the hatches on September 19th every year.

Shiver me timbers! Where’s yer eye patch?

Pirate