Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

Dark winter mornings are a little sweeter when I can start them with a small muffin along with my coffee. The tang of lemony cake, a burst of blueberry, and a slight crunch of topping — it’s just a nice, cheery way to begin the day. I want a muffin in a manageable size, not those ginormous monster muffins you get in stores. And I want it to taste fresh, yet I definitely don’t want to haul out of bed early every morning to make myself a fresh batch.

These Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins work perfectly for all of the above. A little fruit, a little butter, a little crunch . . . it’s all there. And they freeze well so you can pull them out as needed. They’re tasty for a snack anytime. Cupcake-sized, they’re super portable and an easy food to gift because they don’t have to be eaten instantly.

This recipe is adapted from Deb Perelman’s great- and liberating – Smitten Kitchen cookbook, and there’s also a website to check out.  I make these in cupcake size baking cups and freeze them so as to have muffins handy. They keep fine covered on the counter for a couple days.

This recipe has two parts, batter and streusel. This is the total ingredient list for both:

  1. 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  2. 2/3 cup sour cream or plain greek yogurt (nonfat is fine)
  3. 1/2 to 3/4 tsp fine lemon zest (add more if you want batter more lemony. One lemon should give you enough)
  4. 1/2 tsp good vanilla
  5. 4 large eggs
  6. 3 cups of sugar, divided
  7. 1/2 generous tsp fine kosher salt
  8. 4 tsp baking powder
  9. 1 cup and 2 TBS cornmeal, divided
  10. 2 3/4 cup flour, divided
  11. 1 1/4 cup butter (2 and 1/2 sticks), divided
  12. 4 cups of blueberries, washed and dried or, if frozen, defrosted. Basic frozen blueberries work fine in this but the nicer they are, the better the muffin.

Assembly and Baking:

  1. Soften 1 cup/2 sticks of the butter for about an hour or more on the counter. Take the chilled 4 TBS of butter and cut it into small pieces while cold and set aside for the streusel
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Get out your muffin pans and cupcake liners and set those up. This recipe makes about 36 cupcake sized muffins or 24 bigger muffins
  3. Whisk dry ingredients together in two different bowls:
    • Set #1, main batter: 2 cups flour, 1 cup cornmeal, all the baking powder and salt
    • Set #2, streusel:  3/4 cup flour, 2 TBS cornmeal, all the cinnamon, pinch of table salt plus 1 cup of the sugar
  4. In a high sided bowl, beat 2 cups of sugar into the butter for at least two minutes, until fluffy and well combined
  5. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add vanilla and lemon zest
  6. Toss the blueberries with about 1/4 to 1/3 of the dry ingredient mixture (Set #1) You want those berries coated but not extra flour floating around
  7. Add half the remaining flour mixture to the batter bowl and stir until just combined
  8. Add all the sour cream/yogurt and stir until just combined
  9. Add the other half of the flour mixture and stir until just combined
  10. Taste batter. If you want it more lemony, add more zest
  11. Add coated blueberries and stir until just combined
  12. Add butter to streusel (Set #2) flour and combine using a pastry blender or fingers
  13. Put batter into muffin cups:
    • For cupcake sized muffins, about 1.5 heaping scoops using a large cookie scoop. Or fill the cup to 1/2 to 2/3 full, depending on how big you want your muffins
    • For big muffins, fill 1/2 to 2/3 full
    • For small, 3oz muffins, use small cookie scoop to fill cups 2/3 full. (Love those Simply Baked stand-alone baking cups when I’m in splurge mode. So, so pretty!)
    • Mini muffins: haven’t tried yet. Will update if I do
  14. Top each muffin with streusel:
    • For cupcake sized muffins, 1-2 teaspoons
    • For big muffins, about 1 TBS
    • For others, eyeball it. The streusel adds a yummy sweetness and crunch
  15. Bake on middle rack for about 35-40 minutes until cake tester comes out clean (note: streusel will cling to the tester so test a bit not covered in streusel)
  16. Allow muffins to cool in tin or turn out right away depending on your confidence level of doneness
  17. Plate and cover the quantity of muffins that will be eaten in the next two days and leave on the counter. Freeze the rest in a zip bag and take out as needed. These defrost quickly on the counter. Serve at room temperature or warm.

 

45th Birthday Banner

My charming sister was having a 45th birthday party with the theme of 45s (records, people! vinyl!). She’s always had an inclusive, wide-ranging joy in all kinds of music, one of her many enchanting qualities. I couldn’t be there but it was essential to remind her how much she loves me. Enter the birthday banner! This one was easy and fun. And bonus! She cried when she opened it.

You could use this approach for any kind of birthday banner (and I did for a niece’s tiara banner). Here’s how to get this particular one done for maximum impact:

Budget: this was an affordable one because I had most of the supplies around already. I did spend about $3 on some polka dot sticker letters (coupon at Michael’s) and I had to mail the banner, I think for about $6.

Supplies:

  • Colored construction paper
  • Black construction paper
  • Glue stick
  • Hole punch
  • Big sticky letters, enough to write out whatever message you want (scrapbook section of a craft store). Or you could use stencils.
  • Black sharpie
  • Black ribbon or butcher’s string
  • Big envelope if you’re going to send as a card

Get going:

  1. Go online and look up a list of hit songs by year. I like Wikipedia’s. Make a list of the top single for the year by year starting in the year that the birthday girl/boy was born.
  2. Pull out your construction paper and a large salad plate and a jar lid. Or your protractor. Whatever you can use to make a circle. You want a larger circle to be your record and a smaller one to be the label in the center so choose sizes that will be proportionate. Or, if you have an actual 45 around . . .
  3. Trace and cut out your big circles on the black construction paper. You will need:
    • 45 / one for each song +
    • one for each letter or character of your message +
    • one for each space you want to make
  4. Cut the same number of small colored circles. Use lighter colors because you’re going to write on each label. Plus you want it to show up against the black
  5. Write the year for the first year on the colored disc. Under it, write the name of the song, and then the artist. Or make clear labels on your computer to do the same.
  6. Repeat for each year. Keep an eye out for varying the color.
  7. Draw a little black circle in the middle of each “label.” You could also use premade circle stickers
  8. Glue each colored disc to the center of the bigger black disc.

    Here's a single
    Here’s a single. I’m sorry it’s upside down but you get the idea
  9. For your personalized message, glue a blank disc to the black discs, one for each character and spacers. My message was  “Happy 45 XXX {her initials}”
  10. Stick one of the sticky letters on each disc, keeping an eye on varying the color

    Not sure if you can see it but this is what the discs with the message/letters look like
    Not sure if you can see it but this is what the discs with the message/letters look like
  11. Write a personal message on your very last disc. Mine said
    You are a hit every year with me. Love, Siggy
    You are a hit every year with me. Love, etc. (sorry, upside down again)

     

  12. Stack your entire banner in order. This is the hardest part. Position your message discs wherever it works for you. I went about 1/2 into the stack before the “Happy” part went in since I wanted to keep the whole message together but you could mix it up. End with the loving message designed to make your sister tear up.
  13. Punch two holes at the top of each disc, about 1″ down from the top. You’re going to string the banner ribbon through this so you want them wide-ish and positioned at the top
  14. Weave the string/ribbon through the two holes. For some reason it was easiest for me to start from the last disc. Make a loop to make it easy to hang at each end. Go for consistency: either weave the string so it shows on the front or back of all the discs. Make the discs so they overlap slightly but not too much. Your recipient can tighten them up if they want. If you need to add ribbon, just knot it behind one of the discs.

    Here's what the banner looks like strung. It's so long you can't really see it stretched out.
    Here’s what the banner looks like strung. It’s so long you can’t really see it stretched out. Jack Mint is wondering what’s in it for him.
  15. Carefully stack your binder and put it in a manilla or padded envelope. You’re done! Time to deliver!

Have you made a banner? What did you do? Other great birthday ideas?

 

 

 

Picture Frame Jewelry Organizers: Easy, Pretty and Fun

Hey, we’re almost halfway through the year! If you’ve got a big gift list for the holidays, its time to start thinking DIY now.

This project met all aspects of my DIY gift code, especially these:

  • Pretty
  • Useful
  • Something I’d want
  • Not too heavy to ship
  • Fun to make
  • Possible to make in advance

Jewelry is beautiful art. But when it’s stuck in a box, you don’t get to see it enough. Plus I wanted to cut the clutter on top of my dresser. Enter the picture frame jewelry organizer. I made two for me and loved them so much I decided to make jewelry organizers a main holiday gift for family and friends.

 

Turns out I needed four jewelry organizers . . .
Turns out I needed four jewelry organizers . . .
Necklace jewelry organizer
Necklace jewelry organizer: s hooks are used to hang the necklaces

 

Earring jewelry organizer
Earring jewelry organizer. Ideal for fish hook earrings. S hooks can be used for other types of loops. Won’t work for posts.

 

Budget: to make two for myself with thrifted frames, I spent about $15, excluding the cost of tin snips, so about $7.50 each. But it’s possible to spend more depending on your materials choice. When I got into manufacturing mode and was buying bigger sheets, the cost came down to $3-6 each.

Timing: summer and fall I added empty picture frames to my thrift store check list and accumulated the ones I needed at the right prices. I also started searching for metal sheets/radiator sheets to use in the frames. Since I was spray painting some of the frames, it was most ideal to be able to do this outside, before the cold set in, so that was the urgency in finding the frames. Once it got cold, I hit thrift stores for inexpensive jewelry. For this, the gift was the organizer, not the jewelry, but I wanted to include at least one item with the organizer so the recipients would know what it was.

Shopping list: here’s the snapshot list. Still, do scan the details below to save some cash and time on this project.

  1. Frames without glass
  2. Paint or spray paint (optional)
  3. Radiator grill sheet(s) also known as “metal sheets” or “aluminum sheets.”
  4. Small s hooks (optional, for necklaces)
  5. Thrift store find jewelry
  6. Tin snips or other scissors that easily cut sheet metal

To do these as gifts the way I did, you will need:

  • Frames without glass.  These are sometimes as cheap as $0.50 at thrift stores. I focused on wood, avoiding metals. Go for frames that have a little projection from the wall. Here’s why: you’re going to hang jewelry in the face of the frame so you creating a little distance between front and the wall prevents your earrings from hitting the wall. If you’re going to buy new frames, watch for sales, and make a budget – remember, when you buy new, you’re also paying for glass you don’t need. If you’re shipping gifts, keep manageable size in mind.  The easiest frames to work with are the ones that have little tabs holding the glass in place (see below). You’ll ditch the glass but the tabs are perfect for holding the metal sheet. However, if they don’t have little tabs, you can still wedge the metal sheet inside the frame securely. If you’d like to make a frame, Ana White’s great blog has a post on barnwood frames that would work well for about $1.50 each
  • Paint or spray paint, if you want to change the color. I focused on black and white with a couple of silver frames. For this project, I only used spray paint
  • Radiator grill sheet(s) also known as “metal sheets” or “aluminum sheets.” The sources I used were Michael’s (with a Retailmenot coupon code – but be aware, these are in store and not shown on the Michael’s site. They’re about $11-14 without the coupon for a smallish — about 12″x24″– sheet so bring that coupon!), ACE Hardware (pretty choices though not super cheap, about $25-$30 for a larger sheet), and Home Depot (the most cost effective — $22.78!– for a 3×3′ aluminum sheet but limited pattern choices). These come in both a silver and gold finish. I used silver but the gold is chic these days. What’s right for you will depend on how many you want to make — see below.   Some notes on choosing:.

a) The cloverleaf and star patterns are most readily available and work well. If you choose a pattern with narrower openings like this oriental one below, it can be hard to get earrings with their backers through the spaces. So the tighter patterns are best used for necklaces with small s hooks.

Necklace jewelry organizer. Holes in this pattern are too tight for earrings.
Necklace jewelry organizer. Holes in this pattern are too tight for earrings with backers but little s hooks work fine.

b) Rustic look note: you could use chicken wire for a farmhouse sort of look, either in a single or double layer. This is often very cheap at used building goods outlets. I got a roll for only $3 but the look was less polished and it wasn’t as easy to work with my always-torn up hands as the aluminum sheets.

c) MD is a leading manufacturer of these sheets. They seem to sell mostly through retailers but the choices on their site (page down) are fun to browse.

MD Metal Sheet: this is the spendy version you can get at craft stores like Michael's
MD Metal Sheet: this is the spendy small version you can get at craft stores like Michael’s.
  •  Small s hooks (about $1.20 for a pack of eight at True Value). You need these if you want to use your organizer to hang necklaces.
  • Thrift store find jewelry: for earrings, you want fish hook style.
  • Tin snips or other scissors that can cut thin metal (available at craft and home improvement stores). I kinda balked at investing in tin snips but I am glad now that I did: I seem to use mine for something every week. Here’s where a Retailmenot coupon at Michael’s also is a big help (about $7.50 with a 50% off coupon). These are also available from home stores and Amazon (here are my Tekton snips on Amazon, about $9).

Let’s get started: The basics of this project are that you’re going to replace any glass with a metal sheet cut to slightly over the size of the frame opening. It’s that simple! A step-by-step follows.

  1. Take your frame and get it clean and pretty: pop out any glass and set aside
  2. If you’re painting you frame, do it now
  3. If your frame came with a mat, use that as your pattern to measure out the size to cut your metal sheet insert, adding 1/4 inch on each side. If no mat, measure your frame’s opening and add 1/2 inch to your measurement on each side. Basically you want a 1/4 inch excess on all sides so it fits securely in the opening. Also, this gives you the chance to let the metal protrude from the frame a little, which can look and work great.  If you’re cutting multiple inserts, lay as many out as possible on your metal sheet so you can eyeball how it all fits together as shown below:
    Here's mats are laid out on the sheet to make sure we get as many as possible out of one sheet.
    Here mats are laid out on the sheet to make sure we get as many as possible out of one sheet.

    Use a pen to mark off one insert at a time or just do a quick snip with your tin snips and cut along the line. Remember to go slightly big since you can always make it smaller later. Also, do one at a time instead of tracing them all at once. As you cut, things will shift slightly and you don’t want unnecessary marks, especially if you’re using a Sharpie!

  4. Cut your inserts using your tin snips

    Golly I love my tin snips!
    Golly I love my tin snips!
  5. Install your inserts into each frame from the back. If there are any little mat holders, flip them back down to keep the sheet firmly in place.

    Notice how the inserts that used to hold the mat in now hold the metal sheet
    Notice how the little black tab inserts that used to hold the mat in now hold the metal sheet?
  6. You are done. No joke.Silver painted frame

    Jewelry organizers, ready to wrap
    Jewelry organizers, ready to wrap

One more note: you might end up with some extra strips of the flat metal sheets. Hang onto them! They can be used to wrap a votive or for other small projects.

So what about you? What’s your favorite DIY holiday gift this year? Do you struggle with mass production AND personalization the way I do?

Note: the links here are for your convenience. No compensation to me for either the supplier listings or following the links.