Italian Pork & Pepper Stew ~ Crock Pot Style

I will take this moment to admit; I'm not a huge fan of the crock pot. Yes, it does quite a nice job on Mexican kind of meals (shredded pork tacos, tortilla soup, etc..) but beyond that I have a hard time finding recipes that produce a final result that taste....well not like a big mess of overcooked, tomato-based craziness.
This weekend I had a big piece of pork loin staring me in the face and no desire to do much with it. So I dusted off the old crock pot and in went a few ingredients. What came out a few hours later was surprisingly...tasty. Almost like I had slaved-over-it-all-day kind of tasty. Best of all, even the littlest tyke in the house liked it (a huge fete nowadays).
I served it with pasta although the hubby insists I serve it with mashed potatoes next time~ and I agree.
Give it a try this week. I used pork but I think chicken would work just as well and with a little less cooking time, probably.
I have adapted this recipe from the cookbook my sister-in-law bought me a few Christmas' ago called "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook". This recipe is actually quite different than that one, but I wanted to give it kudos for the inspiration.

























One January Afternoon~

One January afternoon, 13 years ago, I was wearing white. And my 5 year old niece was putting flowers in my hair. And my mom was making a bouquet. And my mother-in-law was putting the finishing touches on the dress she made me. And a cake had just been purchased at the French bakery down the street. And candles were being lit in our tiny living room apartment where I was to be married.

That snowy January night, in front of 8 family members, 1 friend serving as our photographer and an officiant, we said "I Do".














13 years later on an icy January afternoon we celebrated that day with a trip to an art museum. The weather that day was unlike any other we have ever encountered. The fog never lifted. Even at 2pm we could barely see in front of us. Ice hung from every ledge, clung to every sidewalk, and crunched beneath every step. The streets were empty in the busy city and we had the magical day to ourselves.





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DIY Hoot Owl Toms Tutorial












































My niece recently asked me to paint owls on her white Toms. I love the challenge of a good project but I have to say, I was a bit fearful of tackling such a fete. And messing up? I didn't even want to think about that.
So I didn't. I dove head first into the project with excitement. She had sent me a photo via camera phone of what she was envisioning and I got to work.
The tutorial I am giving looks very elementary. That's because it is. This project is seriously so ridiculously simple. No degree in Fine Art needed.
(Click below for the full tutorial)

Make Ahead Muffins ~ Easy Delicious Recipe
















































Truth be told, muffins aren't really my thing. In fact, pastries in general aren't really my thing but if I had a morning pastry of choice it would be a chocolate croissant. No fancy glazes or swirls on top. Just a great, flaky croissant with dark, dark chocolate inside. But really, in the morning I prefer to have a bowl of plain yogurt, a green smoothie or a piece of cold pizza.
But back to muffins...
Mike loves muffins. I think this is the only reason I can drag him into Whole Foods some days (some seriously good muffins over there, if you weren't aware).
As much as Mike loves muffins, I dislike making them. Muffin recipes frustrate me. Most produce dry, flavorless results that are only edible within the first 5 minutes out of the oven. The rest I end up feeding the dog later on in the afternoon.
When we opened our bakery, The Homestead, I knew I needed to find a good muffin recipe. I researched for weeks trying to find a basic recipe that would allow me to change flavors with the seasonal ingredients available.
And when I found this cookbook (yes, the same one that those amazing biscuits came from), I knew I had a winner. Customers at the bakery loved the strawberry/banana muffins the most with blueberry running a close second.
Again, as with the biscuits, the beauty of this recipe is that the batter can be made ahead, frozen in the muffin liners and baked from their frozen state whenever. No need to thaw. Genius.
I have indicated the slight change I made to the recipe with an asterisk.

20 days into 2012

I'm not sure how well 2012 has been treating you, but over this way, it has been a doozy. Some sickness, some stress, some heartbreak, some really heavy stuff actually.
It can't be all rainbows and sunshine all of the time, I suppose.












One bright spot in these first 20 days of the new year has been the reminder of the gentle love and comfort of good friends. Sometimes when things are going well and life has no hiccups, friends are just icing on the cake. But in times of struggle, disappointment or longing, a good friend is nourishment to the soul.
I am sure you have seen that quote above before. I love it because this has been my experience in life. I have a small handful of these friends. Friends that call me after a long day of work just to touch base and say hello. Friends that offer me chocolates everytime I walk through their door and have a pot of hot water for tea waiting. Friends that plop on my couch for an afternoon heart to heart over cups of coffee and yummy thai food. Friends that dance to Rhianna and Sean Kingston with me till the wee hours of the morning in my living room. Friends that encourage me, cry with me, inspire me and help me pull up those boot straps and keep going. I am one blessed girl indeed.
All images via Pinterest
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The Cozy Hat Giveaway Winner Is...

The winner of the fan-tabu-lous hat from Die Spinne Crochet is...Jennifer Legg!
Who said her favorite winter accessory are her super soft socks~

Congrats Jennifer! Contact me via email at megan@ittysmitty.com and I will make sure you
receive your cozy winter hat to match those super soft socks.

Thanks everyone for entering. Be on the lookout for another great giveaway soon.
Happy Thursday!

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Scrap Fabric Wreath DIY

The buzz about CAKE&WHISKEY is happening! Keep up with everything until it launches in the spring on the Facebook Page here. And click that gorgeous magazine cover over there on the right to view the fall teaser issue.




These fabric wreaths have been around the crafting scene for a while now. No doubt why. They are super simple to make, inexpensive and a great way to use up leftover fabric from other projects.
I also love this particular project because it is a great one for taking on the road. No sewing machine or crafting tools needed. Just a bag of scrap fabric and a wire wreath frame.

In fact, I started this very wreath almost exactly two years ago (it didn't take two years to complete....it just was placed on the backburner for a while). I was due to deliver Otto anyday and we decided to take one last road trip a couple of hours away to Cincinnati. I quietly sat in the car, tying scraps of fabric to the frame and silently working my way through contractions that had started once we hit the road. A day later, Othniel Rockland made his appearance and that half done wreath sat in the corner of my studio until last week.

Want to make one of your own? Here's how:

Outrageous Brownies Super Fudgey Recipe












Ina Garten (aka, the Barefoot Contessa) is my biggest foodie inspiration. I am an avid entertainer and party planner (someday soon I'll post about the amazing party we hosted this weekend) and one of the tricks of hosting such gatherings is making food ahead. Which I love to do. And so does Ina. Her recipes are always amazing and her laid back approach to great food is equally amazing.
Ina's Outrageous Brownies have always been on of our favorites. They are outrageously rich, chocolaty and pretty downright sinful. I stick to the recipe but divert at a few points.

The Cozy Hat Giveaway


I have a favorite winter hat this year. In fact, it stays with me at all times. And on weekends like this, where the snow is falling and temperatures are below twenty, I have a hard time taking it off. Yes it keeps my head oh-so-warm, but beyond that, it fits like a dream and I get compliments on it everywhere I go. And to boot, a friend made it for me.












































My very talented friend, owner of Die Spinne and sponsor on this blog (click on the button there to the right to visit her shop), has generously offered to custom make one of you lucky readers one of these beauties. In the color of your choosing even!

You have until Wednesday, January 18th at 9pm to enter. I will announce the winner on the following day.

You have 3 chances to enter:

1. Leave a comment and let us all know your favorite winter accessory.
2. "Like" The Art of Homemaking on Facebook. You can do that here. Let me know in a separate comment if you do so.
3. "Like" Die Spinne on Facebook. You can do that here. Let me know in yet another comment if you do so.


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Inspiration Wednesday~

It is raining this morning. Cold, damp, dark...just the kind of morning I long for a bit of inspiration to get me going. I keep a file on my desktop titled "creative ideas". I realize this is now a stone aged practice of grabbing photos online to put in a file. Yes...I know...Pinterest. And actually with the month break I am taking from Facebook, I finally replied to that invitation email from Pinterest and joined.
It is quite dreamy. I get what all the hullaballo is about.
Not sure what inspires you on rainy days but here are a few of mine~

**most photos were found on Pinterest. Some were not. I wish I could remember where all of these lovely inspirations came from....
On a day like today, I love walking around antique shops and thrift stores with a coffee and a friend.





































Seeing photos like this remind me that color is not my enemy. (Longtime readers know this fear of mine.)

















































A sweet (and talented) friend has asked me to help plan her wedding. I am honored. And when I
find photos like this it inspires me to want to plan everyones wedding!

































The day spent here...this is definitely doable.






















I can almost hear my heart praying this on a repeating loop lately.
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Make Ahead Biscuits






















This recipe will revolutionize your biscuit making future. Your welcome.
Well actually, we all have Cooks Illustrated to thank for this one. So thank you dear Christopher Kimball for that wonderful test kitchen of yours.

About a year ago I bought this cookbook, which has proven to be a fantastic investment. I am all about those Cooks Illustrated cookbooks (and PBS shows) and thankfully our local library keeps a nice stock of the cookbooks. But this cookbook in particular became part of my growing cookbook collection. Mostly in part to these amazing biscuits.

Actually, I am not a biscuit girl. I am more of a bagel and cream cheese kind of gal. But now that I live in what most people would consider 'the South', biscuits are a staple. And since I married one of these Southern boys we must have these carb staples on hand quite frequently. And thanks to this recipe, we do.

The beauty of it is they are ridiculously easy to make and produces great results every time. Better yet, you pop them in the freezer, unbaked, and they are ready to bake in the oven within 10-15 minutes. Genius.

I love King Arthurs square biscuit cutters. I used to have a set, which are now gone, and I am longing for another. They are very sharp and give a much better "rise" on the biscuits.






















Freezer Biscuits6 cups (30 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for counter
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 1/2 cups heavy cream (** a big carton of heavy cream is only 4 cups. Instead of buying 2, I use the carton and then add 1/2 cup of buttermilk)






















Line baking sheet with parchment paper (may need 2 baking sheets); set aside. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Stir in the cream with a wooden spoon until a dough forms, about 30 seconds. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter and gather into a ball. Knead dough briefly until smooth, about 1 minute, adding extra flour if necessary (if dough is too sticky).























































(Side note: I got those black bracelets during my first trip to Papua New Guinea 17 years ago. I have never taken them off.)

Pat the dough into a 3/4-inch thick circle (or square). Cut biscuits using a 2 1/2-inch round biscuit cutter. Lay biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, spaced about 1/2 inch apart. If using a round cutter, gather scraps and re-knead them briefly to combine, then pat dough into a 3/4-inch thick circle and cut more biscuits; process can be repeated a third time. Yield: about 24 biscuits, depending on size and shape.























To bake and serve immediately: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. After cutting biscuits, spread them out over 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake biscuits one sheet at a time, 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

- OR -

To freeze: Wrap the baking sheet tightly with greased plastic wrap (or ungreased press-n-seal) and freeze until biscuits are solid, about 6 hours. Transfer frozen biscuits to a large ziplock freezer bag and freeze up to 1 month.

When ready to bake biscuits, do not thaw. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lay biscuits on parchment-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot.

Notes: You may bake as few or as many biscuits at a time as you wish. Regardless of how many you bake, make sure they are spaced 2 inches apart, and if using more than one baking sheet, bake only one sheet at a time.



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Can I Get A Witness?

Not since Lost have I found a TV show to really rally behind. In fact, I think I am still mourning the ending of that show. In fact, I refuse to let Mike erase the final 2 episodes from our DVR.  Its not even up for discussion.
But since that fateful day in May 2010 when the only reason I could find to plop down on the couch with a bowl of popcorn finally ended, I haven't given much attention to following a show on TV.
Until recently.
I stumbled across it on accident really. It was Thursday night and Mike had headed to bed early. I crawled on the couch, covered up with a quilt and settled in for some channel surfing. I am an avid fan of PBS, especially any BBC broadcasts (Miss Marple, anyone?) and that night, at that appointed time of my TV surfing, a Masterpiece Classic was just starting. Let me stop here to say, I love Masterpiece Mystery; Poirot and Marple, they are common names in our house. But the Masterpiece Classics haven't really been my thing.
Again, until recently.
Until Downton Abbey.





















I feel crazy even blogging about a TV Show but I have to just ask; are any of you loving this show? I thought I might be the only one but I am quickly learning I am not. This morning I was driving in the car, listening to one of my favorite Saturday morning shows, Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me and they made a witty reference to it. Then tonight my husband was watching one of his favorite shows, Chuck, (I promise we really don't watch that much TV. I am kind of squeezing all of our TV watching habits into this post) and they referenced Downton Abbey as well!






















So I gotta ask. Do I have a witness? Isn't this one of the best shows to come around in a while? I am giddy with delight that there is already a Season 3 in production. And a Christmas Special I need to watch on You Tube someday. And I am lucky enough to have a fantastic husband who not only watches it with me each week, but I think secretly anticipates it as well.
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A Tee Shirt Tutorial

*Don't forget to enter the giveaway here*

We are still in the full swing of winter here in Lexington, Kentucky, but as I do each year, I am already gathering ideas for spring/summer shirts for the three boys running around my house. Since my oldest (who is almost 9) was a little tyke, I have been designing his tee shirts. I save the shirts in a box and when I look through those old shirts they read almost like a scrapbook, reminding me of what interests/hobbies they had at the time. Sometimes I embroider on them and add vintage fabric touches but the best way, by far, to get the detailed look I am going for is with freezer paper stencils.













This technique isn't new and I certainly can't stake claim to it, but I can say that I have nearly a decade of practice. So I am declaring myself a freezer paper stencil expert!

I'm sharing with you my process and a few of the tips and tricks I have learned over the years. I get lots of inspiration here and I find the best plain tee shirts (for boys) at Old Navy and Target.

Freezer Paper Stencil Tutorial

What You'll Need:
* Something to stencil on. The sky's the limit here.
* Freezer Paper  (you can find that near the plastic wrap at the grocery store)
* X-Aacto Knife
* Small craft cutting mat or a kitchen cutting board
* Piece of Cardboard
* Paint (fabric paint is great but I have had good success with cheap craft paint too)
* An Iron and Ironing Board

1. Prewash your material. Whether a canvas tote, a pillowcase or a tee shirt, you want to make sure its a freshly laundered surface to work with and that any shrinking that will happen on its first wash is already out of its system.

2. Cut a piece of freezer paper slightly larger than the area that you plan to cover on the shirt (or bag...I'll keep saying shirt for the purpose of the tutorial but just fill in the blank with whatever you are making).

3. Draw a design or print off an image online and trace it onto the paper side (not the slick side) of the freezer paper. Pencil or pen. Doesn't matter. Feel free to get detailed. But remember, each detail will need to be cut out...so only bite off what you are willing to chew.












4. After coming up with a fun image use the X-Aacto knife to carefully cut out all the pieces. I usually start with the smallest details first and put them into a ziplock bag to keep a handle on them. Then I work my way outward to the largest piece. You can use both the inner and outer pieces to make a regular and a reverse image (2 shirts out of one design essentially), so cut carefully!

5. Now that everything is cut out, take your biggest piece first and lay it, waxy side down, on the shirt exactly where you want it. Have your iron heated to medium (no steam) and press the stencil onto the shirt all the way around, making sure every design edge is fully pressed to the shirt. Continue to add in the smaller elements of the design and heat press them into place until the design is fully stuck to the shirt in the way you want it. The beauty of freezer paper is you do have the opportunity to move it once its been heat pressed but I wouldn't make a habit of it. Don't stress if you need to move it once (maybe twice). It will still work.

6. Once the shirt cools, get out those paints and get to work. I like to use a 1/4 flat artist paint brush for this but sometimes if I am trying to cover a really large surface area with paint I will use a wide foam brush. Use the cardboard piece to sandwich inside the shirt to protect the paint from bleeding onto the back of your shirt.











7. When painting, work in layers. Don't glob a bunch of paint on your shirt the first run through. Just get enough going to put a thin layer on the fabric. Start from the freezer paper and work towards the fabric. This helps keep the paint from bleeding under the freezer paper. Once you have a good layer on, set it aside to dry completely. When dry, do a second coat.
I don't do a third coat. I think it starts getting a little thick and could crack overtime. So I keep it at 2 layers always, and have had great success.

8. Now for the fun part. After it is completely dry, start peeling off the paper. You can't reuse it (unfortunately) so don't worry about being super careful. Sometimes with the pesky detailed pieces of freezer paper that are completely covered in paint I use the tip of the X-Acto knife to snag up the edge of the paper and take it off.
























9. Once all the freezer paper is off you can heat set it with a low iron. I usually take a towel and sandwich it between the shirt and iron or I turn the shirt inside out. I'm not keen on getting the iron in direct contact with the fresh paint.























































10. Voila!! Onto the next one....its kind of addicting.

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All Natural Lip Balm



The week leading up to the new year wasn't exactly how I had pictured it. It was the last week of the boys winter break. I had envisioned walks around downtown looking at the lights, taking down the Christmas tree together, continuing our holiday baking marathon and maybe even a little post Christmas mall browsing. But alas, none of those things happened.
The flu happened.
Or rather, what I guess must have been the flu. Whatever it was took whatever energy (and appetite) I had left to give 2011.

Thankfully, I had made a big batch of lip balm the week before Christmas to give as little handmade gifts to my girlfriends. Thankfully because....well when this girl is sick, she need the comfort of chapstick.























This recipe is super simple. The only hang up I ran across was getting the honey to mix completely into the coconut oil. And beesewax takes alot longer to melt than I had anticipated.
Otherwise it was a really fun afternoon project. I am left only to kick myself for spending so much money on drugstore lip balms all these years.        



























The recipe came from this blog last year and I tweaked it a bit and she grabbed it from this book where she had tweaked it a bit.

Sweet Orange Lip Balm
8 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
3 Tablespoons Beeswax
1.5 Tablespoons Raw Honey
30 drops Sweet Orange essential oil
(if you want color) 1/2 stick of natural lipstick (I like Jane Iredale and Josie Moran)
Place oil, beeswax and honey in a double boiler (or heatproof bowl resting on top of a small saucepan of simmering water). (As a side note, I picked up an extra double boiler thrifting that I use just for beeswax crafts, which really makes cleanup easier.) Heat gently until everything has melted.
Remove mixture from heat, and add peppermint oil and lipstick. Stir until blended.

Place the pan or bowl in a larger bowl full of cold water. Stir quickly until the mixture begins to change in consistency (it will become thicker).
Pour mixture into containers, place covers on, and let sit to cool and set up.
(fills approximately one dozen 1/2 oz tins)
























































I, for the life of me, cannot find the website for the supplier of the lip balm containers I bought. I did stumble across this one which has a nice selection. Not as cheap as what I had originally ordered but pretty reasonable.

Here's to a great 2012~ I have lots to look forward to. Maybe a little R&R to start off the first of the year is just what the doctor ordered.

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