Cheap 4th Anniversary Present Idea: Watercolor Slideshow Video!

Well, today marks four wonderful years with my hubby and partner in crime. We’ll be taking a trip to the UK & Ireland next month to properly celebrate, but I didn’t want to let the day go by without at least marking the occasion in some small (and hopefully, inexpensive) way.

Last year, presented with the same issue of travel not falling on our anniversary proper, I presented the hubby with a DIY infographic of our marriage up until that point. Nerdy, yes, but also cute and totally FREE to put together.

This year, I wanted to do something similar, and originally came up with the idea of putting together a video slideshow. I’ve previously worked with the online tool Animoto, and found it a super-easy way to construct a nearly pro-quality video. You upload your photo or video clips, pick a style or build your own, pick their licensed music or upload an mp3, and boom, you’re ready to publish.

Animoto offers a free trial, and you can make and publish videos in trial mode, so long as you’re ok with a watermark on your videos. Or, for $16 for a one-month “personal” membership, you can go ahead and remove the watermark altogether. (If you go this route, as I did, just remember to also “un-check” the box for auto-renewal of your plan!)

However, after playing around with Animoto for a bit, the slideshow I was building didn’t seem special enough somehow…the hubby had already seen all the photos I had to upload (as I put nearly ever photo I take up on Facebook to begin with…#overexposed). So I started the hunt for something that would help to kick the video up a notch.

And that’s when I learned about the app Waterlogue. The app, available for iPhone, transforms any photo you have into a watercolor painting. But, unlike a lot of other apps or filters that claims to do this…this one actually looks realistic!

Here are some of my favorite results that I got through the Waterlogue app:

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Then, once I had “watercolored” all my photos, I went back to Animoto and put them into Slideshow mode. Here’s the final result:

However, a video slideshow is really only one idea. You could print and frame a watercolor-ized photo that you really like. You could compile them into a photo book (you can nearly always find a good online coupon code for Shutterfly, for example.) You could even get it screen printed onto a throw or coffee mug or anything you like on a site like CafePress. The sky’s the limit!

For us, though, this was an inexpensive and fun way to mark the day, and the hubby was happily surprised to see the video tagged on his Facebook wall when he woke up.

What free or cheap gift ideas do you have for anniversary presents? Tell us in the comments.

Fun DIY Housewarming Gift: Bloody Mary Easter Basket

One of my best friends recently moved into a brand new custom-built house. The process was arduous, with her spending months picking each and every detail and overseeing (and occasionally correcting) the construction along the way. But after a many month process, she is now happily settling in to her new place, and invited us over for an Easter brunch.

Knowing that we didn’t want to show up empty-handed, I set out to find a housewarming gift. Except, as this wasn’t her first house, I knew she already had most of the “stuff” one might traditionally give for a housewarming present. So I needed to get a bit creative.

That got me thinking…since this was an Easter brunch, why not an Easter basket? And what goodies would come in a grown-up Easter basket? The answer seemed pretty clear to me: Booze.

With that, the idea for a bloody mary themed Easter basket was born. So, I stopped by the grocery store and gathered our favorite local bloody mary mix, Zing Zang, celery, limes, hot sauce, horseradish, stuffed olives, and some flavored rimming salt, and then swung by the liquor store to grab the finishing touch, a bottle of Tito’s Vodka.

We pulled an old wicker basket out of our garage (I think this had been part of a birthday or Christmas present we received at some point…), added a bit of Easter “grass” leftover from our Christmas baskets in 2015, and then stacked all the goodies in so that they looked good and were clearly visible.

And voila – I now had a fun and festive housewarming gift that I knew my friend would actually use. Best of all, it took very little time to assemble (seeing as how I had to go to the grocery store anyways), and she can reuse the pretty wicker basket even once the goodies inside are finished.

What’s your favorite DIY project? Tell us in the comments. 

Highlights from our “Nevertheless, She Persisted” Postcard Party

This past weekend, we invited several of our more liberal-leaning friends over for a slightly different kind of social event: a postcard party. The purpose of this sort of gathering is to get individuals together to write their elected officials, but in a way that’s fun, social, and builds up our community.

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The planning for the party was fairly straightforward. I scheduled the event for 3pm on a Sunday, so that meant I’d only need to provide light snacks and refreshments. We opted for a mimosa bar (much like our New Years Day brunch) along with iced tea, homemade salsa and guacamole with tortilla chips, chicken salad tea sandwiches, my homemade pepper jelly over cream cheese with crackers, and cookie-brownies. (The cookie brownies came from a box…baking isn’t really my forte.)

Then, there were the logistics of the postcards themselves. Assuming I’d get 10-20 people in attendance, and that the average person could write about 30 coupons in a 2-hour span, I went ahead and ordered 500 postcards from Vistaprint. (Don’r forget to check for coupon codes!) It only cost me about 10 cents per card, and here’s what they looked like:

As for the postcard designs, I found a few that were made available for free, specifically for this cause, by their designers. Others, I ordered digital downloads from Etsy, each for less than $5 a piece. I’d highly recommend this route if you decide to replicate this yourself — don’t forget to pay your artists!

Next came setting my attendees up for success. I gathered addresses for all of my area representatives at both the federal and state level (President, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, 2 US Senators, US Representatives from our area, Texas governor, Texas Lt. Governor, Texas Senators from our area, Texas Representatives from our area, and our city mayor. I also wrote a list of “conversation starters” — ideas for what folks could write to their reps at each level. (I’ve made both of these documents publicly available on Google, in case anyone would like to use them!)

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Then, I cut down an Amazon box into small pieces so that everyone could have a piece of cardboard to write on, gathered pens, printed out multiple copies of my documents, and we were ready to go!

As everyone arrived, I gave them the rundown of how to proceed: they could write up to 3 postcards to each rep, and I would collect them in three separate batches, for mailing on consecutive weeks. Guests were instructed to bring personal address labels, postcard stamps, and like-minded friends.

Midway through, I gave a quick speech of other upcoming activism opportunities, and overall I’d say the event was a huge success! We’re thinking of hosting another such party next month as well.

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Postcard parties are a fun, easy, and social way to stay politically active. They don’t replace more direct activities like calling and visiting your reps or going to town halls, but if you’re unahppy with the current administration, they can be just one more way to make sure your voice is heard.

 

 

Three Tips for Hosting a Standout Brunch at Home

We’ve just finished our 4th annual New Years Day brunch party, a great excuse for us to kick off the year surrounded by family and friends and of course, lots of festive beverages.

Over the years, we’ve perfected our brunch-hosting skills, and have come up with three main tips for hosting a brunch that’ll leave all your friends well-fed, and leave you as the host free to interact with them.

  1. Choose foods that work at room temperature. 

The best brunches last for hours. The one we hosted yesterday went from 10am to 3pm, and we had people here that whole time. Once your friends arrive, you don’t want to have to be spending your time continuously heating and re-heating food in the kitchen (nor worrying about serving dishes that need to kept cool…)

Our menu for the latest brunch did a nice job at this. We served:

  • Cut fruit
  • Three kinds of cheese and crackers
  • Cream cheese & pepper jelly
  • Tomato, shallot, basil salad
  • Smoked salmon with capers
  • Black-eyed peas (in both vegan and bacon varieties)
  • Coffee walnut monkey bread (I timed this to come out right after brunch began, so our early comers got it warm. It still worked once it cooled, though.)
  • Breakfast sausages (this was our only truly warm item. I made them in three batches throughout the brunch.)

As such, I was able to get just about everything ready in an hour or so before the food came out, and yet we had plenty of food for the entire brunch that everyone enjoyed.

  1. Set up a separate beverage station away from your food.

At any party, whether it’s a brunch or some other gathering, people just have a tendency to gather around where the food is. But especially if you’re dealing with a smaller dining space, you want to find ways to redirect the flow of traffic and create mini gathering areas at places away from the food.

At our brunch, we achieved this by placing a “make-your-own mimosa” bar with orange juice, cranberry juice, and St. Germain mixing options along side champagne flutes and an ice bucket of champagne in the living room.

This way, we had a good flow between the dining and living rooms all party, helping to ensure good conversation and mixing throughout the party.

  1. Label everything.

I have friends that are vegetarian. Vegan. Gluten-free. Paleo. Low-fat. Low-carb. Allergic to peanuts. Allergic to chocolate. All kinds of dietary restrictions going on.

To be considerate, and to help from having to answer 8 million food questions throughout your event, I recommend just making it easy on yourself and labeling everything from the get-go. Make a note for things that apply to the most common dietary restrictions like vegetarian and gluten-free.

Your friends will feel more able to enjoy what you’re serving, and you’ll be freed from ingredient interviews all party.

Tricks (But Mainly) Treats for a Great Halloween Party

This past weekend, we hosted our Third-Annual Pumpkin Carving party for our friends and their kiddos, and tried out a bunch of fun new recipes. (If you’d like to see previous years pics, here are the posts from 2015 and 2014!)

Our snacks included (from left to right in the top photo):

  • Rice Krispie Pumpkin Treats
  • “Hot & Creamy Bones” aka Cream Cheese & Pepper Jelly
  • Fall Flatbread Bites
  • Caramel Apple Nachos
  • 7-Layer “Cobweb” Dip
  • Fudge Brownies w/ Candy Corns

Want to remake some of these classics? Here are the recipes:

img_4070The Rice Krispie treats were super easy.  Just follow the standard recipe, but add 3 drops of orange food coloring. Once they’re about halfway cooled (about 15 minutes), roll them into balls and add a green candy for the stem.  We used green apple Jolly Rancher bites. You can add jack-o-lantern details with an edible gel pen if you like.

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Even easier! Let 2 packages of cream cheese come to room temperature, then place it on a piece of plastic wrap.  Using a second piece of plastic wrap on top, mold it into your desired shape, then transfer to a serving dish.  Next, cover with your favorite pepper jelly and add crackers.

img_4068These fall flatbread bites were DELICIOUS.  I originally got the Pin-spiration for these from a recipe on the Table for Two blog,  but edited the recipe to suit my own tastes.

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. On two cookie sheets, let your frozen puff pastry dough thaw for about 20 minutes. Unfold, cut into square-inch pieces (about 16 per sheet) and spray with cooking spray.
  3. In a saucepan, add 2 tbsp butter, then 1 medium, thinly sliced white onion and cook over medium heat.  Season well with salt and pepper. Stir every 2-3 minutes. After the onions have begun to carmelize (15 minutes or so), add 2 more tablespoons butter, 1 tbsp sugar, and 1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes. Add 1/2 tsp dried thyme and 1/2 tsp dried tarragon.
  4. Cook for about 10 more minutes, before removing from heat. Spoon the mixture over each piece of puff pastry.
  5. Top each bite with a nice amount of shredded gruyere cheese. Bake for 25 minutes, then serve immediately.

img_4066Another recipe that came from Pinterest – this one came pretty directly from Butter With a Side of Bread. One quick note though; the apples absorbed both the caramel and the marshamllow fluff.  So while they were totally delicious, they weren’t quite as beautiful as the ones she has on her blog.

img_4064This is basically just your standard issue 7-layer dip.  Mine contains refried beans, seasoned ground beef, shredded cheddar cheese, and guacamole in layers.  Then, I made the cobweb using sour cream; just make concentric circles, then using a toothpick, drag back from the center of the dish to create the swooping look.  Cover the toothpick lines with additional sour cream, and then rim the dish with sliced olives and tomatoes.

So there you have it. It was a great party! And just look at some of the resulting jack-o-lanterns:

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Dia-de-los Trum-kin
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Charlie Brown pumpkin (it’s even cuter during the day, b/c it has pumpkin ears!)
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Rick and Morty pumpkin
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Mr. Meesig pumpkin (another Rick and Morty reference!)
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This was an attempt at the poop emoji, but the glow-in-the-dark paint doesn’t come through so well.
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Bats-in-the-moon pumpkin

And those were only about half of the great creations made by our guests.  It was a fantastic night, and we can’t wait until next year.

Skinny Margaritas for Cinco De Mayo!

It’s Cinco De Mayo, that day when white people appropriate Hispanic culture without any knowledge of the day’s historical background at all, but, hey, margaritas, amirite?!

We’re back on a low carb kick here in the Unintended Domesticity household, so for me, any celebratory margaritas have to be of the skinny variety. Luckily, I’ve spent some time perfecting my skinny margarita recipe over the past few years and now have one I’m pretty pleased with.

You’ll Need:

  • Tequila (we like Camarena Reposado)
  • An Orange
  • 1-2 Limes
  • Your favorite hot sauce (I like Cholula)
  • Club Soda

Then, the recipe I follow is about 2 oz tequila, the juice of half the orange, an equal amount of lime juice, 3 dashes of hot sauce – all shaken over ice then placed in a large glass and topped with club soda.

It’s a little sweet (from the oranges), a little sour (from the limes), a little spicy (from the hot sauce), and a lot drunk. Enjoy!

Make Ahead Snacks for the “Big Game”

We like to play a drinking game whenever we watch a show on HGTV – you have to take a sip anytime someone says “open concept”.  This game can get you very drunk, very fast.  Because “open concept” is all the rage in real estate, but it has one fatal flaw – if everyone can see your kitchen from all the other rooms in your house, then they can also see your giant pile of dirty dishes from cooking!

After remodeling our kitchen last year, we too have an open concept first floor, and this has somewhat changed the way I plan menus for entertaining. Without the option of hiding my cutting boards, mixing bowls, and multiple utensils away from guest eyes in a closed-off prep space, I now attempt to do as much cooking — and clean-up — before guests ever arrive.

With the “big game” (you know which one…the one that will sue you for copyright infringement if you say their name on a lowly blog) this weekend, I thought I’d share three of the make-ahead appetizers I’ll be serving, so that you too can serve up both great snacks and a perfectly-clean kitchen.

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Buffalo Bites

This recipe is adapted from one I found on a Paleo/Gluten-free blog I stumbled across recently.  Not being Paleo or gluten-free myself, I’ve adapted it to make the balls a bit easier to assemble and in order to make a larger batch. This makes 24-30 bites.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs ground chicken
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 2 stalks chopped celery
  • 1 tbsp chopped green onion
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp black pepper

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, using your hands to incorporate everything together.  Then, form roughly 1-inch balls and place them on a greased cookie sheet.

At this point – if you’re making ahead, cover with plastic wrap and store in your refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

Once you’re ready to serve, place the cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.  Then, remove the balls and gently dredge them in your favorite wing-sauce, then return them to the baking sheet and cook for an additional 12 minutes. Repeat dredging in wing sauce and cooking for another 12 minutes.

Serve with blue cheese or ranch dressing and celery sticks.  Stick the cookie sheet and the small dredging bowl in an empty waiting dishwasher, and you’ve got a great snack with no leftover mess!

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Kitchen-sink stuffed mushrooms

These are a huge crowd pleaser.  Once again adapted from another recipe, I call these kitchen-sink mushrooms because you can basically thrown in everything plus the kitchen sink.  The key is to balance salty + sweet + tangy and you get a great final product. Makes about 60 mushrooms — if you don’t need that many, just freeze whatever portion of the stuffing you don’t use, and you’ve got a great start on your next dinner party.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb “hot” ground italian sausage (if you can’t find hot, then plan to add 1 tsp black pepper and 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 10 pimento-stuffed-green olives, chopped
  • 1 large handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1 tbsp chopped green onions (or, replace with sauteed shallots is good too!)
  • 1/4 cup chopped golden raisins
  • 3 cloves finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (+ more to drizzle on mushrooms)
  • Salt & pepper to flavor the mushrooms

Directions:

Remove the mushroom stems and gills and discard. Clean the caps with a dry paper towel (or a mushroom brush, if you’re fancy).  Place them open-side-up on an oiled cookie tray, and drizzle 2-3 drops of olive oil in each cap. Season caps with salt and pepper, then set aside.

Combine all the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl, using your hands to fully incorporate.  You’re looking for a consistency like cookie dough – if it’s too dry, add more oil, if it’s too wet, add more bread crumbs.

Next, put a heaping portion of the stuffing mix inside each mushroom cap and smooth down the top. Now – if you’re making ahead, simply cover the cookie sheet with plastic wrap and stick these in the fridge until gametime.

Whenever you’re ready to cook, remove the plastic wrap and place the cookie sheet in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool for 5 minutes, and then serve.

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Dip in a Bread Bowl

This one’s the easiest of all, and ultra-customizable.  You can use any dip you want, though I prefer HEB’s “Love Dip” I’ve also served this with spinach-artichoke dip, bacon-cheese dip, or fiesta ranch dip.

Ingredients:

  • Your dip of choice
  • 1 Loaf French-country bread
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Using a serrated knife, cut the top (about 1/4 of the way down) off the bread. Place the top to the side, you’ll use it later.  Then, using a serrated paring knife, cut down along the inside of the bread, removing roughly 75% of the “insides”.

For the bread sections that you removed, cut into 1-inch cubed sections, and arrange on a cookie sheet.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  For the bowl, brush olive oil along the outside of the loaf and the new inside section, then sprinkle with salt and pepper, before placing on the cookie sheet along with the other pieces.

Pop it in a 350-degree oven for five minutes until it is a nice golden brown. At this point, the “bowl” is finished, and you can wrap it in paper until you are ready to use. Place the bread pieces in a large ziploc bag so that they won’t dry out.

When you’re guests are imminent, arrange your bread bowl in the center of your serving tray, surrounded by the bread pieces and (if you wish) crudite.  Spoon your chosen dip mix into the bread bowl, and you have a fancy way to present an old classic.

Fun Halloween Party Foods (2015 Edition)

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Last weekend, we decided to repeat a tradition we started this past year: a pre-Halloween pumpkin carving party for friends and their kiddos.

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We already had some great recipes from last year including salmon sandwich ghosts and chocolate-dipped pretzel rods that we chose to repeat this year.  But I also expanded this year’s spread to include candy corn brownies, a “puking pumpkin” filled with guacamole, bruschetta with spooky mozzarella cutous, and mummies in a blanket.

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None of these recipes are really mindblowing, so I won’t go into the specifics, except for one: pumpkin spice jelly shots!

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup + 1 tsp boiling water
  • 1 cup chilled Captain Morgan rum
  • 2 oz Fireball
  • 1 envelope orange-flavored gelatin mix
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Directions:

  1. Bring your water to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat, add gelatin packet and pumpkin pie spice, until all the gelatin has been dissolved.
  2. Add in cold chilled alcohol and stir until combined.
  3. Pour mixture into your individual cups or mold and put in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours (overnight is easier).
  4. Enjoy!

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33 Presents for a 33rd Birthday

33 PresentsYesterday, my lovely husband turned 33, marking 1/3 of a century of him making the world a better place.  I always like to plan something BIG for his birthdays, especially since he comes from a large family where birthdays were primarily quiet family affairs.

In the past, I’ve done surprise & themed parties, vacations, meals at super fancy restaurants, etc. But for this year, I decided to give him one present for every year he’d been keepin’ it real, 33 in total, and have him open them one by one across his birthday weekend.

I wrapped all the gifts in the same brown craft paper, tied them with string, and wrote the # of each present on its face.  Then, feigning that I “needed a glass of water” I went back downstairs after we had gone to bed Friday night and set up all the presents on our kitchen island so that they would be the first thing he saw when he got up on Saturday.  The look on his face was priceless, and I think he was truly surprised at being so overwhelmed with presents.

Most of the gifts were small items I’d ordered off Amazon (to help keep it a secret in case he checked our credit card statement or saw the package return address) but for others, I got him gift certificates and event tickets.  Then, I invited his friends to join us at those places, further heightening the surprise.  And since most of the gifts were actually fairly inexpensive, I was able to buy all 33 gifts and still spend about the same (or maybe even less) than what I normally would spend on a large party at our house or on one big present.

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All in all, here was his haul, broken up into the times he got to open each set of presents:

Saturday Morning:

  1. A card, explaining the 33 gifts rationale.  It played the Hampster Dance song on endless loop.
  2. A birthday crown for him to wear all weekend
  3. 1 pound of Valhalla coffee, a fair trade organic blend of the most caffeinated coffee in the world
  4. A new coffee mug, for him to drink said coffee with
  5. A new shirt – I got him a Cuban style shirt, as he likes these for the hot summer days, and his old one was not looking great.

Saturday Afternoon:

  1. A bottle of his favorite hot sauce – this was his clue for where we were going next.
  2. A gift card to Torchy’s Tacos for lunch, where eight of his friends joined us.
  3. 2 tickets to the 2:30pm showing of the movie Inside Out
  4. Movie candy, which I smuggled in my purse

Saturday Evening:

  1. Tickets to that evening’s baseball game for our local triple-A baseball team. Two of his friends joined us for baseball plus post-game fireworks.
  2. A new baseball cap for the Round Rock Express, the team we were going to see
  3. An inflatable stadium seat cushion
  4. A package of batteries, to power the small handheld fans we already owned

Sunday Morning:

  1. A bottle of vodka
  2. A bottle of our favorite bloody mary mix, Zing Zang.
  3. A scratch-off lottery ticket (he didn’t win, bummer.)
  4. A package of two small nerf guns and extra darts.  Once we’d both had a nice bloody mary to wake up, we shot at each other for a good twenty minutes.

Sunday Afternoon:

  1. A gift certificate to our favorite wing bar, where more of his friends met us for lunch
  2. A CD of Mariah Carey’s greatest hits to play in the car on the way there.  (The hubby has a thing for Mariah Carey. Yes, I know that’s weird.)
  3. A $20 bill and coupon (for $5 in free tokens when you spend $20) for a local arcade called Pinballz. More of his friends met us there for some games.
  4. A bottle of Mr. Bubble bubble bath (his favorite).
  5. A set of man-scented candles, for him to light during his bubble bath

Sunday Evening:

  1. A monogram grill brand so that he could brand steaks with his name (I also had steak in the fridge, for us to have for dinner so he could try it out.)
  2. A bottle of rye bourbon
  3. Silver cocktail cup
  4. A crushed ice machine
  5. A muddler (Items 24-27 combine to give him everything he needs to make a proper Mint Julep, something he loves but can usually only get in nice cocktail bars.)
  6. A cigar

Monday Morning:

  1. A new pair of boxers (They have a lion on them, haha.)
  2. A Dunkin Donuts gift card

Monday Evening:

  1. A $25 Visa gift card with instructions that he can choose take-out food from any of our three favorite take-out spots for dinner and I’ll go get it from him.
  2. A large-format beer
  3. A box of his favorite chocolate truffles

So there ya have it.  If you’re looking for a birthday idea with a big “wow” factor (and you have a few hours you can set aside for gift wrapping purposes!) then I’d totally recommend the X gifts for X birthday method – we had a fantastic weekend and Carl felt very spoiled with all his new goodies.

Halloween Treats & Appetizers for a Boo-tiful Party

IMG_1853Halloween’s never really been my favorite holiday.  Deciding on a costume, procuring all the stuff needed for that costume without spending a fortune, then battling the crowds at the top parties…I was over it by about age 23, I gotta admit.

However, I do LOVE pumpkin carving.  So this weekend, we invited our nearest and dearest over for a little pumpkin carving fun, and that gave my the opportunity to make some super-fun Halloween themed treats, including ghost tea sandwiches, a guacamole graveyard, deviled egg eyeballs, and chocolate dipped pretzel rods.

Recipes for everything after the jump! (Press “continue reading” to see more!) Continue reading “Halloween Treats & Appetizers for a Boo-tiful Party”