04-12 Make Christmas Pretty - With Balls!

Hello people, and happy holidays! This time around we’re going to be making some delightful Christmas balls. I was joined by my good friend Margot Potter the Impatient Crafter. She and I put this idea together.

Here’s how you make them:

You’ll need:

Styrofoam balls
4 way stretch velvet
Straight pins
Small artificial flowers
Various embellishments – sequins, beads, jeweled picks and sprays, etc.
1/4” wide ribbon

Begin by wrapping the velvet snuggly around your ball and gathering it into your hand, and then cut the excess away, close to the ball. Pin one side of the velvet into the ball, then, stretching it tightly around, pin into the opposite side. Repeat the process until you’ve gotten all the loose fabric pinned down. Pin into virgin Styrofoam as much as possible and stretch the velvet as tightly as you can around the ball. The goal is to take advantage of the four way stretch and keep the gathers at the top as few as possible. As you get more velvet pinned in you’ll have to start to overlap it. You can cut away excess and stretch the folds up to make a smooth top.

Once you’ve covered your ball in velvet you can start to embellish it. The artificial flowers will camouflage the gathers. Cut the stems to about an inch and a half and poke an awl or other small pointy tool through the velvet into the Styrofoam to create a pilot hole, then stick the flower in place. Once you’ve created a tuft of flowers over the gathers you can start to dress the ball with sequins, beads, jeweled picks and sprays and other decorative elements you may have found.
The hanging strap can be put in either the center of the tuft of flowers or on the opposite side of the ball. Wherever it is placed, it should be anchored firmly with two pins placed pointing in opposite directions, to keep it from being easily pulled out. 
 This craft is a fun diversion for pre-holiday afternoons and the resulting ornaments are very pretty.
I’m in the process of looking at new apartments, trying to find a new place to live. To that end I’m starting to purge my various collections. Right now I have lots of vintage sewing patterns from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s available on my Etsy page. Be sure and have a look if you like to sew, and keep an eye peeled for future sales. 

I hope everyone has a delightful holiday season!


#04-11 Grilled Cheese - Melt Some Memories

Hello people! It’s time for a new episode (I know, I know, it’s past time, this was the episode that almost wasn’t). This time out we’re making grilled cheese! Such fun, and so easy… We’ve chosen some delicious cheeses to feature, including Cotswold, Gruyere (our fondue sandwich) and aged farmhouse Cheddar. We’re using sourdough bread, which gives the sandwiches a nice tang. Here are a few grilled cheese tips:

- Grate your cheese: Grated cheese melts more quickly and easily than slices.

- Butter the bread, not the pan: That’s the outside of the sandwich, not the inside. Buttering the bread on the outside ensures that the sandwich will brown evenly.

- Cover your sandwich for the first few minutes: This will conserve the heat and melt the cheese more quickly. Flip the sandwich after about 4 minutes and then leave it uncovered.

Grilled cheese sandwiches are ripe for experimentation. Why not explore with cheeses and breads you find in your local gourmet store? How about a bleu cheese sandwich? Gouda or Fontina would be delicious melted up. As for breads, brioche would make a very tasty nibble! So would a rich hearty 7 grain with plenty of nuts and crunchy bits.

Just in time for the holidays, we have a new Brini Maxwell store! If you click on the “Shop” link at you’ll be directed to our new store featuring fun Brini Maxwell products, some you may be familiar with, some that are brand new! One of the new products is the Brini poster. It’s a fun, inexpensive way to bring me into your home. Have a look!


04-10 Brini's Brownies - Coconut Edition!

Hi people! Welcome to another episode. This week is all about customization – we’re customizing a brownie mix and I’m going to give you some ideas for making mixes your own.

The benefit of working with a mix is the convenience of it. You can throw together a quick dessert in a few minutes, bake it and have it ready in no time at all. This convenience comes at a price though. That price isn’t taste, as most mixes produce quite tasty results. That price is individuality. Making your mark with a mix is the aim of this episode.

Now we’ve made a traditional brownie mix a bit more posh by giving it an island flavor. We’ve added coconut and coconut rum to the mix. Here’s how:

You’ll need:

1 Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge brownie mix
½ cup oil
¼ cup coconut rum
3 eggs
¼ cup shredded sweetened coconut
Dash more coconut rum

Prepare mix as directed on the box, swapping out the water for the coconut rum and adding the coconut after the other ingredients have been combined. Add the dash of rum after the shredded coconut has been mixed in. Bake as directed on the box. Frost the finished product with Buttercream icing (flavored with coconut extract) and garnish with more shredded coconut.

The key to making a mix your own and achieving professional results is preserving the chemistry of baking. I have a friend who always customizes his mixes and his cakes are always delicious, but they frequently don’t hold together all that well and tend to be a bit lopsided. The reason for this is that he hasn’t preserved the balance of liquid to solid ingredients and hasn’t allowed for the leavening process.

The reason we add a dash of rum to the mix is to account for the added bulk to the recipe from the shredded coconut and the liquid lost more quickly due to evaporation during the baking process – alcohol evaporates more quickly than water.

I’m especially fond of doctoring brownie mixes. One of my favorite holiday recipes is made with a dark chocolate brownie mix, into which you add a teaspoon of peppermint extract. Then frost the brownies with butter cream icing and sprinkle crushed peppermint candy canes on top. I call them my peppermint bark brownies. I’ll be featuring them in an upcoming episode around the holidays, so be sure and look for it!

If you’re interested in learning more about customizing mixes be sure and have a look at The Cake Mix Doctor. Anne Byrn is a whiz at making mixes interesting.


04-09 Neat and Nifty - Iron your Fringe

Hello people! This week we have an episode for those of you that are particularly anal retentive. I’m showing you how to iron fringe. Keeping all our strands going in the right direction is important!It's a simple three step process - you'll need a wide toothed comb that doesn't have any burrs on the teeth, so as to not snag the delicate fibers of the fringe. Start by taking a small section of fringe and combing it out on your ironing board. Then run the iron over it. Repeat the process 3 or 4 times, then lay the fringe flat, put the iron down on it near the "roots" and, applying medium pressure, pull the fringe out from under it. You'll be amazed at the results!

In addition to that, we have lots of things to talk about. I was recently featured on the cover of the online crafting magazine “Snippets”, which is a part of the delightful UK site Cut out and Keep. The article is a lot of fun. Be sure and have a look! The aprons featured in the article are available on Felix Populi and we’ve just reduced the price from $32 to $25. They make great hostess gifts and are fun and practical in the kitchen. Be sure and have a look!


04-08 Hungary? Try Goulash!

Hi people! Brini here and this week we have a delicious stew for you…Hungarian goulash! As stews go, it’s very simple – very easy. Here’s how:

You’ll need:

2 lbs stew beef cut into 1” cubes
3 Tbs. flour
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
¼ cup chopped onion
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
1 ½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 Tbs. paprika
1½ cups beef stock

Begin by coating the beef with the flour. Heat the oil in a sauce pan or electric skillet over medium heat and add the beef. Cook until brown on all sides, then add the onion. Stir for about 5 minutes until the onion is tender, then add the remaining ingredients. Blend well while bringing to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Let cook for 2 to 2½ hours or until fork tender.

Serve over buttered noodles or boiled potatoes.

This dish is just great for the last chilly days of winter. Perfect for warming up after a blustery afternoon outdoors!

04-07 Size Matters - Valentines Day Excess in Floral Arranging

Hi people! This week we have another archival episode for you. This segment is from the first season of the original show. My guest Shonda Lear shows us how to make a statement with floral arranging. Her arrangement is quite remarkable and pleases Mary Ellen no end, for unexpected reasons – or perhaps those reasons should have been obvious to me – watch and see. Shonda is the brainchild of David Mandel, whose company The Show Must Go On creates fanciful jewelry and objet d’art.