Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tasty Tues: Jar Mix Cookie

Staying with the theme of cookies! (I can not get enough of them!) I thought it would be fun to share a Jar Mix Cookie Recipe with you!

Jar mix cookie recipes have grown in popularity over the past few years; their origin born from the idea of making gift giving simpler.

Giving cookies to friends and family will always be part of the Holliday tradition, the problem is trying to find time to bake with our ever busy fast paced life styles.

Jar Mix cookies have made life so much easier. Not only do they make a great looking homemade gift, but over the years their recipes have improved, and delicious cookies often result.

The orange dreamsicle jar mix cookie recipe combines orange flavoring with vanilla baking chips for a great taste!



1/2 cup powdered orange flavored drink mix (I used Tang)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups vanilla baking chips
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1-quart mason jar or larger canning jar
Funnel (optional)
Paper for tag

Step 1: In a bowl, combine the flour with the baking soda and baking powder. Then in your jar : Start first layer with powdered orange flavored drink. Then add the sugar. Follow with vanilla chips and ending with the flour mixture. Pack down firmly after each addition.

Step 2: Attach tag with the following instructions:

Orange Dreamsicle Cookies

Step 1: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Step 2: In a large bowl, with an electric mixer cream 1 sticks (1/2 cup) of softened salted butter or margarine with 1 eggs and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Beat well.
Step 3: Gradually add cookie mix, stirring until ingredients are well mixed.
Step 4: Roll dough into tablespoon size balls. Place 2 inches apart on a lightly greased baking sheet.
Step 5: Bake 12-14 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool slightly on cookie sheet. Remove from cookie sheet to cooling surface.

Makes about 24-30 cookies.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

What Office Supply Are You?

You Are a Coffee Mug

You have loads of energy and stamina. You can zip through the most boring of tasks with complete enthusiasm.

You are also great at motivating a group. You are a fearless leader.

You are efficient and productive. You don't put off tasks or procrastinate. You actually enjoy working.

You would make a good small business owner or startup employee. If a job requires blood, sweat, and tears - then you have some to give.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Adobe Lightroom 3 Beta

I love Lightroom 2 for photo editing.  I do pretty much all of my photo editing in LR and found that I rarely use Photoshop Elements anymore unless I want a specific action or for digi scrapbooking.  I follow the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Killer Tips Blog and was really excited to see that they have a Beta version of Lightroom 3 that is available to everyone not just existing LR users.  If you're interested in giving LR a try, I highly recommend downloading this program.  Now remember it's a Beta version and not the final version so there may be some quirks, but think it's great for deciding if you want to add LR when the completed version comes out.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Beta

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tasty Tuesday: Cookies!!

Did you know that October is NATIONAL COOKIE MONTH! .. just what you needed to hear right?? of course I have never needed a reason to bake.. but this little tid bit made me drool and want to bring out the cookie sheets even more!

So in honnor of celebrating National Cookie Month.. I decided I would share my personal favorite cookie recipe with you!

Monster Cookies


3 eggs
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 12-ounce jar creamy peanut butter
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup MnM candies

1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup raisins, optional
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats (not instant!)

To The Baking! :

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats. (or GREASE YOUR PAN WELL)

In a very large mixing bowl, combine the eggs and sugars. Mix well. Add the salt, vanilla, peanut butter, and butter. Mix well. Stir in the chocolate candies, chocolate chips, raisins, if using, baking soda, and oatmeal.

Drop by tablespoons 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Do not overbake.

Let stand for about 3 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool. When cool, store in large resealable plastic bags.

It makes 3 dozen cookies!!! but trust me these cookies move so fast.. that you will be glad you have a lot! because that way you may actually get one! *L*

Cookie Tip:

One of the most frequently asked questions when baking cookies is: how do you cut down preparation time for parties or special events? The answer is simple; freeze your dough or cookies ahead of time.
Most cookie dough freezes extremely well and can be kept frozen for up to 4 or 6 weeks. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the dough will absorb any odd odors present in your freezer if it's not properly wrapped and sealed. To prevent odors from creeping into the dough, as well as preventing freezer burn, wrap the dough securely twice. Also make sure that the dough is placed away from fish or any other strong smelling items in the freezer. Oxygen is another leading cause of freezer burn. If you should decide to put the dough into a freezer bag instead of wrapping with plastic wrap then follow this tip: when closing the bag, leave a ¼-inch gap in one corner. Insert a drinking straw, suck out all excess air in the bag, and then close tightly.

When you are ready to bake, simply let the dough defrost in the refrigerator. It will take several hours to thaw the dough, so plan ahead. The types of cookie dough that freeze the best are shortbreads, chocolate chip, peanut butter, sugar, and brownies, just to name a few. The types of cookie dough that do not freeze well are those for cake-like cookies and cookies that have a very smooth, runny batter.

Freezing baked cookies is a great way to preserve their freshness. Baked cookies will keep in the freezer for up to 3 or 4 weeks. Follow the same steps as when freezing dough by double-wrapping the cookies. When you are ready to eat your frozen cookies, just let them come to room temperature. Or for you impatient types, pop them in the microwave on high for about 30 seconds. We still haven't come across a baked cookie that doesn't freeze well. So when planning your next special event, think about preparing and freezing ahead of time.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Using scrapbooking templates in Photoshop Elements

I've had many friends ask me how to do digital scrapbooking and I've shared that I started out using templates. I like templates because the layout of your page is already done for you and all you have to do is add the pictures and elements where indicated. I only know how to use Photoshop Elements so that is what this tute will be written for.

First, there are two shortcuts that I find to be really helpful.

Free Transform - Ctrl-T (PC) or Command-T (Mac)... I use this to make the picture fit the photo spot before grouping and also to size the elements .

Group w/ previous - Ctrl-G (PC) or Command-G (Mac)... this is used a lot in templates to group the paper with the element below it and the paper automatically becomes that element w/o distorting or frustration trying to size it to fit the element... you'll see what I mean when we start going through this tute.

OK, let's get started. I picked out a template that had lots of different colors so you can see a little easier how this all works.

Once I picked out my template, I opened the .psd file... this is important because then you can see all the layers, so make sure you open the .psd file and not the .jpg file. You'll see in a bit why you need the layers.

On the lower right hand corner you can see all the layers for this particular template. See the little "eye" icon? You can click/toggle each layer on and off depending on if you want that particular layer in your layout. You can also drag each layer up or down to move that layer above or below another layer. You will be clicking on each layer in that corner depending on which layer you are working on at the time.
Click on the pictures to see them full sized
I like to work from the bottom up... the background to the top layer. So, I will pick out a background paper and open that .jpg or .png file up. I will then drag or copy/paste it on top of the background layer. Make sure that your new layer is above the background labeled layer and below all the elements... In this example I also grouped it with the background layer by hitting Ctrl-G/Command-G... see how the layer thumbnail moves to the right and then has an arrow pointing to the layer below. You don't have to do this with the background... I just did this so you see what happens when you group w/ previous.
OK, some people start from the bottom and go up the layers, but this is where I like to add the pictures in. This particular template only has one photo slot, so I go and find the picture that I want and also the photo layer in the scrapbook page. I drag or copy/paste the picture above the photo layer. I then free transform by hitting Ctrl-T/Command-T. You will find a box around your picture and it is important to keep the proportions the same so that you don't distort the picture, you can do this by using the corner boxes to resize the picture. The picture needs to be bigger then the photo slot, otherwise you'll have white space (or whatever color the template is). Click on the green check mark when you've completed your free transform.
When you have the picture in the desired spot then "group w/ previous" by hitting ctrl-g/command-g and voila! Your picture fits in the photo layer. Now you can still change and move around the picture by pressing ctrl-t/command-t and move around or resize, just make sure again that you keep the picture proportions the same.
You'll soon see that I didn't like the picture that I used so I changed it by deleting the picture from the layers and doing the same thing again to add a different picture.

Now the fun begins... we're going to change the elements on this template. Now that you learned how to "group w/ previous" the next few parts are really simple. Now we're going to change the paper elements from the solid color blocks to paper blocks. We'll do the same thing we did with the picture only I normally don't resize the paper.

The next step is to decide what papers you want to use for the paper blocks. Then you will drag or copy/paste the paper over the block layer. Next you'll group w/ previous (ctrl-g or command-g) and voila you have your paper block... sometimes I do want certain parts of the paper to show like a big flower so I'll free transform (ctrl-t or command-t) until I see what I like as you can see in this example.
You'll keep grouping papers with the blocks until you have what you like.

paper layer above paper block layer on the lower right hand corner
after grouping w/ previous (ctrl-g or command-g)
another example... paper layer above paper block layer in your layers
after grouping w/ previous
and another example...

You can even do it with the other elements, not just the paper block elements. For instance, I really liked this frame so I found a paper I liked that went with the rest of the papers and thought it would work great for the frame.

paper layer dragged or copy/pasted above the frame layer
and group w/ previous
Now you add your embellishments or whatever you want to your page by dragging or copy/pasting in the layers and free transforming (ctrl-t or command-t) and moving and resizing them around... you can also turn them by hovering around the outside of the the box until you see a bent arrow. and turning the box to the angle that you like.
Here I've added a journal embellishment on top of the journaling layer and will turn the eye icon off of the journal layer to remove the "journaling".
Here I'm adding the Title using an alphabet that matched the papers. I use free transform to resize and move into the position I want each of the letters... this alpha was the perfect size as is, but normally I have to resize it to the desired size. Sometimes I use the bent arrow to turn the letters a bit too. When I have my title in place then I'll turn off the "eye" icon on the sample title layer.

Here I am putting button embellishments in place of the flower elements using free transform to move and resize them and toggle off the flower element layers...
I like to add a drop shadow to all of the elements so when I have everything in place, I'll highlight each of the elements and then in the "Effects" palette above the "Layers" palette, I'll find the box with the "low" drop shadow, click on that and then click on apply and it instantly adds a drop shadow to the element. I usually add one to all of the elements so I'll go down the list until everything that I want to have a drop shadow has one. After I have the page exactly the way I want it the I will flatten the image which will delete the hidden (eye icon toggled off) layers and will combine all the layers into one. Be sure that you have the page exactly like you want it before doing this though. I sometimes will do a "merge visible" first to to make sure I don't want the hidden elements before I finally will do a "flatten image"

Here is my final page... I had added some journaling and another button after I had already flattened the picture but normally I have it all finished before flattening. Click on the picture to see it full sized.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Photography Tip #2

Get out of your comfort zone and try some of the manual settings. I learn best by playing with them... take an object and start taking pictures of it at different apertures to see what happens to the picture at the different settings. Be sure to write down your settings and find one that you really like and note what that setting is especially the aperture. I found that I like to have my aperture set around f/2.8 and f5.6. The change will be more noticeable if the background is a pattern of some sort.

Then I want you to play with the shutter speed and take pictures of water. You'll find that with the faster shutter speed the water is really crisp and frozen in time. With the slower shutter speed the water will almost look like cotton candy.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tasty Tuesday: Easy Manicotti

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to cook! I have been fond of cooking ever since I remember. My father was the great cook in our household, my mother never did cook well at all, and I remember being a little child and helping my father in the kitchen creating one of his masterpieces. He installed in me his love for cooking and taught me tons of little tad-bits and secrets about creating amazing food in the kitchen.

Today, I still love to cook and I still use those same secrets my father shared with me way back when I was young. But, along the way I also picked up many more tips and helpful hints from others around the world to better myself in the kitchen.

I have also picked up many amazing recipes along the way to serve to my family. Of course, I hold dear the recipes passed down to me from my family, but I also enjoy learning new recipes. There is nothing greater than creating something new and exciting for your family to try.

I am happy to share my love for cooking with my own children as my father did with me. My children love to help me out in the kitchen and while it might take longer to create supper with their help, I enjoy sharing my knowlege with them. My daugther has that same passion for food as I do. I can see already that she loves to cook as much as her mother. And let me tell you this, my son can flatten cookie dough into perfectly shaped cookies in no time flat!

From now on, every Tuesday.. I plan to share a recipe with my friends here at My Great Retreat blog. Call it Tasty Tuesday... along with these great recipes, I will share one tip I have learned along the way to make things easier for you around the kitchen.

This week's recipe comes from my amazing sister. She is a huge pasta fan and loves to make Manicotti. This is her personal recipe!

My daughter and her just surprised me last night with a batch of this yummy stuff. My sister taught my daughter how to make it and allowed her to create her own pan to take home for dinner. My daughter was ever so careful to stuff the noodles so they would not break and my sister showed her how to use a mixer to get the cheese nice and creamy! My daughter was so proud of herself for making dinner for the all of us.

Easy Manicotti

12 large manicotti or Large Shell noodles (I always make a few extra noodles in case of noodle breakage!)
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups ricotta cheese or cottage cheese.. or a mixture! *L*
2 tablespoons basil
26 ounces pasta sauce
parmesan cheese


Cook manicotti shells per the instructions on the package. I tend to watch them carefuly as you do not want them over-cooking.. I find that firmer noodles are easier to work with.
Rinse pasta, let cool, and pat dry.
Combine mozzarella, ricotta cheese, and basil in a bowl. (If you do not have 2 cups ricotta, I have used 1 cup cottage cheese and 1 cup ricotta as well). I like to mix the cheese with a hand mixture to make sure the
mixture in nice and smooth.
Stuff manicotti shells with cheese mixture. Spoon works good! You have to be very careful with stuffing the shells, as they tend to break easy.. and trust me I have broken quite a few in my day!
Spoon some pasta sauce on bottom of greased 9x13-inch pan. Make sure bottom as a layer of sauce.
Add stuffed pasta to pan and pour remaining pasta sauce over the top.
Bake at 350°F degrees for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake for another 10 minutes.
Serve with breadsticks or garlic bread!

For More great recipes and kitchen tips check out My Great Retreat 

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

DIY Sunday

The DIY section on My Great Retreat is probably my favorite place to hang out. It is a place to share with others tutorials that you find on the net, current projects or ask advice about how to accomplish something.

I personally love upcycling and it is something that has gained popularity in the last few years. There is nothing more satisfying than digging through the shelves at the local thrift shop and finding something that can be transformed into a bag, dress for my little ones or a funky hat!

We would love to get more fiber artists who knit or crochet and people who have ideas of inexspensive and fun activities to do with kids. And visit us to find some great tutorial links. This is one of my favorite tutorials http://www.mygreatretreat.com/showthread.php?tid=272

There are also a lot of digital scrapbookers who have fabulous links to free templates and other fun stuff.
I hope to see you over there and here for crafty stuff from me!

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Photography Tip #1

Photography is one of my favorite hobbies and I'm really excited to share this hobby with you. Be sure to check out the photography forums at MGR for lots of fun and exciting things. Picture play is so much fun, you can post a picture that you like or don't like and see what everyone does to edit it. I've seen some really fun and funky edits to really nice general edits. Also, check out the critique corner, post some pics and people will give you constructive advice. There's also a place for general photography chat and a place for photo editing advice and questions. You can also find a section for photography tutorials and links to tutorials. Lastly, my most favorite section is "This Week's Photography Assignment". Every week there is a theme and you can take and post new pictures you took that week that go along with the theme. It's fun to see the many interpretations.

OK, on with the first tip...

I want you to get close to your subject... I mean really close and when you think you're close enough, get even closer. Fill the whole screen up with your subject and maybe even closer by just taking a picture of their face. Many times we just take a picture but there are things in the background that distract us away from what we want people to see. If you get closer those distractions disappear and the focus of what you're trying to communicate in your picture becomes more clear. Sometimes you want to take a picture of your subject's smile but if we don't get in close it's hard to see the smile. If we get in close to where we're only taking a picture of the face, you see that smile nice and big.  Remember this is only a tip, it's not a rule, sometimes a picture is better at a distance.

OK, you can do this two ways, one way is to physically get closer and the other is to use your zoom. Fill up your screen as much as possible with your subject. Practice this tip this week and post a link to your picture in the comments here. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

First is an old example from before I learned to get in closer.  I should have zoomed in so that you only see all of her instead of the bouncer, coffee table, rocking chair, toy, etc... The second example is getting in closer so you see only his face and not the stroller.  You can see his expression without any distractions.

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