Friday, November 10, 2017

GUEST POST!! Catching Christmas Spirit: DIY Cat Toy

Thank you to Natalie McKee over at Leaping Cats for this lovely guest post!!  I am so excited to share with you her handmade creation.  We met through the Ultimate Blog Challenge, one of my best blogging experiences so far.  I hope you like her post!

Catching Christmas Spirit: DIY Cat Toy
By Natalie McKee

Cats are natural predators, but instead of stalking fabric mice or birds, this diy cat toy has them catching Christmas spirit! 

I know, pretty corny -- but really -- if you were looking for an easy Christmas craft, look no further. This “fishing pole” cat toy requires little more than ribbon and yarn, but will bring the magic of the holidays to your feline family members. 


-- Yarn (in one or more festive colors)

-- Ribbon (Christmas patterns are a great choice) 

-- One ¼ Dowel 

-- Pair of Scissors 

-- (Optional): Hot Glue Gun


First things first, you’re going to want to make your pom poms. There are a number of methods for doing so, but I personally like using either my fingers or a kitchen fork to make the different sizes. The method for creating the pom poms is the same whether you use a fork or your fingers, simply replace the fork tines with two, three (even four!) of your fingers in the steps below. 

Pom Pom Creation: 

Take the end of your yarn and tuck it between two tines in the fork. Next, start wrapping the yarn around the fork over and over until you have a big bunch gathered up. The more yarn you use, the puffier the pom pom (and what’s better than a puffy pom pom?). 

Next, cut the yarn connecting the fork to the spool, and then, cut a piece of yarn that’s about 5 to 6 inches long. You are going to use this piece to tie off the pom pom. 

Now, slide one end of the yarn piece through the tines of the fork and gather it in a loop above the fork. 

Loosely tie that yarn around the yarn bundle, and then carefully slip the yarn bundle off the fork onto a flat working surface. 

Tie the knot very tightly, and double knot. You are creating the “heart” of the pom pom, and if it’s too loose the pieces will fall out once you are finished (I learned this the hard way…). I recommend tying and knotting once, and then doing it twice for good measure. 

Remember: Your cat is going to be batting this to pieces, and you’d like it to last longer than a few hours, ideally. 

Now, it’s time to cut the loops on either side of the center knot with scissors. (Sorry for switching colors on you in the pictures.) 

When you are done, you’ll have something akin to a bad hair day. You’ll need to carefully trim around the pom pom like you’re trimming a shrub to get a round shape. 

Note: The chubbier the yarn you use, the puffier the pom pom. The yarn I chose was definitely on the thinner side, and looked best in smaller pom poms made with the fork, rather than the larger one (pictured above) made by wrapping the yarn around three fingers. 

I made a total of five pom poms, but only ended up using my three favorites for the toy. 


Next up, I tied a longer piece of yarn to each pom pom and then tied the yarn to the dowel. Double knot, again, for good measure.

You can use a dab of hot glue here to hold the yarn (on the dowel) in place. I offset each pom pom, so they hung at different lengths. You can make them hang as low as you’d like, but the lowest pom pom on mine hangs about 12 or 14 inches from the dowel. 

I then cut the ribbon into 10-inch pieces and tied bows onto the hanging yarn at the top of each pom pom. I cut the excess ribbon ends to keep each bow proportional. 

Tip: Using a lighter (verrrryyyy carefully!), melt the edges of your ribbon to keep it from unfurling. Keep a cup of water nearby, just in case ;) 

Now it’s time for the long ribbon! I simply looped long sections of ribbon (perhaps 2 ft. long? It’s up to you!) over the dowel and then trimmed each piece to a different length like with the pom pom yarn. I used three different ribbons, but you can use more or less as you see fit: 

In order to hide the yarn on the dowel and to keep all the ribbons together, I pushed the knots on the dowel close together and then tied another piece of yarn around all the hanging yarn/ribbon pieces and knotted it, covering the yarn knot with another ribbon knot. 

Finally, I used scissors to curl the pieces of ribbon (not because the cat cares, but because it made it pretty!). 

The finished product? Pretty magical! You could always buy some catnip spray and spritz a little onto each pom pom to make this new toy even more enticing. 

Simply hold it over your cat’s head and see what happens -- it might even distract him from climbing the Christmas tree.

About the Author: 

Natalie McKee rescued her family’s cat, Pumpkin, from living as a stray when he was just a kitten. A decade later she writes at Leaping Cats about ways to keep your indoor cat fit, healthy and happy. 

Do you like what you see?  Leave Natalie a comment here or on her blog to let her know!  

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Friday, November 3, 2017

Ingredient Substitutes to the Rescue

Image found here.
You might be trying to save time.  You might be trying to save money.  Or you might be in the middle of a holiday baking frenzy and need a substitute so you can just get on with the recipe!  Besides that, the hallmark of an excellent (and frugal) cook is the ability to work with what you have on hand.   Before you run out to the store, try these substitutes.  You might be surprised at how well they work!

Ingredient Substitutes

1 cup sugar - 3/4 cup honey, 1 cup granulated sucralose, 1 cup granulate stevia such as stevia in the Raw.  In my opinion, baked recipes taste better with sucrolose vs. stevia.  A lot of stevia can leave a bitter aftertaste.

1 cup brown sugar  - 1 cup white sugar plus 1 tablespoon molasses.  Or in a pinch plain old white sugar will do just fine.  It will change the flavor, but not in a way that ruins the recipe.  I have also subbed turbinado (Sugar in the Raw) and that is a great option as well.

1  cup vegetable oil - 1 cup regular (not virgin) olive oil, canola oil or peanut oil or 1 cup applesauce or 1 cup pumpkin or 1 cup prune puree.  I have excellent luck with subbing extra pumpkin in pumpkin bread and leaving out the oil.

1 cup shortening - 1 cup coconut oil (not virgin unless you want a coconut flavor).  I actually prefer coconut oil, the expeller pressed variety, in certain recipes.  There is a chocolate chip cookie recipe my mom made for years with shortening and when I tried it with coconut oil I liked it even better.

1 cup butter - Butter has a signature flavor and fat profile that makes things just so.  Switching this ingredient with substitutes will definitely work, but your end results will just be different.  In chocolate chip cookies you can use coconut oil (I prefer flavorless expeller pressed) or margarine.  In cakes you can even sub in oil.  The end product will be tasty, the texture will just change.  Changing fat for fat usually works just fine.

1 cup buttermilk - 1 cup plain yogurt or 1 cup plain greek yogurt

Evaporated Milk - 3 parts whole milk, 1 part half and half

1 teaspoon vanilla - 1 teaspoon extract of choice (this will change the flavor).  Imitation vanilla extract will also work just fine.  Some rather particular foodies might disagree, but I say it's no big deal.

1 egg - 1 tablespoon flax meal plus 3 tablespoons water. Let sit 5 minutes before using.  This is good in recipes such as quick breads, pancakes, etc.  It will not do when egg is a main ingredient such as in quiche (imagine a flax pie, ick!).  I have had good results with quick breads such as this banana bread.

1 cup white flour - You can try subbing in different flours if you have them on hand.  I prefer unbleached white flour, so I most times sub that in.  You can also sub in whole wheat or white whole wheat quite easily.  Whole wheat flour tends to require more liquid in the recipe, so keep that in mind if you use this as a substitute.  I find great luck doing half white flour and half whole wheat flour without any other changes to the recipe.  It adds some whole grain without anyone really noticing.

Chocolate chips - Chopped chocolate bar, M&Ms

Baking soda/powder - Read this article.  It can be done!

Green onions - Though the recipe won't be exact, any onion will work.  In a pinch you can even use a little onion powder or re-hydrate dried onions.

Chicken - Easily sub in turkey and sometimes even pork.

Ground Beef - Any ground meat such as turkey, chicken or pork will work.  Ground meatless crumbles can also be used.

Cream of anything soup - Follow the recipe on this site or on this site.  You probably have all the ingredients on hand.

Are there any ingredient substitutes you are looking for?  Did I miss anything?  Let me know in the comments below.  And thanks for stopping by!

You might also like:
6 Things To Do With Canned Pumpkin
Helpful Tips on Equal Measures
Buy It, Make It, Maybe