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  1. Making Marshmallows: Part 1

    January 26, 2015 by Daniora

    Marshmallow pile

    Some people will tell you that cooking is art. Some say that it’s science. There are plenty of valid arguments for both sides.

    Making marshmallows is freaking magic.

    No, I’m serious here. It is one of the most delightful feats of alchemy turning sugar, water, and gelatin into light, fluffy marshmallows. It’s something that requires a little bit of know how and the proper tools, but really, what doesn’t require those things.

    Telling people that I’ve made marshmallows is invariably met with a level of incredulity that none of my other endeavors face. I’ve made a name for myself as someone who can do anything. I’ll chalk this up to my vastly varied interests and eclectic skill set. Somehow, though, these same people who tell me that I can do anything are the same ones who say “You can’t make marshmallows”.  As if somehow to imply that these confections simply appear from some other dimension to make gooey s’mores or melt in our hot chocolate.

    Not that the truth is much less miraculous.

    So, let’s start at the beginning. There are five basic ingredients to a marshmallow: gelatin, water, sugar, corn syrup, and flavoring. Simple enough and readily available. The real secret lies in how you put them together.

    Vanilla marshmallow

    Vanilla Marshmallows

    Ingredients:

    • 3 (1/4-ounce) packages unflavored gelatin
    • 1/2 cup cold water
    • 2 cups granulated sugar
    • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

     

    1. Prepare a 9″x9″ baking pan with cooking spray and plastic wrap (more about this in a bit)
    2. Bloom the gelatin: Place the 1/2 cup of cold water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Sprinkle the unflavored gelatin over the water. Let stand for 10 minutes.
    3. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water. Place saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil; boil rapidly for 1 minute. Remove from heat, and, with the mixer on high, slowly pour the boiling syrup down the side of the mixer bowl into gelatin mixture.
    4. Beat on medium high speed for 12 minutes until white and fluffy.
    5. Add vanilla extract and stir for 1 additional minute until well combined.
    6. Spray a spatula with cooking spray. Pour the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly with the prepared spatula. Cover with additional plastic wrap. Allow to sit for 4 hours or overnight.
    7. Dust a cutting board with confectioners’ sugar. Turn the set marshmallows onto the cutting board. Remove all plastic wrap. Cut marshmallows into desired size (I like mine about 1″ square) using a sprayed sharp knife. Place confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl. Working in batches, add marshmallows to bowl and toss to coat. Finished marshmallows can be kept in a plastic bag or airtight container.

     

    And just like that, you’ve made marshmallows from scratch. Now, there are a few little tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way that make the job easier.

    Marshmallow is extremely sticky stuff. Preparing your pan is one of the most important steps. I usually use a glass pan, but as I was making several batches, I wound up moving to aluminum pans, which worked out just fine. I first spray the pan with a light coating of cooking spray. This will help keep the plastic wrap in place. Next I line the pan with plastic wrap, leaving enough overhang on the edges that I will be able to fold it up to cover the marshmallow while it sets. Don’t worry about getting it smooth; the wrinkles won’t be noticeable in the finished marshmallows. Once the pan is lined, I then spray the plastic wrap with cooking spray.

    Prepared pan

    Aluminum pan lined with plastic wrap and generously sprayed with cooking spray.

    I’ve been through a few different recipes for marshmallows. Many of them require using a candy thermometer to bring the syrup up to the proper temperature. None of the recipes agreed on exactly what that temperature should be. Getting ingredients to the right temperature for the right amount of time is, of course, the trickiest part of any sugar work. However, it seems to me that this more simple process of letting it come to a rapid boil for 1 minute resulted in the best texture and consistency. Some of the other batches wound up a bit tougher, almost rubbery. These were soft and fluffy.

    Double, double toil and trouble;  Fire burn, and 'shmallows bubble.

    Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and ‘shmallows bubble.

    I know a stand mixer is rather a large item to be a necessary piece of equipment. I suppose this could be managed with a hand mixer, but it’d be a trickier proposition. It’s nice to have that 12 minutes of ‘set it and forget it’ to clean your cooking utensils of hot sugar syrup before it hardens. It’s this process of whipping air into the sugar syrup as it cools that turns it into the fluffy, sticky mess we’re looking for. This is so magical, in fact, that I made a time lapse of it…

    The beginning is a little rough from all the steam clouding the lens as the initial heat is released from the syrup. And right at the end, if you watch the side of the bowl carefully, you can see a big splatter… That would be the part where I was focused so much on capturing the time lapse, that I neglected to think about how hot the mixture still was and how volatile vanilla extract is. So, yeah, that’s basically the result of all the alcohol in the extract I thoughtlessly dumped into the bowl vaporizing immediately. Whoops. They turned out just fine in the end, though.

    Now this is some professional set up...

    Now this is some professional set up…

    Stay tuned for more marshmallow talk where we’ll talk about just some of the flavor possibilities.


  2. Now that I have your attention…

    January 16, 2015 by Daniora

    Water Dragon

    I know, I know. Using a post about bacon to get your attention was a cheap trick. But hey, it worked.

    So, after being all full of New Year’s enthusiasm, I promptly fell off the wagon for two weeks. But we’re back now, and I wanted to take a few moments to talk about what you can expect here in the future.

    See, up until this point, I have been striving for perfection. A noble goal to be sure. Here’s the thing, though. Perfection is unattainable and exhausting. Every post was based around a project almost exclusively created for the blog. They took up hours of time completing and photographing, followed by an extensive and detailed write up. And when things went wrong, the projects were generally abandoned (with the exception of the orange marmalade).  When I was doing things that were interesting enough to write about, I had no time to write. And when I had the time to write, I had nothing to write about.

    So, I’ll be taking this blog in a little bit of a different direction. Or, at least, going about things in a different way.

    1. Posts will be, on the whole, shorter. But I’ll be happy writing regular shorter posts that sporadically writing massive tomes. And I think you’ll all be happier reading them.
    2. More ‘in progress’ posts. I’ve got a few bigger projects on my list, and so in order to have time to work on them and still make regular posts, I’m going to share my process with you.
    3. I’m trying a bunch of new things. My project list has an increasing number of things that I’ve never tried before. And I’m excited to learn. That means that posts will also probably contain more missteps. Admitting failure is not something I’ve ever been particularly comfortable with, so this’ll be an adventure.
    4. I’ve also got a lot more projects for me coming up. This is kind of a new thing for me too. I usually make lots of stuff for other people and almost nothing for myself. Well, this year I’ve got a lot more ‘selfish’ projects to do. Which, of course, isn’t to say that I won’t be making lots of things to give away.
    5. I’ll be doing some “catch up” posts documenting some of the things that I finished but never got around to writing about. I’ll include some of the in progress photos if I have them available.

     

    So, that’s the plan. Now you know the plan, and I know the plan, so all that remains is for me to stick to the plan. And if you guys keep reading, I’ll keep writing.


  3. Oven Cooked Bacon

    January 2, 2015 by Daniora

    IMG_5480

    It took 39 posts before I wrote about bacon.

    I, for one, am rather tired of the whole ‘bacon all the things’ movement. Bacon, in point of fact, does not make everything better. A blasphemous statement, I know. Sometimes the truth hurts.

    That is not to say, however, that I don’t think bacon is absolutely awesome. Because it is. Especially good bacon. In a fit of high spirits at the grocery store one day, I picked up a package of Wright brand thick cut applewood smoked bacon.  I figured it would be good for BLTs, especially since it was so thick and hearty.

    … I have been ruined for other bacon. I’m not sure I’ll be able to go back to the regular ol’ stuff. Certainly not if it’s going to be eaten on its own.  It just has a depth of flavor that cheap, thin sliced bacon can’t hold even hope to match.

    But I digress (as I often do)…

    What I’ve really set out to do here today is talk about the process of cooking bacon. While I happen to feel that I have above average cooking skills and am fairly handy in the kitchen, I am freaking terrible at cooking bacon. It either winds up overcooked, undercooked (or occasionally, miraculously, both), and I inevitably burn myself.  No one is happy in this scenario, least of all the bacon.

    Enter oven cooked bacon.

    I’m not entirely sure what horrible thing I did in a past life in order to have to spend 33 years of this life not knowing about oven cooking bacon. Thankfully, I seem to have atoned for any wrongs, and now I never want to cook bacon any other way. It’s so easy, practically foolproof, and you don’t have to stand there and watch it while it cooks. And so, without further ado…

    Oven Cooked Bacon

     

    1. Preheat your oven to 400° F.
    2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. This step is important for a few reasons. First, the rimmed pan keeps the bacon grease from running all over the inside of your oven (duh). The foil makes clean up 100% easier, but it also allows you to make a little spout at one corner when you need to drain off said fat halfway through cooking.

      Foil lined pan

      Foil lined and ready for bacon.

    3. Lay the bacon out in a single layer. It’s okay if the pieces touch, but they shouldn’t overlap.

      Magnificent Bacon

      Gloriously magnificent bacon.

    4. Put the pan of bacon into the oven. The cooking time is going to depend on a few factors: how crispy you want your bacon, how much fat it has, and how thick the pieces are cut. I find a total cooking time of about 20 minutes works well for that thick cut bacon that I’m so in love with.
    5. Halfway through the cook time (so, 7-10 minutes depending on your bacon), check to see how much fat is in the bottom of your pan. This is another thing that varies every time. If there’s a significant amount of fat pooling in the pan, you’ll want to drain it. This is where that foil lining comes in handy again. You can pull one corner up a bit to form a spout to help make draining easier.

      Foil spout for easing draining.

      Foil spout for easy draining.

    6. Put the pan back into the oven to finish cooking. As it nears completion, be sure to check on it from time to time. As I said, this method is nearly foolproof. Nearly. It is still entirely possible to ruin a batch of bacon this way, which, let’s face it, is a crime.
    7. When your bacon has reached the desired level of doneness, remove it from the oven. Place your bacon strips on a plate of paper towels to drain.
    Finished bacon

    Ta da!

    Et voilà! Perfectly cooked bacon, ready for anything. Including just being eaten. Or…. made into an exquisite BLT with avocado. Because avocado makes everything better.

    #bacon

    #bacon

    No longer must I face the shame of not being able to properly cook bacon or having to depend on others to cook my bacon for me. This has been a much needed step towards becoming a better person.


  4. Squash Pudding

    January 19, 2014 by Daniora

    SquashPudding

    I think it’s true of every family that there are certain dishes that we grow up with that we assume everyone else knows about too. For me, squash pudding is probably top of the list.

    bill-cosby-jell-o-pudding

    Here in the States, when we hear the word “pudding”, it generally conjures images of Bill Cosby selling SnakPacks of vanilla and chocolate swirl. This particular recipe uses the British meaning of pudding, savory ingredients bound together with eggs and flour which are baked, boiled, or steamed to hold them together.

    Squash puddings takes butternut squash, which is delicious and perfectly good for you all on its own, and transforms it into something calorie laden and irresistible. One of my nephews refuses to touch vegetables; I’ve seen him pick tiny pieces of chopped spinach out of pasta sauce. He will, however, sit down to a heaping pile of squash pudding and devour it without blinking an eye.

    Squash Pudding

    Ingredients:

    • 8 Tbs butter
    • 2 tsp salt
    • 5 Med butternut squash (8 cups mashed and drained)
    • 1 Tbs dried onion flakes or fresh minced
    • 4 tbs dried milk
    • 4 eggs
    • 4 tbs Wondra flour
    • 4 tbs brown sugar

     

    1.  Mix all ingredients together, making sure butter melts completely. Beat until smooth.
    2. Spread in baking dish and sprinkle with bacon bits (if desired). I am personally pretty done with the whole “bacon makes everything better” bit, but in this case, I really do recommend it. The salty bacon really does a lot to balance the sweet squash.
    3.  Bake at 300 degrees for 1½ hours.

     

    A few notes from my own personal experience.

    First of all, this recipe works equally well using frozen squash. It’s so convenient just to grab a few of the oh-so-attractive frozen bricks from the store and throw them into a pot. I’ll admit that I almost never go through the trouble of boiling and mashing fresh squash anymore.

    Secondly, a word on Wondra flour. Wondra flour is ground superfine, designed to mix more smoothly into liquids like gravy and prevent clumps. In a pinch, I’ve used regular all purpose flour instead and have yet to encounter a problem. I find a good whisking manages to eliminate any little clumps that might appear.

    Thirdly, and very importantly, remember to remove the squash from the heat when you whisk in the eggs to prevent them from cooking before they’re mixed in. Not that I’ve ever done that, mind you…

    This is one of my favorite side dishes and is one of those simple, handy recipes that can be prepared in advance and reheated for mealtime.


  5. Gluten-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes

    December 14, 2013 by Daniora

    IMG_7711

    You may have discovered by now, dear readers, that I am a fan of celebrations. Any excuse to gather people together, have good food, and generally promote warm and fuzzy feelings is fine by me. Recently, it was our store manager’s birthday. While working retail may not be my ideal situation, I at least have the advantage of working in a place where we all feel like family. So there was no way this occasion was going to pass by unmarked.Edit

    Here’s the catch: He’s gluten-free.

    I’m not one to panic about such obstacles. I was, however, determined to make something outstanding. I’ve cooked for vegetarians, vegans, diabetics, and people with nut allergies (fortunately, not all at the same time). Adding a few gluten free recipes to my repertoire wouldn’t be bad. Chocolate and peanut butter are his favorites, so I went looking for something.

    Flourless chocolate cake is a popular option for going gluten free. My problem with this is that it tends to be super rich and heavy. Not ideal for a casual mid-afternoon in-the-breakroom celebration. I really wanted cupcakes.

    Fortunately, I stumbled onto this recipe from Chocolate & Carrots. It had all the qualities I was looking for. Perfect. Alright, here we go…

    Gluten-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes


    Ingredients

    • 1 (15.5 oz) can of reduced sodium black beans, drained and rinsed

     

    Wait, what? Did I read that right? Yes, yes I did. Okay, okay, no one panic. I mean, beans in desserts aren’t entirely unprecedented. There are Chinese red bean cakes, for example. ::deep breath:: Alright, I’m sure these will be good. Let’s just keep going and see where this all goes.

    Gluten-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes


    Ingredients

    • 1 (15.5 oz) can of reduced sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
    • 4 eggs
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, or coconut oil
    • 3/4 cup cane sugar
    • 5 tablespoons special dark cocoa powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 12 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, unwrapped

     

    1. Preheat oven to 350°.
    2. Line a 12 cup muffin pan and spray with cooking spray.
    3. Blend the beans, 2 eggs, vanilla and sugar in the food processor (or blender) on high until completely blended.
    4. In a small bowl combine the cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda.
    5. In a large bowl, beat the butter/coconut oil until fluffy.
    6. Add the remaining two eggs and beat well after each egg.
    7. Beat in the bean mixture.
    8. Beat in the dry ingredients.
    9. Beat for 1-2 minutes.
    10. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place a Reese’s cup on the top.
    11. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until the cupcakes are cooked completely.
    12. Allow them to cool completely before icing.


    Peanut Butter Frosting

    Ingredients

    • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
    • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
    • 2 cups powdered sugar
    • 1/2 – 2/3 cup whipping cream (heavy cream)
    • 12 miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
    1. Beat the peanut butter, butter and powdered sugar until combined.
    2. Add in the whipping cream and beat until light and fluffy.
    3. Use a piping bag with your favorite decorating tip and decorate the cupcakes or use a knife and spread to decorate the cupcakes.
    4. Decorate with a mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

     

    Okay, not going to lie, the whole beans-eggs-sugar concoction in the food processor was kinda gross looking. I did my best to press on and finish the batter. When it was all together, it looked and smelled like cupcake batter. I was starting to feel better about things.

    IMG_3685

    Then, I added the mini peanut butter cups. This really made me feel better about things.
    IMG_3686
    As they baked, I couldn’t help but feel like these cupcakes were a lie of GLaDIOSian proportions. They certainly did make my house smell chocolatey.  Once they were out and frosted, I was really happy with how they looked. There was only one test they had left to pass.

    IMG_7706
    I brought them in to work the next day. Let me tell you, they were delicious. They were light and fluffy, not at all heavy like a traditional flourless cake. This peanut butter frosting is amazing; it’s definitely a recipe I’ll be using on other chocolate cupcakes.

    I would make one minor change to the entire process. I think it would work better to let the cupcakes bake about 5 minutes before putting the mini peanut butter cup in the center. As it was, they sank to the bottom instead of being stuck in the middle. Other than that, I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.


  6. Typographic Art

    November 21, 2013 by Daniora

    IMG_7705

    They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. There are times, though, when a dozen or so words can make a very pretty picture.

    Typographic art is very popular these days. And for good reason. Text based art is can be adapted to any style, mood, or theme. It can be painted, a decal, or framed. It’s also really easy to do yourself. I used Photoshop for my own text art project, but even something as simple as Word will work. There are lots of great resources for free fonts, dafont.com being my favorite. If you’re one of those people with lovely handwriting or someone who does calligraphy, you can make them by hand instead of producing them digitally.

    Commercially made text prints and vinyl decals are readily available just about anywhere that sells home goods or framed art. There are also plenty available on Etsy, either as prints or as downloadable files you can print yourself.  With just a little time and some creativity, though, you can put together your own text art that will perfectly suit your specific taste and needs.

    My kitchen is a hallway. It’s a long, thin room with a pretty awkward wall at the far end. That wall was empty for months after we moved in. I thought for a while that I would try and create some sort of window type of wall art, since the kitchen lacks any openings other than the doorway. I tried finding something that would suit my needs, but nothing seemed quite right. I also ran into the added challenge of having to choose something that wouldn’t be too obtrusive since the sink is right against the wall. The last thing I needed was to hang something that we would knock off the wall every time we did the dishes.

    IMG_7704

    Then I wound up with a pile of frames from a yard sale. There were four matching 8×10 black frames. I decided they would fit perfectly in the space that I had to work with. It was then just a question of finding something to put into them.

    I thought at first that some food-based photographs or illustrations would work. Again, I scoured the internet, but I didn’t find anything that really caught my attention. When I was browsing on Etsy, I did find a few posters that were typographic art of quotes regarding food. I liked them, but none really fit my needs, and I couldn’t find four that went together.

    Well, this art degree has to be good for something. I sat down to find quotes about food and cooking that fit my personality. A quick Google search yielded more results than I could handle. I had to pare it down to four, content in the fact that when I got bored with these, I could always swap them out for new ones.  It was then a fairly simple matter of choosing fonts and arranging the words in a pleasing manner. I added colored backgrounds, y’know, for color. One could just as easily put the text over a stock photo or something with a little more interesting than a plain color field, but this worked better for my purposes.

    Once I was happy with the way they looked, I took the file down to my local Staples to have them printed on card stock. I could have printed them at home, but having them printed out had a couple advantages. The first was that with a colored background I’d be using a TON of very expensive ink. A color print on card stock usually runs about $1. Secondly, with large fields of color like these, I find laser printing generally looks a lot smoother. All I had to do then was trim them out, frame them up, and hang them.

    The finished product.

    The finished product.

    Of course, hanging them is easier said that done. I know, they’re not perfectly even. Then tend to not hang perfectly straight. In spite of that, I adore them. They’ve been up for almost a year and I have not yet felt compelled to change out the quotes yet, so I must have chosen well.

    As a bonus, here’s the file of the prints that hang in my kitchen. Feel free to use them yourself!

    Additional bonus. Kinetic typography is a thing. There are videos. I adore them. Here’s one all about words.


  7. The Biggest Batch of Cranberry Sauce Ever

    November 17, 2013 by Daniora

    Cranberries02

    Autumn in New England means a lot of things. Leaves changing, the chill in the air, pumpkin flavored EVERYTHING. It’s also cranberry harvest time. Thanksgiving is coming, and no turkey dinner would be complete without cranberry sauce.

    I will admit that I am a big fan of jellied cranberry sauce from a can. It’s yummy and comforting. However, it can’t hold a candle to home made.

    When I started making my own cranberry sauce, I used to use the basic recipe from the bag consisting of cranberries, sugar, and water. Those ingredients, when combined over heat, do certainly make something one could consider cranberry sauce. It’s just not particularly good.

    This recipe came to me a few years ago from a friend of mine, and I’ve been making it every year since. The addition of apples, citrus, and sweet raisins can make a cranberry skeptic into a fan.

    This year, I decided to go big. The recipe takes a bit of time to make, and so I figured I’d just make all the sauce I’d need for the entire holiday season in one go. That means there was canning involved.

    Now with real cranberries!

    Now with real cranberries!

    Cranberry Sauce

    Ingredients

     

    • 1 (12-ounce) bag of fresh cranberries, cleaned
    • 1 3/4 cups sugar
    • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
    • 1 orange, zest grated and juiced
    • 1 lemon, zest grated and juiced
    • 3/4 cup raisins

     

    1. Cook the cranberries, sugar, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the skins pop open.
    2. Add the apple, zests, and juices and cook for 15 more minutes.
    3. Remove from the heat and add the raisins.
    4. Let cool, and serve chilled.

     

    Simple! Couldn’t be easier! Then, just put it in a jar and you’re all set! Piece of cake!

    Okay, well, actually the recipe is really easy, and if you’re just making a single batch for nearly immediate consumption, it works out quite well. When you decide to triple the recipe and then can it, things get slightly trickier.

    Let me walk you through how the process actually goes.

    First off, put the giant pot of water for canning on the stove. This will take about 3 years to boil, so get it started early. Put the clean jars in so that they can boil and sterilize.

    Cranberries

    Next, take the three bags of cranberries out of the freezer. They’ll be in the back, under all the other stuff. Dump them into a bowl. Now, you’ll need to sort through them, pulling out any little bits of stem or any shady looking cranberries. Your fingers will get cold. Rinse the berries off and put them in the pot. You will second guess the size of the pan you have chosen, but will go with it anyway. You hope this isn’t a mistake.

    Add the recommended amount of water.

    Do the math for the amount of sugar you need for a triple batch of sauce. Check the math. Check it one more time. Measure out the sugar, trying not to think about it. Dump it into the pot with the water and cranberries. You will now have a mass of frozen cranberries with an uncomfortable amount of sugar on top. This is perfectly normal. Turn on the heat.

    Fruit

    While your cranberry-sugar monstrosity thaws, it’s time to deal with the other fruit. Peel the apples. This takes way longer than you think it should. Every time. Cut the apple into tiny little pieces. Admire your excellent knife skills. Turn your attention to the citrus fruit. Look for the zester. It will not be in the drawer where you think it should be. Ask other utensils if they’ve seen it. Once you find it, remove the zest from the citrus, careful not to get any of the pith. This will yield a lot of zest. *Added benefit: Your hands will smell like citrus for hours.

    Zest

    Zesty!

    By this time, the cranberry sauce over on the stove should have started to heat up. You know things are progressing when you can hear the hiss and pop of the berries exploding. This is a good thing. Once most of the berries have started popping, add the zest and the apple pieces. Stir well.

    Cut the zested fruit in half. Juice said fruit into the pot of cranberry sauce. *Pro Tip: Squeeze citrus fruit into your hand over the pot in order to catch any rogue seeds. Nothing ruins Thanksgiving like biting down on a lemon seed.

    Let the sauce cook for a good 15 minutes. This will help release the pectin from the apples, helping your cranberry sauce gel later on. When everything is nicely cooked, turn off the heat.

    Once the sauce is ready and the jars are sterilized, it’s time to put the two together. Suddenly remember that you have to add the raisins. Dump them in and stir. Then you’re ready to can.

    I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Every photo you’ve ever seen of someone in a pristine apron lovingly ladling jam into a jar with a serene smile is a lie. These calm people are not spooning molten hot fruit-and-sugar based napalm into tiny glass jars. They’re all staged. Real canning is messy, serious business. There are reasons why I never post photos of canning in progress; it’s not pretty. By the time I’m done, my counter top looks like something out of Dexter.

    Oh, the horror!

    Oh, the horror!

    Once the jars are filled, the rims have been wiped clean, and the rings have been screwed on tight (“Yup, I’ll just grab this jar and screw on this metal ring. Oh, that’s right, it’s filled with magma.”), then they go back into the giant pot of water to boil for 15 minutes. After that, it’s a simple matter of letting them cool.
    Canning
    All joking aside, it is a lot of work, but getting all this done ahead of time will save me a lot of heartache in the end. I always wind up cooking lots of complicated things for holiday gatherings; it’s who I am. Having this one thing done early will come in handy.
    FinishedProduct


  8. Emma’s Nemo Dress

    November 14, 2013 by Daniora

    Attitude

    Strike a pose!

    I mentioned the other day that independent pattern designers are becoming very popular, especially with the kids’ clothing set. I happen to agree with this. The patterns are generally reasonably priced (though not as cheap as when I buy my paper patterns on sale for a dollar) and most have the added benefit of being an instant download pdf. Who doesn’t love instant gratification?

    One of my absolute favorite independent designers is Jen over at Tie Dye Diva Patterns. Her patterns are impeccably drafted, and her instructions are always crystal clear. Even better, she has a very active Facebook community page, so if you do have a question, you can ask her directly.

    While most commercial paper patterns are printed on large (36″x48″) pieces of paper, most instant download patterns are designed to be printed on standard letter size paper and taped together. All you have to do is print and assemble them, then cut whatever size you need. I’ve read a tip about using tissue paper to trace the size you need, but I haven’t gotten around to giving that a try yet.

    IMG_7619

    Finding Nemo? More like Found Nemo.

    When Sue told me Emma was having a Finding Nemo themed birthday party, I offered to make a dress. Unfortunately, Nemo fabric is hard to come by. I was able to find a really cute Nemo applique from The Enchanted Hollow on Etsy.

    IMG_3432

    When it arrived, I was delighted with the quality, but was a little concerned about the size. There were several size choices available, and I thought maybe I had gone a little crazy and gotten one a bit too big. I got over that and decided it would work well on one of the Tie Dye Diva “Perfect A-line” dresses. I found a cute teal corduroy with silver sparkle. The lining (though actually, the dress is designed to be reversible) is an orange print. I put the Nemo applique down the bottom. The simplicity of the dress and the solid colored fabric were perfect to go with the somewhat over-sized applique.

    IMG_3561

    All I had to do was add a couple of orange buttons and it was all set for Little One’s birthday. She loved her dress and just kept pointing at the applique and exclaiming “Nemo!” That’s what makes sewing for the kidlets so much fun.

    NemoDress

    “Nemo, Nemo, Nemo, Nemo, Nemo!”


  9. Carrot Pineapple Cake

    November 13, 2013 by Daniora

    FinishedCupcake

    Guys, I’m not exaggerating here when I tell you that this is the most delicious carrot cake you will ever eat. That’s not hyperbole, it’s just the honest truth.

    Preview

    The original recipe is designed to be  bundt cake with a vanilla glaze. It also works perfectly well as cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. The baking instructions below are for the bundt cake. For cupcakes, I cook them for about 25 minutes, rotating halfway through. (You do rotate your pans while you’re baking, right? Good.) I was worried that they were taking so long to cook, but I fill my cupcakes pretty full and this particular batter just takes a while to cook. Keep an eye on them; better to check on them more often than have them burn.

    ReadyfortheOven

    Some people like nuts or raisins in their carrot cake. While that may not be my personal preference, it’s easy to add them to this recipe; just mix them in at the end. I like to add about a quarter teaspoon of cloves in addition to the nutmeg and cinnamon. Cloves are my favorite spice, and they give it a warm sweetness.

    CupcakeTray

    I’m serious, though. This is the best. If you enjoy carrot cake even a little, you owe it to yourself to bake these (or get someone else to bake them for you).

    SoloCupcake

    Carrot Pineapple Cake

    • 3 cups all purpose flour
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 3 eggs, beaten
    • 1-1/4 cups cooking oil
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla
    • 1 cup (8.5 oz can ) crushed pineapple, undrained
    • 2 cups grated raw carrots, loosely packed
    1. Preheat oven to 325. Grease bundt pan.
    2. Mix together flour, sugar. baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon in a large bowl.
    3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add eggs, oil and vanilla. Blend thoroughly.
    4. Stir in undrained pineapple. Add carrots and pecans. pour into prepared bundt pan.
    5. Bake for 1 to 1-1/4 hours until cake tests done.
    6. Cool 10 minutes in pan, then turn out and finish cooling on wire rack. Add vanilla glaze.

    Vanilla Glaze

    • 1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
    • 1 tablespoon milk plus 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
    • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
    1. Combine all ingredients and beat until smooth. Use spatula or large spoon to put glaze on top of cooled cake. Spread around top of cake with a knife. Glaze should run down sides slowly.

    Cream Cheese Frosting

    • 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
    • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
    • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
    1. Put cream cheese into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until smooth. Reduce speed to medium-low, and mix in sugar and vanilla. Raise speed to medium-high, and mix until fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes.

  10. My Autumn Wreath

    November 12, 2013 by Daniora

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    Apologies for the fuzzy iPhone photos. In my determination to get this project completed, I neglected to photograph it as well as I should have.

    Since my Halloween wreath is still sitting about 90% finished next to my crafting table, I was determined to get my Thanksgiving one up in a more timely manner.

    I wanted something autumnal but not specifically Thanksgiving. I needed something that I could put up for more than a few weeks.  I went browsing around the web and found this precious yarn and felt argyle wreath on Etsy. In my typical fashion, I thought “Hey, I can make that.”

    Let me start by saying that I don’t think I’ll be making another yarn wrapped wreath any time soon. It. Took. Ages.

    ArgyleWreath

    The difficulty was compounded by the fact that I used a flat ring wreath form instead of a round one. So I’d be going along, wrapping the yarn nicely and then realize that, because the outer circumference is larger than the inner one, that my wrapping was no longer straight. So then I’d have to do this weird wedge backtrack wrapping thing to try and straighten it back out again. Nonsense.

    Once I got the wreath form wrapped, it was time to put the argyle pattern together. I measured out a diamond that I thought would look good and started cutting them out of the two colors of felt. I wasn’t worried about filling the entire space since I was making my little felt owl who would cover any gap in the pattern.  Once the diamonds were glued down, I used a dark purple yarn to crisscross over them completing the argyle.

    ArgyleWreath1Then it was on to the decorations. I found a pattern for a felt owl over at Bugs and Fishes. He went together pretty fast. Then it was just a matter of putting together a few quick felt flowers (another tutorial I’ll have to do in the future) and viola! A wreath. On my door. In time for the holiday!

    How shiny is the paint on our door? Holy cow

    How shiny is the paint on our door? Holy cow.

    Wreaths are one of those things I have come to love about having a place of our own. Wreaths and door mats. The rest of the house may be a disaster a lot of the time, but my front door is always inviting.