Happy New Year!

December 31, 2008

happy-noodle

my pet society friend noodle is celebrating early

I am still recovering from all the holiday festivities, but I will be back after January 1 with lots of projects! Being away from work has given me time to think about what I want to do next, and I’ve been really inspired! I can’t wait to share my projects with everyone next year, and I look forward to my blog growing in 2009! Have a great new year!

torrone

December 22, 2008

Torrone is an italian nougat candy that we would always have around Christmas with my Mother’s family.  If you buy it at the store it comes in an awesome box of individually wrapped pieces and different flavors…almond, lemon, orange.

this is the kind we'd always have

this is the kind we'd always have

They are delicious.  Its soft with an edible wafer on the outside and not too sweet or heavy, so its a nice change from a lot of other christmas treats.  Since I live in Indianapolis now, a lot of food I used to love to eat (I especially miss chinese food) just can’t be found here, or it resides in a chain restaurant, sad and americanized.  But I am getting off track here.  The point is there is no store in Indianapolis that has this candy.  I really wanted some so I decided I would try and make it myself.  I found a reasonable sounding recipe on MarthaStewart.com (Martha has never done me wrong on a recipe, so generally I trust her) and set out to find edible rice paper for the top and bottom wafer of the candy.  Really I think the wafer is there just so the candy doesn’t stick to your hands, so if you wanted to make this and didn’t have a candy/cake supply store in your town, you could either order off the internet or just do without.  But I wanted to keep it as real as possible, so I used the wafer.

In theory, this recipe is very simple.  There are not a lot of ingredients.  But for candy making I don’t think the ingredients are the most important part of having a recipe turn out.  Candymaking is more like chemistry, there is a lot of precision involved with temperatures, measurements and volumes.

So to start, I beat the egg whites until they were stiff, and added powdered sugar.

technically called stiff peaks

technically called 'stiff peaks'

While that was happening, I combined the sugar and honey in a saucepan over medium heat.  Now Martha says ‘stir occasionally’.  DO NOT STIR THIS.  If you feel the need to stir, put down the spoon and just swirl the pan around.  If you stir this mixture too much, your candy will be grainy because crystals will form in the sugar.  Just swirl, and gently.   And keep an eye on the thermometer, you don’t want it to burn, and you don’t want it below 320 degrees F, otherwise your candy will be too soft.   See what I mean when I say its easy but its not easy?

dont touch! its like molten lava, and it will stick to your skin.

don't touch! its like molten lava, and it will stick to your skin.

Once it gets to 320, take it off the heat and stir, keep stirring until it gets back down to 300.  Turn your mixer back on low, carefully pour your molten sugar into the egg whites.  The egg whites will bubble up for a minute, then once they settle down, turn the mixer up, and let it beat until the candy lightens in color, looks a little shiny and is stiff.   I deviated from the recipe here and added flavor ( lemon extract in one batch, almond in another) and your nuts (i did pistachios with the lemon, and almond with the almond) and dump this mess out on a cornstarch covered counter.

this is still really really hot

this is still really really hot

Now being nougat.  This stuff is sticky.  It will be sticking to everything, the bowl, the paddle on the mixer, your fingers, the spatula, everything.  And it is hot.  So getting it on to the counter is a little tricky.  I broke my favorite silicone spatula, RIP.  And once its on the counter, you need to knead it a few times.  I don’t know what the benefit of doing this is, but Martha said to, and so I did. Once that’s done, it is considerably less sticky, but still a little warm.  I had already lined my pan with the rice paper, so I just smooshed the blob into the pan.  It was about the consistancy of playdoh, so its not hard to do at all.

suprizingly cutting was the easiest part.

suprizingly cutting was the easiest part.

I placed the other layer of rice paper on top.  I had to moisten it a little bit to get it to stick to the candy because of the cornstarch.  I didn’t want it to fall off after I cut it.  A pizza cutter worked really well to cut the candy.

And here is the finished product.  I think mine has a little more of a golden hue than Martha’s because I used organic sugar, instead of the regular white sugar.  I highly suggest letting it sit overnight, because it tasted amazing  the next day (and all the days after).  When I first tried it after cutting into pieces,  I was worried because it didn’t taste right to me.  I guess it just needed time for the flavors to blend.  It was fun trying something new, even if it was a little intimidating, and really messy.

almond torrone

almond torrone

more cookies

December 22, 2008

i love the sparkle on the pb cookies

i love the sparkle on the pb cookies

I was on a baking frenzy this weekend.  Along with making candy, which I will post about tomorrow, I also made about 10 dozen cookies and a pumpkin tiramisu, which is sitting in the freezer for Christmas dinner.  I made chocolate chip, peanut butter chocolate chip ( I picked up the wrong bag of chips!), and peanut butter cookies.  Good thing I like peanut butter!  I used the classic Tollhouse Cookie recipe for the chip cookies, which can be found here, and I used this really great peanut butter cookie recipe, which made really nice chewy cookies.  I did make some changes with the peanut butter cookie recipe,  I substituted the butter flavored shortening for another stick of butter and I rolled the balls in sugar before baking. Paula Deen approves.   I was really happy with how they turned out.  After all that baking, I had no desire to even try the cookies, so when Sarah came over Saturday I asked her taste test everything and she gave them the thumbs up.

cookie party

December 21, 2008

Last Thursday my friends and I got together at Jess’s house to decorate cookies.  I brought sugar cookies, Holly brought gingerbread men, and Jess wanted to make a gingerbread house.  We had a great time decorating all the cookies and drinking wine.  It was so much fun to get together and just relax and have a good time.  The cookies and the house turned out great and it was a good excuse to spend some time together since everyone has been so busy lately, we don’t get to see each other as much as we’d like.

melissa decorating santa

melissa decorating santa

Melissa has a real talent for decorating cookies.  Her’s came out so much better than mine, so most of the cookies I took pictures of were the ones she did.

Jess howing off her house building skillz

Jess showing off her house building skillz

I can’t believe how fast Jess got this house built.  By the time we finished half the cookies, she was almost done!  Not long after I took this picture, Baby Charlotte got hungry so I finished it for her.

I did the yardwork and the scallop on the roof

I did the yardwork and the scallop on the roof

We all decided this was way more fun than the cookie swaps we’ve done in years past, so I think we just started a new tradition.

dipping pretzels

December 17, 2008

pretzels in production

Tonight I made a bunch of chocolate dipped pretzels.  I rolled them in multicolored nonpareils because I thought they looked cute.  I really dont like pretzels and chocolate, but a lot of people I know love them so I made a batch for them.  They look great on a plate with my chocolate mice, who’s eyes unfortunately mostly smeared in the container they were living in .   Now they are blind mice, I suppose.

so cute!

so cute!

I’ll be bringing these over to my friend Jess’s house tomorrow for cookie party.  Last year cookie party was actually a cookie swap with about 10 people, but this year its only going to be 4 of us and we are just getting together to decorate sugar cookies.  I’m really looking forward to it though, I hardly ever get to get crafty with other people!

delicious mouse party

delicious mouse party

I started my Christmas baking/candymaking extravaganza this weekend.  I had wanted to make these for a while after seeing the post on Craftster.  They turned out so cute, and they are delicious! NOM.  I made 2 jars of cherries worth of these little guys.

They are made from a maraschino cherry with the stem, dipped in melted chocolate chips, quickly attached to a Hershey’s kiss with the slivered almonds slipped in between.  I won’t say its not messy, but it’s an easy, fun project with delicious results.  I will say it helps a lot to have all your mise en place laid out before you start.  (lay your cherries out on a paper towel, unwrap all your kisses, have your almonds ready, etc.)

I will probably have a lot more food-related posts in the days leading til Christmas, I have dozens of cookies to make, a pumpkin tiramisu, and I am really excited about sharing a holiday tradition in my family, an italian candy called torrone, which  I am attempting for the first time this year.  Stay tuned!

much cuter than brown paper

much cuter than brown paper

Did you know that 1 Person + 1 Sleeve per day = 5.5 Lbs Garbage/Year?  When you add it up, those little paper cuffs create a lot of unnecessary waste.   A reusable coffee cuff is a quick and easy gift to make for your coffee-loving friends and family.

all you need

all you need

Basically all I did to make these was loosely trace a Starbuck’s cuff so I had the coffee cuff shape and size to fit a standard cup.  After that I sewed right sides together, turned right side out, topstitched, and attached a little velcro circle to the ends to close the cuff.  That’s it!  I made 5 of these last night and it took less than an hour.  I think this is a great last minute gift since they are so simple to make.  And best of all, they were completely made with leftover fabric from my stash, the exteriors are heavy home-dec weight and the linings are fleece.    Your friends (and the earth) will thank you!

cute and enviromentally friendly

cute and enviromentally friendly

rail fence

December 10, 2008

quilt close up

quilt close up

I actually finished this quilt last weekend, after the tie dye onsies, but I was debating wether or not I was going to post about it because I made this for my mom for Christmas.   But since I haven’t given my mom the link to my blog yet, I figured I would just wait until after I  give it to her to let her know I have a blog.

This quilt is the first “bigger-than-a-baby-size” traditional quilt I have made.   Before I started my blog, my first “big” quilt was actually for my friends Mischa and Chrystina as a wedding gift.   Since Mischa is such a video game fan, I tried making the ubiquitous video game quilt.  If you want to know more about that you can read about it in my craftster.org post.  It was a fun project and I would like to do more video game quilts in the future.   Maybe BurgerTime, my all time favorite classic video game.

somehow, i dont think this would work

somehow, i don't think this would work

More likely, I would like to do Q-Bert.  I have seen many awesome Q-Bert inspired quilts, and I would love to try now that I am getting much better at piecing and I think I could handle the tumbling blocks that the Q-bert pyramid is made from.   A particularly inspiring and awesome Q-bert quilt can be found on this girl’s Flickr page.

But back to my mom’s rail fence quilt.  Since I am still relatively new at quilting, my confidence can be lacking, which is why I haven’t ventured into making quilt blocks quite yet.  This was done using strip piecing, which essentially is sewing long strips of fabric together and then cutting blocks from that to sew together to make the quilt top.  It went really fast, which is nice, because I like to see progress before I get too frustrated or discouraged and give up.

the finished quilt front

the finished quilt front

I am really happy with how the “rails” line up, one of the biggest challenges in quilting is the precision involved.  It can be a pain in the ass, but I feel like at the same time I’m getting something out of having to be that meticulous.  It really puts you in the moment, applying those Buddhist principals of Mindfulness, being present, paying attention…everything I was taught in all my yoga classes that I never really understood how to use outside of the yoga studio.  Making this quilt has helped me to understand those principals, and I find when I am sewing I really just enter the “flow” I lose track of time, and I am happy.

back of quilt, i love the scrap strip to ad interest

back of quilt, i love the scrap strip to add interest

So while this quilt was made as a gift, the process of making it gave back to me.

feelin’ grateful

December 7, 2008

This weekend I was feeling particularly ambitious and got a lot of stuff accomplished, many of those being christmas gifts I had been procrastinating on finishing for whatever reason.  One of those things I had been really putting off is making these tye-dyed baby onesies for my friend’s kid.   Mainly because where the hell was I going to tye dye in my apartment without staining everything rainbow.  I mean, I love rainbows and all but I don’t think my landlord would love my design choices dying the carpet or countertops or the walls in the color spectrum.  But Friday night I had nothing to do so I thought what better time to try something potentially destructive!

I finally decided I would just try and do this in the sink, being the most self-contained, non-stainable area in my entire department.  So I tied up all my little onesies, and a shirt for myself, just because isn’t it mandatory to own at least one tie-dyed piece of clothing?

tie-dye-onsies-003

they havent reached their potential yet

So there they are, all tied up.  At this point the pictures stopped, because I was alone and the further I got into this project, the messier it got and more stained my hands were, because genius I am I forgot to get rubber gloves.  After all of the dying, they each went into a plastic grocery bag and sat overnight to marinate – and in the morning after a trip to the washer and dryer, this is how they turned out.

taste the rainbow

taste the rainbow

I love them.  I think they turned out really well, considering I hadn’t tyedyed anything since girl scout camp.  Writing that I realize in my last post I said I hadn’t sewn anything since 8th grade…maybe my craft renaissance is my feeble attempt at recapturing my youth considering I am looking down the barrel at 30 and have little to show for it.

But I digress, I think these onesies are adorable.  Parents, dress your little ones like hippies, its totally cute, and they can’t complain, they know not what you do.  And remember kids, wear gloves when tie dying!

dont let this happen to you

don't let this happen to you

a blog is born

December 5, 2008

I haven’t had a blog in a long time.   Those old blogs from my early 20s were so pretensious, filled with terrible self-indulgent writing…trying so hard to be the most obtuse, gratuitous, elitist little hipster with a blog ever. (no easy feat)   But the older I got, the less and less frequently I updated until eventually they were abandoned.  I was not that person anymore.  I didn’t feel the need to tell the world the minutae of my life.   I privatized.

So why now?  Why start a new blog?  Well, because I got a hobby! One that doesn’t  involve American Apparel and Sparks and weeknights at dive bars and 2 hours of sleep before going to work in the morning.  Not saying that wasn’t fun (it was)

Earlier this year while I was laid off (again.  thanks, tech sector),  my brother’s wife was soon to be having a baby, and I decided I wanted to do something special.  I wanted to make something.  I asked my mom for her sewing machine and brought it home.  I hadn’t sewed since 8th grade home ec!  But I was determined.  I made a little blankie/toy hybrid.  I called it a snuggle bunny.  Here it is:

a little bunny blankie

a little bunny blankie

It was by no means perfect, but I was hooked.  I started making things!  Purses!  Stuffed animals!  Dog Beds! A QUILT.  And gave it all (save for a purse) away.  Its hard to explain the pure joy I feel when I give someone something I have made and they tell me “Wow! You MADE this!?” – its a mixture of happiness and pride and excitement that I just love – its addictive.

So basically the reason why I’m doing this blog is because I feel like  I am doing something worth blogging about.  I want to share what I create with everyone!  And unlike my younger self’s blogging exploits – I think this time I’m doing something positive and worthy of attention.   So is my craft obsession blog worthy?  I guess I will find out soon enough!