Well, I moved.

December 11, 2009

The entire moving process has been a lot more draining than I thought it would be.  I finally have gotten most things put away and the house is pretty much done, except for hanging pictures/art on the walls.  Right now they are just leaning up against the walls where I want them to hang.  I love my new place, it’s very cute.

So Christmas time is here.  I know I haven’t posted in a while, but I really have been working on things!  Just not sewing.  Which is bad, since I still need to do last month’s quilting bee block, and this month’s block as well!  I also need to finish a reversible tote.  I started this tote at a class I took…after 6 hours the most anyone in the class got done was about half.  Which wouldn’t be a problem except that the project wasn’t in the book they made us buy, and they didn’t give us a handout.  So I had to get this other book but I just haven’t had the motivation to finish it.  I need to get it done because I am intending on giving it as a gift!  Unfortunately I have had zero desire to sew since I have moved.

I have done some things since I have moved.  I made a few terrariums and now I am addicted! I will do a post on them soon.  They are so beautiful and vintage-y.  I really love them.  I’ve been working on a Christmas gift for my parents.  I bought a 1TB hard drive and enclosure.  I am in the process of downloading as many HD movies as I can fit on the drive and converting them for playback on a PS3.  That way, they can just plug the external harddrive into the PS3 and watch them.  It is much easier than burning 100 DVDs.  Besides, I don’t have a blu ray burner, and the blank bluray disks are like 10 bucks a piece anyway. Ridiculous!  And using a DVD would degrade the quality and it wouldn’t be HD any longer.  In case you didn’t know, in addition to my love of sewing and crafts, I am a huge tech geek.  I especially love networking all the devices in my house so I can stream back and forth.  TV to computer, Computer to TV.  I didn’t even unpack my DVD player when I moved because I never use it.  I have all the movies I want on hard drives and when I want to watch them I just send it to the TV via the Tivo, or watch them on my HD monitor.  I use a Slingbox to play TV on the computer or laptop. That way, I don’t need to have a TV in every room I want to watch TV in!  Saves space, and TVs are expensive!  I still dont have an HDTV.  I am waiting on one particular TV to come down in price.  Its almost low enough where I can afford it!  Its a really cool Samsung tv.  It has onboard networking so the TV can connect itself directly to my wireless network, and I’ll be able to stream movies straight to the tv without having to download them first to the Tivo.  Awesome!

Sorry about my nerdy ranting!

I’m also on a Christmas treat baking frenzy.  It was a huge fiasco in the beginning so I am way behind.  We had a cookie exchange yesterday at work and I was making biscotti.  I decided to do a test batch last weekend to make sure the recipe worked.   The recipe was fine.  The oven in my new place was not.  The biscotti were in there like 7 minutes and I smell burning.  They were ruined!  Long story short, I tried everything I could to fix the burning problem.  Moving the racks as high as they would go, lowering the temperature, cleaning out the oven.  3.5 batches still burned.  So I ended up making 6 batches of biscotti to get 9 dozen cookies.  I was so angry.  My landlord thankfully replaced the oven on Tuesday so hopefully I won’t have these problems with the other cookies I want to make.  I want to pack boxes of cookies to send to some friends.  I need to get them all done this weekend so I can send out the boxes on Monday.  Hopefully I won’t have any more oven problems.

In the meantime, I have started on other things.  I made homemade marshmallows.  They are waiting to be dipped in chocolate.  I also made my brother’s favorite “cookie” – those cornflake wreaths!  I find it hilarious that is his favorite Christmas cookie.

Here’s my list of Christmas treats:

Chocolate dipped pretzels, chocolate dipped homemade marshmallows, potato candy (dad’s request), butter cookies, Chocolate Cherry Mice, lemon-poppy seed biscotti, old fashioned sugar cookies, cornflake wreaths.

I can do this!

I have been taking pictures, I just haven’t uploaded them yet.  I love making candy, even though I am not much of a chocolate lover and don’t really have a sweet tooth.  I just like how cute everything is, and it makes me happy to give it to people who love to eat sweets! I’ll update with photos soon!

What are your favorite Christmas treats?  What are you making for Christmas this year?  Gifts, cookies, candy, I’d love to see them!  Post your links in the comments!

The advent calendar

November 18, 2009

The finished calendar

I decided to start doing this while I was packing up my things to move, because you know the best time to start a new project using techniques you’ve never tried before is while you are preparing for a major life event.  I probably started it just to give myself a reason to not pack…I justified it by telling myself “well, you are doing something productive instead of packing so it’s OK!” I actually finished it the Sunday before I moved.

I finished this during one of the most stressful weekends of my life.  I was trying to get as much packing done as possible.  Saturday I needed a break from packing.  Foxy has been at my parents house since before Halloween to make it easier to show my apartment and get ready to move.  I decided I would go to the local city animal care and control and pet some kitties to relieve a little stress.  What ended up happening was that I brought home this sad little dog.

little pumpkin at the vet

The poor thing had kennel cough, fleas, and messed up teeth.  I don’t know what I was thinking, it was just an impulsive decision.  Immediately after taking him out of ACC, I took him to the vet.  He has all his shots now, is flea free, and got antibiotics for his cough.  I brought him home.  That night I was a mess.  I felt like I had made a horrible mistake.  My dog Foxy really does not get along with other dogs.  I just couldn’t bring him back to that horrible shelter.  I didn’t know what to do.  I had just compounded my stress level by 1000.

What I ended up doing is working with an adoption group called Alliance for Responsible Pet Ownership to try and find him a new home.  They placed an ad on Petfinder.org for me.  I have had at least a dozen people contact me who were interested in Pumpkin, but none of them followed through.  It has been terrible.  And the worst part is, the longer he’s with me, the more I’m getting attached to him, and I don’t think I will be able to adopt him out.  I’m really conflicted and don’t know what to do.  I’ve been so stressed out for the past month – my hair is falling out.  I feel terrible and tired all the time.  I cannot wait for Thanksgiving so I can have the time to just do nothing for a few days and hopefully relax.

close up of the applique and quilting

Anyway, back to this advent calendar.  I used the tutorial that was on the Sew Mama Sew website.  I pretty much used the same fabric too, Michael Miller Funky Christmas.  I just really loved the prints in that collection.  It was the first time doing any real applique, and that was probably what took the longest and was the most challenging.  First I had to trace the numbers backwards on the double sided fusible webbing, and cut them all out.  Then I had to iron on the numbers to the fabric I was using for the numbers and cut them all out.  Then I realized that I had ironed on all the numbers that were on printed fabrics to the wrong side, so I had to redo half of them!  Once I got that all straightened out, I ironed the numbers to the background fabric and began to satin stitch around the outer edge of the numbers on the sewing machine.  It really took a long time to finish all of that.  Once I had that done, and sewed the pockets together, the rest of it came together really quickly.

I forgot to add, they are all little pockets to put treats in!

I messed up the binding though.  I was so tired on Sunday night, but I really wanted to finish.  I didn’t realize until I was sewing the binding to the back (which I do by machine) that there was batting showing in the upper left hand corner…I hadn’t sewed the binding onto the top of the quilt there, I missed the edge.  But instead of ripping the seams out and fixing it, I just sewed the binding so it covered the batting up, folded it over and finished the back.  That’s why it looks crooked there.  I just didn’t care at the time, but now it drives me crazy.  There’s a couple of crooked pockets that bother me too, but I think overall it still looks ok.

I need to dig my sewing machine out from the pile of unpacked boxes and at least put some things away so I have enough room in my “craft loft” to set it up so I can finish the blocks for the quilting bee before the end of the month.  There’s about 4 projects I wanted to make before Christmas as well.  Some will be really quick, like these bookmarks, and some not so much – I wanted to do a quilt as a gift for someone for Christmas…I hope I can get everything done in time!  I have about 6 weeks, I think if I do a little every day, I’ll be able to finish all the stuff I had planned.  Hopefully!

October Bee Pieceful Blocks

October 23, 2009

Poinsettia Block

Poinsettia Block

Morning Star Block

Morning Star Block

I mailed these out on Monday to this month’s bee, Kim.  She sent us Christmas fabric and asked for “traditional” blocks.  I looked around online and settled on these two patterns, Morning Star and Poinsettia.   I think I have finally gotten over my mental block about this virtual quilting bee – I think you are able to see the  vast improvement I’ve made over August and September’s blocks.  The seams and points all line up (almost) :).  But where they don’t it is not that obvious.  I like how I arranged the fabrics, and for the first time in this bee, I was happy to send these out.  Hopefully I will be able to keep it up.  Next month’s fabric is going to be sent soon, and she wants string piecing, something else I have not tried yet.  I want to get it done as quickly as possible, so I can send it back before I move.

I am moving!  I finally found a new apartment that has almost everything I wanted, and its only about 1/4 mile from where I am living now!  I finally got lucky, I had almost given up because I had been looking since May. It is a duplex in a neat little neighborhood called Cottage Home, and has a really cool loft area that I am going to make my sewing room.  I can’t wait to move in and get settled.  Moving Day is only a few weeks away.  I’m moving on Friday the 13th!

After next month’s quilt block, I only have one more project I need to get done before the move.  It’s the Poky Puppy quilt my mom wanted me to make for her.   I will have to post about that later.


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!