Saturday, December 27, 2008

Handmade Holiday #11: hey, there are still parties...

a little late posting this one! These also went out in some of my final round of presents/care packages. Honestly, I can only give you the roughest estimate of a recipe, as this was mostly done off the cuff, with an open issue of Martha Stewart for suggestions/reference points.

In a single layer on a baking sheet, toast 1-2 cups nuts at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 7-10 min, or until fragrant. I used up all of the nuts we had in the cupboard: peanuts, walnuts, and cashews. Pecans would be particularly lovely in this mix.

While they're baking, mix about 1/2 c. sugar (I used demerara), 1-2 tsp salt, 2 tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp nutmeg together in a bowl. Set aside.

Cover another baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper and set aside.

Let the nuts cool while you get the sauce together: in a smallish saucepan (mine was only 1 quart), mix about 1- 1 1/2 c. maple syrup (I used grade B), a generous splash (approx 2 Tbl) brandy, about the same amount (or maybe a touch less) of good vanilla extract, and 1 Tbl of butter. Cook, whisking, over medium heat until reduced by half.

Pour your nuts, and some cranberries (maybe 1/2 to 3/4 c?) into the pan with the reduced syrup. Cook, stirring, until liquid is almost gone; the nuts will have a bit of a coating.

Once done, add the sugar mixture to the pan. Toss quickly to coat the nuts evenly, then pour nuts and cranberries in a single layer on prepared parchment-lined pan and allow to cool for several hours.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Handmade Holiday #10: Sweet Treats III - Salted Chocolate Caramels Return

Everyone's favorite treat from last year made a reappearance this year, in a full-batch instead of a half-batch. That link will take you to last year's incarnation, including a link to the original epicurious recipe and my changes.

This year's batch didn't come together quite so smoothly, but the recipe is even better than I thought: having failed to firm up properly last night, I put the caramel-goop BACK INTO THE PAN this morning and cooked them AGAIN. And now they're firm, chewy, even better than last year's, which were just a little stiff to bite into. Amazing. So, here are this year's variations:

for 10.5 oz good-quality bittersweet chocolate, we used one 4.5 oz milk chocolate ghiradelli bars, one 4.5 oz dark chocolate ghiradelli bar, plus approz 1 oz of a remaining bittersweet ghiradelli bar and 1.5 oz actual bittersweet baking chocolate. Basically, a mishmash of what we had on hand (yay!).

For the 2 c. of cream, I mixed 1 c. Horizon Organic heavy whipping cream with 1 c. milk.

I used dark corn syrup and only cooked the sugar/water mass for about 6-7 minutes, per last time.

I only used 2 Tbl of butter instead of 3.

When the chocolate and cream were added to the sugar mass, I originally cooked it to just 220. This proved to be too low, and in the morning (after it had sat in the fridge all night in its pan, salted and everythig), I dumped the whole thing (including the butter and salt, which normally are added after cooking) into a pan and cooked to 230. Perfection. I started cutting a bit later, about the 1 hour mark. It was soft at first, but was quite firm by the time I'd finished, so I think it was the right time to cut.

These lack the pretty dusting of salt of their forbears, but have all the same great flavour. They're still a bit greasy and I've patted them lightly with a paper towel to help remove extra oil beading up on them. I'll wrap them in little squares of parchment today and then off they go!

And since it looks like a real winter wonderland outside, here's a peep of what's going on in the window behind those cooling caramels; gorgeous, no?

Handmade Holiday #9: Project Alabama Reverse-Applique Tee

Natalie Chanin's Alabama Stitch Book is just fantastic; I was so very excited to learn to do her reverse applique stitch technique last year and I've used it over and over again.

Here's a new example: a rubric for my friend Clareann, whose name is so frequently misspelled. Now, all you have to know is the shape of Co. Clare, Ireland (from whence her family hails), and you can read the tee: it's kind of like a nerdy joke and a super secret code all in one. =)

just for perspective: made on a lightweight summer tee from the Gap, in purple with dark-teal printing, green stitching thread, and orange backing.

Handmade Holiday #8: Personalized Pottery

Remember the anemone platter? Well, here's the accompanying piece: a serving bowl. Both are Noritake Japanese china; from the imprint on the bottom, it seems they date from the late 40s. They have a lovely silver/platinum edge and are bright, clean white. Both pieces have been coloured, but unfortunately, those photos are safely locked away on a computer with a broken visual card; in other words, completely inaccessible. Oh well!

Drawing a fairy wren on an irregular/oval concave surface wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done. It required some shifting and stretching of various parts of the design to look right - this was my fourth attempt! At least I discovered that the paint in the porcelaine pens can be removed, with relative ease in fact, with a slightly damp Q-tip. I went through many, erasing and starting over again and again. It was worth it, though. I can't wait to show him to you in colour: the top of their heads are a blue-turquoise!

After applying the paint, the piece has to sit and dry for 24 hours. Then it is baked in the oven at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes - I put mine in and then turn the oven on, so that they warm up with it, and that way I avoid risking cracks or damage to the ceramic from the sudden heat. When it stops preheating, I turn the timer on for 30 min, and after it's done, I just turn the oven off and open the door, and let the piece gradually cool down. Afterward, the painted pieces are safe to eat off of, and I believe they're dishwasher safe, as well - though after all that work, I stick to gentle handwashing for things like this.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Handmade Holiday #7: Cardamon Cookies

as promised (sorry, a bit delayed - I've been distracted by the SNOW here in Seattle), the new cardamon cookie recipe:

12 Tbl butter (slightly softened, not quite room temp)
1/3 c. sugar
1-2 Tbl cardamon
2-3 Tbl marzipan (almond paste)
1 egg
1-2 Tbl. vanilla extract
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour

cream marzipan, butter, and sugar together. This process will be easier if you rather mash the marzipan between your fingers a bit first. Using rather cold/not-quite-room-temp butter will also make this process easier. Add cardamon and blend to combine.

Add egg and vanilla (again, I highly recommend a potent Mexican vanilla - and again, check label for "no coumarin" before using) and beat to combine.

Add flour, blend until just thoroughly mixed. Roll into a ball, flatten slightly into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until firm. (The marzipan is going to change the composition of this dough; it will take longer to stiffen in the fridge, it will be stickier when you roll it and thus require a good dusting of flour not only on the rolling pin but on the top of the dough, and will rather quickly become soft and irritating to roll/punch; I recommend that, if at all possible, after rolling once, you re-refrigerate until firm again.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

On a well-floured board, using a floured rolling pin, roll dough out to between 1/4 and 1/8 inch. Cut out with cookie cutters. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 15 min or until just beginning to turn golden at edges.

Cool on rack, enjoy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Handmade Holiday #6: Cozy Knits

I actually don't know how to knit; this is crochet.

All the cool kids seem to be sporting cowls lately, have you noticed? They're everywhere, in all shapes and sizes, many quite large. Simple enough to put together, really, just a knit (or crocheted) tube, really, with many potential variations. This one has a full twist in it. For gifting purposes, I've pinned the twist flat with a safety-pin-brooch that I'm including, just to keep it under control and make it look more presentable.

A bad case of incandescent lighting here, as the clouds are back today, but you get the picture. Whipped up quick and loose on a 50 mm needle with a single skein of fluffy yarn.

Handmade Holiday #5: Sweet Treats

there's a reason plates of homemade cookies are passed around at this time of year; they're tasty! It might not be groundbreaking, but it always seems welcome. I've been doing a little experimenting with my favorite cookie recipe, and I have two new versions to share with you - how about a little lime and lavendar or cardamon and almonds to get your holiday started?

first off, a few things from the local co-op to round out the basics in my pantry...

And then on to cookies!

Lime and Lavendar Stars:

12 Tbl butter, softened
1/4 c. sugar
grated zest of 2 limes
1 1/2 T. lavendar buds (a good use for those dried summer herbs!)
1 egg
1-2 T. vanilla (use good Mexican vanilla if you can find it; but make sure the label says "no coumarin")
2 1/4 c. flour

extra sugar, or demerara sugar, if possible

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add zest and lavendar, blend to combine. Pour in vanilla and add egg, beat until just combined. Add flour and blend. Gather dough into a ball. Flatten slightly into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour, until firm.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Unwrap dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured roller. Cut into shapes, and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. How thick to roll them? That's really up to you; I probably roll mine to 1/4th to 1/8th of an inch thick. Thicker cookies take a little longer to bake and their centers are ever so slightly al dente after baking. So, make them thinner if you like a really crisp cookie.

Sprinkle sugar over the tops of the cookies. These cookies aren't really sweet, so the sugar is a nice addition. I invested in some demerara sugar finally, and I am so glad - mostly because I get to use the leftover sugar in my coffee and tea and it is SO good!

Bake cookies about 10-15 min (mine actually take about 17 min), until edges are just starting to turn a faint brown. Cool on a rack, and enjoy!

next up: cardamon and almond cookies, inspired by a delicious Swedish sweet bread that I tried last week.

Handmade Holiday #4: leather jewelry

I made this one for myself. Here's the inspiration, a clipping from Lucky Magazine:

(note the price?)
here's mine:

I need some better findings (clasp), but the leather looks good. I cut long, 2-inch-wide strips of leather from a cheap leather coat I sourced at a thrift shop last summer. I folded the strip in half lengthwise, and tucked the edges in. I stitched very close to the edge so that it would appear neat, and there wouldn't be big flapping edges sticking out from the tube. In order to keep the leather from sticking to my sewing machine, I actually sewed it onto paper, then quickly immersed it in hot water in my sink and tore the paper away. I had to pick out some of the bits while drying the tubes (with a towel, quickly, and stretching them so that the leather wouldn't become stiff). Then I used a metal skewer and stuffed the tubes with bits of cotton/wool batting that I had hanging around. I hand-sewed the edges closed around large jump rings, and attached findings. Ta-da!

I actually made the tubes too long; I think I'll make a bracelet with the leftovers.

Overall cost: leather jacket = $10 (plus tax), and I've used bits of it for four projects now. I used maybe $1 worth of batting, at most. Needle and thread = neglible cost, and all told, these recycled findings probably cost me a dollar or two to begin with.

Handmade Holiday #3: Summer's Bounty

(capturing some pale winter afternoon sunlight for you)

This one takes some planning. If you have herb bushes, you know that sometimes, some varieties can get a little aggressive and threaten to take over your garden. That's peppermint and rosemary for me. So, when you prune those babies back, rinse the branches in clean water to remove any grit, grime, bugs, what have you, pat dry, and place in a brown paper bag. Don't pack them in; there needs to be room for air flow. Hang or place these in a dry and moderately cool location, preferably away from sunlight. In a few weeks, the herbs will have dried and you can remove the needles/leaves, crush, and place in jars to send to friends.

Handmade Holiday #2:

the inspiration:
you could buy it if you're feeling flush ($138)
I'm not. So, I made:

from two colours of (brown) leather thong, the edge of a lapel of a leather jacket (black), goose feathers, beads, some pearls and turquoise. And maybe 7-10 hours of stitching, fidgeting, and (I'll admit) a bit of swearing. I didn't put it on elastic, and I didn't give it ties. Instead, I worked bobby pins through the leather braid (that is the base of it all - everything is stitched on/to/through the braid, and I put a drop of tacky glue on the back where feathers poke through, to help secure/anchor them) so that it could be a little more adjustable - just pin it where you want it in your hair!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ruining the Surprise: Ideas for Handmade Holidays

I've decided to post holiday projects early. One of the things I love about the blogosphere is the sharing of ideas and inspiration, and so I've decided that rather than keeping these ideas to myself, I'd prefer to post in advance of the upcoming holidays, in case this sparks inspiration for others making gifts this year. What with the economy tanking, it seems more important than ever to consider how we use our incomes. Plus, there's just something about handmade, you know?

Idea #1: print a shirt for someone!

For the record, this is not a surprise present. My brother gave me a gift cert. to Utrecht for my birthday last year and I finally used it this summer to buy a screen printing kit. I'd already scanned one of my bf's matchbooks with one of his favorite architects on the front, and enlarged and printed it, but he didn't know it at the time. However, the minute I bought that kit, he asked (in September, mind you!), "Oh! Is this so you can print me a new Aalto shirt?" (His current one, purchased at a museum in Sweden, is on its last legs). The man is psychic, what can I say? So I begrudgingly said, "YES. Merry Christmas." There's just no point in keeping it from him. Besides, this way, I got to have him help me pick the T shirt colours.

So I'm using screen filler to create a negative of this pattern. If you don't have a screen printing kit or $50 to drop at Utrecht, you could create a stencil with freezer paper from the butcher and stencil a shirt instead. My screen is actually dry, so maybe we'll print these things tonight.

Monday, December 1, 2008

take one dose of creativity and call me in the morning

normally I don't post my remix stuff here, but since today's outfit featured some tiny projects from this weekend, I thought I'd share. I was really hesitant to take time out from my work and make anything this weekend, but I have just been planning and planning and planning, and so I did do a few small things. I think it really helped me to stay on track, stay focused, and get over my cold sooner - I really do! It felt VERY luxurious to actually take a few hours for making, and it was the most comforting activity to be engaged in, especially as I'm nearing the breakdown-point with end-of-quarter stress.

But enough about that. The details: I've been craving a black maxi skirt in a bad way since October, but I hadn't been able to find one. Of course, now I'm stalking one on ebay that I *really* want, but in the meantime, I snagged this one for cheap. Only, it wasn't long enough. So I bought a half-yard of a nice bamboo knit, cut the elastic waistband off, and made a 9" knit waistband for the skirt. It's not perfect, as I don't have a serger and was forced to rely on my machine's stretch stitch, but it's good enough to wear out.

Second project is the tie-dyed tee. I wanted this to be more grey and storm-cloud-esque, so next time, a bit less navy in my dye mix. Cass and I were going to make goofy pirate T-shirts for the release of the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but we never really got around to it. So I had this cheap, $5 tee from a teenybopper shop on State St. in Santa Barbara hanging around for ...what, more than a year? It was an obvious first choice for a dyeing experiment. I have to say, I'm really happy with Procion dyes, and how easy the soda-ash soak was to work with. I am DEFINITELY going to do this again; and I have pearl gray dye to use that might give me the cloudy look I want.

I wish J. Crew still had some of those painter's tees (in my size AND on sale, of course); I feel like those would be really excellent to play with. Then again, how many tie-dye tees does a girl need? I don't exactly live in Eugene anymore.

Last but not least, I thought I'd share this crazy skirt that I won in a "best offer" (I bid less than half the asking price, wahoo!) on ebay. It's a vintage Ellen Tracey - cool, no? The outer skirt is a lightweight wool crepe, and it has a yellow cotton calico lining. I don't know, it's SO loud and out there, but it has this fun "folk" vibe that I really loved in so many of the collections this fall, and I think it should be really warm, so I am risking it. We'll see if I can handle this much colour and pattern when I see it in person.
alright, back to the books. Hopefully have another finished project to show you soon!