Blog Archives

Day 3: Lotion Bars

Today’s post has to be quick because it’s the one day of the week when I am gone all day and when I get back, I am wiped out. Way back in January, I started making these lotion bars that we love. You can read more about them and how to make them in this post.

( I was going to insert a photo here, but something has happened between yesterday and today with flickr and I can’t seem to insert any photos today.  Maybe I will have better luck tomorrow.  Both internet links have photos, though.)

I have also added some to my etsy shop, which also has some recently made stitch markers in stock in case anyone needs some or needs a good stocking stuffer for a knitter. Here’s the link to my etsy shop.

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‘Tis the season for dry skin. Leave a comment each day for the chance to win the goodie box. Tell me what you do to keep your skin nice and comfy.

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Happy New Year! I hope you had a nice holiday full of everything you love. Ours was lovely, full of good food, family time, time with friends, and lots of sleep. We really needed the sleep! After the major festivities on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, I really tried very hard to not do much. Before that, I was busy finishing up a couple of knitting gifts.

Slipper socks for the boys:

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If they look a little loose, that’s on purpose. These boys are growing faster than my knitting can keep up with, so I have to make them bigger to make them last longer than five minutes.

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And a hat for the husband:

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I hope you’ll forgive the blurry nature of Christmas morning photos! Anyway, soon after the holidays, my thumb suffered a minor injury and I was unable to knit for a few days. Good thing I had my loom to keep me busy! On New Year’s day, I warped a new project on the loom. It’s going to be a sampler blanket in worsted weight yarn.

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I know, I know, it’s another blurry photo! Our basement has terrible light. I’ll try to get a better one when I have more to show. It sure is going fast. I can probably weave about 4 inches in half an hour, maybe less. It helps that I want to see what kind of pattern comes up next, so I lose track of time.

My thumb is a bit better now, so I am back to knitting, though not as much as I would like. I have two sweaters on the needles that I can’t tell you about. They are both pretty heavy, so I had to cast on something little and light to work on when my hands are too tired.

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This is just the beginnings of a Hitchhiker shawl/scarf and it is just right for now when I want to knit, but can’t hold much weight.

I also have some sock yarn ready to wind and knit some new socks. My good friend, Kim Swingle, has just released a group of patterns called Playtime specifically for all the highly variegated sock yarn in your stash. The patterns are designed to minimize the pooling that these yarns are notorious for. I cannot wait to get started on some!

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And for those times when my hands need a complete rest, I have these to keep me busy:

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New cookbooks! There are lots of great new recipes in these pages. I can’t wait to get started!

Day 4: Bark

I don’t know anyone who does not like chocolate and so chocolate makes a wonderful gift for anyone. There are lots of easy recipes for chocolate barks out there, but we have never made them. Why not? Because of tempering.

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Tempering is the process of changing a material’s molecular structure so that it is stronger and more stable. My engineering husband can tell you what they have to do to temper metal so that it hardens correctly and does not buckle under pressure. That stuff goes over my head a bit and I leave that kind of thing to the professionals. However, when it comes to chocolate, tempering is really crucial. Any chocolate you buy at the store has a snap and a slightly shiny appearance. In short, it looks good and it is tempered. But, once you melt a chocolate, it loses its temper and if you don’t go through the process to get that temper back, your chocolate will turn gray when it hardens. It’s just the cocoa solids surfacing and perfectly edible, but it’s really unattractive. It’s not a look that you want to have on your holiday gifts. In the past, we have tried doing chocolate dipped pretzels and strawberries and other things, but they always turn gray unless you keep them in the fridge.

So, when I decided to make some chocolate bark, I knew I would either have to use white chocolate (which won’t show the gray) or I would have to attempt to temper. Well, armed with a super accurate and fast thermometer and a simplified process, the boys and I went to work. For our first try, we decided to use a low quality chocolate, namely chocolate chips, because I hated to use the really good stuff in case it did not work out.

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And work it was! My goodness! I was not expecting to be still stirring the chocolate an hour later. At first, we overheated the chocolate, so it had farther to go in the cooling down process. At the end, it took almost ten minutes for it to cool down one degree. This is where it was really handy to have little helpers in the kitchen. They took turns holding the thermometer for me and even stirred a little to give me a break.

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We finally got it down to the right cooled temperature and then it was just a few minutes work to bring it back up to the right temperature so that we could pour it.

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One of the signs of tempered chocolate is that it hardens quickly, and the edges of ours were pretty hard before we had all the toppings imbedded. The real test is letting it sit over night to see if it blooms.

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It looks fabulous. So, we have successfully tempered chocolate, yay! I would highly recommend this article about how to temper chocolate; it was easy to follow, as long as you are prepared to stir for a long time. This opens up a whole world of chocolatey possibilities for us, which is super exciting. We swirled in some melted white chocolate chips to make it look fancier and used pistachios and dried cranberries for a festive touch. It’s beautiful and delicious.

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Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway! Tell me what your favorite chocolate mix-ins are!

Day 2: Toffee

Today’s treat is one of my favorite things. From Heath bars to Almond Roca to English Toffee, anything that combines crunchy caramelized sugar with nuts and chocolate is a favorite treat of mine. There are quite a few recipes out there and I considered many of them, but I went back to a tried and true favorite: the Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee by David Lebovitz.

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It’s easy and pretty quick. You throw everything in a pot and boil until it is 300 degrees. Watch carefully! I looked away for literally one second when the thermometer registered about 290 and when I looked back, it was almost 310! (p.s. read about my favorite candy thermometer here)

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From there, you do a quick pour over some chopped almonds (wear really good mitts to hold the pot; it’s really hot!) and then toss on a bunch of chocolate chips.

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After the chocolate melts and gets spread around, the rest of the chopped nuts and a sprinkling of salt is added.

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It yields a recipe that is one sided in terms of chocolate, but that’s ok by me. I consider the toffee to be the star and the chocolate plays a supporting role. I made a double batch so that we could give some away as gifts and still feel like we had enough to keep for ourselves.

Don’t forget to leave a comment today to be entered into the giveaway! Do you have a favorite DIY gift idea? Share it in the comments so we can all benefit!

12 Days of Christmas Treats!

Last week, I had a big birthday, one of those mile stone birthdays that are really no different than any other birthday except that both numbers change instead of just one. Some people like to celebrate this change with a big party and I did that for my last milestone birthday. This time, though, I opted for a quieter celebration, doing the things I love best with my boys. We went out to the Christmas tree farm to choose and cut a tree. They all indulged me while I walked around the lot and looked at every tree more than once. The one we came home with is just right for us this year; not too grand so we had no trouble getting it in and setting it up. After we went out for a lovely dinner in which we ate every speck of food put in front of us, we came home to a yummy cake that the husband made for me. Then we decorated the tree. This process is getting faster and faster every year!

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Because our trip to New York City back in October was meant to be my birthday present, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of gifts, but I got surprised with this.

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Here’s what it looks like all set up.

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Yes, it’s a loom! This has been something I have wanted for a long time. I did a little weaving when I was in high school on a big floor loom and really loved it. In just a couple of days, I finished my first weaving project.

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It could be a scarf, but it is a bit short, just 46 inches. I used all leftover yarn here and actually quite love the patchworky look of it. It was interesting to see how different weights and types of yarns played together.

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I used sport weight and fingering weight to warp the loom (that’s the lengthwise strands) and worsted weight yarn to weave. My favorite part is how the hand-dyed yarn looked as I wove with the solid colors. The hardest part of weaving is getting the edges straight, but only practice will help with that. My next project will be with all fingering weight yarn and you can see the beginnings of it in the picture of the loom above. I am getting ready to start weaving with some variegated yarn and am anxious to see how that turns out.

Well, now that my birthday is past, we have moved on to Christmas preparations, beginning with a bazaar that the boys are going to this week. They have been having fun making little gifts to sell.

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We have a little of everything: Sugar scrub for dry wintery hands and

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cookie mixes and little games.

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If I have time, I will maybe make some toffee or brittle. Anything we don’t sell at the bazaar we will give away to friends and neighbors as Christmas gifts.

Speaking of giving things away…did you think I would forget about my annual Christmas goodie box giveaway? Oh no, I have not forgotten! We are just off to a bit of a late start, but I think we can eek it out. This year, I want to focus on candy. There are a lot of things I have been meaning to try and this is the perfect time of year to do it! Are you ready? Ok, here are the details:

Just like last year’s give away, you may enter by leaving one comment per post. Only one comment per person will be counted per post, but if you leave a comment for all twelve days, you will be entered twelve times! The box will mostly likely include many of the treats featured in the posts, but perhaps not all of them because not everything travels well or keeps well. Plus, I will be trying some new recipes, so there may be a flop or two. However, I will try to ensure that the winner has a nice variety! Because of perishability issues, I will have to limit this to a domestic (that is, just the United States) contest. Comments on all 12 posts must be received by midnight, December 20, eastern standard time. I will pick a winner at random on the 21st. Hopefully, I can ship on the 22nd. This is cutting it pretty close to Christmas, I know, but hopefully the winner won’t mind if their package is a day or two late.

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I am going to cheat a little with today’s post and not have a candy to talk about because this post is already long enough However, I will set aside a jar of that sugar scrub pictured above to get the box started. A friend of mine got me interested in making these sugar scrubs and they are super easy and very inexpensive to make at home. I just used a half ounce of olive oil per four ounces of sugar and added a teaspoon of almond extract. A lot of other recipes used more oil, but I did not like the greasiness that happened with more, so I scaled back the oil until I got something I liked. You can add more if you like or a different extract (lemon or vanilla would be nice). We just used almond because we happened to have a large bottle of it. It leaves you hands soft and lightly scented. The thing I love the most is that they are all natural, non toxic, and even edible!

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When you want to use it, just take a little pinch of it and rub it all over your hands. Rinse with warm water and dry with a paper towel. That’s it for today! Enjoy! And don’t forget to leave a comment!