Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Holidays Were Here... So I Kept Knitting

I already showed the colorful scarf for my gift exchange here, together with the beginning of my neutral scarf for a coworker.  But here's the finished product!

Well, almost finished... I still needed to weave in the ends in that photo.  But it came out great and he loved it.  I boxed it up all nice with a bow and wrapping, and made it pretty... and then the next Monday found out that he couldn't wear it.  I was mortified, thinking he might be allergic to wool, but no.  He couldn't wear it because his wife liked it so much, she stole it!  Now that's a compliment!

Meanwhile, as soon as I got done with the scarf, I started in (with the same wool) on a cowl for a friend of ours.  Every year, we go to this couple's holiday party, and every year we exchange gifts.  This year, for the wife at least, I decided to go handmade.  The husband got bourbon.

This was a new one for me, and it used ribbing, cables, seed stitch, and a honeycomb pattern.  I didn't realize it before I started, but it was listed as an intermediate pattern, so I was pretty proud of myself for nailing it, even if it was really time consuming.

I had to try it on for good measure.

Yup, cozy warm!

Oh, and I went handmade with Eric too, but not something I made.  Something from an Israeli artist at the Handmade Artists Shop.

Honeybee cufflinks!  He loves 'em.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Not as Simple as Apple Pie

With the holidays happening, and parties to attend, I was compelled to try something I'd been wanting to attempt for a while... Bouchon Bakery's Palet D'Or, the invention of Thomas Keller and his pastry chef, Sebastien Rouxel.  I've got that cookbook, after all, thanks to Eric, and I've sort of been working my way through it, though I've made pitstops to go back to awesome recipes I've already done.  (I've done the better nutters twice, the chocolate, praline, and cocoa nib tart four times, and the caramel nut tart and chocolate chunk and chip cookies more times than I can remember).

To be honest, they're all awesome.  Every single one has been a hit.  The only miss was really last summer when I redid the apricot flan tart as a peach flan tart and it wasn't absolutely stellar (with apricots, it was amazing as usual).  I think the peaches were too wet compared to apricots, and it made the flan a little weird.  In order for Eric to try it, though, I had to alter it - he's allergic to apricots, poor guy.

Anyway, back to the Palet D'Or.  Literally:  gold disc.

In real life?  A rich two-layer devil's food cake with thin layers of melted (and re-hardened) semisweet chocolate, rich chocolate cream and rich chocolate ganache glaze.  Lots of chocolate.  Lots of heavy cream.  Lots of egg.  A little sugar.

And gold leaf.

Holy crow.

I actually ordered gold leaf from a supplier in Syracuse, and I'm glad I did.  While it's obviously not necessary for anything but presentation, it just really completes the look and makes it a showpiece.

So, this is what is pictured in the cookbook.

And I think I did a damned fine job, especially for my first try.

I only had a round platter in white, which I wanted for contrast, so to avoid the whole thing looking like a weird eyeball, Eric suggested the plating idea.  It was such a hit at the party!  More of a hit, though?

How it tasted.  Look at this.

Not the prettiest picture with all the remnants strewn about, but gorgeous to anyone who tasted it.  It was amazing.  No other word for it.  So amazing that Eric, who's generally not a fan of chocolate cake nearly lost his eyes when they bugged out of his head while trying it.  So amazing that our friends, the party hosts, removed the piece that was left to keep fro themselves and give me back the platter when I was leaving.

Nothing like people appreciating your food when you bake.  Nothing at all like it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Personalized Disney... by Me!

Back when I was planning my wedding in 2007/2008, I became friends with an online community of women all planning their weddings for the same month and year.  They're all over the US, and one's even in Canada.  A sizable group of us are still friends, and some of us have met and become friends in person as well.

And for the holidays, we do a secret Santa gift exchange.

My recipient this year happens to be a former Disney employee, who still loves all that is Disney.  Loves.

So for her gift, I got her Disney fabric, Disney ribbon, Disney stickers, Disney buttons, and even some non-Disney stuff!

Also, she likes unicorns.

In my travels, and while shopping for her gifts, I found that apparently Minnie Mouse has dressed as many princesses... but never a unicorn!  Not one I could find anyway.  Well, of course I had to remedy that.

Behold... the one and only Minniecorn!

I used this drawing I found online as a basis for Minnie's shape and stance and angles, but I did draw it freehand, as you'll notice if you take a look for inconsistencies.  It was so fun to create!  And I love that my friend will own a piece of Disney fan-art that will never exist anywhere else.

Besides, you know me & handmade.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Eric's been on a quest for the absolute perfect turkey.  He's come close on many occasions, but this year he had unadulterated success.  He's deep friend turkey before (great moisture, good flavor), and he's smoked turkey (excellent flavor, a bit dry)... so this year, he smoked the turkey fr about 3 hours and then deep fried it for about 45 minutes.


It actually ended up not quite as pretty as some birds, because while it had an amazing smoky flavor, it was so moist it was falling apart!

And then after the turkey came out of the oil, he put in the stuffing balls to be deep fried also.  Holy crow.

And he made butternut squash soup with squash we grew in the backyard.

I was in charge of the sweet potatoes, which I did for the first time, and got 'em right using my mother's very vague and mostly unwritten recipe!

And then the pie.  My coup, the French apple pie.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The End of Pumpkin Season

I love pumpkin, and I love people who love pumpkin.  This year, I had the opportunity to try a bunch of pumpkin desserts, and I was in heaven.

First, for book club, I tried this chocolate pumpkin pie (except I make my own pie crust).

Then, for film club, I tried this pumpkin spice cheesecake.

Then, for the office, I made these pumpkin cupcakes with whipped cinnamon icing.  Turns out my office loves pumpkin as much as I do!  They were devoured by lunchtime.

So for Thanksgiving, I decided to do the pumpkin spice cheesecake again, this time to bring into the office the day before the holiday (Wednesday).

Fortuitously, on Tuesday before I baked the cheesecake, I heard to of the women in my office talking about ordering pie for the birthday of one of the attorneys... which was the next day.  So I told them about the cheesecake I had planned, and instead of ordering something, I made fresh, homemade whipped cream and accosted my cheesecake with my less-than-stellar but well-meaning handwriting.

Yes, my piping skills need work.  But that ended up irrelevant.

It snowed on Wednesday, and so when I left my car to go into the office, I was wearing my down jacket, which makes my naturally graceless self even more so, plus carrying my pocketbook, my lunch, the container of whipped cream, the cheesecake in a carrier, and my snow brush for the car.

Too much.

The cake carrier went off balance, slid, and hit the ground upside-down.  My good plate broke in half.  The cheesecake landed, thankfully still inside the top lid of the carrier, upside-down.

Still edible, but no more handwriting.  I was glad I'd gotten photos, so I could show everyone, especially Jonathan.   It made him smile, and everyone loved the cheesecake & whipped cream anyway.  It got devoured like the cupcakes, the best compliment a baker can get.

And that was it for my pumpkin adventures this season.  Today, Thanksgiving, marked the start of the next thing.  Apples.

Three pounds of granny smiths, to be exact.

And the result?  Yum.


My first ever time doing a solo stint replicating my mother's award-winning French apple pie.  Nailed it!

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Holidays Are Approaching ... So I've Been Knitting

I'm one of those people who hates the expansion of the holiday season.  I am.  I hate that Halloween - my favorite holiday - is practically ignored, that Thanksgiving is raced past, and that the malls have Christmas music playing in October.  I hate that people and stores put up their decorations earlier every year.  I hate that other holidays, just as important to many people, even more important to some, play second, third, heck 14th fiddle to the winter holidays, mostly Christmas.  I like to enjoy them all.

That said, for those of us who make gifts, we definitely need to start before Thanksgiving.  Especially if you're a knitter but not a speed knitter, which I'm not.  Especially if you've got pre-holiday gift giving events, which I do.

I've got a few gift exchanges this year, so I'm already planning my baking and my gifts.

The first is a good, old fashioned Yankee Swap, in some circles known as a White Elephant exchange.  It'll be all women, so I know I can go feminine, but I have no idea who's getting my gift.

So I went with a scarf.  Who can't use more scarves?  I found this gorgeous wool/acrylic blend yarn in colors that'll go with anything but fire engine red, and got to work on a nice cable knit.

And I did my first-ever fringe, too!

Folded it nicely, wrapped it with ribbon, and then I just needed a pretty gift bag and some tissue paper.


Hope it's a hit!

Then there's the gift exchange at work (the day job).  I will be getting a name to gift to in advance of our office party, but waiting for that would slow me down too much.  So I've gone with a neutral fisherman's wool for this one, in the same cableknit pattern.

Catimus felt inclined to assist.  By sleeping.

Still working on this one, and I'll post when it's done.  If it turns out it's for one of the women in the office, I'll add fringe.  If not, it'll be all done.

Then for a third gift exchange, I'm not knitting.  I bought some fun things for my recipient, but I do have one handmade item planned for her also ... not telling what yet, though!  Stay tuned, and you'll see.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Blast from the Past: A Mishap

I follow a lot of blogs.  A lot of blogs.  One of them is called Lindsay Sews, and in yesterday's post, she asked about crafting fails.  Well, that called to mind a major fail I perpetrated back in December of 2012.

A friend of mine was looking for a stuffed animal version of a frog in a cartoon.  It looked like this.

Cute, right?  Her daughter was completely obsessed with that character, so she was trying to be a good mom.

Ever reaching for new heights, I offered to make it for her myself!  I developed an idea, then a pattern, and went to cutting and sewing.


Here was the result.

Um... right.  I obviously couldn't sell my friend that travesty, so we scrapped the idea, and thankfully she was OK with not getting it.  Instead, I decided it was an alien octopus with measles, and kept it for kids to play with at my house when they come over.

Go ahead.  Laugh.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Putting the Bees to Bed

A lot of people ask us where the bees stay during the cold, winter months.  I love that they're so concerned, as so are we!  Some have asked us if we bring them inside, put the hive in the garage, close up the openings, or what actually do we do with our girls?

The answer?  Pretty much nothing.

Crazy, right?

Well, it's not 100% nothing.  We did treat them for varroa mites for a month before it got too cold.  Varroa mites are the bane of a bee's existence.  And a beekeeper's too.  The mites are these horrendous tiny parasites (tinier than bees, obviously), with which all hives in the US are afflicted, but if the population gets too high, they'll kill an entire colony!  So we treated for mites, and then this past weekend went into the hive to remove the strips we used.

While in there, we got to see that our girls had a nice population going, and a bunch of full frames of honey in the top hive box.  We gave them some pollen and fondant to eat anyway, wished them well, and closed 'er back up.

That's it 'til spring, folks!  Now we just keep our fingers crossed that they make it through the winter, which here in NJ promises to be another brutally cold one, and see in the spring how they've fared.

In the meantime, the bees take care of themselves.  They've already kicked out their drones (the males, which are useless to them through the winter months when queens aren't mating and food - honey - is limited).  As it gets colder, the workers huddle in a ball around their queen, moving around the hive in sync to maintain body heat while they eat all the honey they've made throughout the spring and summer.  As long as there's enough honey to sustain them (plus the bit of fondant and pollen we provided), they should be ok when we check on them in the spring.  Through this whole time, they don't leave the hive.  Believe it or not, that also means that they don't go to the bathroom!  Bees are exceptionally clean critters and will not go to the bathroom in the hive.  Imagine all those little crossed legs!

If we do have an unseasonally warm day, one of those weird. sunny, 66 degree February days, the girls may come on out to relieve themselves and forage a bit.  If we can, we'll take the opportunity to get them some more fondant before spring.  If not, they're on their own.

Wish our girls luck!  Fingers crossed that they'll come through well and be all ready for the forsythia and dandelion blooms!

'Cause if they're healthy then?  It means honey for us in July!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The New Kid

There's a new addition to our family!  I haven't been without a dog for more than a couple months at a time since I was 9 years old, and now that Eric has had one, he can't be dogless either.

Enter Jack.

Our new guy is just over four months old, half yellow lab and half either great pyrenees or husky.  No matter what he is, how amazing is that smile?

We got him through the Save A Pet Rescue in Stroudsburg, PA, from their sister organization, Crossing Paths Animal Rescue in Alabama.  I have to say, working with Save A Pet and Crossing Paths has been an absolute pleasure.  They've got an amazing outlook regarding rescue work, and Eric and I would recommend them to anyone, not to mention work with them again ourselves.

They drove all night to transport Jack and his compatriots up from Alabama to Pennsylvania, where we picked him up at 7:30 on Saturday morning, and headed back to Petsmart to get him tags and let him pick out some treats and toys before bringing him home to settle in.

Because he was coming from down south, we couldn't meet him before adopting him, but we already loved him.  In fact, I spent three nights making this dog bed for him.  I made the pillow first, and then the bolster to fit around it.  I left it as two parts, and we brought the pillow to PA for him to lie on during the ride home.

He loved it immediately!  And after being in the truck all night with his puppy compatriots, he sacked out for most of the ride home.

A stop at Petsmart for some toys, a bone, and training stuff, and he was ready for a walk around the block and some fun in the yard.

It's love already!

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Artist Spotlight: Part One Hundred and Eight

You've met this artist, Kris, here before, here, here, here, and again here, when I showed you what I myself have gotten from her!

She's still at it, though, using her talent, creating, and making her wares available to all of us for purchase!  Check 'em out...

What you can find in Reflections:

There are paintings now!

And pendants!

What you can find in Lisianblue:

How sweet is that snuggle bunny?

For more, follow her on Twitter or her blog.
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