Sunday, May 13, 2018

Loving Stitches (Happy Belated Mother's Day)

Hand Embroidered Mother's Day Card from Make it Bake it Buy it Fake it

Technology changes rapidly when you're not paying attention to it. It actually changes pretty darned fast even when you are.

I've not been blogging for a while and the online photo editing program I used to use apparently decided to cease operations at some point in the last year or so. Since I only use it for watermarking blog photos, I never noticed that it wasn't there anymore... not until I needed it.

So, better late than never, I give you all my very happiest of Mother's Day wishes. If you're not a mother, I'm betting that you had one, so have a big bucket of happy wishes from me anyway.

And speaking of lateness... while I did finish the cards I made for our moms in plenty of time, I did not get them to the post office in time for Saturday's delivery... this blog post was to be a preview. Oops. It's a good thing I already have a reputation for doing this type of thing... expectations are never too high and nobody gets disappointed! Just being true to myself (har har).

I make 99.9% of the greeting cards we send out which saves us a lot of money and takes me hours and hours to do. Somehow this makes perfectly logical sense to me. It also means I must love you a lot. Seriously, I'm not going to spend that kind of time on you if I don't care for you. Consider it an expression of my love. Because it is. Very much so.

I dragged out the old embroidery basket for the Mother's Day cards I made this year. Links for the design, template and instructions for this lovely card can be found on the wonderful but sadly now also defunct blog How About Orange. I really love how these cards turned out and enjoyed making them so much. I stitched the design onto a separate piece of cardstock (see photo), trimmed it down and then attached it with strong double-sided adhesive to a colored blank card. Simple, easy, and yes, more than a little time consuming.

Some tips from me:
  • Don't use a thin cardstock for the stitching.
  • Be sure to "strand" your embroidery floss before using.*
  • Don't use too long of a length of floss. Yes, it's a drag to stop and start often, but constant twisting and unwanted knots are a bigger drag and take longer to deal with.
  • When your floss starts to twist on itself, stop and hold the work up letting the needle and thread hang freely. Pick the needle back up and continue stitching.
  • Do use tape to stick the ends of the floss down when starting and stopping (instead of knots). It won't be seen and you won't have any extra bumpy bulk to deal with.
  • Don't make more work for yourself by making smaller stitches than the template shows... it's a simple project but takes longer than you think it will!
  • Take your time pulling each stitch through. Rush it and you risk knotting your floss or worse, tearing the paper.
  • If your holes are too close together and/or your floss has too many strands, you risk tearing through between the holes (think of perforated stamps).
  • Use the thinnest embroidery needle that you can get your floss to thread through.
  • Don't skip the pre-punching your design step! It's crucial to success.
Cheers, my dears!

* I don't know if "stranding" (to strand) is the correct term, but you'll want to do it anyway. It makes your stitches behave better during and look better after. To do it, cut the floss to a workable length (no more than 20") and pull each strand out separately before recombining the number you want to use (I used three for the card in the photo above). Just grab one thread and pull straight up (not outward), lay it down flat and pull out each of the remaining threads one-by-one.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Joy's Chocolate Bundt Cake

Joy's Chocolate Bundt Cake
Here's another yummie I made a while back but never posted. It just looks like Easter doesn't it? It looks like spring. But I didn't bake it in spring or for Easter. Actually, I think I might have. But I never got it onto the blog though, did I?

If I miss the window for posting something, I have to wait until its time comes back around. If I miss it again (and again)... and then take a break from blogging... well, here we are...years later, talking about this cake as if I made it yesterday (don't I wish!)

Now, a chocolate cake is fine any time of the year. Seriously, it just is. But once I sprinkled those candied sunflower seeds on top (to distract from my weird icing technique), it just plants itself firmly at Easter or the weeks surrounding it. 

There was of course a frosting fail on this one. It's always something, and this time it was the frosting.* There's a whole back-story about how I contacted Joy (The Baker, herself) regarding the frosting issue I was having and how very very gracious she was with her replies. It was so long ago now, that the details aren't important. What matters is how delicious this cake is (frosted or not), and how lovely she was about taking the time to listen and respond to my questions. She is the real deal, and her recipes rock.

[also on page 179 of the (awesome) Joy the Baker Cookbook]

My Notes: As I mentioned above, I had issues with the glaze and ended up whipping it in the mixer which turned it into the fluffy gargantuan mass of frosting you see in the photo. I have never frosted a bundt cake in my life, and hadn't a clue what to do with it all. I had no choice but to just wing it since I was taking it to an event. Weird but delicious.

*Actually a lot of the time it's the frosting that gives me the most problems. Apparently it's a "thing" with me. Which then obviously is why I don't do a lot of frosted cakes! The fact that this scrumptious cake is supposed to be GLAZED and not frosted should tell you something.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Little Ginger Cookies (and early spring flours)

These little Ginger Cookies are small in size but big on flavor!
Confession time... The photo above was taken five years ago. It's true. I always meant to write about these awesome cookies but never did. Lately I've been doing some digital-decluttering and I saw this picture and remembered those tiny cookies packed with two kinds of ginger, dried apricots, and dark chocolate. Well, you probably guessed what happened next: I had to make the cookies again because I couldn't stop thinking about them! It helped that I happened to have nearly all the ingredients on hand too.

Whole wheat pastry flour... I had none. Not to be deterred by a single ingredient, but also not wanting to ruin the cookies (and risk wasting the other ingredients), I found a possible substitution. The good news is it works!* You do need cake flour to make it work though, which is not something I always have on hand either. I did have some this time though, thanks to a friend who gave up gluten last year. So here's how to fake it:
For every cup of whole wheat pastry flour needed:
Use a half cup of white whole wheat flour and a half cup of cake flour.
Of course, having found the photo and baked up the cookies, I needed to share them with you. I know it's nearly spring and these seem more of an autumn/winter cookie, but I didn't want to wait any longer. When you're decluttering, once you decide to let go of something, you have to get it out of the house or you haven't really gotten rid of it, right? It's still there, in your space, hanging over your head unfinished. This is like that. I needed to free up space, clear the decks and sweep away some cobwebs. Got to move forward.

Only ever-so-slightly out of season. So while our thoughts and taste buds are rushing toward everything fresh, bright, light and spring-y, I give you these little gingery, chocolate-y, crisp and chewy cookies. Spring hasn't sprung everywhere yet–and even where it has, I'm betting the evenings are still chilly–and these little cookies go great with a mug of hot tea or coffee. They're tiny cookies (maybe an inch and a half across) that are perfect when you want a little sweet-but-not-too-sweet something.

Sparkling Ginger Chip Cookies from Heidi Swanson's blog: 101 Cookbooks
(recipe can also be found on page 197 of her book: Super Natural Every Day)

According to the recipe, you could also make these with all-purpose flour or even spelt flour. Yes, all-purpose. Of course, I didn't notice that part until later (cough, cough)... but if I had, I wouldn't have found the awesome whole wheat pastry flour substitution! Yea! So if you are out of whole wheat pastry flour and cake flour too, reach for good ol' all-purpose flour (unless, of course, you happen to have spelt flour on hand...

My Notes: The batch in the photo are flatter than they usually turn out. Possibly because I baked them right after mixing the dough. Usually I will shape all the cookies and then refrigerate or freeze them for later. Then, just before baking, I'll roll them in the sugar. So, most of the time the cookies are more domed with cracks across them... which is how they are supposed to look. They're uncommonly delicious, domed or not. Another substitution I made on these was the use of semi-sweet chocolate chips. It was the only chocolate in the pantry, and yes, I chopped them with a knife. Next time I might try the food processor... or a hammer (only semi-kidding about the hammer). The cookies are so small that to leave the chocolate chips whole would throw the flavor/texture off completely. Chop, chop!

*Regarding the whole wheat pastry flour substitution: Just because it worked in this recipe, doesn't necessarily mean it will work in other recipes calling for whole wheat pastry flour. However, in a pinch and if I'm desperate, I'll give it a go. I just won't hang all my hopes and dreams on it working and it should be fine. :)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Summer Garden Facial Cleansing Bar (for any time of year)

This is what friends do, they tell each other about neat stuff they find... like a shoe sale, a cool band, or a great recipe. Well, I've been remiss in telling you about the Cleansing Bars I made from LisaLise Natural Skin Care. Please forgive me! Lise's blog is full of recipes for making all sorts of your own natural skin care and cosmetics at home, but it was her soap-less facial cleansing bars that were on my mind (and my to-do list) for a long time. I knew I wanted to make one, it just took me a while to get around to it. 

Curious about cleansing bars.
If you're unfamiliar with the idea of a Cleansing Bar, it's a semi-solid blend of butters, oils, clays and more, that cleanse and moisturize your face in one easy step. Absolutely brilliant, right? ...but I didn't need another face cleansing method. After all, I was content with what I'd been using.

If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it.
I am the type of person that will happily stick with something for a long long time... so long as everything is running smoothly. I've been using the Oil Cleansing Method for quite a few years now and couldn't be happier with it. Occasionally I will do a honey-wash, just to change things up, but then it's right back to the OCM. It works great for me, but....

Change when there is a need.
The one thing that the OCM doesn't do is exfoliate, and whenever my face is in Seasonal Transition Mode, it can get dry and flaky (or apparently worse). That's when I need some mild exfoliation and a heavy dose of moisturization. Rather than adding another step to my routine, Lise's Cleansing Bars are a one-step wonder: they cleanse, gently exfoliate, and moisturize.

Late last fall, I finally made Lise's Rose Clay & Oat Cleansing Bar. A version of it anyway. A few ingredient substitutions were necessary (only because once I had decided to make it, I wanted to make it right away... no time to stop and shop first). The result? I absolutely loved it!

I call my version "Summer Garden" because the lavender and rose remind me of just that...  even though they're dried and you can make this (and use it) at any time of year...