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Monday, November 30, 2009

Cooking with Coolio

I recently got a copy of Coolio's cookbook to review for Amazon. You can see my review here and all my book reviews here.
I got some of the thick wool-ease to make my son a scarf with. You know, after working with size 5 needles for the last week or so, it's just incredibly fast working with the size 13s. I forgot how fast and easy chunky yarns really are!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Vanilla Extract- repost with after pictures and suggestions

At the end of March, I made some vanilla extract. You're supposed to strain the beans and vanilla caviar out after 6 months, I actually let mine go 7. I did use it all the time just pouring carefully after it went about 2 months. It's a dark gorgeous thick vanilla now, but I only have about half a cup left. I'm getting ready to start some more.
So here's the original post.
I got my vanilla beans from Vanilla Products USA extract grade beans. This wound up being about 80 beans from 5 (at the shortest, and only a couple of those) to 7 inch beans. Delivery was fast, I did a buy it now on March 17th and got them today. Communication was good. When I opened the vacuum sealed pouch, I was hit by an intense vanilla/bourbon smell. Yum yum. The beans were thin, but full of a nice dense caviar, and they were moist, out of the ones I rendered for my extract, I only hit one woody bean in the bunch. Bonus- they sent me 10 free Tahitian extract grade beans to try. It was 10.95 + 3.12 first class mail. So about 18¢ per bean, which is a really great price.




So to make my extract, I used the method at Vanilla Review, he's got great instructions and takes vanilla super seriously. So I'm just going to give a quick overview and my math on it.
I *can* use a lot of vanilla, I use lots more than most people I think, since the complexities of underrated vanilla never fail to thrill me. And because vanilla meringues toasted to just golden are as close to a guilt free cookie as you can get. So if you're not as much into vanilla and think less will do fine, just reduce measurements.
So a quick reference for people who don't drink and need measurements (like I did.. so I'm just saving you the google time)
1/2 pint= 8 oz
1 pint= 16 oz
Fifth (the standard bottle size) = 1/5 gallon =25.6 ounces
VR recommends an ounce of beans per cup of liquid, and having 80 beans to 8 ounces roughly (I didn't weigh it) meant approximately 10 beans=1 ounce.
I used Skyy vodka because it was the only mid-tier vodka in a colored bottle. He recommends dark bottles, and in this bottle, I feel safe letting it set until it's ready. I won't put it in sunlight, but in one of my cupboards, it's fine. I got a fifth. Because I needed room for the beans, I poured 3/4 of a cup into a jar to use for something else (footspray actually.. I did mention I don't drink right?)
I wanted a double strength or better vanilla extract. So..
(25.6-6)/8= 2.45, or roughly 2 and half cups of vodka. So for a single strength extract, that would be 25 beans, for my double strength thick extract, it would 50 beans. I sliced off the tops and bottoms of the beans with my sharp knife, and put them in the bottle, then I sliced them lengthwise and used the back of the knife to scrape the caviar out and put the caviar in the bottle, and cut up the pods into inch long pieces and put them in the bottle. And did that for 50 beans, which was time consuming, but if you're making a smaller amount,or just want a single strenth you wouldn't need to do that many. I really like vanilla. When I was done, I recapped the bottle (oh.. a nice easy screw cap!) and gave it a good shake.
In 6 months, I'll strain out the beans, and decant it into smaller amber or green bottles and probably give away a few bottles to friends so my next batch can be made with Alaskan vodka. I'm planning to include a recipe for meringue cookies with it when I give away a couple bottles as gifts. It's supposed to be "done enough" after a month, but I want to let it go the full 6 months for the richness of flavor. A couple weeks before we strain the bean pieces out, we plan to make sugar crystals and then put the pieces in with them for a very fancy sugar for tea and coffee.

Of course, my husband was very patient about the whole house smelling like vanilla. Because he rocks like that.
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I strained out the beans into a glass measuring cup using a strainer lined with a coffee filter. I had to shake the bottle quite a bit to get all the beans out, but I did. If you can find a large mouth dark glass jar that might work better, but the shaking time didn't take very long. The cup on the left holds a little bit of coffee the way I brew it. Too dark using dark roasted beans. The one on the right has my vanilla extract in it. So you can see how dark the vanilla extract is. Too bad you can't smell it. It's pretty amazing, my best friend wants some to use as perfume.
Vanilla is expensive. Well, really, from the seller above, it's not very expensive. My husband who works in a large hotel doing a lot of purchasing was pretty surprised how inexpensively I bought my vanilla beans. But still, waste not, want not. I set the beans in a single layer in a glass baking pan and let them dry after straining them out of the extract. Some of them I mixed with a sugar free sweetener for my uncle. The flavor infuses the sweetener and adds a nice touch of vanilla to his tea, coffee and baking. Some went in my daughter's vanilla sugar jar. But I still had a lot left. So I tried grind a couple of the dried used vanilla beans  into my coffee beans then brewing the pot normally. It turned out fantastic. The coffee has a nice vanilla flavor that tastes natural instead of having the chemical flavoring that some vanilla flavored coffee and so far all vanilla flavored creamer I've tried have. It's yummy.
Time to get more vodka, but two bottles this time since I have an idea now how much vanilla I can use in 7 months. That way I'll have more to gift.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Star and Moon Gift Box


Another one of the first boxes I made was a star and moon design for my very good friend Melissa who loves all things celestial. I re-drew the original when I re-drew a whole bunch of my original boxes a couple years ago. You can find that here. The original is just a regular gift box. I was doing a lot with digital stained glass effects at that point until I finally found a method for doing it that I was really happy with.
The template I made for this version is the same one I used for the pink dotty argyle box that I made for putting soap balls in as a gift. It's one of my favorites of the templates I made this year. The lid is very fitted, and scoring and pre-folding are absolutely essential to get this one to turn out right. This one uses a flower as the star which was inspired by a pair of vintage costume earrings I have.
Click on the images for the full sized versions. It takes 2 sheets of cardstock. Print both images at 100 dpi.
 

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thank you and a sword design card box

When I first put up a printables page, it was in my mother's memory. She always encouraged me to make the most of my artistic skills and it was the sort of thing she would have loved. My children at the time were 7 and 2 and I designed some of my original printables with them in mind. Now they are 18 and 14 (their birthdays are 7 months apart if the math seems off.)
I never expected to see my printables page become more popular than my beadwork pages, it still surprises me that people like my boxes. Back then, most of the pages offered very cute clip art on boxes or were Victorian themed. My designs didn't really fit any category easily and even from the beginning I wanted to use my own art.
Thank you all for the support. To people who have just discovered my boxes to the people who have been following from the beginning. The comments and emails through the years have been heartwarming and encouraging. I tend to be very self-conscious and shy about showing off things I make, the last 11 years have helped out a lot with that and I've made some wonderful friends over that time. Thank you all so much. 
My son was into fantasy. A love of his that never quit. Harry Potter, Tolkien, his favorite books, games, movies and activities follow that love of fantasy. So one of the very first boxes I ever posted was a sword design.
Over the next couple of days I'll be using themes from those original boxes and making new boxes and posting them here. This first one is a template I made a couple years ago for my children's trading card games since both of them have lots more cards than they have boxes. It was supposed to be a stop gap until we picked up new boxes for them, but both of them loved their boxes so much they covered them with clear packing tape and still use them for the decks they play most. This one has a sword on it that's similar in a lot of ways to the original box I posted over a decade ago.
100 ppi, click on image for the full sized version.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thank You Notes

Like most families, we went around the table on Thanksgiving saying what we were thankful for. Today's printable is a variation on that idea. It's a combination place marker and hopefully a good new tradition. I'm making them up for my family. The idea is that you put in the name of the person who's supposed to sit in that place, and you set it and a pencil or pen at each place setting. After everyone sits down, everyone passes their note to the person next to them and fills in something each on with something you are personally thankful for or appreciate about the person named at the top and keep passing them around until they get back to the original person.
Sometimes, it's just nice to hear thanks or to get a compliment.
At 100 dpi, these will print 2 to a page, then just cut them apart. If you want to make them very neat, you can cut off the borders from the printer margins as well. They should copy well if you want to bring them someplace with a copier and do that to save your black ink.


Before I forget,
Thank you Rachel, for all the work you do with your wonderful collections of projects, for the inspiration you provide to so many crafters.
Thank you Rosemary,  you know what for. But I can't say it enough.
Thank you Teri, you are both inspiration and aspiration.
Thank you Amber, I can quite honestly say my life wouldn't be the same if I hadn't known you.
Thank you Sally for your continued encouragement and support.
Thank you Lori, notes like the one you left are absolutely the reason I want to keep doing this.
Thank you Summer- Again, for the constant encouragement


Thank you, to all my wonderful readers, I'm glad people enjoy this little blog and all the emails I've gotten over the years I've had my old printables site up and the encouragement I've had since starting this blog. 

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Snowflake tags and boxes


I did these in 300 ppi and pdf format, so they will take a couple minutes to download, but I hope you think it's worth it. I think these would look lovely accented with a little glitter.
You can download the pdf with the 2 inch tags, 12 on one page HERE
The box pdf has both colors on it, it's 2 pages, but you can print just one by selecting which page in your printer dialogue. You can download that HERE
The picture isn't really that good to see the detail of the tags. This is an example of one of them. Click on the image to see it in better detail. On your monitor it will show bigger than 2 inches, but it is a 2 inch tag in the pdf.
 
There are 2 each of 3 different snowflakes in 2 colorways for a total of 12 tags. 
I used a 2 inch circle punch to cut them out.
For lots of free Christmas printables, check out my Christmas printables page which has ornament boxes and gift boxes.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Imagine Peace Box


Today's MP3 album deal of the day on Amazon is John Lennon's Imagine for 2.99. Maybe the only song you know on it is Imagine, maybe not.
John Lennon has been my favorite singer for most of my life. I love the song Imagine, most people do, but my favorite song on that album is actually Oh My Love. John wrote some of the most honest and beautiful love songs ever, that's one of them. The whole album is wonderful though. Honesty and self examination is present in many of the songs like Crippled Inside and Jealous Guy, Gimme Some Truth is an angrier song than Imagine about war and politics.
Anyway, it just makes me happy that it's so inexpensive.
I hope you enjoy this box inspired by the cover of the album and the song Imagine.



Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Books and liqueurs

Well, everyone knows now that Kindle is available for PC right?
I love my Kindle. I got it right after the coverage went nation-wide because the original coverage wasn't available in Alaska. For me, it's this whole futuristic thing that appeals to me even more than flying cars would. I read a lot of cyberpunk and sci-fi well.. pretty much my whole life. The Kindle, with the ability to follow blogs and newspapers, near instantly download books and all that.. it is the future to me. Well, that and my ipod.
I love to read. I read all the time, and the reason we lived in the same place for 11 years without looking for a bigger house is because my husband flat out refuses to move my books again "anytime soon". Having the Kindle at least slowed down the books coming into the house. I still buy craft books and cookbooks, plus what I get to review. But fiction I buy mostly in Kindle format.
Anyway, all that gushing to say, I have a list of mostly freebies with the exception of a little booklet I wrote about baking bread that has a bunch of public domain cookbooks.
I need to add some of the Storey Country Wisdom Bulletins to the list. They are under 4 dollars each and are short booklets with a ton of information on all sorts of things. I just finished the one on making liqueurs for gifts which was exactly the information I was looking for. I want to make a vanilla cream liqueur for Mike's boss for the holidays, and I need information on how to make it. It didn't have a recipe for exactly what I want to make, but that's fine, I prefer to make things up myself once I understand the process. I'll post the recipe after I make it. I think it will be a good one for in coffee.
E and I are going to also work on dairy based homemade flavored creamers for coffee that won't have corn syrup in them (boo hiss!).

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Camouflage Cookie Boxes



Camouflage cookie boxes in 3 colors. I was originally planning on doing them in the old style camo, but decided to see if I could do a digital camo effect, then I just colored it 3 ways. I hope you like them.
The finished box size is 3x3x.75 inches printed at 100 dpi. When I showed my husband the snowflake box and said it was the right size to give someone one cookie, he said "That's not very generous. One cookie?" and I said "When I make cookies, how many are you willing to give away?" and he said "None." So I said one is a lot more generous than none.
This one I made just a little deeper. I think it will fit 2 cookies if they are fairly flat.
Just don't ask me for cookies. Except maybe shortbread. I'm still baking a lot of that working out recipes.
Click on the images for the full sized versions.



 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Soapy happiness

As I've mentioned before, I don't make soap. I use it though for laundry, for my hair, for my body and if I could find a formulation that worked well with dishes, I'd use soap for that too.
Real soap.
I read a lot of books about soapmaking. Even though I don't make soap I'm fascinated by the process and actually E and I do plan to make some sometime soon.
I just finished reading Soap: Making It, Enjoying It by Ann Bramson, it's not very expensive and it's a good book from the early 70s. Not the best book to start with if you want to start making soap, but if you want a clearer idea of how it's made, the history of soap and some tips on making pretty handcarved bars from a simple box mold, it's good. The reason I don't think it's a good beginning soapmaking book is because soapmaking has come a very long way since the mid-70s, the internet, people sharing information, the fact there is so much more information than there was then means that a lot of the information is out of date. Like she says to put the water into the lye in a glass juice bottle which can be dangerous. More current books explain how to mix lye into water more safely.
But the sheer amount of information on the history of soap was a lot of fun to read, and unlike a lot of how to books, her writing style is accessible enough I was able to read it from cover to cover instead of just reading the parts that looked interesting. Soap is a passion for her and her book was one of the first really good ones on soapmaking. Another thing is that most of her soaps are tallow soap, which means rendering fat to make the tallow. I like tallow soaps. In fact an awful lot of current formulations by major soap companies contain tallow, which makes for a nice hard bar of soap. More modern books focus on vegetable and nut oils that don't need hours of boiling and straining and have no animal by-products.
I've gone into detail about why I like soap, real soap over detergents. At some point I'll have to work on a list to ask soapmakers so you can know what you are using and buying. I usually ask if it's hot or cold process (cold process soap isn't boiled after the lye and fat are mixed, it's given time to age and fully cure to be usable, hot process is boiled to completely saponify all the fat and lye mixture and is usable as soon as it sets), if it's super-fatted (which means fat added that isn't saponified) and what additional ingredients are in it and if it uses essential oils or fragrance oils for scent. I will buy soaps that use fragrance oils, but I like to know for sure. Rose and jasmine soap from cottage industries almost always use a fragrance oil because their essential oils are really expensive.
For store bought soaps, there are a couple kinds that are real soap. Little House in the Suburbs says that Ivory is a good substitute for handmade soaps because it's inexpensive and only has a few ingredients which is what you're looking for in real soap. Mike uses Dr. Bronner's exclusively, the liquid version which seems expensive, but a little bit goes a long way, and can actually be diluted to half water, half soap if the people in your family just can't resist using lots.
One thing that Ms. Bramson recommended in her book to cut down on soap usage was not running the bar across your body and keep it all wet in the shower or bath, but using wet hands to soap up your hands and using your soapy hands which keeps the soap from being too water-logged and helps it last longer.
I love using my soaps. Other than Mike, we mostly use Gladheart Acres soap, which is cold process. We buy several bars at a time and the kids sniff them and pick out their soaps carefully. They love the whole process of it. We use end-cuts and mistakes from them in our kitchen and by our bathroom sinks for handwashing.
I'm reading another book on soapmaking now in between working on my current project which is pin cushion that's just turning out too cute. I should have that done in a day or two to show off and post general instructions for on Beadwork at Bellaonline.com.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Compleat Cook- a 1658 cookbook

I love my Kindle.
One of the nice things about it is that slowly a lot of the public domain material from places like Project Gutenberg is becoming available in Kindle format so I can hit one click buy for free, and turn on my Kindle, open up the connection, and get it in seconds. The weird part is that a lot of it is not being reviewed. So I went to review a cookbook I downloaded and just started really going through in the last couple of days. The cookbook is The Compleat Cook Expertly Prescribing the Most Ready Wayes, Whether Italian, Spanish or French, for Dressing of Flesh and Fish, Ordering Of Sauces or Making of Pastry which was printed in 1658.(Project Gutenberg link to read online or download) The first reviewer said it was from 1658 and you couldn't make the recipes now. I had to disagree and said this..
Yes, the first reviewer is right, this IS a cookbook from 1658. But I don't see that as being a bad thing at all. A lot of the recipes in it are doable now and adaptable. If you are interested in renaissance era cooking at all, it's an invaluable guide and being in Kindle format makes it easy to bookmark things you want to try out later.
It is NOT a step by step cookbook as we are used to now, so it will take a little bit of research to understand what some of the terms are, as well as a decent knowledge of how to cook to be able to do the recipes in it. It will call for "enough flower to make a past" which means enough flour to make a paste/dough, or for cooking in a "quick" oven which means hot. You don't get exact temperatures or times or even exact measurements for a lot of the recipes.
That said, I read some of the recipes to my husband yesterday and he's looking forward to me trying them.
It also has a couple bread recipes in it, and a lot of bread recipes weren't recorded in the middle ages and during the renaissance because it was generally assumed that people knew how to make bread. Which leads to another thing that people miss in older recipes. We are very used to having instant dry yeast available to us, so when we look at older beer or bread recipes that call for a cup of yeast, it's a bit confusing. Yeast at that point was the sourdough yeast culture, a liquid mix of flour and water that had live yeast growing and active in it.
It's free and it's a nice bit of history.
----
I'll admit, there is something very strange about reading a cookbook that old on something that seems to be science fiction to me still even having one.
You can see all my book reviews here.
Okay..back to beading.

Monday, November 9, 2009

BeadTool4

I recently wrote a review of BeadTool 4 that you can find here on the BellaOnline beadwork site. I'm really impressed with it. In the article I used some pictures I took of mushrooms to show how nicely the photo conversion works.
I just used one of those wild rose pictures I took this summer and converted it to a 50x50 peyote stitched pattern.

This is the photo I used.
 
The realistic bead image, set at size 12 for export.
 
Indexed, unshaded beads, same pattern. It also generated a color list.
1-DB-1482 Transparent Lt Rose Luster Count:666
2-DB-1267 Matte Transparent Olive Count:402
3-DB-1484 Transparent Lt Moss Green Luster Count:148
4-DB-279 Lined Green/Maroon Luster Count:409
5-DB-310 Jet Black Matte Count:69
6-DB-436 Galvanized Pewter Count:46
7-DB-1406 Transparent Pale Grey Count:49
8-DB-1497 Opaque Lt Sky Blue Count:12
9-DB-281 Lined Pale Blue/Magenta Luster Count:50
A-DB-1054 Matte Metallic Violet/Gold AB Count:18
B-DB-422 Metallic Magenta  Count:226
C-DB-1310 Transparent Fuchsia Count:142
D-DB-1340 Silver Lined Bright Fuchsia Count:54
E-DB-1184 Galvanized SF Magenta Count:62
F-DB-355 Matte Rose Count:91
G-DB-157 Opaque Cream AB Count:41
H-DB-121 Dark Topaz Gold Luster Count:15
As usual, click on the images for the full sized view. I really really like this program. It won't replace the way I usually graph, but for photo conversion it's really wonderful.

We got our first snowfall!

It's all snowy and white. I love the way it looks.
I drew this box this morning to celebrate. I hope you like it! Click on the image for the full sized version. Makes a 2x2 inch cube.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sparkly Recycled Cardboard Ornaments


 We keep cardboard food packaging to use for crafting. It becomes the frame work for duct tape purses, new boxes, covers and backs for mini-notebooks and all sorts of other things. I like these a lot too. Glittered ornaments for our tree.
What you'll need is templates or craft punches a small hole punch, all but the heart I used a 1/8 inch punch on, glitter, we used Martha Stewart's because I have lots of it I bought on sale after the holidays last year,glue and some sort of spray sealer.
If you use my templates, print them out on paper, then cut them out. Trace the shapes on to your cardboard and cut out the cardboard. A craft knife is helpful for the peace symbol, but if you work carefully you can use scissors.
Punch a small hole near the top, and cover the shapes with glue and sprinkle glitter on them. Let dry. Seal. If you want them to come out very nice and neat looking, you could spray paint the shapes before spreading the glue and glitter on them, but I like the way these look without it. We put the glitter on the plain brown side.
You can actually decorate these all sorts of ways. I offered my daughter buttons and sequins as well. She did the green ones.She also wanted me to point out the shapes make nice negative stencils to decorate clothing with. Click on the templates for the full sized version.


 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sally's Snowflake- Cookie Box template


4 different colors. I hope you enjoy this as much I enjoyed doing the art for it.
Click on the image for the full sized version. Print at 100 dpi on card stock. Thinking more about this shape, I think it would work well for gifts of handkerchiefs as well. I have handkerchiefs on the mind though, I just got a bunch of vintage ones for my daughter so she'd stop using her great grandmother's hankies. She's thrilled with the prettiness of them, and I told her since they were hers she could re-embroider them if she wanted.
 
 
 


I was thinking about putting individual blank templates in my Etsy shop for 1.50 each for other people to use. I'll still keep posting lots of decorated ones here if I do that.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Heart topped box



Another new template. The top of this one makes a heart shape by interlocking the top pieces. 4 color ways. I hope you enjoy it!
Click on the images for the full sized versions. 100 ppi makes a 2 inch cube shaped box.

 
 
 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A flat box



This is just me playing around with a new template and some techniques but I was happy enough with the results I decided to post my test model.
The finished size is 3x3x.5 inches, which I think makes it's just the right size for one cookie, or a necklace or pair of earrings. As usual, click on the image for the full sized version and print at 100 dpi.

I hope you like it!

Can't Stand to Cook

When I was young, my mom worked for the local Equal Rights Commission, which happened to be in the same building as the local MS Society. As a result she had a lot of friends who had MS. I did all the readathons and other fund raisers of course because I personally saw how MS impacted families, a couple of those friends of my mom had children the same age as me.
I have a cookbook from that time period, called Can't Stand to Cook. It's a cookbook written expressly for the handicapped. Chair bound and otherwise handicapped people who might want to make their family a meal but didn't always have the resources available to do a lot of what's involved. This book was written when microwaves were brand new and nobody had food processors to do all the chopping.
I've wanted to do a website on that same theme for years. Even before I became handicapped. But now it's a lot more personal. I'm trying to figure out how to do it, how to schedule the updates I want to make to other sites, e-groups, etc, and still have time to do that site.
I'm not nearly as handicapped as those fine women my mom knew then were, just mildly so. There are days when I have to make choices about how much I can do. There are days when the best I can manage is to talk my husband through a simple meal. Then there are days when I can actually cook almost like I used to, I have to change some things.Even on my best days, everything it takes to make a chicken pot pie properly is not going to happen without a lot of help.
Still deciding how I'm going to do it. If it's going to be a reasonably static site or something like a blog with other contributers, or a posting board, but more and more people I know who have some of the issues I have are asking for tips and techniques and quickie recipes for the bad days.

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