Thursday, November 20, 2014

Barking Mad.

In order to be really happy, I need to do something creative every day.  Usually those things happen with some sort of needle and some sort of thread.  But sometimes they happen in the kitchen.

Lately I can't get enough of making chocolate bark.  I got onto the idea from an article in Midwest Living magazine.  I have no idea why I get this magazine - I've never subscribed or paid for it, it just shows up every couple months!  The November/December issue had a nice spread with all different kinds of chocolate bark recipes, and I couldn't wait to try it.

I've been posting pictures of my bark on Instagram, and people are going kind of nuts.  But it's super easy to do!  The article linked above tells you everything you need to know - really it's just melting chocolate and putting some stuff on top.  But I went ahead and took some pictures today when I made some up, so I could share it with you all.

My big take-away from this article was the part about fake tempering chocolate.  I've always melted chocolate over a double boiler, but you can easily scorch it that way if you're not careful.  This way is so easy and gives great results - the chocolate comes out smooth and silky.

Start with block chocolate you like.  It doesn't have to be anything fancy.  I used Trader Joe's Pound Plus - 17.5 ounces for $4.99!  And for those of you with no Trader Joe's nearby, don't fret:  apparently you can order this stuff off Amazon!   For each of the following "bars" I used about 4.5 ounces of chocolate.

Chop the chocolate fine.  This is the hardest part of the whole thing!  But the finer you chop it, the faster it will melt.  You could also grate it, but chopping is easier for me.

Place the chocolate in a bowl, then float that bowl in another, larger bowl half full of very hot tap water.  The water I used was about 125 degrees F.

Now this is VERY IMPORTANT - do not let ANY water get into your chocolate.  If it does, the chocolate will "seize" and not melt.  (This is a problem I've had with using the double boiler, because of all the steam it produces.)

Every once in a while, give your chocolate a stir, making sure not to let any water get into it.  It should be completely melted and smooth in 10 - 15 minutes.

Carefully lift the bowl out of the water and wipe the bottom with a paper towel to continue protecting the chocolate.

Pour it out onto a piece of parchment (or waxed) paper, then sprinkle your prepared toppings on it.  You can do your topping prep - chopping and such - while the chocolate melts.  I spread mine to about 1/4" thick; that 4.5 ounces gives me a bar that's about 8" x 4".

I got creative with my first one today and did a combo I've been thinking about for a while:  Turkish dried figs, walnuts and Urfa pepper (a spicy, sweet, smoky red pepper from the southeast of Turkey) on top of 45% dark chocolate.

I made a second bar with white chocolate, which I love but Hubby hates.  Teeheeeheeee!  This one has almonds and candied ginger.

And finally I made one of the recipes from the article:  "The Macaroon."  This one has toasted slivered almonds, shredded coconut and a sprinkle of sea salt on top of 72% dark.

And here's the first one I made a few days ago, now half gone.  This one had walnuts and cranberries, and Hubby loved it.  I've been putting a few pieces in his lunch for the last few days. <3

I've really had fun making these and I think it would be a great activity to do with kids.  There are so many topping possibilities, it's been fun thinking about what to do next.  Of course, it would make a great gift or party theme too.

If you decide to try it out and come up with any creative combinations, let me know!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

FO: Anna's Garden Shell Top

Back with more Alabama Stitchin'!!  These days, AC projects and working on my Starmore sweater are all I seem to want to do.

Almost two months ago, I previewed a kit I had purchased over the summer from Alabama Chanin:  the Anna's Garden Shell Top.  I started working on it some time later, and finished it a couple weeks ago.  Today, I finally wore it when I went out for coffee with Alicia, so I took a few pictures before I left. 

I purchased the size Medium kit.  The fit is OK, but not as good as I could make it if I'd traced the pattern from the book and adjusted it for my needs.  I was surprised that the shoulders were a bit wide - surprised because my shoulders are on the wide side.  The top is also quite long.  I could easily cut off a couple inches from the bottom.  And of course, on my body, it would benefit from a sway back adjustment.  But it's a t-shirt, and none of these things are going to keep me from wearing and enjoying it.

Here are some up-close pictures of the garment, and then some modeled pictures.

From the front:  you can see that the cut of these tops is quite curvy, which I like.  The neck is also  high - a true jewel neckline - which I don't mind but I know a lot of people dislike.  I believe that this top uses the "T-Shirt Top" pattern from the Sewing + Design book, so you could replicate this look if you wanted to.  (The kit is no longer available.)

On the back, you can see the stitching from the label.

And here's the label from the inside.  Love. It.  I feel so cool knowing this label is in there.

The reverse applique sections were worked in backstitch using four strands of embroidery floss.  After working my first AC project with button craft thread, I wasn't sure I'd like the floss but I really loved it!  It's so silky.  The floss included in the kit was black and grey variegated.  It makes for an interesting look - I would use variegated floss again.

I was surprised when I received the kit that the cream piece for the inside was not the full width of the front piece.  Now that the top is put together though, I think it's a good thing - this fabric is quite thick.  The appliqued side almost feels like padding on my shoulder, and the weight of it tends to pull the top to that side.  Here it is from the inside, cut away after stitching.

I attached the bindings with cretan stitch again, and worked the seams inside felled.

And I finally bought a pair of black jeans, just to go with this top.  I don't think I've had a pair of black jeans in 25 years!

Here's a better look at the cutwork from the side:

Despite its imperfections, I'm happy with this project.  If you are tempted to try this technique but intimidated by all the hand stitching, a project like this - no sleeves, cutwork only on a small area - is a great place to start.

A couple days after I finished this, I started on a new AC project.  I just couldn't stand not having one on the go!  I'm trying different techniques with each project, so that one is very different from the 3 I've already done.  I'm not sure I like it quite as much, but I am having fun making it!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Starmore Sweater: Cutting Open a Steek

The weather has turned cooler, and that means I've gotten back to working on my Starmore sweater.  I spent a fair amount of time on it yesterday and managed to finish the first sleeve. 

This morning I cut open the steek for the second sleeve, and took a video while I did so.  It looks like the last video update I did on this sweater was a year ago, and there were some comments in between asking to show how the steek is cut.

I apologize for the poor focus - I had the camera to my left side, which meant I couldn't always see the screen to see if I was in focus!  But I think it's clear enough to give you the general idea.

So you see - nothing to fear!  If fear of steeks has kept you from working a Fair Isle sweater, fear no more!  If it's the massive amount of work involved though - well, I'm afraid there's no way around that. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Elephant in the Room: the Demise of the Stash Diet

Well, it probably comes as no surprise that I fell off the Stash Diet wagon quite some time ago.  I bought a lot of fabric over the summer - partly because it filled the void of not being able to sew; partly because Hubby saw some guitar-print fabrics he wanted for new shirts; partly because I was high on Emery Dress fumes and wanted Emery Dresses in All The Fabrics.

But there's been something else going on as well.  More and more, I've limited what I share on Flickr, and that is mostly because I've gotten a fair number of creepers following me.  It's gotten to the point that I've decided to completely delete my Flickr account rather than continue to deal with it. 

That is a personal decision, but as one of the administrators of the Stash Diet, I felt I should let everyone know.  There are still a few members who are actively participating.  Perhaps someone would like to take over as an administrator?  If so, please let me know.