Herbal Caramel Chocolates

Herbal Caramel Chocolates
When I was a kid we used to make those microwave wilton chocolate candies for everything. We’d pull out the box full of molds my mom had stuffed in a back cabinet from the week she decided she was going to take up chocolate making, we’d rescue some ancient chocolates from another pantry, and we’d laboriously paint with melted “chocolate” to make little gobs of something that tasted like wax. All the fun was in the making, but now that I’m older and snobbier about my chocolate, I want to make something that is worth the trouble. I’ve been intimidated by chocolate but there’s really no need. It’s way easier than I believed. You just need a thermometer.

For my filling I wanted to make an herbed caramel. Some of my favorite Chocolate Artisans (that’s what they call themselves) make caramels infused with rosemary and lavender and brandy and a whole bunch of other not sweet concoctions. So far, the weirder they are the more I like them, so I had to try my hand at my own version.

To add a flavor to the caramel there are a few different ways you could go. You could just chop up bits of whatever and toss it in and you’ll get a crunchy texture, or you could infuse it by melting the butter and then soaking the flavor item in the butter until it took on the flavor, or you can just go straight to adding a few drops of flavored oils – making sure they’re food grade of course. I tried a few options and I found the oil almost fool proof, while the other ways took more finesse than I seem to possess.

Caramel Filling
4 T butter flavored as desired
1/2 C half and half
1 C brown sugar

Over a gentle heat let this all melt together, whisking frequently. Don’t let the sugar burn or the milkfats cook. When it gets to be the consistency of a good caramel sauce, take it off the heat and let it cool.

Meanwhile, prepare your chocolate. If you just melt it and mold it it will taste fine, but if you want that beautiful shiny coating the fine chocolates have you want to take the time to temper your chocolate. This just refers to a heating process that creates the most preferable texture, and has to do with how molecules line up. It’s a simple three step process.
1.)In a bowl that sits over a pot of water, you melt the chocolate until it’s about 115 to 120 degrees.

2.) While stirring, add unmelted chocolate pieces until it cools down to around 81 to 83 degrees. Remove any chocolate pieces that remain unmelted.

3.) Return the bowl to the heat and bring it slowly back up to the working temperature – 86 – 89 degrees.

When your chocolate is tempered pour it into the molds. After much watching of youtube videos, I found that the paintbrushes I used to use as a kid are for suckers. The better way to get a coating on the molds is to fill it up completely, then flip the mold over and let it drain onto a rack or back into a bowl. You’ll get a beautiful thin even coat. Let that set up thoroughly.

The caramel needs to be cool enough to not melt through the chocolate and warm enough to pour. Room temperature is ideal. Fill the molds up, but resist the urge to overfill it. Top with more chocolate and use a metal spatula to scrape off any excess and leave the clean edge.

I was not super clean when I was making mine, I went through a whole lot of trial and error to get the caramel flavorings down and I just had no more patience for doing things the right way that day. But I still found the experience pretty empowering. Chocolate making isn’t that hard, you guys! If you passed seventh grade chemistry, you can totally make beautiful shiny chocolates.

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Apple Peanut Butter Bars

Peanut Butter Apple Bars
With only a few days before Christmas, it’s time to abandon plans for elaborate home made gifts for everyone from your mother to the mailman and go to the fastest gift of all – food. A plate full of sweet treats is part of what makes the holiday so much fun, so if you haven’t knitted a scarf for your neighbor or crafted an elaborate picture frame for your hairstylist, a plate of cookies is the way to go.

I came up with this recipe based on one of our favorite evening snacks – a fresh apple cut into pieces and dunked into peanut butter. I’d take those two flavors together even over peanut butter and chocolate, but you rarely see them together. So I had to fix that. If you don’t have any apple butter available or don’t feel like making any, you can sub in your favorite jams.

Apple Peanut Butter Bars

1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 C white sugar
1/2 C butter
1 C peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 C flour

1 C apple butter

Cream together the sugars, butter, and peanut butter. Add the egg and vanilla and mix together, then add the dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Set aside about 1/4 of the dough.

Butter and flour a casserole dish, then press the remaining dough into the bottom until it’s covered evenly. Poke a fork into the dough all over to give the steam somewhere to escape to so the dough doesn’t puff up. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Spread the apple butter over the cookie layer. If your apple butter is thinner than jam you might want to cook it on the stovetop for a while to thicken it up so the bottom cookie layer doesn’t get too soggy.

Take the reserved dough and crumble it over the top of the apple butter layer.

Bake at 350 for another 15 minutes. Let cool and cut into squares.

Apple Peanut Butter Bars
I made these for Bear’s work party and when I pulled the first batch out of the oven I was debating whether or not I should make more or if one would be enough. I brought a piece over to Bear and Atti and the tore it apart like cookie monster. I ended up making two more batches, so you might want to plan ahead.

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Modern Paper Christmas Tree

Modern Paper Christmas Tree
During Christmas I break all my usual design tastes. Throughout the year I like uncluttered, clean lines, minimalism, and midcentury modern. At Christmas I love it all. There’s no such thing as too much, no style unrepresented, I want every surface festooned with holiday cheer. So when I can make those two styles converge, just imagine the heaven I create for myself. Using some foam core, glue, and scrapbook paper I can make a Christmas tree that would be perfectly at home in Don Draper’s Manhattan loft.

Step 1
To make a tree the same size as mine, you’ll need three pieces of foam core posterboard. Cut each piece in half along the longest edge, and then mark the center line of each new piece with a pencil.

Step 2
Use an exacto knife to cut through the first layer of the foamcore along your pencil line, but don’t cut through that bottom layer. You just want to create a score line where the piece can bend, not cut the piece in half.

Step 3
Now you need to cut your foamcore into the shape for your branches. Line a ruler up with the center pencil mark at the top, and the outer corner of the bottom. Cut that line on both sides to create a triangle.

You’ll also need to cut the bottom edges so that when each piece is bent to make the branches it will still stand up correctly. You need the outside corners to be right angles, so you can measure that with a protractor and line that angle up with the center point. Then cut along the line you’ve created and repeat for the other side. If you have a self-healing mat used for quilting you don’t even need the protractor. You just line the outside edge up with one of the grid lines and then cut a straight line to the center point.

Step 4
To get the foamcore to bend you need to make some room, which means cutting away some of the foam. This will be the inside so you don’t have to be neat about it. I just tilted by knife to an angle and cut away the foam on either side of the scored center line, being careful not to cut through the front of the foamcore.

Step 5
I made six branches for my design, and once they’re folded in half it’s time to assemble. I lined each piece up to it’s neighbor, keeping them at an angle so they’d fan out instead of having each side stick together. Run a bunch of hot glue down the joint of each piece.

Step 6
To connect the two end pieces together, bend them around to meet and form your cone, then run glue down the joint as best you can from the inside. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to keep things in place.

Step 7
The hard work is done, now it’s just a matter of decorating. You could use any method you can dream up for this, but I wanted to bust out my glitter cardstock and my die cut machine and give this a paper tiling treatment. You just need to pick a basic shape – really, any shape will do – and cut a metric ton of pieces. I would recommend using a shape a little larger than the one I used because I was tiling for days, but the results are pretty great. If you don’t have a die cut machine just use a punch and some elbow grease.

Step 8
To cover up the outer edges of the branches, just bend your paper pieces over the tip.

Step 9
To cover up your center joints, bend your paper pieces in the middle and glue right over the top of it.

Step 10
Whatever shape you use to tile your tree with, it’s won’t be small enough to cover the top of your tree in a way that looks good. So we’re going to cover the top with a little cone. Start by cutting a circle out of coordinating paper, then cut a slit across to the center point. Wrap it around the top and cut off all but about a 1/2″ of the overlapping paper.

Step 11
Bend the cone so that it fits around the branches, then glue it in place.

Step 12
I’m never one to pass up glitter, particularly at Christmas, so I finished by dumping glue all over the tree to add a little white glitter to make it look snowkissed.

Foam Core Christmas Tree
I just love the sharp angles and clean lines of this tree. It brings my love of midcentury design together with my love of everything dripping in glitter to create the perfect Christmas decoration for me. Now I’m toying with the idea of making one even bigger.

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Reload Cereal Bowl

Reload Cereal Bowl
I have been getting way too big a kick out of myself lately. This is just one of a few projects lately that have me cracking up at my punny self. Geddit? Geddit? Once you get to the bottom of the bowl, you have to reload! I’m such a mom. That is total mom humor, but I can’t stop giggling at myself. Still, even if your gift list isn’t full of people who share my sense of humor, I think anyone who spends time on the internet, any tech person, any teenage gamer with a bottomless stomach, would get at least a grin out of this cereal bowl.

Supplies
Supplies are simple. You just need a clear glass bowl – I got mine at the dollar store – glass paint, a printout of the reload symbol sized to fit your bowl, and some tape to hold it all in place.

Step 1
Tape the image on the inside of the bowl, with the printing facing the bottom of the bowl. For this image it doesn’t really matter, but if you were using this technique with words you’d definitely want to reverse it before printing. You have to paint it backwards so that when it’s viewed right side up through the glass it’s the right way across.

Step 2
Use glass paint to trace the image on the bottom of the bowl, using several coats as needed to get the opaque coverage you need.

Step 3
When the black paint is dry, paint the entire back of the bowl gold, using several coats again to get solid coverage.

Step 4
Finish it off with a protective clear coat to really protect that paint job from being scratched off, and let it dry thoroughly.

Reload Bowl
Teenagers and dudes are so hard to shop for, but they’re even harder to make for. That was the whole inspiration behind this project, to come up with something homemade suitable for dudes. But every time I do that I end up making something really cool that would work for a huge swath of people. I think there’s a lesson there, but I’m too focused on what has to get done before Christmas to find it.

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Leather Strip Bracelet

Leather Bracelet
My whole family has just gotten over the flu, and today Atti got back from school with a fever for the second time in two weeks. So if I hadn’t gone in to Christmas wanting to keep things simple, Christmas has certainly become that way. But this bracelet is easy enough to make even from a sick bed. If you can pull yourself off the bathroom floor long enough to make it to the craft store, you can make this bracelet.

Supplies
You will need:
Leather strips – I got mine in a giant bag in the leather good aisle at my craft store. You could always cut your own, too.
Ribbon Crimps – This is a special jewelry clasp with teeth. Sometimes they’re called Ribbon Ends.
2 jump rings
1 larger jump ring
2 tassels – mine are leather tassels from Darice.

Step 1
The leather strips I bought were really thick and stiff, so the first thing I did was soak them in water overnight to make them more pliable. Then I picked out the strips I wanted to use and fed one end of them into one of the Ribbon Crimps. Use a pair of pliers to squish the teeth into the leather.

Step 2
Put each tassel onto one of the jump rings.

Step 3
Then put each jump ring onto the larger jump ring, and that jump ring onto the end of the clasp.

Step 4
Wrap the leather around your wrist twice to measure the length, then trim and attach the other end of the Ribbon Crimp.

Leather Strip Bracelet
I’m kind of obsessed with this bracelet. I think it’s so fashion forward. I love how, by decorating the clasp, you take the annoying propensity of the clasp to fall forward and make it work for you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a feverish boy to snuggle.

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Monogrammed Wooden Coasters

Monogrammed Wooden CoastersI don’t know if it’s just that I’m coming off of a hard year and need to keep things kind of simple, or if it’s just happenstance, but every idea I seemed to have this time around could be made in minutes. I had to repeat the stencil idea from yesterday, but instead of freezer paper – which wouldn’t stick to wood – this time we’re using vinyl shelf paper. Another exacto session and a little paint drying and this project is done in time to give to the hostess of the Christmas party that evening.

SuppliesYou will need:
a square wooden piece – I got mine precut in a bundle of 2 at Michael’s, but you could easily cut a piece yourself. You just don’t want it too thick.
a vinyl stencil – If you’ve got a vinyl cutter this is even easier, but without one you just get your image printed out, tape it on top of the shelf paper, and then use an exacto knife to cut through both layers at once.
Paint
Wood Stain

Step 1Peel off the paper backing and stick the stencil to the wooden piece. Take care to burnish all the edges down really tight to make a good seal.

Step 2Paint your image. I found that a thick craft paint worked best for this. Wood stain or dye or markers – anything very watery – will get absorbed by the wood grain and bleed through.

Step 3When your paint is dry, peel off the stencil. Give the edges a good sanding and if you want to distress your paint a little you can give that a sand as well. I like to take down the sharp edges as I’m sanding because I think it gives it a really finished look.

Step 4Use a paper towel or shop rag to rub wood stain over the entire coaster. Make sure to get the edges and the back as well. Let it dry thoroughly.

Step 5Repeat this process until you have a whole set ready for giving.

Wooden CoastersI’m not normally a fan of the rustic – I’m all clean lines and polish – but there’s something about wood that makes me throw all that out the window. I think these are lovely enough to just sit on a tabletop all the time, but because it’s unsealed wood it will also be the most absorbent coaster ever.

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Stenciled Tote Bag

Stenciled Tote Bag
This is another project just like yesterday’s that came from my “Gifts for Dudes” brainstorm session, and once again, it will work for absolutely anyone. But what really inspired this tote bag is Bear. He will not carry a bag. He’ll carry a laptop bag if necessary, but otherwise he’ll just toss things loose in his car, he’ll stuff his pockets, he’ll do without, but he won’t carry a tote. This frustrates me to no end because if we’re together, it means his junk gets put in my bag. I wanted to make this tote to encourage him to carry his own dang stuff, but also to celebrate anyone out there who is caring enough about the environment to use totes instead of worrying about how cool they look.

Step 1
This is a simple freezer paper stencil technique, which is one of my mainstays. It is so very simple and so very effective. You just need a surface to stencil – a tote bag in this case – freezer paper, and paint. It has to be freezer paper (which you’ll find next to the tinfoil) because that has a wax coating on one side that will melt into the fabric just enough to hold it locked in to place.

To make my stencils I just work up my image on the computer and print it out. Then I tape that print out on top of the freezer paper, and use an exacto knife to cut through both layers of paper. Make sure you save the insides of all those letters because you’ll need those to make the stencil look right.

Step 2
Use a hot dry iron to affix the stencil to the tote bag. Those tiny little centers can be tricky, but you’ll want to take care to get those good and stuck. Your image will come out so much cleaner if you do.

Step 3
Then just paint your image. I use regular acrylic craft paint and I never bother with any of those fabric mediums. Especially not with a tote bag that doesn’t require flexibility. When the paint is dry give it a good iron to really heat set that paint in place.

Tote Bag
Not only is this a great project for anyone, but it’s a great super last minute gift. Depending on how handy you are with your exacto knife, you could have this project done and wrapped in a couple of hours. Now that I think about it, this would be a fantastic teacher’s gift too. Every teacher I know has to carry mountains of books and papers around, and if it’s an English teacher, you know they’ll enjoy the pun.

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Leather Cord Roll

Leather Cord Roll
This year when brainstorming gift ideas, I worked really really hard to come up with some good stuff for dudes. The stuff I thought up is really appropriate for anybody, but they fit in those categories that men often show a lot of interest in – tech, gaming, travel. So, see? Anyone, but since most DIY projects land on the frilly side of the fence, anything that’s not made out of toile seems to count as for menfolk. Anyhoo, gender theory tangent aside, my point is that I’ve got some awesome stuff coming up that would be appropriate for dudes (as well as ladies) and today is the first of those projects.

I spent the last month traveling somewhere every week. And that much travel in such a short period of time will really highlight some of the frustrations in the process. A big one for me? Cords. They turn into a snarled mess in my bag, but I might need them at any moment so I can’t pack them away somewhere that won’t lead to me unpacking my whole bag every time I need my wallet. This cord roll solves that problem, and made out of leather and suede, it’s manly enough for the manliest man. It’s also simple enough you could make it during a commercial break.

Supplies
You will need:
A piece of leather or suede cut to 11″ x 4″
A strap of leather about 18″ long
Eyelets
Exacto knife
Hole punch
Eyelet setter
Scissors

Step 1
Once you get your piece of leather cut to the dimensions you’d like, you need to cut the slits in them. If you’re using my measurements, cut each slit 1″ apart, and 1 1/2″ long. Then do it again 1″ directly below the first slits. I used an exacto knife to make my marks and then came back with scissors to get all the way through the leather.

Since there are no seams and no sizing, you can make this roll any size you want and it will work. My sizes were based on what was available at my craft store, and what I thought looked about right. SUPER scientific.

Step 2
Then it’s just a matter of coming up with a closure. I used my Crop-O-Dile to punch a hole through the leather strap and the edge of the leather body piece, and then used it again to press an eyelet into place. My leather strap was pretty thick, so I found it helpful to use a longer than average eyelet, like the ones Darice sells. But if your strap is thinner than mine a regular eyelet will work just fine. They only trick is to make sure your strap isn’t crooked when you install it, because once that eyelet is in place it’s not going anywhere.

Step 3
Bundle up your cord and slide it through the tab you’ve made in your leather

Step 4
To close it, just roll the leather up and then use the leather strap to wrap around it a few times, tucking the end under the loops you’ve made.

Leather Cord Roll
I made sure to make extras of this project so that everyone in my house wouldn’t be fighting over it every time we went anywhere. And really, it took so little time that I could probably crank these out for everyone in line with us at the airport. It would be a way better use of my time than digging through everything I own for the right charger.

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12 Days of Christmas Gift Tower

Gift Tower
In all of my Christmas decorating, I haven’t done much with the theme of presents. That’s because all of my decorating is done in part so that the celebration isn’t just about getting stuff. But even I have to make certain exceptions, because there is little that is as pretty and thrilling as a wrapped up package. Except for maybe 12 wrapped up packages all tied up together. When I found this set of 12 nesting boxes, I knew I had to make a decoration that would celebrate the 12 days of Christmas.

Supplies
You will need:
A set of 12 nesting boxes. I got mine at Joann’s and they’re made by Die Cuts With A View
Spray paint
Glitter
Glue
Ribbon
Gift Tag

Step 1
You can decorate these boxes any way your heart desires. Since that top box gets so little, I wanted to keep the look pretty simple and traditional. I sprayed the boxes with a deep green or burgandy – planning that part out carefully so the colors would alternate correctly – and then misted some gold spray paint over the top to add an elegant metallic sheen.

Step 2
I added a glitter border around the lids of each box by running a line of glue around the very edge, and sprinkling it with glitter. Let this dry thoroughly before assembling, it’s easy to botch up the glue while it’s wet.

Step 3
Finish decorating the boxes however you’d like. I cut these numbers out of velvet paper and glued one on each side.

Step 4
Stack the boxes up by size and glue them in place.

Step 5
Wrap a ribbon around the entire stack and tie it off with a giant bow at the top. I love the effect I got from using a double sided ribbon.

Step 6
The gift tag I decorated with glitter in the same way as the box lids. A little glue around the edges and some glitter on top. Then just a handwritten message.

Step 7
When the tag is dry, tie it onto the bow.

12 Days of Christmas Gift Tower
This turned out to be a really simple project I finished in a matter of hours, and it’s a great way to add some height to a tablescape where everything is suffering from being around the same size. I think mine will go under my 12 Days of Christmas tree, as the perfect finishing touch I didn’t know I needed.

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Woven Seed Bead Necklace

Woven Seed Bead Necklace
I’m such a sucker for seed beads. Despite their small size, I’d rather work with seed beads than any other kind of bead. Which means you have to be really creative so you don’t just make the same necklace over and over again. To shake things up I thought I’d combine a couple of beading techniques – stringing and weaving. The woven sections are such a great contrast to the strung sections, and the strung sections means that it’s wearable and drapes beautifully. If you’ve never woven beads before, this is a great first project since you’ll only have to weave a few small sections.

Supplies
You will need:
Beading thread
Beading Needles
2 colors of small seed beads
1 color of larger seed beads

Step 1
You’ll save yourself a lot of grief if you give yourself a stopper so your beads don’t all just fall off the other end of the thread. Use a bead that brightly contrasts the color you’ll be weaving and thread it towards the bottom, leaving a few inches you can weave in later. Loop the thread around the outside of the bead and bring the needle through the other side, like you’re making a cursive L. Pull tight.

Step 2
Thread on your first row of beads to be woven. I made my sections 9 beads tall, but you can do as few or as many as you’d like.

Step 3
Thread on the first bead for Row 2, then in the same way you did for the stopper, bring the thread up and around and push the needle through the left side of the last bead on Row 1. Again, think cursive L.

Step 4
Bring the thread back up to Row 2 and push the needle through the bead you’ve added. Then repeat this process to add the next bead. Thread the new bead, push the needle through the bead directly below it…

Step 5
Then back up and through the new bead again. Keep pulling tight as you go, this looks best with nice tight tension.

Step 6
I made my woven sections 9 beads tall and 5 rows wide, but again, you can customize this however you’d like. Weave in the ends of your thread by running them through several beads and then cutting off the extra.

Step 7
Next comes the strung parts. Start with a stopper bead, then string a bunch of the smaller beads onto the beading thread, and when you get the length you need, thread on one of the woven sections by running the needle all the way through one of the rows of woven beads. When you come out the other side, continue stringing on the smaller beads.

Step 8
You’ll want to measure so that you get the overall size of the necklace you want, and then use that measurement to decide how long each section should be. I just figured it out as I went and held it up to myself, but if it’s a gift you’ll want to plan better than I did.

Step 9
When you’ve got all your strands done you’ll have a collection of tails to deal with. Gather all the tails on one side together and pull until you’ve got the beads lined up at the same point.

Step 10
Use a crimp bead to keep all these threads from escaping. Set aside two or three threads that are nice and long and then snip off the rest.

Step 11
Thread the remaining long threads through a jewelry cone and tuck all the unsightly thread stumps up inside.

Step 12
Thread on another crimp bead and then a jump ring. Bring the threads back around and back down through the crimp bead, and then smush that sucker to hold the jump ring tight. Thread the remaining threads back into the jewelry cone or just cut them off and dab with glue.

Step 13
Repeat with all the threads on the other side, and add a clasp on to the jump ring.

Necklace
This necklace is a classic, so depending on what colors you use and how long you make it, it will not only work for everyone from grandma to your niece, but it will never go out of style. I liked the opportunity to use just a pop of neon so I could get with a trend without getting swept away by it. I can do neon in doses this small.

Woven Bead Necklace

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