Salted Caramel Pumpkin Seeds

My neighbor Jaime did this to me so I have to do it to you.  It’s her fault.  Don’t blame me.  That’s all I have to say.

Happy Halloween.

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Seeds

  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups raw pumpkin seeds, rinsed and pat dry
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon each, brown sugar and granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, mix sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Add seeds and toss to coat evenly. Spread on the baking sheet and spray with cooking spray.

Bake seeds until lightly golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Stir in sugars and salt; cook until deep golden brown, 1-2 minutes.

Reduce heat to low and stir in seeds; coat with buttery caramel mixture and cook an additional minute.

Remove from heat and let cool before serving.

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World’s Best Gingerbread. Really.

The other day called for Gingerbread.  I hung up the phone.  The day called back and said “Chocolate Gingerbread.”

I said, “Speaking.”

IMG_5133It’s fall, it’s a thing with me to make gingerbread when it’s red and orange and golden outside and I’m wearing my boots.  Usually my go-to is Laurie Colwin’s recipe but I was in the mood to expand my horizons and see what else was out there in the world.

I found the world’s best at a blog called The English Kitchen.

Now I do realize that when you throw around words like “world” and “best” then you better damn well deliver.  This recipe delivers.  If this isn’t the world’s best damn gingerbread, it’s pretty damn close.  It’s everything the author says it is:  “no-fail, bakes up deliciously moist, the perfect blend of spice and heat, and it tastes better and better with each day that passes.”

The author gives her gingerbread a lemon glaze.  I put my twist on it by adding cocoa powder.  Frankly it needs nothing.  It needs nothing and gives everything.  That is the world’s best gingerbread.

World’s Best Gingerbread (really) from “The English Kitchen”

  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 heaping tbsp Hershey Special Dark Cocoa Powder (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups boiling water
  • 1/4 dark treacle and 1/2 cup Golden syrup (I have no idea what treacle is; I already had Lyle’s Golden syrup from when I make Laurie Colwin’s recipe, but only just 1/2 cup.  I used 1/4 cup molasses for the treacle to get to the 3/4 cup.  The English Kitchen says you can use all molasses, so don’t sweat it)
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and flour a 9 inch square baking tin, or spray with Pam.

Add the treacle/molasses and syrup to the boiling water along with the baking soda.  Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

Whisk together the flour, spices, cocoa, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

Cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg.  Add the cooled syrup mixture to the creamed mixture.  Stir in the dry ingredients only to blend and note this is very liquid batter, don’t be alarmed!

Pour batter into the prepared baking pan.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until well risen and the top springs back when lightly touched, or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Serve warm, or pick at it in the middle of the night.  It’s divine.

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Bloody Dragonflies

Failed attempt #13

Failed attempt #13

And bloody they are.  It took me twenty-eight attempts and a video tutorial from my cousin Donna to master this damn stitch.  I found it on Freeknitstitches.com via Pinterest and whoever wrote the directions is just plain mean.  Here they are as lovingly deciphered, decoded and put down by Donna, with a few tweaks by yours truly for those of us who like everything spelled out.

Dragonfly Lace Stitch

Cast on 16 stitches

Row 1:  P2, K4, K2tog, YO2, Sl1, K1, PSSO, K4, P2

Row 2:  K2, P3, P2tog, Slip 1 of the YO’s purlwise, YO2 purlwise, Slip the other YO purlwise, Sl1, P1, PSSO, P2, K2

Row 3:  P2, K2, K2tog, drop all the YO’s off the left needle – there should be 2 long strands; take them up with your right needle, YO2 knitwise, then go under the YO’s again; Sl1, K1, PSSO, K2, P2.

Note:  at this point, the slipped loops and the YO’s in the middle make what Donna and I call THE TANGLE.  THE TANGLE is ugly but don’t let it frighten you.  THE TANGLE is a metaphor for life, just keep going and it will work out in the end.

Row 4:  K2, P1, P2tog, drop THE TANGLE off the left needle , it is now 3 strands; take them up with your right needle, YO2 purlwise, then go under THE TANGLE again; Sl1, P1, PSSO*, P1, K2

Row 5:  P2, K2tog, drop THE TANGLE which is now 4 strands; take them up with your right needle, YO2, then go under THE TANGLE again; Sl1, K1, PSSO, P2

Row 6:  K2, P1, 4YO cast-on style**, drop THE TANGLE and P1, K1 into it – keep tension as even as possible and pull tight as you are doing the final “draw-up” of the wings; 4YO cast-on style, P1, K2

Row 7:  P2, K12, P2

Row 8:  K2, P12, K2

Row 9:  Same as 7

Row 10:  Same as 8

* On the even rows, this PSSO was a little tricky (for me) because that slipped stitch liked to “hide” under a long strand.  Just be sure you’re passing the correct thing over.

** YO cast-on style – Donna had to show me what she meant by this.  You don’t want to simply wrap the yarn around 4 times, it will all fall apart in the next row.  Do a yarn over the right needle, then take that loop off, turn it 180 degrees, and put it back on the right needle.  Repeat 3 times.  If that doesn’t make sense, give me a holler, I’ll try to explain better.

So the Dragonfly is 16 stitches wide.  Below I attempted a double swatch with 2 lead off knits, 2 knits in the center, and 2 ending knits, so I cast on 38 stitches total.  Those 6 knits are always knit, odd and even rows.  This is one that takes a ton of practice, I’m still not happy with the final P1, K1 into THE TANGLE on row 6, I wish I could get it tighter.

If you try this and find it incredibly difficult and frustrating, do tell me about it, please!  Remember it took me twenty-seven times to finally get it so don’t get discouraged.

(If you breeze right through it on the first try, I don’t want to hear from you)

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Paint Swatch Art: Fall Tree

If you want to lose an hour of your life, search “Paint Swatch Art” on Pinterest.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Nobody warned me, next thing I know Panda and I are skulking out of Home Depot with an innocent 5 or 6 swatch cards in our hands, but about 200 more stuffed in my purse.  How many can one take before it qualifies as theft?

Anyway, Panda wanted a heart punch and a butterfly punch.  I already have a heart one, I think I may have three, that’s another post.  As for the butterfly, we found this awesome 3-in-1 layered punch by EK Success and it’s great with the paint swatches because the colors are already coordinated for you.

20130924-230131.jpgI got a little oak leaf punch.  I had picked out mostly fall swatch colors; I had a very specific vision of a tree collage I wanted to make.  It’s sort of my take on Marimekko.  Possibly Marimekko meets Ikea.  Marimekkea?

There are so many great ideas out there for paint swatch art:  making garlands out of punched shapes, folding them into little boxes, framing them under glass to make a dry-erase calendar.  A lot of teens copy lyrics or inspirational sayings onto them.  They are very fun things to have around.  And very (cough) reasonably priced.

So here are our projects and my warning.  Let’s be careful out there.

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Swiss Chard with Balsamic Butter

Another boom of Swiss Chard from the CSA and from my garden is making me scramble for recipes.  This one comes from Susie Middleton’s Fast, Fresh & Green which, in my opinion, is one of the greatest veggie recipe books around.  I like that it uses both the leaves and the stems; especially if you have “Bright Lights” chard – with its array of jewel-like colors, it makes a very pretty dish, as well as a tasty one.

So yesterday I made a huge batch of Debbie’s vanilla-and-cardamom baked squash, using a Butternut from the CSA and two Delicatas from my garden. Tonight I made it into soup, using the basic two-two-two recipe for all my Cream of Whatever soups, and it was outstanding with the Swiss chard on the side, with some garlic bread.  Jeeps actually put the chard on the bread and ate it like a crostini.

A perfect Autumnal Equinox supper, if I do say so.

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Susie Middleton’s Swiss Chard with Balsamic Butter

  • 1 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar (mine is this fabulous strawberry balsamic that Jeeps’ partner Steve gave us for Christmas)
  • 1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
  • 3/4 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 bunch Swiss Chard with stems
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil (really try to get peanut oil, it’s worth it)
  • 2 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp pine nuts (optional; Jeeps doesn’t like them so I kept them on the side)
  • Kosher salt

In a small bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and brown sugar.  Set aside

Wash and dry the chard.  Pull or cut the stems away from the chard leaves.  Cut or rip the leaves into 2- to 3-inch pieces.  Slice the stems crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces.

In a small skillet or pan, toast the pine nuts over medium-low heat, stirring constantly.  Really babysit them because they will burn in a second.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  When oil is hot, add the chard stems with a pinch of salt and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic and stir until fragrant.

Add the chard leaves and 1/2 tsp Kosher salt.  Using tongs, toss the chard leaves in the pan until wilted down.  Scrape the balsamic mixture into the pan, stir, and remove the pan from the heat.  Add the butter and toss and stir until it’s melted.  Fold in half the pine nuts.

Transfer the chard, stems, and cooking liquid to a small serving bowl and garnish with remaining pine nuts.

The Cutting Edge: Halloween Lanterns

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The love affair with the Silhouette continues (click here to read how it all began).  This project is one of the reasons I bought the cutter in the first place.  These lanterns scream “seasonal crafting,” don’t they?  And why wait for Christmas when Halloween is filled with shadowy outlines of iconic objects?

I used Nanetta Bananto’s basic design with the scalloped flourish at the top, and then from the Silhouette library I downloaded different Halloween shapes to go in the window of the lantern (they are very reasonable at .99 cents each).  I experimented with making the lanterns different sizes.  The pattern for the small ones will fit on a standard 8.5×11″ piece of cardstock, but to go larger I needed to reduce the pattern to just two sides of the lantern, and cut it twice.

After cutting this set, I also got the idea to experiment with replacing the scallop flourish on top with something complementary to the window.  So in this example, I’m taking the small witch lantern and making it larger, and replacing the scallop with the outline of a cat.

Small lantern pattern:  all 4 sides fit on one page

Small lantern pattern: all 4 sides fit on one page

Trim to just two sides, enlarge, erase scallop and replace with cat

New look of lantern

New look of lantern

20130919-175123.jpgNow it’s time to cut.  You use a special cutting mat which has a light adhesive layer on it to hold your paper or cardstock in place.  Watching it cut is fascinating but one downer of this machine is IT IS REALLY LOUD!  All right, not drive people out of the house loud, but still it makes a racket.  I’m not sure if that’s because it’s an old model or a used machine or what, but there it is.

Peeling the cut image off the mat is a little anxious.  Slow and steady does it, especially with the detailed parts like the ribbon coming off the witch’s hat.

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While the other two sides are being cut out, I cut vellum to fit on the inside of the lantern and stuck it down with Mono adhesive.  Then I adhered the two panels together to make the lantern.

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All you need then is an LED votive.  Oh, and by the way, I know this isn’t necessary, you are all intelligent people, none of you would ever think that using a paper lantern over an ACTUAL VOTIVE CANDLE OR TEALIGHT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA, RIGHT?  Right, you’re intelligent people, you use these with the fake candles.  I’m glad there’s no need to have that kind of conversation with you, that’s why you’re my friends.

So the gallery of lanterns is below.  I like the haunted house a lot, especially since if a bit of it tears – like the crossbars of a window or a railing – it doesn’t matter because it’s supposed to be a crumbling wreck.  A little distress works well with these.  You can see by the last one, the tree, I was really going crazy.  I love the tree and how the branches stick up above the top of the lantern.  It took a lot of work in the software with the overlapping branches, making sure the cut lines were right, but it’s my favorite.

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The Cutting Edge: a Love Story

SilhouetteStyleIt started in Michael’s when I saw this book: Silhouette Style by Nanetta Bananto. In particular I was taken with the votive lanterns on the front cover, aren’t they keen? Did she cut all these projects by hand? Leafing through the book, I learned she used a digital cutter. I had heard of die-cut machines through Stampin’ Up, and seen a few on the market like Cricut and Cuttlebugs, but it seemed to me that with such machines you were locked into a particular system that could only use a particular set of designs. The Silhouette Style book came with a CD of the designs used, but what kind of cutter would you need to use them? Could I, perhaps, become the owner of such a thing?

I did a little research and when I saw the price tag of digital cutters who could use independent design software, I decided such a thing was not for me at this point in time.

I set that idea aside but then I started having an affair with the blog How About Orange (she ruined my life), which in turn led me to the incredible blog PaperMatrix and these AMAZING WOVEN PAPER SPHERES, I MEAN HELLO?!

updated-spheres

Aren’t they just the greatest things you’ve ever seen, they totally blow away those paper strip ornaments which still remain pretty awesome but come on! The PaperMatrix blog also ruined my life, but also very generously gives you the pattern to make these spheres. As I looked at both the intracacy of what had to be cut out along with how many you needed to cut out, I realized that what was truly needed here was (sigh) a digital cutter. I wondered if they’d come down in price since last I looked…?

Not really.

But I really wanted one.

So I did some creative visualization and put it out to the Universe, I would like to have a digital cutter. In fact I started acting as if I already had one, I love my digital cutter so much, I’m having so much fun with it. Then, because I feel the Universe likes it when you do your part, when I took out cash for the week, I started socking away a $20 in the mason jar I keep by the washing machine (because I don’t know about you, but any money I find in pockets when doing laundry belongs to me, finders keepers). And I started doing some comparison shopping in earnest, seeing what models would work best for me and the kinds of projects I wanted to make. Eventually I settled on the Silhouette brand, with their Portrait model as the ideal, and I started trawling online and on eBay. Finally, one showed up: not a Portrait or Cameo, but an earlier Silhouette model that the owner said still worked with the Silhouette Design software and was a great starter model for those just venturing into this world of digital cutters. $150 with free shipping. The Universe was not just putting this into my hands but hitting me over the head with it. I said “yes, ma’am,” cashed in the mason jar and I bought it.

It arrived.

I screamed and I hugged it. And now, I am in love.

The road to love has not been a smooth one. First of all, I didn’t have a PC to hook the Silhouette up to or run the software on. Using the house computer upstairs would involve hooking up the machine every time I wanted to use it, setting it on a stool nearby along with my materials and basically trying to be crafty in the middle of household chaos. Not to mention fighting the kids off to actually get some damn time on the computer. No, I wanted my own setup and I’d gladly petition the Universe and start socking money away in the mason jar again to obtain it. Lucky for me my brother fixes and refurbishes computers as a side business, and he was able to assemble for me a system out of mongrel parts. Finally I was set up, and so began the learning process. This had its own frustrations as I learned that creating Nanetta Bananto’s designs wasn’t as easy as opening the file from the CD and just cutting. I had to learn to use the “trace” feature of the Silhouette software to replicate the pattern, as I would for any JPG or PNG design I wanted to cut out. That was an eye-opener, and took a couple weeks to master. Then there was learning how to adjust the blade settings, cutting paper versus cardstock, and discovering that cardstock bought at Michael’s is flimsier than cardstock bought through Stampin’ Up, and settings that work for the former will not cut through the latter. And so on and so forth but finally I felt I was ready to attempt a project, and in my tendency to go for the hardest version of anything first, I decided to make one of those paper spheres.

A lot of you already know this story. I’ll skip to the ending and say that I did make one. But I don’t know if I’ll attempt making any more because while they are utterly fabulous, they were quite possibly the hardest, most frustrating project I’ve ever attempted in my life. You hear me? In my LIFE!

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I set aside my sphere dreams and looked for something else to fool around with. Panda had recently downloaded and printed some pictures of One Direction which were, naturally, strewn across the kitchen counter. As I gathered them up to toss in the recycling (I’m so mean, I know, but you give clutter an inch and it takes your house), I looked at one of them, a basic group shot of the boys, but I was now looking with my new Silhouette-trained eye, seeing the outline of the group, not just the individuals. I can trace this, I thought, suddenly envisioning the cut-out silhouette in front of a Union Jack flag. I found the same image online, saved the picture as a JPG, imported it into the software, and used the Trace feature. It worked perfectly. I cut the shape out of black paper, then found a Union Jack design from the SIlhouette store which I cut from red and blue paper. I worked in secret evenings when Panda was away. Finally assembled, I took it up to her:

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She screamed. She hugged it. She hugged me. Then she took a picture and put it on Instagram. I thought, this has possibilities.

Bit in teeth, I downloaded this picture:

1D 2

I traced it, cut it, assembled it, and presented it to Panda:

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She screamed. She hugged it. She hugged me. Then she took a picture and put it on Instagram. After hanging both pieces on her wall, she wondered how she could have them surrounded by some 1D lyrics. “Like a wall decal?” I asked.

“Right, letters that just stick on the wall,” she said.

“Well that’s just contact paper,” I said slowly, “or rather some kind of adhesive…vinyl.”

“Will your machine cut that?”

But I didn’t answer her because I knew it could and I was having yet another vision, this time of making my own wall decals. Not just the ubiquitous ones you see everywhere: Live.Love.Laugh. Family. Peace. Famous Quotation. But a truly unique and useful decal that could go by the kitchen sink that said I love you…and please put that in the dishwasher. One over the hamper that said Is that dirty or are you just lazy? Or one that was posted just outside bedroom and bathroom doors, in a beautiful font reading: turn off the light! I could make decals of ballet poses and terminology for my best friend’s dance studio.

I’m now out of my head. I’m smitten, besotted, gone. I am so in love with this machine, I can’t even see straight.  I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a gadget since…um…never mind (shut up, Bridget). It’s awesome. I love it.