Thursday, May 26, 2016

Further Adventures in Macarons

Ever since watching this Miniature French Desserts Craftsy class back in February, I've been dreaming planning new macaron flavor combinations. My family has begged for more ever since their fancy Valentine I made up this year. So naturally when the boy scouts announced their annual Spaghetti Dinner and Dessert Auction fundraiser at church, I knew what I wanted to make :)
I had to fit quite a bit of work into just one night in order to get the macarons made in time. After much deliberation, I decided to finally make my most dreamed of flavor: hazelnut macarons with milk chocolate ganache filling. Can you say Nutella cookie?! Wanting to also use some of the dried fruit I prepared months ago, I also decided to make lemon macarons with raspberry Swiss buttercream filling. First thing's first - the cookies themselves:
The nice thing about taking the Craftsy class is that I had the inside tip on how to alter the flavor of the cookies and still have them turn out ok. For the hazelnut ones, I just halved the amount of almond meal called for and added that much in hazelnut meal. I make all of my nut meals from scratch myself, and I did all the nut prep beforehand so it was not nearly as labor intensive to make them this time around. I used a few drops of vanilla extract and a combination of dark brown and copper gel to get a nice brown color. For the lemon cookies, I added 1 tsp of dry lemon peel (from Penzey's - look into it!) and a few drops of lemon extract with lemon yellow gel food coloring (a crazy amount to get a zippy color).
 Two days later, I had to fill them. I made Swiss buttercream with the class recipe and I added a little over 1 tsp of powdered raspberry (homemade - I'll show you below) to the sugar before cooking. I also ended up with the perfect raspberry color by combining burgundy and pink gel food coloring (it was pure luck since I just guessed, lol). I squirted a little buttercream onto a macaron to taste test and I wasn't happy with the amount of raspberry I could taste. I wanted more zip (though it should be said that it was a nice flavor, just not strong enough to compete with the lemon). Since I still wanted my macarons to look pretty with the Swiss buttercream (and since I already made the stuff, I was going to use it, dang it), plus since I knew that straight raspberry jam would overpower the lemon and I wanted a nice balance, I decided to get creative and put a dollop of my homemade raspberry freezer jam in the center surrounded by a ring of Swiss buttercream. It looked pretty interesting before I sandwiched them :)
And once they were all squeezed, no one could tell :) They just tasted amazing. I made milk chocolate ganache for the hazelnut ones using the recipe from the Craftsy class. Aren't they pretty?! I love that they are mostly smooth but that you can still see little bumps on them from the ground nuts. I'm proud to report that my macarons were the highest grossing dessert in the auction! I split them into plates of 1 dozen and all 5 plates added up to $125, which basically means I got retail for my cookies :) I"m glad I could do a little something to help get my brother to scout camp. While I had sampled a few while making the ones I donated (I mean ... I had to make sure they were edible, right?!), the next day I found myself pretty bummed that there were no macarons to munch on after all that work. But being that it was my day off and that I still had a bunch of filling left over, I decided to make another batch that was my third choice of flavors to try out.

First, let me back up - I decided to get all food-nerd after making my first batch of macarons and dry out my own fruit to make powder. The Craftsy class talks about how you can buy freeze dried fruit and grind it up, but I'm cheap and I already had fruit and a dehydrator so I decided to make my own flavorings :)
This was really easy to do. I made 3 flavors to start: strawberry, blackberry, and raspberry (I have since added blueberry to my lineup). The raspberries and blackberries (and blueberries) couldn't have been simpler - I just laid them out on a tray and turned on the dehydrator. After reading a lot, I turned it to 98 degrees and I left it on for a few days just to be sure they were good and dry. For the strawberries, I had to hull them first and then I sliced them with my mandolin slicer, then I laid them out on a tray to dry. I left all the berries in there the same amount of time, but the thinned out strawberries were definitely the first to dry out.Once they were fully dry, I decided to follow some other precautious advice and I put them in ziplock bags and put them in the freezer overnight just to make sure any bacteria was completely dead. From there, I just put the dried fruits one group at a time through my coffee grinder (which I bought just for the purpose of grinding spices and fruits like this since I don't drink coffee - and I got it for $5 brand new through a girl on a Mommy Market Facebook Group, score!), and then put each powder into little plastic containers from the Dollar Tree. Anyway, all that is just to say that it definitely requires patience, but you can make your own flavors using literally any type of fruit you want and it's much cheaper than buying freeze dried and grinding.

So, for my own batch I decided to make strawberry macarons :) Mmmm... To do this I just added a little over 1 tsp of powdered strawberry to the nut meal and pulsed it in the food processor. I also added a few drops of imitation strawberry extract (I wasn't happy that it was imitation, but it was all I could get locally and I already had some) along with pink and red gel food colorings. I used my remaining raspberry Swiss buttercream and some of my remaining milk chocolate ganache to fill them and basically had a personal macaron party :)
Aren't they pretty?! The strawberry/raspberry combo was my favorite - I call them Straspberry :) Don't get me wrong, the milk chocolate filled ones were certainly no disappointment either, ha ha. And I did share these with my family. They came out just perfect - nice and chewy. Man, I love macarons.

So, I thought I would share my recent macaron making endeavors. It will sound cliché, but it's entirely true what the class says - once you start making these, you will just want to make more all the time. Every time I make them, I find myself wishing it was possible to make more batches to try new flavors right then. I've found I can only handle 2 batches at a time since they have to be mixed separately then have everything cleaned in between. Once the nuts and flavors are all prepared though, it made it much simpler to go from batch to batch. I weighed everything out at the beginning and just grabbed each ingredient as I needed it, which made for lots of little dirty bowls, but thankfully I have a ton of ramekins :)

I now have several other flavor plans in my head waiting for the next time I feel the urge - I think that blueberry macarons with lemon curd filling would be a magical experience, don't you? And maybe a pineapple macaron with coconut Swiss buttercream? Or something with lots of citrus - like orange cookies with lemon curd or vice versa. And I still have yet to make any with rose water or lavender, which I've wanted to make since I first watched the class. I'm open to flavor suggestions too if you have any fantastic ideas! Hmmm... all this flavor talk makes me want to make more, lol. I definitely recommend the Miniature French Desserts Craftsy class - but watch it at your own risk! It seems to start an obsession!

*Class links are affiliate links, but all opinions (and macarons) are my own!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Project Planning - Outfit Along and More

Friends, ever since finishing my Ginny Cardigan, something has been missing in my knitting experience. It will sound strange to a non-knitter, but I just wasn't as enthused by my current projects and always felt like something was off. It took some time, but I realized that I miss being in the middle of making a sweater. I had a sweater shaped hole in my life! Such a hole can certainly be filled with my crazy stash of yarn and patterns, so I took to Ravelry (man, I love their organization of your library) and started checking out sweaters I had planned out when I purchased yarn as well as trying to match stashed yarn to patterns. It was quite the planning extravaganza. There were two clear winners that skooched to the top of my pile though, so I decided to swatch both of them and see how things went with each.
The first is the ever lovely Alecia Beth cardigan by Justyna Lorkowska. I fell in love with Gosik's example photo (above) a while ago and I bought enough Cascade Heritage in Navy to make it up from during one of Craftsy's sales (no joke exactly a year ago is when I bought this yarn). I love Navy blue, and I know that a navy cardi will work well in my wardrobe as is plus it will go with a ton of projects I have planned to sew. I managed to get gauge straight off, so I decided to just cast on :) I got a decent way down the back yoke before I realized that I didn't read the instructions correctly and had to pull half of it out, but it's an enjoyable pattern and I already have the little cables memorized. This project is really just what I was needing, so I'm glad I decided to start it.
The other pattern I have in the works is Ishnana, a relatively new pattern by Ysolda Teague. Isn't that cable pattern fantastic?! I just love it. Ever since I first saw this design, I wanted to make it with 3/4 sleeves. About a month ago I made a lucky find on Ravelry (seriously, I love their trade/sell function a bit too much) when a fellow knitter was selling her wool since she discovered she was allergic (knitters everywhere shed a light tear for this unfortunate soul). She had 3.3 skeins of Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock (which I had just used to make my Smocked Guernsey Socks and loved) in the Kerfuffle colorway which is a neat tonal grayish purple color. How great is the name of this color?! It was just meant to be. I had a little extra money from selling some yarn on ebay, so it just all worked out and now I have a sweater worth of this lovely yarn. I swatched for this pattern and got gauge straight off :) Alecia Beth won out in the "which gets cast on first" contest, but this one will be close behind it I can assure you. Also, that example photo from Ysolda makes me realize my need for a mustard yellow cardigan - I need to get on that soonish too!
Of course right after I get going on a new sweater, the Outfit Along was announced, lol. I've participated both years in this fun challenge so I definitely want to keep it going this year. The challenge is to sew and knit a complete outfit - it can be whatever items you want, but you must sew a garment and knit a garment that coordinate and can be worn together, and you must do it all between June 1st and July 31st. I tend to have terrible things get in my way when I commit to any timed large project like this, so I know that both of the sweaters I mentioned above are out of the question (my last fingering weight cardigan took me over a year to complete since I constantly set it aside for other projects). Knowing this, I decided to make something in worsted or dk weight. The official knitting pattern is Andi's newest design, which is a linen lacy t-shirt style, but I live in Florida and no matter how light a yarn is, I still need the option to take it off - especially in the summer. I've made several of Andi's cardigan designs before, so I knew I wanted to stick with one of hers so I know all the fitting changes with no additional work - laziness for the win! I've narrowed it down to the following ... I think ...
I need to keep this a stash buster project, so I'm thinking of using some of my Muench String of Pearls yarn I grabbed for a crazy cheap price last year from Jimmy Bean's Wool. It's a cotton yarn with an iridescent stripe woven in and I think it will make a fun and slightly dressier piece. I choose this coral color (instead of the grape colorway, which I also have in my stash) after taking a look at my finished sweater color palette. Folks, I seem to only make things in blues and purples, lol. I need to branch out from my cool tones and sedate neutrals. This coral is certainly brighter, but it's still a color I wear frequently so a lot of things in my wardrobe will go with it. Now to just decide which pattern to make! I've had Andi's Hetty pattern on my list to make for years but just haven't got around to it quite yet, so that's a solid option. I think the lace will go well with the dressier yarn. I also would love to make another Miette cardigan though, and that is the pattern I originally intended this yarn for when I purchased it. Decisions, decisions ... I may have to swatch the yarn before I make my decision and see how it looks with all over lace verses in stockinette and that can be my deciding factor. I have plenty of other yarns in my stash that would suit these patters, but all of them are either acrylic (and not the soft kind) or wool (way too hot for Florida summer) or already set aside for different projects or cool colors. 

While I'll be going rogue on the sweater for the OAL, I will be sewing up the official pattern: the Hollyburn Skirt from Sewaholic patterns. This was a fortuitous choice for this challenge since it was already on my pattern pile to be made up next. Huzzah! I just need to match up a fabric that will go with my chosen yarn. I'm sure I have something, but I haven't been at my new place to shop my stash yet. If I get more sewing time then is probable, I will also try to make a shirt. It will probably just be a simple t-shirt, but that is all tentative since I don't realistically have all that much sewing time right now.

So yeah, lots of project planning is going on 'round these parts. And this is just the sweaters :) I've planned countless animals and socks and whatnot that I know will be sometime in the far distant future. I'm finally using Ravelry's Queue function like it was intended, so I now have a list of about 16 sweaters waiting around for me to make them, lol. Considering I average about 5 sweaters a year if one of them is a smaller project (like a vest or a bolero), that should take just over 3 years ... except when you factor in how many are going to be in fingering weight and then you can add another 2 years to that, lol. Yeah, my stash is ridiculous, I'll admit it. I am constantly looking for new deals though. It's a sickness I tell you. I've fallen pray to the old adage that those who can't do, plan. I can't devote much time to my creative endeavors due to my living situation, but I am a crack shot project planner! I guess I'd better stop typing and get to work :)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Jacob is the grandson of a Jewish WWII veteran who grows up hearing stories of his grandfather's fantastic friends in his childhood. As a small boy, Jacob believed every word and loved that he grandfather fought monsters with 3 tongues and contorted bodies. When he is about 7 or 8, other children start making fun of him for his belief in "fairy stories", so his grandfather lays off. At 15, Jacob watches his grandfather die after a gruesome attack from an unknown "monster". This traumatic event causes Jacob to be haunted by nightmares for months. At his 16th birthday, he is given a book from his grandfather's belongings that was intended for him. The book contains a letter from his old headmistress asking when he will return to see them. Jacob decides to go to Wales himself and find the island where his grandfather spent his happiest years, only to find out that the house was blown up during the war and all the children died. But the letter was dated from the 1970s - so how could they be dead? This notion leads him on an adventure through time to meet a group of children with magical abilities who are hiding from the same monsters his grandfather spent his life killing.

After seeing this book everywhere for months (and putting it off in spite of its intriguing cover and title since it's a YA book), I finally succumbed to pop culture and read it. Big mistake on my part. I'll start by reiterating my absolute distaste for what the YA genre as a whole has become. This book fit that bill perfectly. I still can't decide what age this was written for. One minute it will use what feel like deliberately placed "vocabulary words" only to follow it up with swearing or prolific use of the word "turds". I just can't respect a book that says "turds" so much, and I have a harder time respecting myself for keeping reading said book. I guess my confusion is that when I was a kid I would always want to read books where the main character was slightly older than me (since all kids wish they were older), so what's with all the language if the book will be read by pre-teens? Anyway, I realize that may just be my personal preferences, but I had other issues as well. The entire time traveling premise was way too convoluted for me. The entire "this is what is going on" monologue from Miss Peregrine is so convenient that the story would make absolutely no sense if you cut out just one or two paragraphs. I call foul with that. Such sentences as, "only birds can control time," as if that'st just an understood thing in the real world are down right ridiculous. The pivotal point the plot is based on just didn't sit right - like it wasn't thought out enough or explained in enough detail - and that threw me off the rest of the story. I had to keep reminding myself, "it's a YA book, let it go for what it is," in order to get through it. I finished it, but it never really redeemed itself for me. That said, I know some people love this book and this genre in general, so I can only assume this is my personal grudge. Also, can I just say that this felt like a total X-Men rip off with a time traveling twist? To be fair and show I'm a good sport, I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Monday, May 16, 2016

FO: Green Melissa Skirt (A Cautionary Tale)

This is a tale of fabric woes ... A sad tale in which the perfect color bottom weight material just wasn't what my beloved pattern called for, but I tried to force it anyway. It's a wearable lesson though, so I wanted to post about it anyway.
This is my latest finished item (and long standing WIP) - a Melissa Skirt from some jade green stretch sateen-ish fabric. I bought this fabric as a designer factory remnant and didn't know what the content was, but it feels like the stretch sateen at Hancock if that helps anyone. I thought, "Oh sweet, it should make a great Melissa skirt!" since that is my favorite skirt pattern. Favorite pattern + favorite color must = favorite skirt, right? That was my train of thought. Having never worked with a stretch woven fabric before, I thought it would fit the same as a woven just with a little extra give as you moved. I'm sure more experienced seamstresses out there are laughing to read that, but that was my notion when I started this in January. By the above picture, the skirt looks pretty good, so what is the hold up? Let's investigate...
I made this skirt up with the same alterations as my Brown Melissa Skirt since it's easily the most worn item I've made thus far. Since I've already made this pattern two times, I didn't bother to check the fit as I went. Really, that's not very effective on this skirt since the buttons and waistband aren't added until the end. I could vaguely tell that it was wider than my previous skirt, so I took in the side seams before attaching the waistband. Then I pinned the waistband in place to check fit, and it was still too big! I then took it in even more. I think I took about 1.5 inches off each side seam - yeah, that's a ton, right? It's all from the stretch in the fabric, which is still pretty bewildering to me. Even after taking in the sides, the waist is still too loose now that it's all done, and the unfortunate side effect of the stretch in the fabric is that it hugs the area I am most self conscious about. From the front, all is well here in the above photo. With my shirt untucked. On purpose. And with a shirt that covers my hips. But when the shirt is tucked in ... Oh my.
Please keep in mind that I only post these photos in the name of sewing science. As a curvy lady, there are areas of my body that I accept but deliberately dress to smooth over. I'm a total pear shaped body type, which I why I love the fit and flare look on me - hug the waist to look slimmer, flare away from the hips to disguise them. That's why I love this pattern so much! It's interesting but still flares away. Usually. The stretch in this fabric and having to take it in so much just to get it to not look like it was way too big means that now it hugs my gut area. Seriously, this skirt makes me look like my gut/hip area is a swimming donut. At least that's how I feel when I wear it. Not good. So let's just quickly scroll past this photo if you please ...
That's better. It's such a shame, too! The green is seriously my favorite color and it matches the leaves in this tulip shirt amazingly as well as my epic Chinese shoes I bought recently. Realistically, I always wear my shirts untucked just for my own comfort and preference, but having the waist so loose does me no favors either. I wore this out for a few hours last week and it loosened up even more to where I could probably have just accidentally walked out of it if I hadn't paid close attention. Really not good. Another bad side effect of this fabric is that it's stretch prevents it from flaring away from the body, making it just hang straight and sad, thus all the photos of me holding out the sides. Plus it creases like the dickens. *sigh*
All other aspects of this skirt are fantastic though, right?! I adore the pockets (again altered to be wide enough to fit my hand easily), the top stitching is on point (and holy crap did it take a ton of thread with top stitching and overcasting - this is the first time I needed to buy a new spool to finish a project), the buttons are subtle but fun, and THE COLOR, people. The color. Ugh. So sad. The bad fit is the reason this skirt sat since January waiting to be finished. I just didn't have the mental fortitude to work out its issues. In the end, I just finished it to get that guilt out of my head and feel like I accomplished something, but the loose waist has still got to be addressed. I'm not unpicking the whole thing, so there will be a side seam in the waistband, which just bugs me to think about. Oh well. One of these days I'll get around to the alteration, and then I'll never buy a stretch woven again, lol.
So there you have it - a sad learning casualty. I hope to find the same color in a more suitable bottom weight fabric one day, and then all my jade green dreams will come true :) At least I stuck it out and finished this one and it's slightly wearable. Live and learn!

Summary: 
Fabric: 1.5 yards green stretch cotton sateen - $6.00
Pattern: Melissa Skirt by Muse Patterns
Notions: fusible interfacing - $1.00, 7 buttons - $2.00, 2 spools of thread - $5.00
Time: 6-7 hours
Total Cost: $14.00