Side note, as of today I will be coding my photos with links, so you may simply click the picture to be taken to the full-sized version. One click now, instead of two. You’re welcome.
Remember when I said I was thinking about starting a monthly baking project? Well, I’m giving it a shot.
Here is the first official project, in April.
Since Easter is this month, the stores are full of sugary treats. Peeps are one thing I cannot resist buying when I see them. I don’t like eating them, they are far too sweet to ingest, but I am inspired by those cute shapes and colors! Last year, I made Dr. Who Peeps which were precious, but I’ve done it, so this year had to be different. I achieved different!
Since Peeps are marshmallows under all that colorful sugar, I decided to make S’mores Peeps(=Smeeps). My problem was graham crackers. The rectangle shapes from the store completely hide the cute bunny peeps and defeat my idea. So, I found a recipe for graham crackers off the internet and made my own, using a Peep bunny shaped cookie cutter to cut my crackers out. The dough was a moderate undertaking for me, in my small kitchen, but I got it done with success. Those are tasty crackers! After that, the rest was easy. A bottom bunny graham cracker, a layer of dark chocolate and smush a Peep bunny into it before it cools (to fix it in place) and allow them to cool. Then, another drizzling of dark chocolate over the Peep bunny and place the top bunny graham cracker on before it sets and allow to cool again.
When it is time to eat, put the Smeep in the microwave for 10-20 seconds and watch the fun. On the one I ate, the head swelled up enormously, but the bubble butt and ears stayed normal. I then went into a state of sugar-shutdown and had to sit on the couch and hold my head for a while. If you eat these, be ready for the sweet overdose, or maybe split one among two people.
I used Ghirardelli dipping, dark chocolate for the first time and it was Very Melty! There was no suitable in-between stage I could find, the chocolate was either solid chips or pure liquid, hence the drippy strips all over. I do not think this detracts from the fun deliciousness of the treat, but you might stick with a melting chocolate you are comfortable with if you make them and want a neater appearance.
And now, the recipe with my notes. I almost always adjust recipes to accommodate my purposes and tastes, and for high altitude (Cheyenne sits about 6,000 ft above sea level – the air is 15% less dense here which changes baking and cooking noticeably) as well as for any ingredient substitutions due to availability. Your recipe mileage may vary. Also, I’m not bothering to credit where I find the recipes, unless I make it without significant changes. Usually I take two or three recipes and combine them into one for myself, just to further muddle origins. If you make these, please, please send me a picture! I’d love to share this monthly baking project with others – I mean, besides doling them out to coworkers.
Makes over 3 dozen bunny graham crackers or traditional-size rectangles and takes about five hours total to complete.
Ingredients for Dough:
1.5 C rounded; unbleached, high-altitude all-purpose flour
1 C rounded; graham flour (Red Mills brand at King Sooper/Kroger, or get it off Amazon)
1 C level, dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1.5 tsp baking soda
.5 tsp salt
7 TB butter, cut into .5″ cubes, chilled
.33 C honey (I use local-Cheyenne made, purchased at the Bread Basket)
3 TB heavy whipping cream
2 TB skim milk (if you have fatty milk, just use that – I had skim milk and whipping cream, so …)
2 TB vanilla bean paste (if your grocer doesn’t have it, Michael’s does)
1 TB vanilla extract
2 TB Godiva liqueur (my go-to flavor add)
Ingredients for Topping:
2 TB white sugar
1 TB cinnamon, plus sprinkles of your fav sweet spices (like garam masala, allspice, coriander – whatever your thing is)
Combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in bowl and mix together.
Add chilled butter cubes, use pastry blender to combine to a crumbly mixture. Butter cubes should end up the size of peas or smaller.
In another bowl, mix together the honey, milk, vanilla bean paste, vanilla extract and Godiva liqueur.
Add liquids to the flour mixture and mix together. Don’t overmix, you want it barely together. It will be soft and sticky.
Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and dust it lightly with flour combo*, then dump dough out onto it and smush it about an inch thick.
Wrap it, then chill it until firm, about two hours or so.
When the dough is cold and firm dust a flat surface and roll half the dough out, leaving the other half in the chiller.
Use flour combo to dust as necessary, this is sticky dough.
Roll to about one-eighth to one-fourth an inch thick**, cut your desired shapes.
Using a blunt toothpick or such, pierce bunnies with eyes and nose – or whatever fits your shape best.
Combine last ingredients: 2 TB white sugar and1 TB cinnamon, plus sprinkles of others.
Sprinkle dough bunnies with the combined sugar spices. I ran a finger over mine to impress the topping into the dough a little.
Heat the oven to 350°F.
Stack the cut, sugared, and pierced dough bunnies on layers of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and keep them in the fridge until ready to bake. You want them to be firm, not floppy, when they go into the oven. Might take 30 minutes or so in the fridge.
Bake a test sheet with few bunnies to see how they do, and adjust your process as needed.
While the first batch bakes and cools, repeat roll, cut, pierce & sprinkle work with second half of dough, incorporating any rolling or baking tips you learned on the test sheet.
Bake sheets for 12-15 minutes, until barely starting to brown on the edges.
Remove from oven, allow to set for a minute or two, then remove from sheet to wire racks for cooling.
Once cool, they’re ready to assemble into Smeeps. They’re also damned delicious on their own, with a cup of tea or coffee, or slathered in chocolate icing for a little sugar high.
* When I need to roll stuff out, I add aside a half cup or so of flour(s) and add the complementary spices to it (in this case cinnamon and sugar) at the beginning. I don’t like the extra-flour taste you get when you have to roll out dough repeatedly and the sugar & spice additions help keep that taste at bay even with the very-last-rolled-and-rerolled-from-scraps crackers.
** Some of my one-eighth thick bunnies burned and some of my one-fourth bunnies were a bit soft. Try a few thicknesses on the test sheet to see what you like.
Next time, I should take some in-progress shots. Or maybe have Slick take in-progress shots so I don’t have to stop the baking mess and get my camera greasy.
Thoughts? Feedback is appreciated!
I’d mentioned I joined a swap on Craftster.org. Now that it is finished and there is no way I can ruin any surprise, I’ll share about it.
The swap was for a printed fat quarter. Fat quarters, for you non-fabric crafters, are a quarter yard of fabric but instead of a 9″ by 44″ strip (a straight cut of a quarter) the fabric is cut at a half yard, then cut in half again so you end up with a 18″x22″ piece of fabric, which gives you more of the print and is often a more usable size. The printing could be done any way, screens, lino or other blocks, sun printing, whatever. Given my recent tribulations with the very old Yudu emulsion sheets I was determined to give it another shot, so I chose screen printing. Although, I have to say that I am itching to carve something lately. Anyway…
My partner for the swap was sheepBlue, who has a nice blog here. I was so lucky she was my partner – if you read her blog you’ll quickly see that we are kindred spirits in our ‘likes’. We agreed on two FQs for the swap.
Here are the ones she sent me:
An undertakers and embalmers print ad in charcoal on a dappled goldenrod color. The text looks great and the repeat is impeccable! I can already tell this will be one of those treasured fabrics that I parcel out carefully over the years. Right click and view in a new tab to see a larger version if you’d like to read the text.
Yes! Violet bird skulls and flame flies on a shale fabric with citrine dots. I love it. I’m planning to use this in a large bag, possibly a grocery getter. I am forever forgetting (maybe embarrassed by?) the freebie or purchased reusable bags in my car when I run into the grocer, so maybe if I have a work of art like this to carry, I’ll remember.
She really came up with designs that are perfect just for me.
And, as promised:
A successful screen burn! I’d already coated a recovered screen in Diazo emulsion and it was ready, so I burned it. Looks great and it picked up all the details and edges. A sigh of relief. I guess those other, four year old Yudu emulsion sheets that have been curled up this whole time were really just not up to snuff for this work. To be sure, I used the Yudu emulsion sheets that I bought only two years ago and they worked fine on the next two screens. I did some things differently this time – I made sure they were very flat (by crushing them under a slab of wood for two days) and I skipped the Yudu fan; I put the screens in the makeshift darkroom with a fan blowing right on them. They dried completely in about an hour. So the emulsion sheets work and I exposed them with the Yudu machine easily. I have two more sheets, although I don’t know how old they are, and I’ll maybe try them, but I think I’ll just use the Yudu screens with the Diazo or other brand liquid emulsion. The sheets are precut at 10×14″, but the screens themselves are more like 11×15.5″, which leaves a lot of wasted screen. Using liquid, I can go all the way to the edge of the screens, as you can see in the above picture. Despite the sheet shortcomings, the Yudu machine works great as a screen-exposing station, light table, and light-tight screen storage area. Worth it.
Based on the questionnaire I received I came up with a few ideas.
Crop circles! She had listed as inspirations alien abductions and geometric, radiating circles or patterns, so crop circles seemed the obvious choice. I really liked making these and I might make another, accessory screen to go with these. You know, one day when I have a project for them.
Another inspiration was eyes. I came up with two designs for that, this one literal. I drew up an anatomical diagram of the eye and made it big! Slick liked this one enough to ask for it on a tshirt. This is the second FQ I sent to sheepBlue.
My third design, I kept for myself.
When I was thinking about different ways to draw eyes, I also thought about eye patterns, as seen on oscilloscopes. Quick explanation, overlay signal waves for comparison. Clean signals give overlapping lines and an open eye. Messy signals start to overlap imperfectly, while bad signals go all over, up to a closed eye. Many measurements can be made from such pattern displays. I made stripes of those three states and printed them. When it was done, I realized only people who’d ever used oscilloscopes or at least understood eye patterns would find this interesting; everyone else would dismiss it as a simplistic design. So, I kept this one for myself.
This was a fun, quick swap and I seriously lucked out with my partner pairing. But, now I’m trying to get ready for workshop work and the screens are all being filed away for the summer and fall. If I can ever get back to that blue quilt, I can finish it up and pack away all my sewing items, too.
Wyoming has long winters, and I don’t really mind. Every spring I see blooming flowers and trees, green sprigs on everyone else’s blog while I still see snow outside. Our spring weather always arrives in fits of amazing sunny weather spliced with heavy snow storms. Due to our special mountain-influenced location, our weather can change very quickly, often within a few hours. Want to know more? Read this. This weekend started off fairly tame, with 60F weather, sun and gentle breezes.
The tulips are starting to come up under the freshly pruned apple tree. I am hoping my daffodils come back, too.
But then during the late night, we had rain which turned to snow as the temperature dropped.
We ended up with an inch or so of slush and a few inches of snow on top of that. It was like walking through a mud pit. Hope the tulips survive. Tulips are tough; they’ll probably be fine.
Down in the workshop last night, I needed to clean up a few remaining scraps before digging back into the blue quilt work. Since I had my camera and the scraps, I thought I would do a quick, visual explanation of chain piecing and Leader-Enders, which I previously had tried to explain. Some people mentioned they had no idea what I was talking about, so I thought a couple pictures would do the trick. I grabbed some scrap muslin and got to stitching and shooting!
Say you want to sew two pieces of fabric together. This is what that looks like:
Two pieces of fabric, stitched together. Very simple, yes? See the thread tails hanging on either side? When sewing you have to leave long tails of thread so that it doesn’t pull out of the needle when you begin sewing again. There are few things more frustrating than the simple trimming of a thread tail too short and having to rethread your machine when it slips out of the needle eye! So, you have the tail you left on from the last time (at the lead or beginning) and you have a tail of thread from when you pulled it out of the machine and cut it free. Sure, the second, end tail can be trimmed right next to the last stitch, but you get the picture here. There are about five inches of wasted thread that you now have to keep out of the feed dogs, pull to the side, trim and throw away. Seems like wasteful work, doesn’t it? How can we get around it? You still have to make sure the thread won’t pull back out through the needle and you want to have it in a controlled place where it won’t tangle itself in the next thing to be stitched or caught in the presser foot.
How about this:
We still have the tail from before, but now we have only a tiny bit of thread between each fabric combination. Now you only have to trim the starting bit of tail off and snip the little chain between the pieces. This is chain piecing. Instead of pulling each piece off the machine and cutting it free, you simply feed one piece in after another, with only a shy space betwixt. Simple and clever. Good stuff.
Now, how to get rid of that leading tail of thread there?
Easy, leave a piece under the foot! Cut the thread chain off behind it and leave the end piece under for the next time. Now that end piece of fabric is doing the work of holding the thread safely and you have no long tails to fuss with. Not only is this a wonderful convenience, this is a Leader Ender. That spot of fabric will lead off your next work (until you cut it free) and an Ender, too, since it was the last bit from your previous work. Where this gets exciting is when you plan the Leader Ender instead of just grabbing up whatever scrap of fabric you were about to trash. You want that piece to have stitches, why not make it useful? Plan out a quilt or some small project. Cut the pieces for it and keep them in a stack or box to the side of your machine. Then, every time you are working on your real or focus project and need a Leader Ender between your focus pieces (to get the benefits of chain piecing), they are at your fingertips. Using this method, you are saving thread and making a quilt (or other project) all at the same time. It is almost like the Leader Ender project makes itself while you’re doing other things.
This is how you would see it. You’d leave a Leader Ender under the foot from the last time you sewed – at this moment it is an Ender because it was at the end. You’d come in and work on your project, in this picture it is a blue scrap – representative of the blue quilt I should be working on right now. When you’ve used up all your ready pieces of focus project, you slip another Leader Ender at the end of the chain and leave it under the presser foot. Your cut free pieces look like this. You snip off the Leader Ender (which is a Leader now, as it led your sewing today) and put in an the Leader Ender project box, and carry on with your focus project. Get the idea? This is how the wonky blue cabin quilt came in to being; I was using the blue scraps from the baby quilts (real project) as Leader Enders (although I didn’t know they had a name at the time) and *pouf* quilt blocks appeared.
You might be thinking by now, “that is all fine, but what next?”
Eventually, you will end up with a stack of Leader Ender bits put together. You will have to invest a small amount of time with them to prepare them for the next stage. These pieces you see above need a quick press and to have their seams opened.
Then you would pair them up with whatever pieces come next in your pattern or free-formed Leader Ender project and place them in that same basket, ready to slip in when they are needed. Let’s see, I’ve got some black broadcloth over here, let’s use that as part of our Leader Ender project.
Yes, like so. You’d pair and stack and they’d wait for you to sew. You know, I have a scrap of blue over here …
Yeah, that works. Maybe …
Yep, that works, too. This looks decent. Hang on …
Mmhmm, good stripe. Now, let’s add a little more of that black broadcloth around it.
And some edges.
Oh yeah. That looks like a placemat, doesn’t it. You know, I have some leftover batting over there …
Now we’re sandwiched.
Maybe a zig zag down the center to cover up the black thread we’ve used on the white muslin. That’s nice.
Some quick echo quilting lines zipped back and forth. Now I can self-bind it. Wait, remember what I said I wanted to try last time, about using different colored corners on a self bind? I have a small bit of blue here …
Yep, just enough to put on the corners. Now let’s see if I can bind this by machine.
Yep, that worked a charm. Okay, placemat done. Wait I didn’t come down here to work on a placemat, did I? I was going to clean up and work on the blue quilt so I can be ready for workshop building in the warm weather.
What am I up to?
Explaining Leader Enders in chain piecing.
See what I mean about Leader Ender projects practically making themselves?
So now what do I do with this? I know, let’s have a little prizebag giveaway here. It will be a reward for folks who made it through that lengthy post. I’ve got some goodies in a bag and this placemat can be the main piece for it. Leave a comment on this post by April 15th at 2100 MDT. Tax Day deadlines all the way. In your comment, tell me if you found that explanation above helpful; if you think you get the idea of chain piecing and Leader Enders or now. I’ll throw every unique user into the random pull and mail or hand out to whoever wins it. Good luck!
The Standard Fine Print:
You must be a registered user for this blog – because that is how you can make comments! You may have only one entry into this contest. You must either live in a place I commonly drive to or past or be willing to submit a mailing address to me to receive the prize if you win. I’m happy to mail the prize anywhere in the world where it is legal to do so. The prize bag contains items I’ve gathered or created (as seen above) which may be desirable, useful, useless, offensive, sublime, or merely silly to you; I make no guarantees to the value, usability or likability of the prize, although they have been historically well received.
Read all about previous contests and prize bags by clicking this link here.
Alright, everyone has had a chance to anticipate, so here is the whole quilt.
All 400 of the Centzon Totochtin rabbit gods of drunkenness and parties. These Aztec divinities met for frequent parties and drank lots of pulque, which is a potent alcohol made from fermenting the juice from the heart of the maguey plant, seen at the bottom of the quilt. The Centzon Totochtin are the children of Mayahuel (the goddess of maguey) and Pantecatl (the god of fermentation). Of course they all had other responsibilities and qualities as well. Being a drunken rabbit god is not a sinecure, after all. Lots of god-stuff to do.
The borders are blocked chevrons with matching color star embroidery in the center. These colors are a bit too … primary, bright and bold for my taste, but I was trying to stick with Aztec colors. The whole thing is canvas instead of my regular choice of fine thread count quilting cotton. I figure Aztec fabric would have been rougher than modern technology products and canvas was the best choice of fabric I could get on short notice in my small town selection. I bought a bunch, but there weren’t many colors, so half of what you see was dyed in my workshop. I enjoyed the fabric dying process a lot more this time than the last time I tried it. I used a small, cheap Crock Pot (since I was only dying eighth-yards per batch) and I had a utility sink right there. Much better and I was able to get the colors I wanted. The canvas made all the stitching and ironing more difficult and the quilt is heavy for its size, but the effect is exactly what I wanted, visually and texturally.
The majority are one-inch bunnies. I spent two days drawing a mass of bunnies, scanning them, then cleaning them up in PhotoShop. I didn’t draw a full 400 individual, probably just under a hundred. Many of them are pulling double and triple duty on the quilt.
The two-inch bunnies. These guys got slightly more nuanced lines, with the scale. You can definitely see my style of bunny drawing here. Having to scan and edit these guys means I have them all for later use, as desired. I’ve already turned one odd bunny into watercolored art and made it into a pin-backed button and worn to work. I’ll make some more like that to have around, just in case.
I’d planned to have 400 stars embroidered. But, while I had about 385 done when my fabric arrived, I had to cut many of them off to fit the top together. I wanted to add the now-shy-40 stars in the separating lines betwixt the panels, but I had less than no time left, being late already to deliver the quilt to the show. Thus, the quilt currently has 360 stars.
Since I’m fairly confident it will not sell during the show, I will add the remaining 40 stars when I get it back at the end of the month. At that time I can add the remaining embellishments. The show requirements stated 2D work only and most arrangements consider anything more than a quarter inch as dimensional. This meant I had to leave off not only the leather-wrapped feather tassels but also any beads or cottontails, in case they poofed up atop the quilting. I have the stuff sitting in a labeled bag, waiting for May.
These aren’t great pictures, but I will definitely take better ones when it is down from the show and after I’ve added the last “illegal” bits to it. While this whole thing isn’t exactly my own personal style, I am very glad I made it. Now, a quilt about a collective of drunken Aztec rabbit party gods entered into an Easter art show? That is absolutely my own personal style.
This is Oz’s favorite game:
Slick pulls a blanket along the floor and Oz alternately attacks and rides the trailing end. Oz gets very excited by this game – to the point of startling the other cats. We only play the game until that fuzzy orange cat starts panting for breath – then it is mandatory break time.
For a recent gathering, I made my ever-popular cloud icing on dark chocolate, jumbo cupcakes, but wanted to add a dab of fun as well. Thus, shark-cakes!
Sure, it is only shark toys (very well washed) stuck in blue icing. Not every food project can be as involved as the petit fours. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Plus, Slick likes a lot of icing so this was the perfect reason to pile it on. And sharks are always swell.
I like to do these non-practical, fun and frivolous baking projects, but don’t do it too often. When I do, it is because some occasion or social event has arisen and I gouged out a bit of time to bake. I’m considering starting a monthly, fun baking project habit. I have all these neato baking tools, pans and decoration – and I want more whenever I see them. I figure if I bring in the majority of the treats to work, it won’t be a significant negative impact on my healthy eating habits (such as they are). What do you guys think?
See, it looks like these guys are greeting me at the door when I come home.
But really, they’ve been there for an hour and want me to get out of their line of sight so they may go back to watching the neighborhood. What they’re actually thinking is probably more like, “you’re home – could you move it!”
Some people have been asking if I got the Mythical Art Show Quilt done in time to enter the show – especially since my progress bar for it is at less than 100%. I haven’t blogged about it because I didn’t have any photos, but yes I did finish in time – mostly because the ladies running the office that day were staying late, which gave me an extra two hours I desperately needed. I have to say, it was rough. There are still loose threads, there is cat hair stuck in the embroidery, a one small spot on the back needs restitched and I didn’t finish the embroidery as much as I wanted. I didn’t have any time left for finishing, touch-up, ironing or even a fluff in the dryer. I took not a single picture of it either, just hopped in the car. But, it is done. Done is better than perfect.
When I achieved done, I rushed over to the Artists’ Guild and was the next to last person entered in the show. I had planned to assist hanging it, then give it a once over with scissors to get the loose threads, then with the sticky roller to get some of the cat hair off it. However, they had such a large number of entries, they weren’t ready to hang mine anytime soon. AmyKatt took me to a very nice dinner as a reward for finishing in time, which was sweet of her. Last night after work I stopped by to pull of stray threads and delint it, which it still really needed, and took a couple crappy cell shots of it. Now, I could share those blurry shots now, but the thing is hanging up in the Artists’ Guild, right by the door. The Artists’ Guild is a non-profit organization and measure some of their success by the number of people who sign their guest book. I would like to encourage anyone who is in Cheyenne to stop by and see my quilt, and the rest of the show, in person some time this month. They are at 1701 Morrie Ave – in the SW corner of the Holliday Park (the park with the lake and the Big Boy you drive past on Lincolnway). Take ten minutes, sign the book and look at the impressive show that is up this month. Most of it is more fine art than craft – and I’m not saying one is better than the other and don’t care to get into that debate. I am a crafter because it is what I like to do and I hope everyone is doing their thing because they like to do it. The visit will be worth your ten minutes, rest assured.
And your teasers:
See, it is Easter-related; there is a bunny!
Lots of small, repetitive embroidery.
I spent the rest of the weekend recovering. Took a long bath with bubbles, read a magazine, went to bed early and slept in, played a videogame, and watched some television on the sofa. My evenings so far this week have been catching up – buying groceries, doing laundry and getting a handle on the mess the workshop turned into while I was frantically finishing the quilt in time. I think I’m back to nominal now.
Since I’d finished a project, I joined a swap on Craftster. It is a fabric printing swap and after my struggles with the emulsion sheets, I thought it would be rewarding to burn and print a screen successfully and conquer that struggle. I mean, I’ve burned and printed screens before so not that part really, but the emulsion sheets were problematic themselves. So, I shall print the design for my partner (idea is set, sketching today) then fight with those sheets. More on that later.
In the meantime, stay tuned for cats!
I took these shots over the weekend with my cell phone, which has become my standard fallback for photos as of late. The sun was out, the breeze was mild and we opened the door for the cats to enjoy the fair weather.
Moxie only wanted a bit of dappled sunlight. I like the way she sleeps with all her paws together.
Friday might be our weirdest cat. She is very entertaining.
The Captain likes to sun his belly. When he’s quite warm, like in this pic, he pulls up his paws together like that. What a cat.
Oz wanted the corner for his sunning spot, so he sorta nudged his way into the corner, put his paws on The Captain’s chest (The Captain had turned so as to defend his spot) and pushed. There was some nipping and minor wrestling, then they shared the area.
As usual, Nora was not participating in the sunlight enjoyment. The open world does not agree with her tentative grip on reality. It will be a tad quiet here on the blog while I finish the Mythical Art Quilt project, so savor these cat photos in the meantime.