Saturday, December 31, 2011

Cheers to Yarn!

No I have not given up blogging or my hobbies surrounding HandMadeByEle.  I have been sick and living on the couch with regular visits to the bed, doctor, and pharmacy.  For that reason, I have not been feeling well enough to compose and stare in front of a computer screen (even though its really beautiful).

Now, still sick, but feeling relatively okay and very unproductive from 1.5 weeks of sitting on my butt I am going to write a short posting while holding down my sick feeling by sipping on homemade ginger ale sweetened with brown sugar and love (because the ginger ale was made by my lovely boyfriend).

So while waiting 15 minutes for my prescription to be filled at the pharmacy, I decided to do some therapeutic healing therapy: shopping around Walgreens.  Since I was anticipating needing some prolonged couch time, I decided to buy a cozy blanket, some knitting and crocheting needles, and 13 balls of different colored yarn - yes, I decided in those 15 minutes of waiting that I am going to start a new hobby and I am going to like it.

So I watched a video online and learned how to crochet.  I don't understand how you read the crocheting patterns and with my headaches I do not feel like reading about how to decipher how to read those patterns, so I picked up my Tom's shoes and decided to crochet in the shape of my shoe and adding and subtracting stitches where I see fit.  I think it turned out rather well.

For the sole, I sewed together 4 layers of pink cotton - so these are Tom-inspired slippers.  I wonder if there are places were I can buy a regular rubber sole to attach my own shoe onto?

Overall, I would say they are a success.  Only thing is, when they are knitted, they feel more loose than the Tom shoe fabric, so next time I will make my the shoe slightly smaller than what I usually wear.

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Santa's Workshop

Oooh I spent many hours making this!  One of my proudest gingerbread work yet.

This one of the sides.  I used colorful twizlers for the roof!  Extremely adorable.

The is the other side.  Stacks of present with a gummy roof.  I love the heavy snow at the roof base.

This is the back side.  Snowflakes on a pink rooftop - how much merrier could Christmas be!  And I love the miniature Christmas ornaments that are on the front and back of the house!  I found them at Michaels, they were actually wine glass ornaments but I unbent the metal loop and used it as an ornament hook to hook around the house instead!  Adds a little something to the house.

<3  <3  <3

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Homemade Gingerbread Men

Enough of that store bought stuff!  Time to make some gingerbread on my own and make some ornaments!

I started off by trying to find a recipe online for a tough cookie that would hold up even if I dropped the ornament.  But after the highly-rated recipe gave me a giant pot of crumbly dough, I decided to do my own thing.

I am proud to say that my recipe created tough cookies perfect for ornaments: I had left some cookies outside for 2 seconds thinking it would dry faster there than in my kitchen.  I put them outside, went inside, and though "Oh no, the neighbor leaves his dog outside and she might smell it and come eat it." I turned right around and surely enough the golden retriever was biting at one of my tree ornaments.  The ornament got wet but remained intact.

AND it truly smells deliciously Christmassy!

So here is the recipe:


- 1 cup shortening
- 1 cup sugar
- 7 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon cocoa
- 1 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tablespoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup molasses
- 1 cup dark corn syrup
- 1/2 cup water if necessary
- cookie cutters


1. Cream shortening and sugar in a large bowl or a big pot.

2. Add flour, cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, molasses, and dark corn syrup into the mixture and mix well.  Instead of 1 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon and nutmeg, you can do 1 tablespoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves.  Now you have to get your hands dirty and just knead the Christmassy dough with your hands to get it nice and clumped together.

3.  Lastly, add the 1/2 cup of water gradually as necessary to form the dough into a giant clump.

4.  Wrap the dough up in wax paper and refrigerate until cold (roughly 3 hours).

5.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line cookie sheets with aluminum foil.

6.   Remove the dough from the refrigerator and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into an even 0.75cm thick layer.

7.  This step may seem a little different from usual cut out cookies:  Use a cookie cutter to cut into the layer of dough, leave the cookie cutter in the dough and remove the dough around the cookie cutter.

8.  Transfer the cookie dough and the cookie cutter together to your aluminum foiled cookie sheet.  Using your thumb, press down firmly  and evenly throughly the cookie to make your cookie extra tough.

9.  Use a chopstick or straw to make a 3mm diameter role on your cookie.

10.  Remove the cookie cutter carefully from your cookie.

11.  Bake 25-30 minutes.  (I baked mine for 30 minutes because my oven is not very good and so I think it is always slightly cooler than I set it to.  But just peek to see how it looks, and it should be done between 25 to 30 minutes).

12.  Let cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a cookie rack.  Let cool on cookie rack for 2-3 days to ensure cookie is hardened before you decorate it.

Really, its probably edible if you baked it less long and let it be softer. It might even taste good, after all its made of sugars, syrups, and shortening!

To decorate, you can use different colors of icing - buy it pre made or make it yourself.  I usually just buy it pre made when I do not plan on eating it because it tastes better when you make fresh icing yourself.

Michaels and Party City also has a huge variety of icing sugars:  Little candy canes, mistletoes, little gingerbread men, Christmas trees, colored dots.  You can also use candies:  chocolate chips, M&Ms, candy canes, Jellybeans.  Household items: ribbons, buttons, miniature toys.

They are so much fun to make and look at!  Have fun!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gingerbread House Party

Making gingerbread structures (houses, trains, gingerbread men) is so fun and festive!  It smells great, tastes great, and looks great no matter how much artistic talent you have!

So I had a couple of friends over (Jared and Christina):  I made some eggnog, and while that cooled in the fridge we went to Michael's to pick out our kits and candies.  Christina and I each got a Wilton mini-village kit while Jared got the Duff gingerbread house (I ended up buying 2 Duff gingerbread house kits myself so I can make a village).

Because the kits all included very cheap and very few bland-looking candies, we actually used quite a bit that were not included in the kit to make our houses look the way they do.  We bought pre-made white, pink, and green icings - too lazy to make our own when taste does not matter.  We bought small candy canes, mini candy cane icing candies, red and pink sprinkles, and gingerbread man sprinkles.

The Christmas tree lights were on, we have our eggnogs, and played Home Alone and Elf in the background while we decorated.  After those two movies were over, I was still not done my five mini-houses though, so we put on a The Happy Elf (because it was streaming on Netflix), but we rated that one star because it was horrible.

First to finish was Christina.  Her houses were all very adorable.  While putting together our houses, we both initially thought the boxy house with the flat roof looks like an outhouse.  But once decorated, both our outhouses actually turned out really cute.  We both had a lot of trouble with the triangular house because it was difficult to handle without mushing your roof design or having the front and back of the house pushed in together.   I love all her houses, but I do think my favorite is her candy cane roof!  Its a miniature pile of candy canes, as much as would stick and pile on top of the little roof.  It looks very merry.

Jared finished second.  His house was really difficult to build (and I say this from experience after working with my two Duff kits).  The kit came with a cardboard that you have to build your house on top of because the cardboard had slits that helped hold the base of the house together.  Without the base I don't think the house would actually stay up because the heavy slanted walls and heavy large roof is quite challenging to glue together with icing that takes around 45 minutes to really solidify and hold.  I think Jared actually put together the base of the house then waited while watching the first half of Home Alone because he is an engineer and foresaw that the roof would just cave and fall into the house if the base was not strong enough. But even though he waited around 45 minutes before he put the roof on, his roof still fell in while he was decorating.

I actually originally only bought one Duff kit, but my roof caved in about 5 times making me like the house less because every time you re"glue" it there is a giant smear of icing on the gingerbread.  So thats why I went and bought my second Duff kit so that I can make a more perfect house.  What I ended up doing with my first Duff house after the roof fell in five times was: 1) Put together the house base on one cardboard, decorate it.  2) Put together the roof on another surface, decorate it  3) Let the house base and roof dry overnight separately before sticking it together the next day.

My second Duff house is currently drying top and bottom separately, and I will be putting it together tomorrow.  So pictures of my Duff houses will come on another day. 
I am not sure whether you can tell from this picture, but the one on the far left is the house that looks like an outhouse when it was first built, but at the end it turned out to be one of my favorites of my houses.  I used candy canes to build a heart on its backside!   My Etsy posting has more pictures of these three houses so could see more pictures of them if you like.  I loved making the snowy roof!  It is really simple and it looks so wintery: You just get your white icing in an icing pouch with a simple round tip, and you squirt, drag, and pull fast to make the points.

Once again, the triangular house that aggravates me.  The faces of the house did not even fit the roof properly!  But I still love it =)  Cookies piled with icing piled with candies just look festive,  yummy, and cute no matter how poorly it seemed to have worked!

Oh and here is the Eggnog recipe:


  • 2 cups milk (I actually used 1 cup whole milk and 1 cup heavy cream because I ran out of milk.  It was delicious.)
  • 2.5 whole cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups whiskey
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  1. Combine milk, cloves, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, and cinnamon in a saucepan, and heat over lowest setting for 5 minutes. Slowly bring milk mixture to a boil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar. Whisk together until it looks light and fluffy. 
  3. Whisk hot milk mixture slowly into the eggs. Pour mixture into saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for 3 minutes, or until thick. Do not allow mixture to boil. Place in fridge and let cool for about an hour.
  4. Stir in whiskey, heavy whipping cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and nutmeg. Refrigerate before serving chilled.  It will taste even better if you wait overnight for the spices to really come out.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Homemade Popcorn and Handmade Garlands

I love decorating my living room with food things during the Christmas season:  Popcorn garlands, painted gingerbread cookies, strings of colorful Cherios, and candies candies candies!

So the week after Thanksgiving, this is probably what I will be doing on my free time at home:  Making a giant batch of popcorn, and stringing and eating this giant bowl of popcorn while watching Christmasy movies.  This year, my boyfriend and I just started a low-carb diet 2 weeks before Thanksgiving (and then we cheated hugely on it for a week surrounding Thanksgiving), so I limited myself as to how much I ate out of my popcorn bowl!  So far we have watched the first and second Die Hard, Jim Carrey's Christmas Carol, Home Alone 1, and Miracle on 34th Street while putting up and preparing Christmas decorations.

The popcorn garland is super fun to do and it looks so adorable especially if you hang it on your tree along with some Gingerbread cookie ornaments.  I am still working on my ornaments, but those pictures will come later in the season.  But here is how to make homemade popcorn whether you want to eat them or string them!  Its much better than the stuff you get from the microwave bag!  Not as good as movie-theater popcorn though...

Things you need:
- Deep pot with a lid (Heavy pots work better than light pots.  The best tasting popcorn will come out of a well-seasoned cast iron pot; However a heavy cast iron pot will require stronger arms because you have to pick up the pot and shake the popcorn during one of the steps.)
- Canola oil
- Unpopped popcorn kernels
- Butter
- Salt


1.  First you pour canola oil to the bottom of your pot - just enough to have a thin layer throughout the entire pot bottom.

2.  Put the stove on medium high setting while you throw in some kernels.  How much kernels?  Just enough to cover the bottom of your pot with a  single layer of kernels.  Now give it a good quick stir with a wooden spoon so that all the kernels are evenly coated with the oil.

3.  Put the lid on!  You should start hearing popping sounds start within a minute.  It will first be slow, then it will go crazy in the pot!

4.  Once you have heard popping sounds for around 20 seconds, LEAVE THE LID ON, put on some oven hits, pick up the pot and shake it up a little.  Repeat the shaking ever 15 seconds or so so that popcorn doesn't stay at the bottom of the pot and get burnt.

5.  Turn off the fire and remove pot from heat once you hear the popping slow down.  Cast iron pots hold their heat better than lighter pots so if you have a cast iron pot you might want to turn off the heat once it gets to 1 pop every 1 second.  For a regular pot you can turn off the heat once you get to 1 pop every 2-3 seconds.  (Its hard for me to say exactly when you need to turn off the heat because it really varies depending on the heaviness and type of pot you are using and how hot your stove is, but experiment with it and you will find that perfect timing for your perfect batch of popcorn).  But once you turn the heat off, don't open the lid yet!  Keep shaking the pot with the lid on until you hear one pop every 5-6 seconds then you open the lid and pour the popcorn out into a bowl.

It is shockingly easy to burn popcorn.  At first you might be leaving it on the heat for too long resulting in burnt popcorn or taking it off too soon resulting in lots of unpoped kernels; but keep playing with it because its worth it!

6.  Melt some butter on the stove or in the microwave (how much?  How buttery do you want your popcorn?!  Generally I use about 3 tablespoons of butter).  Pour the melted butter over your popcorn while gently tossing the popcorn so that the butter is evenly distributed.

7.  Toss some salt in there!  Toss the popcorn to mix.  There are also a bunch of different popcorn flavorings you can pick up from the store (we got a bunch from William Sonoma for Christmas last year from a friend), but just butter and salt is delis!!!

8.  Want to make a garland?  Needle and thread and just string it up!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Day!

Oh I love Thanksgiving!  I spent it with my awesome boyfriend and his amazing family!

So since I've known his family, it seems like this is their their Thanksgiving tradition:

1.  Macy's parade is on the TV, and we pay special attention to the dog show.

2.  Huge, yummy, crazy awesome, food-coma-inducing lunch:  two turkeys (one fried one roasted), mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole (with the crunchy pecans and brown sugar top), ham or roast duck (sometimes both), marshmallow and mayonnaise casserole, green beans with bacon, pineapple and cheese cracker casserole, cornbread dressing, dirty rice dressing, white rolls, homemade apple pie, store bought pumpkin pie, some other homemade pie.  Did I leave anything out?  Sounds around right for six people right?

3.  Christmas decorating!  So part of this would be decorating gingerbread houses or trains.  I took over the train this year because when I am too stuffed to eat the cookies, icing, and candies, I still love playing with it!
These are the supplies Ms Sherry got us started with =) 
Yes, the gingerbread was pre-made (if you were to bake them on your own you have to ensure to bake them in advance to allow them to cool and harden prior to decorating and standing your train up.  The candy-canes were full of round and oval chocolates - which I did not end up using because they seemed bulky and heavy and I was afraid the icing would not succeed in holding them up.  But otherwise, the gingerbread train kit came with several mints, gummy candies, candy balls, and icing.  I did not personally taste any of this because I was very full already, but I was told the cookies were tasty!

The first car:

Since these are the first cars that I made, there is still some experimenting involved because its been a year since I last decorated gingerbread!  My biggest problem with these first two cars were that my hands were not quite warm enough and thus my icing was cooler than it should have been - meaning it solidifies a lot faster.  In this case, if you do not stick on your candies fast enough the icing will just crack when you place the candies on!  I  quickly learned that I have to "massage" my pouch of icing a little longer so that I have more time to decorate with candies before the icing solidifies. Of course you do not want to warm your icing up too much because if it is too runny it will not allow you to form well-defined lines.

The second car:  

The red and green backgrounds were done with the colored icing sugar crystals in the jar of icing (use a knife to spread a thin layer of icing on the gingerbread and then pat down some colored icing sugar crystals to the area).  The ornaments on the green car were merely pre-made sugar "stickers" that you can stick to your car with icing sugar.  The wheels are once again mints with a candy placed in the middle to make the axle.

The third car

The little Christmas trees on the tip-tops are one of the sprinkles that comes in the bottle of sprinkles separate from the gingerbread train kit.

The presents are once again pre-made sugar "stickers"

Its very tempting to start building the gingerbread house/train/whatever the first thing after opening the packaging but do try to refrain from sticking the sides together to stand up the cars until AFTER you have decorated each side! - Much easier this way because you can look down flat at all your sides while you decorate, and your candies won't slide down before the icing sets.  

After you do finally build the structure and stick it together, make sure you let the gingerbread structure rest in place for a while before you move it.  And If you intend on keeping your gingerbread as a decorating for more than one season (and of course if you have no intentions on eating it), then you can spray it with shellac (you can buy it from the craft store or Home Depot) so that the structure and color preserves.  Make sure you do your shellacking outdoors in a well ventilated area because that smell is not pleasant (nor is it salubrious)!

4.  The last thing in the Thanksgiving tradition: SHOPPING!!!  (on Black Friday... and that is why I did not blog about this yesterday when I actually made this!)  Hope you caught some great shopping deals!  And of course, check out my lil-shop if you like my stuff:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Beads and Belly
I LOVE THANKSGIVING.  I really do - despite how my pictures make it seem as though I am one who glosses right over Thanksgiving and start celebrating Christmas!  I saw videos of how some people make little tiny clay pumpkin pie beads, or little tiny pumpkins, but ... really?  By the time I experiment enough with clay and make something that looks like a  pie, Thanksgiving would have been long gone.

I got those little glass candy canes from and they are the cutest things!  I have learned (the hard way?) that shopping online for jewelry supplies can be a hit or a miss though.  Sometimes things comes just as you would imagine but sometimes quite disappointing...  For instance, my spool of half-hard 20 gauge sterling silver wire: I bought it because after reading reviews and blogs, I have come to the conclusion that this would be the perfect type of wire to twist into wire words (which look really cute as a pendant for a necklace).  But then the wire arrived in the mail, and 20 gauge looks way too thin, I don't think it pops enough for what I was originally planning to do with it.  But hey, I am sure I will find a use for it =)

But today is about beads AND food because I have been lagging in the cooking department lately and my boyfriend who cooks gourmet meals daily made fun of me for my lack of effort.  Thus, I took up his challenge to make a better pork belly (because it has become our latest favorite dish) than he does because I/we are competitive like that.

Yup, I made that.  And taking pictures of it has somehow gotten my camera greasy.  It is as delicious as it looks.  I was thinking about allowing the picture to be larger but I figure people who click into my blog to look at crafts and beads may be put off by a big hunk of pork belly.  Anyway, you can read about how I made it on my boyfriend's blog:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Beginning of Christmas Season
So a  lot of people on Etsy have long ago already started selling Christmas stuff, so I figured I should try to make some Christmas-themed stuff too!  AND because I really love Christmas and has been looking forward to it since June!

I totally wish I could wear the Christmas jewelry but I can't start sporting Christmas stuff until after Thanksgiving!  I still have lots of glass candy cane and some pewter Christmasy charms that i have yet to work with, so there will be lots of Christmasy stuff coming out in the next few weeks.
This blue snowflake bracelet however... 

I really do like this bracelet, but I can't seem to get a good picture of it.  I took so many pictures but this is the only one that came out all clear.  Something about the textures of the beads and how light bounties off of them is just not agreeing with me or something.  Until I can get a better I cannot post this item up because I just feel goofy posting pictures even I think are bad up on Etsy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Package in the Mail

Got a big package at the door step while I was at work today!!!  I love coming home after a long day and getting a mailed present from me to me:  jewelry making supplies (and yes I made sure they included my miniature screw driver!)!

There will be lots of fun to be had in the next few weeks!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

So I have opened shop on Etsy for over a week now... I know from research that it usually takes a long times (at least a few months) before people actually starts buying your stuff, but I am annoyed that no one was even clicking and viewing my stuff.  I did a few changes in the last couple of days so now I actually have a few views and a few "admirers"!  I am very excited!  Knowing someone wanted to take a closer look and knowing someone appreciates something you made just really warms a person's heart!  Its good to have an affirmation that your art/creations isn't going unnoticed and isn't just swallowed by some giant void in the world wide web.  So here are some tips about increasing visibility so that you can get some warm fuzzeis too:

1.  Make sure your first picture (the one people see before they even click in) is very eye-catching: Ensure that you are zoomed in quite a bit so that people will want to click on your item.  Use bright colors, bright lighting, make it zoomed in and focused on the feature of your item.

2.  Use your tags: Even your friends you ask to check out your shop cannot find your items if you tell them to search your shop name on Etsy (something I think should be changed)!  So on your tags, make sure you include key words that people will search when they are online shopping.  Today I am experimenting with putting my shop name "HandMadeByEle" as one of my tag words, we will see how that goes!

3.  Be involved in the Etsy community:  Add people to your circle and give other sellers feedback if you love their items or love their stuff!  People will see that you added them to your list and they will in turn become curious about you and your shop.  I am not sure how other websites work but with Etsy the circles, favorites, and admirers really will help boost your visibility.

Good luck with your shops!