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!