Friday Recipe: Knock-You-Nakeds

>> Friday, October 30, 2009

This is a G-rated post, but the recipe contained within is seductive, delicious, and terrible for you. Luckily, if you make them, everyone will want to eat them, so you can have a taste and not feel bad about it. Because they are truly amazing.

Introduced to me in college, Knock-You-Nakeds might be the best dessert ever. Recently, some college friends found the recipe and emails flew back-and-forth about making them, the best way to eat them (some say fro-yo, though I'm partial to them without additions as well), memories of eating them (it was important to consult the Dining Services calendar so as not to miss them), and so forth.

~Makes 1 large tray

1 box chocolate cake mix
3/4 cup of unsalted butter (melted)
1/3 cup and 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk (1 small can will have some to spare)
1 package caramels (~14 oz)
1 c. chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Mix cake mix with melted butter and 1/3 c. condensed milk. (It will be thick.)

3. Press half the mixture into a greased 9x13 pan.

4. Bake for 8 minutes at 350 and let cool.

5. While the cake part is baking, unwrap the caramels. Melt the caramels together with the 1/2 c. condensed milk. Stir regularly.

6. Spread caramel mixture over cooled chocolate cake.
7. Sprinkle chocolate chips over caramel mixture.

8. Spread remaining cake mix over the chocolate chips. At this point, the mix may be a little dry, which is handy for sprinkling.

9. Bake at 350 degrees for 18 minutes.

10. Enjoy!!

*I used Duncan Hines Rich, Fudgy Cake because it was on sale for $1. I'm sure any cake mix will work. If you want to make it from scratch, you'll need to substitute the butter and condensed milk for eggs/oil/liquids.

*The easiest way to press the cake mix into the pan is to drop big spoonfuls and use the spoon to spread out the thick batter.

*A flexible spatula is key for spreading the caramel.

*I think these would be good without the chocolate chips, though they contribute to the intensity.

*Eat in small amounts as they are rich. I think they're great warm out of the oven, cool, or even frozen.


Miracle Foundation Quilt #3, In-Progress

>> Tuesday, October 27, 2009

After the sashing/no-sashing debate over Miracle Foundation quilt #2, I decided to go with no sashing but mollified by uncertainty by making another quilt top (obviously the answer to all issues) that had sashing. I opted for 9 four-square disappearing 9-square blocks (I hope you can follow all that!). More simply, 9 of the pattern of blocks above, sashed with white polka-dots.

I used a different white for the border because I didn't have enough of the other white and couldn't easily acquire more. I'm adding 2 more borders to it -- 1 narrow border comprised of 2 inch blocks of the red, orange, yellow, and pink fabrics, followed by a white border (polka dots, with the remaining fabric). That's the plan anyways. I'll be out of town the next 2 weekends for weddings, so I'm not quite sure when I'll finish it, but hopefully in the not-too-distant future.


Out the Window

>> Monday, October 26, 2009

I am surrounded by vibrant yellow leaves, even when it is rainy and a bit gloomy.

Today brought sunshine in the afternoon, though you wouldn't know it from this picture.

My dying plants, on the kitchen window-sill. The light off the yellow leaves make the orange walls glow, when there is light anyways...


Peaks and Valleys

>> Sunday, October 25, 2009

Back in the day (I'm not quite sure what day, but sometime in the past), I used to start a project and finish it. It was a work-in-progress, sure, but a single work-in-progress. When people spoke or blogged of "WIPs" -- multiple -- I had no idea what they were referring to as I always had one thing to do. No longer. As of this writing, I have 3 quilt tops draped over my ironing board, multiple quilt projects occupying space in my head, and several collections of fabric resting on my futon waiting to be turned into something.

Given this state of affairs, not to mention deadlines of various sources, I decided I needed to finish a project this weekend. Did I start with the completed quilt tops? No. Did I pick up the almost-completed quilt top? Nope. I opted to grab the strips I had faithfully set aside, combined, and ironed while making the Miracle Foundation quilts (#2 and #3 being the completed and almost-completed quilt tops staring at me), and turn them into a quilt for the Hope Squared project. I justified this on several accounts: the deadline is fast approaching, strip quilts are simple (if a bit time-consuming) to piece together, I had all the fabric -- backing and binding included -- and I wanted to make another strip quilt.

My weekend concludes with a completely finished quilt. I pieced, backed, basted, quilted, and bound it all up. I rather like it (and got to use a bunch of fabrics generous people sent me for the Miracle Foundation quilts that, due to size, didn't quite work in the other quilts I made). I added the green tulip fabric (that Dayna sent me last spring) to add interest, backed with red fleece (a remnant from this quilt), dug into my stash for the green binding, and finished it up. I tried a new binding method I learned about here from Red Pepper Quilts (check out her stuff, she's amazing!). Because I am lazy efficient I try to avoid pinning when I machine-bind (and I only machine-bind). I would say that pinning would have saved me time here, as I ended up ripping out the binding in spots when the stitch-in-the-ditch from the front method led me to miss the binding on the back and leave it open. Lesson learned.

Based on how hot I got while zig-zag quilting it, I think and hope that the quilt will keep a homeless child warm this winter. I named it peaks and valleys both for the quilting I did (random zig-zags, sort of visible above) and also for its destination. I hope that the student who receives it is not homeless for long, that this is just a valley in her (I'm guessing the gendered colors will hold sway and a girl will get this quilt) life that ultimately has more peaks, including regular shelter.


Margaret's Hope Chest

>> Thursday, October 22, 2009

Craft Hope has teamed with Margaret's Hope Chest, in Grand Rapids, MI, for its current project, Hope Squared: providing a quilt for each child in the Grand Rapids Public School System who is homeless over winter break. I'm really glad to see this partnership as it helps address one of the challenges I noted in my initial post about Craft Hope last spring: the tension between international and domestic needs. I'm glad to see this domestic (and, for me, more local) effort to assist people in need.

I'll be using some of the strips and fabric I have left from the Miracle Foundation quilts (#2 and #3 are in progress...need to make the backings, quilt, and bind them) to make at least one MHC quilt. If I can squeeze out the time before November 15, I'll make another MHC quilt as well (see their blog here); I've got some fleece with which to back them, as I think that will be especially nice for the Michigan winter.

There are two quilt patterns available on the Craft Hope website, commissioned especially for this project. Kathy of Pink Chalk Studios created the I Spy Lollipop Quilt and Malka of A Stitch in Dye put together the very clever Take-Along Quilt, complete with a handle for rolling up and easily transporting (a small but very important adjustment).

For those who are new to sewing/quilting or are pressed for time, you can even send quilt tops to the group and they'll finish them for you! Get them in the mail to:

Margaret's Hope Chest
630 Griswold SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49507

This post gives even more information.



>> Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Checking my email this morning was quite delightful as I learned that I won a charmpack of Momo's new Odyssea line from Kathy at Pink Chalk Studios. Here are some of my favorite prints in the Ocean colorway:




All of these are available through Pink Chalk Fabrics.


By the Skin of My Teeth

>> Sunday, October 18, 2009

October 15 was the deadline for ordering the business cards I won from a Sew in Stitches giveaway. With the help from some friends, I designed them at the last possible minute in the nick of time. The last month has been busier than I anticipated, and I didn't get a chance (or make the time) to sit down in front of photoshop/illustrator until Thursday. To use these programs, I need to be in an on-campus computer lab, so when I think about it at midnight, it's not exactly going to happen then.

Nevertheless, I had fun playing with these programs -- I used to know Photoshop well but I haven't kept up with it in the past 10 years so I have to re-learn stuff each time. As a result, these business cards aren't perfect. But I like them nonetheless and will be happy to use them. Here's the design:

I couldn't have made them without the help of two friends: Cristin, who drew the hippos for me and gave me permission to play with/alter them (I cut off their back halves for layout purposes) and Amanda, who sat with me in the computer lab and noticed layout imbalances and encouraged me to hurry up so we could go to my house for dinner (squash soup, if you're wondering!).

Ordering the business cards was a little tricky -- as I was warned by Becky -- and required some online live chatting with "Jonah." This is the proof. You might notice that Jonah took it upon himself to add those weird lines to the hippos' left sides. He claims that was necessary to ensure the rest of the design isn't cut off. This may well be true, but why he didn't continue the line of the hippos' backs is quite unclear to me.

There are a few other layout things (e.g., the "belts" not quite lining up with "chuppahs" and "quilts") that I couldn't figure out how to get perfect in the time I had. I'm ok with imperfect, though, because it was a fun exercise to make the business card. Also, I ended up going with black and red, though I had considered using a deep orange (Tibetan orange, if you will) in place of the red and deep purple-blue (the color of my study, visible in this post) or maroon in place of black. However, I couldn't figure out how to change the hippos, either in illustrator or in photoshop. I'm sure there's a way to do it -- and would love any tips from those of you in the know -- but again, time created certain limitations.

Thanks again to Becky and uprinting for the business cards!

p.s. I meant to post this on Friday but I've been unable to access blogger on the internet at home. Is there a setting that might have created this? Only blogger and typepad seem to be affected; everything else loads like normal...


Hippo Hello

>> Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I am alive, but buried under a lot of work right now. I've made some progress on the miracle foundation quilts, but haven't had a chance to take pictures. That's a weekend goal. Anyways, I'm back to work but will hopefully be back to more posting soon. The hippos above arrived in the mail from my mom, just because. Just because surprises are wonderful things.


Quilt Festival -- Fall 2009

>> Friday, October 9, 2009

Amy is hosting a fall quilt festival, timed to match the fall quilt market. (Head over to her blog for loads of links to beautiful quilts.) Choosing which quilt to display was tough, but I've been loving stripes a lot lately, leading me to either the Neapolitan Quilt or the Stars quilt. Since I gave another peak at the Neapolitan quilt a couple days ago, I decided to post the Stars one again. It was the first strip quilt I made (and I have another one in the works), and I just love it. It's now in the hands of Levi, or more likely his parents, in Chicago.


Pieced Back

Folded Up and Ready to Mail


Hippos Transforming Lives

image from here

A link to this contest entry on a friend's facebook status introduced me to Hippo Water International. The "hippo" (blue thing above) allows people to collect 5 times the amount of water they might be able to carry -- enough for 5 people a day which improves sanitary conditions. In addition, as the organization notes, less time spent acquiring water means more time for other, more productive and educational tasks. I'll be adding this to the list of NGOs I like to support; you can get involved -- via donations, partnerships, or volunteering -- here.


Option A or Option B, Updated

>> Thursday, October 8, 2009

Kristen was awesome and snagged my option B picture from below, and added the white sashing with a little help of Photoshop. So here are the options, this time in reverse order. You can vote here or on the post below. Which version do you prefer?



Since the votes are pretty even below, I'm eager for more opinions now that the sashing version represents a more accurate version of the idea in my head. Thanks again Kristen!


Option A or Option B

You know when you go to the eye doctor and spend a while trying to determine whether slide A of tiny letters/numbers or slide B of tiny letters/numbers is more clear. Often both are better in one way but worse in another, and you sort of shrug your shoulders and offer a tentative, "A, I guess." And then the doctor says, "Are you sure? Let me show them to you again." At which point the process goes on and on and you have no idea whether you're telling the doctor that your vision is stable or has declined precipitously?

Well, I feel somewhat similar in trying to decide which of the layout options I prefer for the wonky log-cabin Miracle Foundation quilt. I've figured out the basic layout I want, but I'm having trouble deciding if I want the squares to lie side-by-side or if I want to sash the squares in white (with maybe a 1" white border between them). So you get to pick. I warn you that I did not lay out white fabric so the sashing option is not a great approximation (the wood floor serving as sashing) but I think gives the idea of what it could look like, sans the white making the colors pop.

Ok, I'm rambling. Here are the pictures. Let me know which you prefer, trying to imagine white, not brown, between the squares in option B.




Making Progress

>> Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sometimes progress comes in the trimmings which, I would argue, look kind of neat.

Then there's more real progress that involves actual blocks.

From uncut (but ironed!) log cabin blocks for the Miracle Foundation quilt...

To trimmed (10.5" square) and stacked by color blocks.


A Little Etiquette PSA

>> Monday, October 5, 2009

Megan over at The Bitchy Stitcher recently wrote a post that resonated with me. She described the frantic process of trying desperately to finish a gift quilt in time, getting to the final stage of needing to bind it, and wrapping the almost-finished quilt in time to take it to the recipient's party, only to watch as the mom of the child helped the child unwrap it by pulling out the folded quilt and put it right back in. I'm lucky in that I've never had a recipient of one of my quilts display such a non-reaction or reject a quilt so quickly and obviously. However, I have given quilts to people who have not bothered to acknowledge receiving it (when mailed) or send a thank you note. And this, though I realize I'm preaching to the choir here, sucks.

In contrast, I want to highlight my friend, the mother of the child in the above picture, who is the opposite, the most gracious of gift receivers (it doesn't hurt that she also quilts). The day she received the above quilt which was about 5 days after giving birth, she texted me a thank you. Now, I hate texts, but I make exceptions to my texting-hatred for friends who just gave birth; it seems only fair. Moreover, a few weeks later I received a lovely thank you note in the mail. I love receiving thank you notes and think everyone should send them.

But while amazing to get, it's not the well-written, thoughtful, and descriptive thank you note I lust after. No, when I mail a quilt, I mostly want to know that you received it. When I give you a quilt in person, the (gushing...hey they tend to be that way) thank you is sufficient. As a general rule, though, 95% of my friends are gracious thank-you note writers. I don't think this is generational, as these friends are my age and managed to acquire such etiquette knowledge while the other 5% are also my age and seem to have failed at reading Dear Abby or Miss Manners or just listening to their parent tell them to write a thank you note to Great Aunt Edith. As one friend has said, "obviously you prioritize the handmade gifts" and, as friends of mine who have managed to eek out a thank you note within, say, 6 weeks of giving birth have noted, "it's still possible to write one thank you note a day." And I'm not really that picky. A simple email or a phone call works.

I'm confident that most, if not all, of you reading here are fully cognizant of and execute well the art of thank you notes/emails/calls. I write this more in sympathy with the Bitchy Stitcher and as a googleable public service announcement for all who need to convince children, spouses, or whomever to write a thank you note. If you have a derelict someone who needs to comprehend this, feel free to send them my way.

On a more entertaining note, I'm thinking about making my (college-aged) students (in a class nowhere near the art/design world) figure out how to read a pattern, cut fabric, and sew something small. It's totally related to what we're reading and talking about. They just might think I'm nuts, however.


Dog Days

>> Thursday, October 1, 2009

I spent last weekend with the blur above. Fast is definitely Gracie's preferred speed, unless she's curled up in "her" chair or sprawled on top of you.

Even though this picture is still blurry, I like the way it conveys motion. As I was taking it, I remembered learning about action photography in high school (something that continued in college as I was a photographer for sports information -- the best season was fall, because most of the sports played on fields in the valley surrounded by brilliantly colored leaves on the trees rising into the mountains).

Some dogs "get" that in order to fetch things, they have to relinquish the item. Gracie doesn't really understand this concept, as she likes to hold on to the frisbee (or ball or bone or stick) unless forced to give it up. The relationship between running after a recently-thrown object and yielding said object is foreign to her. Even when she got tired and rested, she wanted to hold onto the frisbee (a Kong frisbee, by the by, which seems quite sturdy for those of you with dogs).

Sometimes I called her the pirate or the panda, for the black spots around her eyes. The long tongue prefers to be out of her mouth as she exemplifies what a friend would call "a licky dog."

I'm off to the dentist shortly, and hope it's as routine as a routine cleaning should be. I'm hoping to (finally) post my whirligigs-without-a-template tutorial this weekend. And maybe push forward on a few more quilting projects.


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