While some may ask, “Why make chocolate when it’s so much easier to buy it?”

I ask, “Where’s the fun in that?” Plus I really love gourmet dark chocolate bars, the ones made with exotic flavors and textures. But, they can cost five dollars a bar, sometimes more.

I set out to see if it was even possible to make chocolate from scratch. Now, because the chocolate used for candy-making sometimes requires heat tempering, (a special process which preserves the shiny, dark appearance), I figured that making it was going to be complicated and time-consuming. Wrong! No kidding – you can easily whip up a batch in under 30 minutes. Mind. Blown.

And, creating chocolate from scratch allows you to tailor ingredients to satisfy your own personal tastes, and you can modify it in so many ways!

For instance, I’ve been reducing my intake of refined sugar lately. It has really worked wonders for me, in eliminating cravings, and keeping post-treat crashes at bay. I’ve found that honey and maple syrup work really well as sugar replacements. So I’ve used them in this recipe.

As for the rest of the ingredients, there are only 3 basic elements in chocolate: cacao/cocoa powder, cacao/cocoa butter and sweetener.

Cacao butter

What’s the difference between cocoa and cacao? Put simply, cocoa and cacao butters are both vegetable fats derived from the cacao bean. Cacao powder differs from cocoa powder in that it’s less processed, considered more pure, and is also processed under lower heat, therefore is considered a “raw” food. There is a barely-noticeable difference in taste and texture, and cocoa does cost a bit less. Also, some say that cacao is more nutritious. They use words like flavonoids and phytic acid… but… snore… I went to sleep after reading about those. If you’re interested, check out this site.

From there, any flavors or extras are what make your chocolates your signature. Do you like peanuts better than almonds? Add some! Or add raisins or craisins. Swap out the vanilla with mint, orange or rum flavorings. You can even add spices or powdered flavors: instant espresso, cinnamon, red chili powder, etc.

However, this is IMPORTANT:

Do not let even one drop of water get in your chocolate mixture. If you do, it will seize and become a gritty, nasty, mess. Also, don’t add things like brewed coffee, non-alcohol-based liquid flavorings, etc.

Now let’s make some chocolate!

Gourmet Salted Almond Dark Chocolates – makes 20 to 30 pieces

(Click here for printable recipe)

1 cup cacao butter (100 grams)

1 cup cacao powder  (70 grams)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ cup honey or maple syrup

½ cup chopped almonds, toasted

½ tsp. flaky salt

Chop almonds, and toast in a sheet pan in the oven, 350° for 8 to 10 minutes, or until light golden brown.

Melt cacao butter in a glass bowl (or double boiler) over a barely simmering pot of water. When most of the solids are melted, remove the bowl from heat. Place on a dishtowel on the counter to cool for a few minutes.

If using honey, heat in microwave for 15 seconds. This helps with incorporating the honey in the mixture, as they will have similar viscosities.

Add honey (or maple syrup, if using) to melted cacao butter, and mix well with a whisk. **It takes several minutes for the honey/syrup to combine with the cacao butter – longer than you might expect. Be sure to take the time to ensure the sweetener is well combined with the butter. If you skip this step, you will end up with unevenly sweet chocolate. You can see the honey is well mixed when it goes from being a two-toned mixture to one with tiny bubbles, or “globs” of fat, to finally being slightly cloudy.

Once the sweetener is fully incorporated, add cacao powder and vanilla. Stir well.

 

Add almonds and mix to combine.

Scoop a tablespoon or so of mixture into candy cups or mini cupcake wrappers. Top with a few flakes of sea salt.

Refrigerate until set.

Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Gourmet Salted Chocolates Recipe

In honor of National Lipstick Day (yes July 29th… another weird made-up holiday), I have found a way to put to use those amazing swivel-ey wands of beauty. Hooray!

I’ve got a LOT of old lipstick tubes sitting around. They’re mostly one brand — I’m a creature of habit when it comes to makeup. Mine are Estee Lauder, and they’re very prettily designed, and made of metal. I hate throwing them out, and over the years have collected quite a vast number of them.

Here’s a great upcycle of your old lipstick containers. They’re, obviously, the perfect size for popping in your purse, they’re great for travel, and that twisty-action is pretty cool for storing other items. Examples: Sewing Kit, First Aid Kit, Pill Dispenser, Toothpick Holder, Match Container, Bobby Pin Holder… go crazy!

You’ll need:

Old Lipstick Tube

Chopstick or small dowel

Q-Tips

Alcohol

Paper towels

Toothpicks

 

For Sewing Kit:

small piece of felt

safety pins

thread

needles

straight pins

For First Aid Kit:

Band Aids

Alcohol wipes

Pain Reliever

For Other Container Uses:

Whatever you want to carry in your lipstick tube, e.g. toothpicks, bobby pins, breath mints, pain pills.

Cleaning Out Lipstick Tubes

This is, by far, the most time consuming part of the process. To start, I highly recommend REALLY using all the lipstick in the tube. Most lipsticks twist all the way out and are flush with the outer sleeve of the tube whilst still having at least 1/4″ of product still in the tube… sometimes a LOT more! To get the most out of your initial purchase, get a lip brush, and apply the lipstick with a brush. My lipsticks last a few months more than if I didn’t use this method.

If you use the lip brush method before getting to the upcycle, you save yourself a lot of work.

Once you have a pretty much empty tube, clean out ALL the leftover lipstick. I start with a chopstick,

then a paper towel soaked in alcohol,

then q-tips,

then toothpick,

and finish with more alcohol-soaked paper towels.

See how much lipstick comes out? Really spend the time cleaning.

 

Make a Travel Sewing Kit

Cut a small strip of felt, about 2″ x 4″

Roll the felt into a tube and test-fit in the lipstick tube. Trim if necessary.

Attach your sewing kit items:

Safety pins, straight pins, needles and thread

Roll the felt into a narrow tube, and slide into the cleaned out lipstick tube.

You’re done!

Make a First Aid Kit

Create a roll of kit items, using the band aids or alcohol pad as the outer layer.

Roll up the items and slide into your lipstick tube. Instant emergency first aid kit!

Fill Tube with Other Important Stuff

Simply fill the cleaned out tube with other important but falls-to-the-bottom-of-the-purse/pocket/suitcase stuff.

Place Toothpicks, Bobby Pins, Matches, Pain Pills, Breath Mints inside the fully lowered lipstick tube.

Enjoy this new container of organization.

Enjoy!

I first made one of these when I was a kid, and forgot about them until a few years back. I love that I’m not throwing away a groovy, mechanized container, and the organization that these pretty little tubes provide is fantastic.

Anyone out there who are looking for something more “manly” or unisex to carry… you can also use Chapstick or other lip balm tubes the same way.

What other uses might you find for leftover tubes? Let me know in the comments.

Fabric Flowers, The Tamara Blog

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

I adore the look of fabric flowers. They have a lovely vintage, sentimental feel, perfect for weddings and other special occasions. And when making them, there are lots of opportunities to add trinkets, personality & meaning to create everlasting mementoes.

 

These flowers can be applied to shoes, used as brooches/corsages/boutonnieres, or even as a gorgeous bridal bouquet. They’re easy to make, and last long after fresh blooms have faded.

Fabric Flowers, The Tamara Blog

Supplies:

  • Polyester/nylon fabric – satin, chiffon, organza, lace
  • Needle and thread
  • Compass or household items for making circles (like lids, jam jar rings)
  • Beads, cast-off earrings, stick-on stones, etc.
  • Fabric marking pens/chalk
  • Straight pins
  • Scissors
  • Candle
  • Glue
  • Ribbon
  • Bouquet form (optional)
  • Shoes (optional)
  • Shoe clips – if applying to shoes

 

Flower Centers

Jeweled buttons make eye-catching centers for these flowers, but consider lost-earring-half-pairs, broken jewelry pieces, or other un-useable items from the bottom of your jewelry box or junk drawer. This can also be a beautiful use for Grandma’s old brooch or that earring your man gave you that you never wear. These elements are especially meaningful when making flowers that will become a bridal bouquet.

 

Fabric Flowers, The Tamara Blog

Choosing Fabric

I recommend at least 5 different types of synthetic fabric.  The use of synthetic material is essential, as the process of making the flowers involves melting the edges.  If you use natural fabrics (silk, cotton, rayon) the edges will burn rather than melt/fuse… not a good look.  Choose lightweight satin, chiffon, lace, organza. I used a lovely pleated fabric as one element.

Also consider color and texture.  If all the fabrics are one color or shade, the blooms may just appear as a ball of one single color. Contrast in hues and styles help highlight the main color and give depth to the overall appearance.

If using lace or tulle (netting) the edges do not need to be melted. These fabrics add a nice texture layer to the flowers.

For one bouquet, I began with ½ yard pieces of 7 different fabrics.

 

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Cutting Flower Circles

Determine the exterior diameter desired for your flowers.  My roses were 3-1/2″ across.  Stack fabrics one atop the other, pin in place, and use the water-soluble pen to mark circles, using compass or household items as a guide. Cut. Then create circle stacks 1/2″ smaller until you have 4 or 5 different sizes.

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

20160516_161249

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Prepare Flower Elements

In preparation for the next step, you may want to have a glass of cold water or ice cubes handy, in case you inadvertently touch a molten edge before it has cooled. If you do make contact with a hot melted bit of fabric, grab an ice cube to help with the burn. Protect your paws!

Carefully hold the edges of the fabric circles over the candle flame until the edges begin to melt and curl.  Continue turning the circle until the entire edge is finished fusing.

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Assemble Flowers

When you have completed finishing the edges of all your circles, assemble.  Stack the circles, gradually working toward smaller circles until satisfied with the result, then stitch together.

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

To secure and create dimension, turn the flower over, and pinch in half.

Take a few stitches in the center of the stack to hold that pinch in place, and knot the thread.

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Turn flower right side up.  Add a center to the bloom.  This is where the crystals, buttons, pearl paint, glitter, or old earrings come in handy.  Go crazy with the accoutrements!

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

For another choice for flower centers, embellish small felt circles with glitter glue or pearl paint.

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Assemble Bouquet

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

When you have plenty of flowers, begin assembly on the bouquet form.  I also added ribbon roses to my arrangement.  My tutorial for ribbon roses is here.

https://tamarajewelry.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/ribbon-rose-wrist-corsage/

To attach the flowers to the bouquet form, push a long straight pin through the center of the flower. Dip the pin in glue, then push into the Styrofoam of the bouquet form. Repeat until the form is completely covered. Once the larger flowers are in place, use tufts of fabric, ribbon roses, or other elements to fill in any gaps between flowers.

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Create Shoe Clips

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Shoe clip hardware allows you to wear your flowers on different shoes, or remove them when you want to go back to unadorned shoes. Attach flower to purchased shoe clip hardware. Since shoes take quite a beating, I recommend sewing the flowers to shoe clips, rather than using glue, for maximum security.

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

 

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

 

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

 

Fabulous Fabric Flowers -- The Tamara Blog

Enjoy and… make something beautiful!

 

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Dimensional Hearts with Movie Quotes

A few months ago I was approached by two very close friends of mine who asked me to design their wedding. The bride is a long-time confidant, wine-drinking & yoga buddy of mine, and the groom, a writer and one of the masterminds behind my Tamara Twist videos. I love them both very much.

Dimensional Hearts with Movie Quotes

They both are great supporters of my DIY skills, and really appreciate the ‘extra touch’ I try to incorporate into all my projects. Their wedding elements had to be perfectly suited for them.

Dimensional hearts with Movie Quotes -- The Tamara Blog

R & A are passionate about movies, and he especially loves to quote his favorite lines. So, I came up with these little heart confetti pieces for their tables. They’re very simple to make, and add a special bit of personality to a table-scape. They turned out to be great conversation starters, and got everyone talking about their favorite movies and best lines and even went home as lovely keepsakes of the big day.

IMG_0198

You’ll need:

  • Decorative Paper
  • Templates
  • Scissors
  • Glue dots – like Zots, Medium size
  • Printer

Choose the template you like. I’ve created three different movie-quote based ones here, here and here, and a blank one here. Print on decorative paper. Important note: When choosing the scaling settings on your printer, choose: “fill entire paper” to get the intended size hearts.

Dimensional Hearts with Movie Quotes

If you can’t find the perfect paper at the craft store, you can print both sides – one with decorative images, and the other with heart quotes. I found this beautiful string-light design for A & R’s wedding here on Etsy.

Dimensional Paper Hearts with Romatic Movie Quotes

Dimensional Hearts -- The Tamara Blog

Cut out the hearts on the lines using scissors.

Cut slit from bottom. The slit is not marked on the hearts because the line would show on the finished product. On each heart, cut from the bottom area where the ‘jog’ is at the bottom, to just under the quote lettering – about ⅛” below the letters.

Dimensional Hearts -- The Tamara Blog

Dimensional Hearts -- The Tamara Blog

Dimensional Hearts -- The Tamara Blog

Dimensional Hearts -- The Tamara Blog

 

Place a Zot on one of the sides near the bottom of the heart. Lift the opposite flap over the Zot and press down.

Dimensional Hearts with Movie Quotes

Dimensional Hearts with Movie Quotes

Dimensional Hearts with Movie Quotes

Repeat with as many hearts as you like, and you’re done!

Dimensional Hearts with Movie Quotes

Notes and tips: Don’t try using double sided-tape for this job. The adhesive isn’t strong enough to hold the pieces together for long. (Lesson learned the hard way. #Re-GluingIntoTheWeeHoursOfTheNight)

Dimensional Hearts with Movie Quotes

The hearts are lovely little accents for a wedding table, but also make a beautiful present for Valentine’s day or an anniversary. Pile a bunch in a jar, add ribbon and you have a romantic gift for your favorite movie-buff .

Dimensional Hearts with Movie Quotes

Dimensional Hearts with Movie Quotes

If you prefer making your own quotes, I’ve included a blank template so you can write anything you want.

Dimensional Hearts with Movie Quotes

Dimensional Hearts with Movie Quotes

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Pottery Barn

MIrrored Dresser

I’ve been infatuated with these mirrored furniture pieces since they started popping up a few years ago.  Fabulous in an art deco boudoir, and equally welcome in a glitzy dining room, mirrored furniture expands and brightens a room.  I’m not one to succumb to trends, and perhaps this could be a tad trendy, but oooh… it’s so pretty!  The price tag to purchase, however, is prohibitive.  The really beautiful ones start at $800 and go up into the thousands.  Tack on shipping (usually $130 and up), and that’s one pricey piece.

My dresser on set at Home + Family.

My dresser on set at Home + Family.

I wanted to see if I could come up with something cheaper and more pride-worthy on my own.  Truth be told, it’s a VERY easy project.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Used or new dresser

Sander (belt sander, oscillating sander, etc.)

Sand paper (for hand-sanding nooks)

Spray Primer – I used Rustoleum Rusty Metal Primer

Spray Paint – I used Rustoleum Bright Coat Metallic Finish in #7718 Chrome

Mirrors cut to size

Gunther Mastic

Knobs

1” round mirrors

¾” acrylic gems

Hot glue

I started with a furniture search.  I began at Ikea, and if you’re looking to make something that has a more modern feel, you can find great dressers there.

I wanted a piece that had a little bit of character – moldings, turned legs, edge work – something that would make my dresser look a bit more interesting.  Craig’s List was my destination.   I found several candidates, and one winner within a day.  Here’s the before.

It was advertised as a “shabby” piece, was covered in several layers of paint, and some of the veneer was chipping off.  I chose not to fix this, because I wanted it to still look a bit worn.  If you want your piece to be closer to perfect, fill any chips with wood putty before painting.

As with most paint projects, the keys are preparation and patience.

Sand any surfaces that will be painted.  An oscillating sander makes quick work of this.  I sanded my entire piece in less than an hour.  I sanded in two passes, the first with 150 grit (coarse) and the second time with 220 grit (medium) sandpaper.   I also took just a bit of paint off of the surfaces that would be covered in mirrors, just to be thorough.

Next, prime.  Since I wanted to use a metallic finish spray paint, the manufacturer recommended a “stops rust” primer.  Even though I was painting wood, I paid the extra 2 bucks for the heavier primer paint – designed for metal surfaces – because that was what was suggested by the paint experts at my hardware store.

Follow the directions on the can of primer, and give your wood surfaces a primer coat.  After it dries the recommended amount of time, move on to the paint.

This metallic paint is so cool!  It’s nothing like the silver and gold spray paints of days of yore.  It takes a bit of practice to get right, but really looks amazing.  Test on a piece of scrap to figure out how thickly and how close to spray to your piece.  The can recommends 10” to 16” distance from your subject.  I found that this application gave my finish a ‘mottled’ look, not the shiny appearance I wanted.  Start further away on your test surface, and then move closer to figure the best coverage for your surface.

In the end, I put 3 coats of paint on my piece.  My dresser took about 24 hours to cure completely, and looks really beautiful.

There were the problems.  A few times, my paint went on too thickly and I got drips.  Best not to touch them while wet, but wait for the drips to dry, rough up with 000 steel wool, and repaint.

Paint Drip Tamara Twist

Mirrors.  You can use acrylic mirror.  It’s not as ‘sparkly’ as glass, but it’s cheaper, lighter-weight and easier to work with.  But because acrylic is not as hard as glass, it scratches easily.

Glass mirrors are simply prettier, so that’s what I wanted.  Measure your dresser, head to the glass store, and place your order.  I recommend getting your glass pieces cut slightly smaller than actual dimensions (subtract 1/8” from the width and height,) so that the edges don’t scrape.

I used ¼” thick mirrored glass, with a standard polished edge, and ¼” holes drilled for my knobs.  (Note: Apparently drilling holes on glass is very tricky, so be prepared for your glass company to charge you anywhere between $2 and $10 per hole drilled.)

I changed the placement of the holes on my dresser drawers, so I used the mirrors as templates to drill the holes in my drawer fronts.

Mirror installation.
Once the paint is completely dry on your surfaces, you can attach mirrors.  Gunther mastic was the adhesive recommended by my glass store.  Whatever you use, be sure that it is formulated for use on mirror – some adhesives can actually strip the mirroring off the back of glass.  Apply dollops about the diameter of a quarter (or in stripes), making sure that you are at least 3” away from the mirror edges.  Press the mirrors in place, add spacers at the bottom if necessary, and brace or weight while the mastic cures.  Follow manufacturers instructions for curing time, but definitely wait at least overnight.

Once the mirrors are in place, add knobs.  Pretty glass knobs retail anywhere from $6 to $20 each, which busts my budget.  I opted for a DIY version.

These knobs cost .98 at my hardware store.  Add 1” mirrors ($1 for 12), and acrylic gems ($2.25 for 20) and I had these pretty knobs for $1.18 each!

Another embellishment option was these adhesive rhinestones.  They come in 3-packs for around $3 or $4 a package.  Just stick and you’re done.

Quick tip:  Don’t buy colored crystals!  Use a sharpie marker to hand-color the stones whatever color you like in custom hues!

Here’s my finished dresser.   It’s perfectly suited for a 1940s glamour-décor bedroom, or as a sparkly complement to modern clean-line designs.

All in all, my project cost around $300.  Not cheap, but FAR better than paying retail.  It’s beautiful, up-cycled, and I made it myself.  Definitely a pride-worthy project.

Happy St. Patrick’s day everyone!  Here’s some cute, quick, and easy food fun for St. Patrick’s day.  One lucky leprechaun even called them ‘magically delicious!’

Start with tiny twist pretzels and sticks.  Add some fabulous toffee (find my recipe here), and if you really want to push the St. Paddy’s day theme, top with a few green M & Ms.

Be sure to arrange the pretzels on your silicone or foil sheets before starting the toffee, because it cools fast, and you won’t have time to stop!  You’ll want to use a ladle to put the toffee in the middle of the pretzels, and CAREFULLY add M & Ms while the toffee is hot (major opportunity for burned fingertips!).

These pretzels are a snack staple in our family, often requested by friends.  I’ll take any opportunity to make them.  Enjoy, and Erin Go Bragh!