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.

 

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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

Fabulous DIY Foot Fixes -- The Tamara Blog

Let’s face it, our feet need care. After weeks of wearing flip flops, a few long days of standing at the job, or just their day-to-day function of supporting you, it’s nice to give your ‘dogs’ a little TLC.

This kit covers all the bases of good foot maintenance: exfoliation, hydration and freshening, with three of my favorite go-to foot favorites, Lovely Loofah Soap, Extra Moisturizing Lotion Bar and Refreshing Foot Spray. And they can be used on more than just your feet.

I use two foot-friendly essential oils to scent these items. They’re readily available, and perfectly suited for pampering your piggies.

Peppermint oil — it’s anti-microbial, anti-fungal, an antioxidant, and even has anti-edema properties.

Tea tree oil has some of the same properties, being antibacterial, anti-microbial, antiseptic, antiviral, it’s a fungicide, and even a stimulant! Additionally they smell delicious and are appreciated by both men and women. Here’s what you need to know to make each of these fabulous herbal body products.

Loofa Soap and Funky Foot Fixes, The Tamara Blog

 

Exfoliating Lovely Loofah Soap

This scrubbie-embedded soap is nice to use on rough spots.

Loofa Soap Ingredients. The Tamara Blog

Materials and Supplies:

  • Loofah sponge
  • Glycerin Soap Base — unscented
  • Tea Tree Essential Oil
  • Peppermint Essential Oil
  • Food Coloring (optional)
  • Soap Molds — I use molds made for this purpose, but you can also use muffin tins, fancy ice or candy molds
  • Serrated Knife
  • Pyrex Measuring Cup or other heat-safe jar (mason jars work)
  • Chopstick (for stirring)

Prepare loofah by slicing with serrated knife. I like making my slices the same height as my molds. This keeps the loofah exposed, so its scrubbing qualities are available right from the start. Place loofah slices in molds.

Loofa Slices -- The Tamara Blog

Loofa Slices, The Tamara Blog

Loofsa Slices in mold. The Tamara Blog

Each soap mold holds 3 to 4-ounces of soap, and most meltable soaps come scored in 1-ounce sections. Cut soap base into squares and place in heat-proof measuring cup.

Melted Glycerin Soap -- The Tamara Blog

If using microwave, melt soap in 40-second increments. It usually only takes 2 to 3 rounds to melt all the soap. If using stove method, place mason jar/pyrex cup in water in saucepan.

Add peppermint & tea tree oil to melted soap base. For 2 cups of soap, I recommend 10 drops of each.

Adding Fragrance -- The Tamara Blog

Color in Melted Soap -- The Tamara Blog

Add food coloring, if using. I used 2 drops of blue and 1 small drop of green.

Mix colors and essential oils thoroughly into melted soap.

Pour soap into prepared molds, pressing down on loofah to ensure full saturation.

Loofa Soap and Funky Foot Fixes, The Tamara Blog

Loofa Soap -- The Tamara Blog

Loofa Soap and Funky Foot Fixes, The Tamara Blog

Loofa Soap and Funky Foot Fixes, The Tamara Blog

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Allow bars to cool for 30 to 40 minutes, and un-mold. If soaps don’t come out of molds easily, pop in the freezer for a few minutes.

Loofa Soap and Funky Foot Fixes, The Tamara Blog

 

Moisturizing Lotion Bars

 

Lotion Bars -- The Tamara Blog

 

Use this solid lotion bar a bit like chap-stick for your feet. Apply to rough patches, and rub in. The butters & oils will moisturize, and the fragrance will help de-funk those tootsies!

Materials and Supplies:

Lotion Bar Ingredients -- The Tamara Blog

  • 1/4 cup Shea Butter or Cocoa butter
  • 1/4 cup Coconut Oil
  • 1/2 cup Beeswax — grated
  • 10 drops Tea Tree Oil
  • 20 drops Peppermint Oil
  • Pyrex Measuring Cup or other heat-safe jar (mason jars work)
  • Small Molds

Candy and Ice Molds for Lotion Bars -- The Tamara Blog

Combine shea butter, coconut oil and beeswax and melt. If using a microwave, heat in 30-second increments. If using the stove, place mason jar or measuring cup in water in saucepan.

Melting Lotion Bar ingredients -- The Tamara Blog

The beeswax will be the last ingredient to melt. In order not to burn or overheat the mixture, remove from heat once most of the solids are melted, then stir until the beeswax is incorporated. Reheat for a few seconds, if necessary. Add essential oils and stir.

Lotion Bars -- The Tamara Blog

Lotion Bars -- The Tamara Blog

Lotion Bars -- The Tamara Blog

Pour into molds, allow to cool, and un-mold.

Funky Foot Fixes -- The Tamara Blog

Refreshing Foot Spray

This spray can be used in stinky shoes, or directly on feet for a an invigorating and odor-reducing boost. Use sparingly on skin, as alcohol can be drying.

REfreshing Foot Spray -- The Tamara Blog

Ingredients and supplies:

  • 1/2 cup Vodka
  • 20-30 drops Tea Tree Oil, Peppermint Oil, or a combination of both
  • Spray Bottle

Combine vodka and essential oils, pour into spray bottle. Shake well before using.

Refreshing Foot Spray -- The Tamara Blog

Refreshing Foot Spray -- The Tamara Blog

Packaging and Tips

Funky Foot Fixes -- The Tamara Blog

Funky Foot Fixes -- The Tamara Blog

Find a set of labels for your fantastic foot products here. They’re compatible with most 2-1/2″ circle sticker sheet templates, or you can simply cut them out of paper and glue on. Label and package all your goodies, and you’re done.

The loofa soap is fantastic for feet, but is equally welcome as a body exfoliator in the shower. Switch up the essential oils to your fragrance favorites. Same with the lotion bars – they are great for scaly elbows, or even to moisturize cuticles. And because they’re in solid form, they’re easy to travel with. No worries about spilling or TSA screening!

Enjoy pampering your ‘paws’ or whatever!

Lovely DIY Foot Pampering Kit -- The Tamara Blog

 

All right. Let me be candid. My inspiration sometimes comes late in the game. So here I am, just a couple days from Valentine’s day, and I don’t have a gift. Are you in the same boat? Good news: Here’s a beautiful, easy and quick craft you can make in just a few minutes.

I Love You Candle -- The Tamara Blog

Are you familiar with water slide decals? They were kind of a mysterious thing in my childhood, and I loved them. Today the decals come in custom-printable paper, so you can make your own beautiful designs!

Here’s what you’ll need to make this customized candle

  • Glass Candle, 6 to 8oz. size
  • Water Slide Decal Paper — for laser or Inkjet printers (I used inkjet)
  • Polyurethane Spray Sealer (Minwax, Krylon)
  • Scissors
  • Glass of Water
  • Paper Towel

Water slide decal paper can be found in art supply stores (my Blick store carries it), some craft stores, and of course, online. If you don’t have any, I recommend buying some right now, and having it on hand for future projects!

I’ve created a single sheet with 9 decals on it, in 3 colors, you can download it here: Heart Love Candle Decals. (In the pic “je t’aime” is misspelled. It’s correct on the printout!)

Decal Sheet-- The Tamara Blog

Thanks to the Graphic’s Fairy for the hearts!

Print according to your decal paper’s instructions. Mine is for inkjet printers, and the instructions state to print with “best” resolution and selecting “glossy photo” paper. Once printed, spray two coats of spray sealer over the printed page. (This prevents the ink from running once you place the decal in water.) Allow the sealer to dry completely between coats, usually 20 to 30 minutes.

By the way, I didn’t count the waiting-do-dry time in the project, figuring you could be reading a book or something else during this time. 😉

 

Cutting Decal

Trimmed Decal

Cut the image from the sheet, and trim close to printing.

Immerse the decal in a cup of water for 45 to 60 seconds.

 

Into Wter

Decal in water

Decal comes off paper

After 45 seconds or so, the decal will start to slip away from the backing paper. At this point, carefully remove the decal and paper, and slide the decal onto the candle glass.

Decal and paper

Onto Glass

Smooth out any wrinkles or bubbles with your fingers.

Using a dry paper towel, dab away any excess water, checking again for pesky bubbles. Smooth with fingers if necessary.

Look carefully for bubbles

Allow to dry for half an hour or so, and your gift is ready to give. No stress, just an easy, beautiful and personal Valentine!

Love Candle P1080211

If you would like to construct your own word designs, the link for the Graphic’s Fairy will give you the hearts. The font I use is “Academy Entraved LET.”

I have two lovely friends who have fantastic candle companies… check them out! The candle in my pics is from Gwendolyn Mary.

Gwendolyn Mary Candles and Andrea Schroder Candles

And finally, if you’re looking for a great Valentine’s Day food gift, check out my Chocolate Truffle Spoons. They’re so good! (If I do say so myself.)

Truffle spoon on rose

Happy Valentine’s Day! xxoo

 

5 minute microwaved potato chips The Tamara Blog

I recently had family show up unexpectedly and I had nothing but a bottle of Prosecco in the fridge. While that’s a fine greeting, I needed a quick snack to add. I glanced in the pantry and spotted a potato. Presto! Potato chips and Prosecco. We have a snack!

Beautiful Gold Leafed Flutes DIY

I know what you’re thinking: This is not your ordinary pairing. But these ain’t no store-bought crisps! And as good as they are, they’re also great for game-day gatherings.

These chips are fast and, I’m telling you, FaH-bulous! Crunchy, easy, & YOU control all the ingredients. They’re not fried, so less fat, and because they’re made in batches, you have an easy way to control portion size. Crave just a few chips? Make some fresh in 5 minutes. And you won’t be tempted to eat the whole bag, like with store bought ones.

Microwave Potato Chips

  • 1 large Russet Potato
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper (optional)

Wash the potato and cut very thin, 1/8” or less. I like them 1/16″ and use a hand slicer or mandoline, but a sharp knife will also work.

P1080116

20150103_153207

Place sliced potatoes in a single layer on a piece of parchment paper. Drizzle with a little olive oil, and brush the oil to cover each slice. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (if using.)

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20150103_145540

Place sheet in microwave, and cook on high for 3 to 5 minutes. Watch the chips, and remove when the desired amount of brownness is achieved. Parchment paper can be reused for several batches.

P1080127

Yield: 50 to 60 chips.

Take a bite, microwaved potato chips

Tips: try other flavors – garlic or seasoned salt, , or even vinegar or flavored olive oil. Go crazy!

5 Minute Microwaved Potato Chips

Click here for printable recipe for Microwave Potato Chips

Here are some of my other snacks that may be of interest for game-day gatherings.

Kale Chips

Baked Salami “Chips”

Salty Sweet Popcorn

Toffee Pretzels

Enjoy!

Oh, how I love the autumn. It’s my favorite time of year, and not just because of all the eating and drinking. Though you might not believe it, even here in sunny Southern California the leaves change and the weather gets crisp.

Stitched Place Card -- The Tamara Blog

I have a “thing” for leaves. Friends call them “my motif.” Some people love hearts, some suns or fleurs de lis… I love leaves. They’re natural, beautiful, readily available and ephemeral.

I have been tutoring a young girl in sewing the past few weeks, and came up with this idea after my first class with her. I had her sewing on paper to practice, and realized that the results were pretty versatile and well suited for paper crafting.

Stitche Place Card

So for this easy craft, I combined leaves and paper. Here is all you need to make these lovely place cards!

Score and fold cards, if necessary.

Scored cards

Punch or cut leaf shapes from patterned paper. I use between 3 and 5 leaves per card.

Leaf cut outs

Use a glue stick to lightly stick the leaves to the card. Take care not to use a large amount of glue, as it will gum up the needle.

Sew cards

Once all the cards are glued, sew to secure leaves.

P1070803

Using a swirly stitch pattern suggests wind-swept leaves.

Stitched place cards

Hand write names or print on computer, cut out and glue onto cards.

Cute Stitched Place Cards, The Tamara Blog

Stitched Cards

Leif's card

Stitching on Paper

The Tamara Blog -- Stitched Placecards

Think of the possibilities for all types of cards… perhaps a Christmas gift follow-up is called for? Stay tuned, and have happy holidays!