Books for your Hands at Home: Chocolate and Confections by Peter Greweling

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If you’d like to learn to make candy, for fun or profit, or simply to increase your popularity immensely since most people LOVE chocolate and the people who can provide it, you need to read a book.

And the book you need to read, and follow like a spiritual text, is Peter Greweling’s Chocolate and Confections at Home.  The At Home part of the title is critical; Greweling also has a book called simply Chocolate and Confections but, if you’ve never made chocolate and start with that book, your head might explode. It’s a lovely book but not the place to start.

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When I want to learn something new, I always look for books. It’s just me. I know other people take courses or workshops, or watch YouTube videos, but I read about it. And I scare myself, sometimes, because I like the reading part so much I might just never move on to the doing!

But, if you read this book, you’ll want to move on and make the candy. The pictures are so great and the candy is SO tempting, you’ll definitely want to try it. And Greweling does such a good job of explaining that he de-mystifies the scary parts of the process—tempering real chocolate, using a candy thermometer, boiling sticky stuff at 300 degrees.

Learning to temper chocolate is where it’s all at. Greweling doesn’t condemn the use of compound coating, the so-called candy melts you buy at the grocery store or Michael’s, but, really, if you love chocolate you need to just accept that candy melts are NOT chocolate. They are a chocolate-flavored mix of vegetable fats, cocoa powder, and other stuff. Cheap and convenient, sure, but not chocolate.

So, Greweling will teach you to temper chocolate. If you can do that, you can make a lot of cool candy just by mixing tempered chocolate, dark, milk or white, with other ingredients you love and calling it bark. One of the favorite combinations I’ve come up with is dark chocolate, with a little mix of hot spices stirred into the tempered chocolate, and topped with toasted pumpkin seeds and dried sour cherries. Crunchy and unexpected, with this subtle heat . . . too yummy!

The book moves on from such simple treats to elaborate layered candy bars and molded chocolates. You can build your skills and get fancy or just keep it simple. But because it’s real chocolate and other ingredients that you love and choose, with no weird additives, simple is spectacular. Really, check this book out!

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If all this sounds good but you don’t have time for another craft, I can make the candy for you. Candy-making season at KerryCan, my Etsy shop, begins sometime in mid-September. I’ll keep you posted.

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“Hands at Home” Heritage–Who Taught You?

Where did your interest in handmade start? Do you remember the first thing you made?

I have all these little snippets of memory from growing up, of being exposed to people making stuff and teaching me how. We lived on a farm so my paternal grandmother was always making food. She made the bread for the household and, when she took the loaves out of the oven, she’d use a stick of butter and rub the end over the tops of the loaves to give them a nice finish. My sister and I would sneak in and use our fingernails to pick the buttery crust off the bread to eat. And I don’t remember anyone ever speaking harshly to us about that!

My maternal grandfather was a serial craftsman. He ALWAYS had a hobby, one hobby, that he would do intensely and master. And then he would drop it and move on. He built houses. He took and developed photographs. He was a rockhound and collected rocks and gems all over the country. He made the most amazing wood furniture. But, once he was really, really good at something, it seems to have lost its hold on him and he’d find another outlet because he just seemed to need to make things.

My mother inherited the serial crafting gene from him. When I was little, she was into sewing. She made her clothes and our clothes. She was a first-grade teacher so she would do that all day and then stay up late, late at night and sew fabulous clothes. And then, one day, she just stopped. And took up knitting. She read knitting patterns to fall asleep at night. She made up her own patterns. She knit fabulous sweaters. And then, one day, she just stopped. I could go on and on . . .

So I’ve come honestly by my desire to make things! The first thing I really remember making, other than the typical drawings a little kid makes, was a piece of embroidery. My farm grandmother started me on it. It was a transfer design of a basket with flowers in it and I remember working really hard on it. I wish I still had that little piece of cloth and I think of it sometimes, when I’m ironing embroidered linens for my Etsy shop.

I cherish the “hands at home” history of my family and I can see, everyday, how it has influenced my style and aesthetic sense. I wonder if most artisans learn their love of crafting at home?  Or do some people come to it later, without the influence from an early age?

How about you? What was the first thing you made? Who taught you?

Hands at Home: Rug Hooker Patty Yoder

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If you love quilts and coverlets and samplers and hooked rugs, you NEED to make a trip to Shelburne Museum in Vermont. The museum provides a fascinating view of Vermont cultural history, with some of the most spectacular displays of antique American textiles you’ll ever find.

We went to Shelburne last week, spent the day, and just dipped our toes into their vast collection. They have 700 quilts, although they only have about 50 on display at any given time so it’s always an adventure to go back! I’ll write more about the antique quilts and other textiles at some point but today I want to focus on a current exhibition that is simply stunning—The Alphabet of Sheep series of hooked rugs, made by Patty Yoder.

The Shelburne Museum website says the following about the rugs: “The Alphabet of Sheep series combines two of [Yoder’s] favorite things: the sheep on her farm and the alphabet. Her rugs incorporate her family, friends, or sheep as the subject matter, a joyous celebration of one woman’s life.” And joyous is the perfect word to describe these rugs!

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The exhibition features several of the 44 hooked rugs Yoder made in the 13 years between her retirement and her death in 2005. That’s a very short time to develop skill and a personal vision but these rugs are amazing in both ways.

Have you ever tried rug hooking? I have. I was awful at it! All those strips of wool sitting around, flat and uninteresting, and you need to be able to envision how those pieces fit together, how to vary color, how to bring them through the backing fabric in a consistent manner. Yikes. My failed attempts at rug hooking made me much more appreciative of what Yoder accomplished with her work!

I wish my pictures were better. I wish Shelburne had more photos on their website. I wish you could see these in person, to appreciate the texture and color with your own eyes. Patty Yoder found her creative outlet, building on a traditional, utilitarian craft and, like so many other makers, finding a way to express herself and her passion with her own hands.

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The Patty Yoder show is up through October 31, 2013. While you’re there, be sure to visit the “Wyeth Vertigo” exhibit as well, with paintings and other works by 3 generations of the Wyeth family, N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, and Jamie Wyeth. Not exactly “hands at home,” but a wonderful chance to see paintings of this American art dynasty all in one place!

shelburnemuseum.org/

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Quirky Hands at Home

When I think about “hands at home,” I can fall into the trap of thinking of sweet old ladies, crocheting pink doilies, with a cat at their feet. But, really, some of the best handmade items are downright quirky and remind us that each person is really, truly an individual with a big personality.

One of my favorite dish towels is the one pictured here. I sold it about a year ago and have always sort of wished I hadn’t. I’d love to know the story on the person who embroidered this spooky little guy. Is it a gnome? A house elf? A space invader? Was the maker chuckling the whole time he or she stitched?

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You’ll see lots of quirkiness in the handmade—some intentional, some accidental. It’s part of what makes it real!

Hands at Home—My Top 10

Because I’m thinking a lot about makers and making, those “loving hands at home,” I want to explain my thinking a little more. I have certain activities that I love to do, to participate in, and others that I want to learn about and appreciate. These are some of the topics I’ll be writing about so you can think of this as a preview of coming attractions! If you love the handmade, too, what would you add to the list?

  1. candy making—this is on my mind a lot because it’s a business for me. I make caramels and chocolate candy. It’s a great creative outlet and makes the people around me happy, too.
  2. quilt making—this, to me, is the ultimate “hands at home” craft. The colors, the textures, the design possibilities!  The connections to the past and other makers. I love the most utilitarian quilt as much as the most carefully crafted, beautiful quilt.
  3. jewelry making—I studied this in college, took it up again at a later date, and should do more. I never feel more powerful and accomplished than I do with an acetylene torch blazing away.
  4. music making—do you play an instrument? Sing? I think we all should. I don’t do it often enough but there’s something about participating in the making of music that is essential to human nature, I think.
  5. gardening—I came to this late and have a lot to learn. For me it’s about flowers and loveliness but maybe you grow vegetables. Either way, watching things grow . . .wow.
  6. folk music—I like homemade music. I put this as a different list item than “music making” because, while I think we should all play our own music, I also want to listen to the music of the average person. I especially like the music of protest and rebellion.
  7. weaving—I don’t have the first clue how to do it, which is too bad since we have a big loom, an impulse purchase, sitting in the garage. I’m drawn to the woven items every time I go to a craft display or historical museum, though.
  8. textiles—I guess I should just admit that all textiles appeal to me. Those samplers done by nine-year olds. Those rugs hooked from rags, to warm the feet AND beautify the home. And all those tablecloths and dish towels, embroidered with bright colors. So much tradition and personality in each piece!
  9. folk art—this is in the front of my mind because we just made a trip to Shelburne Museum in Vermont, where they have a huge collection of folk art and it’s so cool. It focuses on utilitarian items, like weather vanes and duck decoys and scrimshaw. These were made by unknown hands, by people not trained as artists, and each item is simply lovely.
  10. 10. enough about me . . . what would you add as the tenth item on the list? What do you make by hand?

The Human Touch

Quilt-making, artisan chocolate, metal smithing, garage sales, vintage linens, ironing, folk music . . . what do these things have in common?

They’re a few of my interests but, because I am known to over-think things, I’ve always looked for a theme that connects them and that would give me insight to what makes me, well, me.

Then I read a phrase in a novel that gave me a starting place. The character receives a gift and reflects that it has that “loving-hands-at-home look.” The phrase “loving hands at home” was used as if it was a well-worn term but I had never heard it before.

So, I looked it up! I didn’t find anything definitive but learned that it’s a phrase used to talk about something that is obviously handmade by someone with a love of making. And, it became clear that the phrase is generally used in a disparaging way, to imply that the hand-maker might mean well but that they have more love than skill.

As I thought about it, though, I realized this was the connection among the activities and interests that have motivated me for much of my life, and I think they motivate many others as well. We are humans and we are drawn to that which is made by human hands. We appreciate the exceptional and the talented but also see the value in anything handmade, even if it is inexpert or awkward, because it reflects a desire to do something for oneself, to create, to participate.

Click, click, click . . . the seemingly unrelated interests in my life fell into place. All those things I’ve made and crafts I’ve dabbled in. All those exhibits of folk art I’ve sought out. All those items I pick up at flea markets and garage sales. All that music that moves me. They’re essentially the products of loving hands at home, not made by professionals, or mass-produced. They have the imprint of an individual human being on them. That human being might be me or you, or someone long gone, but the “hands at home” speak to me.

So, this blog is initiated to celebrate the hands at home. You won’t find me using that phase in the condescending way it is often used—I really do love those hands at home! If you do, too, I hope you’ll come back often and participate in the discussion!