A Panacea for Winter Skin

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Mmm … paste …

Thanks, climate change. When I first moved to Ottawa over twenty years ago, winters were long and dark and dry and COLD. Like, -30°C cold. Now they’re still that cold, but interspersed with warmer, sunnier days where everything melts, potholes form, and we start to believe that the worst is behind us. For like, two days. And then it gets really cold again. And our skin really pays the price for all this temperature variation. So here’s an easy, quick and relatively cheap solution to our winter skin woes, one that everyone in the house, including the baby, can make use of. If you have eczema you might find this a lovely soothing lotion.

Oatmeal Lotion 1

In a double boiler, or a heat-safe bowl over a pot of simmering water, plop 1/2 cup coconut oil and 1/4 cup shea butter. Let that melt.

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While that’s on the go, take a heaping 1/4 cup oats (rolled or quick, not steel cut), and use a food processor or spice grinder to reduce them to a fine powder.

Oatmeal Lotion 2

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Once the oil and butter have melted, remove the bowl from the heat and let it cool for a while, until the sides start to harden. If you live in a cold place, pop some plastic wrap over the top of the bowl and chuck it outside in the snow for a bit. Or shove it in your freezer if you’re impatient. Full disclosure: I left mine outside too long and it froze solid. What you’re looking for is something mostly solid but still mixable. If it’s too liquidy then the oatmeal will sink before it’s properly mixed in.

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Sometimes having winter right outside your door is actually a convenient thing. Sometimes. But not very often.

Tip in a few teaspoons vitamin E oil and 5 drops each lavender and chamomile essential oil. The essential oils are optional if you’d prefer to go scent-free.

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Oatmeal Lotion 8

Then plop in your ground oatmeal.

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Give that a serious whaz with a hand mixer until everything is uniform.

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Spoon it into a container and leave it for a few days to allow the oatmeal stuff to work its way into the oils. This lotion is a little grainy when you first rub it in, so I prefer to put it on at night, but it soaks in nicely.∗

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∗If you’re not a fan of the grains of oats, you could try a few options (I haven’t tried these but they seem logical): you could infuse the oats in the oils as you heat them and strain them out, or leave the powder in there and it might be a bit softer. Or you can take the oats out altogether and use oat straw extract – Avena sativa – instead, but this stuff is pretty pricey.

Quick and Dirty Sewing Needle Case

Why do I keep doing sewing projects? I HATE sewing! I promise you that the boxfish floor cushion is coming soon. LongJohn has been remarkably uncooperative these past two weeks so I’ve had to pick and choose my grown-up activities carefully.

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In the meantime, here’s a sewing needle case I made out of stuff I already had and was already using. As a needle case. Like, I had a box I was keeping sewing needles in already. And now I’m just keeping MORE needles in it. But it’s, like, organized and stuff.

Because, you see, I have this to currently stash my sewing needles.

Sewing Needle Case 1

And because I’m me, this happens to the needles that I put in there. And that causes all kinds of problems, like making the wheel stick and having needles randomly stab me. So that’s terrible.

Sewing Needle Case 2

This is my Altoids tin that I’ve had since probably high school.

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It currently holds my weird sewing needles and a bunch of other sewing stuff like stitch rippers.

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Ideally I’d like it to hold all my weird needles, a stitch ripper, a needle threader, and a wee pair of scissors. If the measuring tape fits, then even better.

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This is a magnet from my dentist. It’ll work to hold the big needles in place.

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I want something to hold the little tools onto the lid, but something that will allow me to change up the tools as events warrant.

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Hello, velcro!

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A little hot glue later …

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The velcro tabs allow me the flexibility of sticking whatever it is I want to the inside of the lid. It may not look pretty, but it works.

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Traditional needle books are basically just felt books all sewn up – but that doesn’t prevent the needles from being stabby if you hold the book wrong. So that’s where the metal tin comes into play.

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I cut out eight felt “pages” for my book the size of a business card (2″ x 3″). In the end I used only six of the eight because otherwise the lid wouldn’t have closed on the box.

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Then I cut out wee tabs to sew across each page to hold the needles. You can put the needles straight through the page if you like but it increases the risk of stabbiness.

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Then I sewed them on. The page with the two tabs is for my weird needles. Nobody ever said I could sew in the straight line.

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Then I sewed the pages together like an accordion, to make the pages sit flatter inside the tin than they would have if I’d sewn all one side like a book.

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Then we stick in our needles, weird ones first:

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Then the big huge ones …

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… then I had the monumental task of SORTING all the little ones I had. Ugh. This is super not easy when you have severe carpal tunnel …

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In they go.

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The finished “book,” from one side,

Sewing Needle Case 27and from the other.

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Then I needed to snazz up the outside of the tin. Something not super-cutesy, and something visible. Because my other issue with those wee plastic cases is I’m constantly losing them when they slide behind or underneath something else.

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I had some fun with craft paint and crackle medium to come up with this effect. If you’ve never used crackle medium, give it a try. It’s fun.

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Here’s my uncooperative baby being a butt while I wait for this to dry.

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And the finished ensemble! I ended up putting the stitch ripper in the bottom where it fits perfectly. The measuring tape alas did not fit.

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The pages pull out to reveal the needles you want.

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And at the bottom are all the big huge ones.

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I’m trying to consolidate a lot of the crafty/sewy/knitty stuff that I have as I go through our basement (post on THAT to follow), so this is a good start. Convenient to use and definitely un-stabby.

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Sea Creature Floor Pillows 1 of 2 (with Cheater Box Cushions)

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Let it be known here that I hate sewing and I’m really, REALLY bad at it. One hundred percent of my sewing projects here at Ali Does It could be done one hundred percent better than they are. But I don’t have the patience or desire to do a better job, nor do I have the money to purchase these sorts of finished projects instead of doing them myself. I’m hoping that rather than being a direct how-to for all y’all out there in the hinternets, these sorts of half-assed half-assery will be more inspiration than instruction.

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That said, I can still do pretty awesome stuff sometimes.

I’ve been moving these old pillows from place to place. They’re not useful to us and they have a weird shape. But I thought they’d make nice little floor pillows, and now that LongJohn is spending more time on the floor it’s a good way for those of us with less flexible knees and older backs to join him. And because everything we make for him tends to be marine-related, I thought I’d make the cushions into sea creatures.

Whale Floor Cushion 1

What inspired that idea was this dress. This is a bridesmaid dress I wore to a wedding over a decade ago. I hated it then. I hate it now. It was really expensive to purchase the fabric and I had to have it professionally made because the pattern was too complicated and the fabric too finicky for my mother and I to deal with. And after it was done I felt like a WHALE in it. So let’s make a whale.

Whale Floor Cushion 2

This first cushion turned out wayyyy better than I expected, especially since I totally half-assed everything, didn’t measure a thing, and considering that this stupid stretchy velour crap is THE worst material in the world to work with. It didn’t even PHOTOGRAPH well. Every picture turned out BLURRY. GAH.

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With LongJohn looking on, I “measured” the pillow to the dress to gauge how much I was going to need to cut off.

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Cut made! Time to unpick all the stitches.

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Now I needed to kind of square off the pieces I had removed.

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See? KIND OF square. If I wasn’t catering to the patience of a seven-month-old, I would have used my rotary cutter and mat and done a better job. But meh. Cutting this stuff left little flecks of gray velour everywhere. Ick.

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I had some bits here from what I cut off that I thought could make a decent little tail for my whale. This is not going to be an anatomically correct whale – more the cartoonish sort.

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I took a Sharpie and drew a basic shape on the back.

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Then tried my best to cut it out of two pieces at the same time. This material is so slidey and stretchy though … The other piece there is for the bottom of the tail, to make it more substantial.

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And here is my poor approximation of a cartoon whale’s fin. I’m only doing the one fin because this whale is more like a flounder or sunfish and is entirely one-sided.

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Even pinning these pieces is next to impossible ….

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Sewing them together and getting the bottom panel in involved much swearing. Good thing LongJohn wasn’t listening.

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Then I grabbed some polyfill loft (actually I used twice what you see in the picture) and gave the tail and fin a thorough stuffing.

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They ended up looking way better than I expected them to.

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Then I hemmed the two back pieces of the cushion so that I could overlap them and have an opening without having any raw edges. I like to make my cushions so that I don’t have to add snaps or a zipper – just a little overlapping envelope of fabric. I’m lazy.

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But there’s still the front of the cushion to do, and that cushion needs a face.

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Here’s my attempt at a face. It’s really hard to sew non-stretchy materials to stretchy materials.

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So it ended up being all wrinkly like this. But it looks like a happy whale, right?

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Now to put the square pieces together. Again, nothing lines up, but it doesn’t matter because everything is so stretchy and impossible.

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I had to seal in the edges of the tail in order to sew it on without a disaster.

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And even that was tricky.

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Here it is all sewn together finally.

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With the cushion in place I put a pin where I wanted the fin to go. I ended up hand-sewing the fin on because it was impossible any other way.

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And I also attacked my super pointy corners. The pillow has rounded edges so I didn’t want those corners to stick out too far – whales are roundish after all. If you were doing this for real you’d be taking the corner of the cushion here (inside out) and flattening it at an angle that the seams you’ve sewn match up, one on top of the other. Then you iron it to make a pleat, and you pin it. I did none of those things, save more or less lining up the seams.

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Then you measure the height of your pillow or box (because in the assembly of your pillow you’ve left enough room to account for this) and you sew across the pillow corner to match that height. Again, I eyeballed this. I’m a terrible person.

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But then when you flip it inside out again, all those pointy corners have disappeared! If you have stretchy material and a round cushion, you now have rounded edges. If you have non-stretchy material and a square cushion you now have box edges. Congratulations!

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Everything turned out with a few gathers and wrinkles but I blame the fabric for that.

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LongJohn doesn’t care. He just likes to punch it a bunch while yelling. And that’s really all I was going for.

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The next cushion will be a box fish – wish me luck!

Moveable Memories

Moveable Memories 1

For Christmas, I gave the Pie a stick. This stick, to be specific. It’s actually a piece of moulding too knotty for my dad to use, and I scavenged it out of his garage. Trust me though, I have a plan.

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I’m sure all of you have a relative with a cottage or grandparents’ home where, be it a door jamb or a piece of wall panelling, they have accumulated the heights of all the family members as they’ve grown over the years. At the cottage my great-grandfather built (now owned by my mother’s cousin), these height markings go back several generations. And it’s always sad when the time comes to leave that house behind, together with those memories that are so firmly a part of the house. Sometimes you can get away with removing the fixture they’re on, but sometimes not.

We plan to stay in this house for a long time, but you never know what will happen, so I wanted to make sure that when we leave we can take our memories with us.

First order of business is cutting down the wood to fit. I made sure it was cut so it sits above the moulding on the floor, runs parallel to the doorjamb in our guest bedroom, and ends at the top of the lintel, so it’s low profile. Then I drilled three holes (one at either end and one in the middle), and sanded it down.

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During one of LongJohn’s naps I popped just outside the backdoor and spray painted the whole stick white. Then I had to kick around my newly white leaves so the Pie wouldn’t see them. Fortunately it snowed soon thereafter so I was safe.

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Once the paint was dry I started marking distances with craft paint. We use mostly Metric in Canada but because we’re so close to the United States we are pretty fluent in Imperial as well, so I decided to go with both. For the centimetres I made a bigger mark every 10 and for the inches I made a bigger one every 6. I also made sure to start my measurements on the stick at the distance it sits from the floor, which when you take into account the moulding at the bottom of the wall, was about 10cm. In retrospect I wish I’d used a finer paint brush but what’s done is done.

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I added in the numbers in a different colour (again, wish I’d used a finer brush). Then I sprayed the whole thing with a clear lacquer to keep the markings fresh.

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Then I wrapped it and hid it behind a bookcase. Now when we take our measurements, we mark them in permanent marker and I dab a little clear nail polish over them to keep them from rubbing off. And when we’re ready to leave, we can take it with us!

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Tread Carefully!

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We moved into a split level house specifically to cater to the needs of tiny children and aging dogs. Grenadier, believe it or not, is now six years old! He’s still spry and sprightly but next year will mark the beginning of his senior life and he’s slowing down in little increments. I see him hesitating at the bottom of our 5-step jump between “upstairs” and “downstairs” and it makes me sad. Slippery hardwood is hard on old joints. Not to mention that in a few months I’m likely to be watching LongJohn make his first forays up and down that mountain of stairs.

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So I thought I’d make the stairs a little safer for all of us. You may remember that I put some adhesive grips on our deathtrap stairs in Elizabeth, but I didn’t do a very good job there. It’s amazing how home ownership will prompt you to make sure you do something right the first time.

At first, I thought I was going to be stuck buying black or gray adhesive grip tape and that I was going to have to get creative with how I laid it down so that it wouldn’t look like I’d just slapped safety tape on my stairs. I was going to have to MEASURE for crying out loud. Pah. Then I discovered that 3M makes CLEAR safety tape, so I picked up a roll of that. I also needed a rubber roller to properly apply this stuff, and 3M sells that too. Handily, my mother, who has done some printmaking in the past, had a stock of them so I nicked one from their basement for free.

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First things first: measure (or eyeball) and cut strips. Now that I didn’t have to worry about laying things down in fancy patterns, I cut one piece to fit the stairs (according to the package instructions), and then measured each subsequent piece to the first one.

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Then I had to sit there with LongJohn in the Jolly Jumper while I painstakingly rounded all the edges.

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Because one of the travelers in our house has four legs with small feet, I put a few extra strips in place to ensure that Gren could find grip no matter where he stepped.

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Next, I had to clean and de-grease the steps to ensure that the tape stuck. I used a Magic Eraser to gently abrade the finish of the stairs and make it more welcoming to the adhesive. The instructions recommend stripping the varnish off completely but there is no way I’m doing that!

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Then you just stick the stuff down! Peel off the edge, line it up, and away you go.

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Once it’s down, take the roller and go from the middle outwards, pressing quite hard (my hands were sore the next day).

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Done! You can see bubbles in mine because the floor isn’t perfectly smooth.

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It’s funny, you know – the tape shows up here quite clearly on my camera, but when you’re looking at it with the naked eye it’s barely visible at all. You can only see the bubbles on the top step when you come upstairs and the sun is shining brightly through the bathroom window. So it’s pretty much invisible. And everyone feels a lot safer!

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Chocolate-Covered Pretzel Peanut Toffee

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Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great holiday. Ours was pretty quiet, which was good because all three of us got sick, one after the other – always a great way to spend one’s vacation. We have this week left to try to get as many things crossed off our to-do list as possible. We’re not holding our breath that they’ll all get done, but we’ll do our best.

In the meantime, here’s a quick little toffee recipe to help you combat those mid-winter blahs. I doubled the recipe, which I would not recommend, because the toffee sets so quickly it’s hard to get both batches flattened out on the pans fast enough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put it aside for a bit.

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In a heavy saucepan, combine 1/2 cup butter, 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons water.

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Attach a candy thermometer to the side and heat that over medium until it reads 300°F. Try to avoid stirring as much as possible, and if you do, don’t use a metal spoon – wood or silicone will prevent premature crystallization.

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Next to the pot, place a little container of 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and another of 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. You’ll need to have those handy at short notice later on.

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While you’re keeping an eye on the sugar, crush up about 1 1/2 cups pretzel twists.I also had some salted peanuts on hand so I crushed and dumped those in as well – probably about 3/4 cup salted peanuts.

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And gather up 1 cup chocolate chips. I mixed mine with some dark chocolate for flavour.

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When your sugar has caramelized and gotten to the hard crack stage (that’s 300°F), remove it from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Try to resist screaming as it fizzes up and gets all terrifying. I promise that will pass.

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EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Toss in the pretzels and peanuts and stir the toffee quickly.

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Then tip it out onto your parchment sheet and flatten it down as much as you can before it starts to set.

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Sprinkle the chocolate evenly over the top of the toffee and let it stand for a few minutes while the chocolate melts.

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Then smooth out the melted chocolate with a spatula.

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Sprinkle the top of the chocolate with fleur de sel and let harden in the refrigerator for about an hour.

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Once it’s hardened, break it up into chunks and eat it all by yourself! share it with your friends and family.

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Apple-Citrus Cranberry Sauce

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Oh hey, do you have a recipe for cranberry sauce for this weekend yet? I’ve been resting on the laurels of my chipotle cranberry mix but this year I wanted something a bit different and now this is my new favourite. This one is easier, too, which makes life better around the holidays.

Start with 2 12oz packages fresh cranberries, 2 large apples, and 2 large oranges. If you’d like a bit of extra zip, replace the oranges with grapefruit and go from there.

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Wash the cranberries and set them aside to drain.

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Peel the apples and cut them into small pieces (whatever size you would like to find dropped across your turkey).

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Zest and juice the oranges into a medium saucepan.

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Tip in 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and give it a good stir.

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Tip in the apples and cranberries and heat over medium, stirring often.

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The liquid will simmer up and the cranberries will make very satisfying soft pops as they break open.

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Once you’re happy with your ratio of broken cranberries, remove the sauce from the heat and allow it to chill.

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This makes about 2 quarts, so plenty of sauce for dealing with leftovers!

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