Winter Sun

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There have been a slew of babies born into our circle in the past few months, with more to come in the new year, and it’s all very exciting. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to hand-make presents for everyone this year, but for the babies I spared an hour or so. This project, inspired by Made by Joel, is super easy and makes use of those little scraps of fabric you have on hand. If you don’t have a sewing machine you can do this by hand but it certainly saves a bit of time when you’re making them in bulk.

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So I have here some fabric scraps, a huge hunk of soft yellow terry cloth, and some empty plastic bags that previously held potato chips (but that are now clean, because you probably don’t want your baby to smell like potato chips).

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Grab your terry cloth (or whatever fabric you choose) as the centre of your winter sun and cut from it two circles of the same size (you don’t have to measure but think of how big a baby’s hands are and act accordingly).

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Cut out some circles as well in your chip bags. These things will be layered and stuffed inside your little creation to give it a delightful crinkle.

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I also decided to dress up the faces of my winter sun with some scraps of felt. I made one side a sleepy sun and one side a happy sun.

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Then I sewed those on carefully. You can use whatever you want to decorate your sun, though I would avoid buttons, as babies tend to swallow those.

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Then grab some more scraps. You’re going to want to cut out long triangles from this stuff. It’s easiest to fold it and then cut a diagonal line towards the fold.

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Then you can sew the open long end closed (leave the bottom open).

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Jam your thumb into the triangle and squish it up so it’s easier to turn inside out.

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Use a paintbrush or pencil to help you get it inverted properly.

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You’ll want enough scraps of differing colours to make enough triangles to go around the circumference of your sun. I eyeballed it and came up with eight.

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Cut ’em, sew ’em, reverse ’em.

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Now grab one of the faces of your sun and start attaching the rays. You want to attach them to the right side of the sun with the rays all pointing in towards the centre (so that when you turn it inside out they will stick out).

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Like this.

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Then grab the other face of the sun and make sure all the rays are tucked safely inside before attaching it to the whole shebang. Leave a few inches open so you can invert it.

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Grab your chip bags and stuff them inside the now right-side-out sun.

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If you have some, you can add a little bit of cotton batting or fill for fluff purposes. Then it’s a simple matter to hand-sew that opening shut.

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Then grab each of the rays and tie a single knot into each one for texture.

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Easy peasy!

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Jelly(fish) Mobile

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You guys. Guys. Seriously. This might be the best thing I’ve ever done. And I have to give it away. Fortunately I’m giving it to someone very, very special, so all the effort that went into it is definitely worth it. I can see that this sort of project could be used in all sorts of different situations: you could have it simply as a delightful window decoration; a baby’s mobile; as the modified shade on some LED chandeliers (like this one from IKEA); a room separator … anything. really. This one in particular is … a rainbow jellyfish.

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And you can make one too. All you need for a basic version are some gelatin plastic shapes (you may remember we made them earlier), some fishing line or monofilament line (I picked very fine line that will be nearly invisible) and a wire rack of some kind to hang stuff from (mine is round).

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Add-ons to this were some snap swivels I picked up from our local hunting and fishing store and that lovely beaded string I picked up for my miniature chandeliers that I made earlier this summer. I had some flexible wire that I saved from my wire baskets, and I found a set of bent needlenose pliers (and a pair of scissors) to be very helpful.

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I’ll show you what I did and then hopefully you can take this idea and improve on it and make it your own. Let’s begin, shall we?

First I took the flexible wire and I cut it into three equal pieces. I hooked each piece around the three little feet on my wire cooling rack and wound them up tight. Forgive the photos as my camera hates taking pictures of wire apparently. I looped each wire between two feet so I had three arcs coming up from the rack.

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Then I grabbed all three arcs and squished them together, twisting the wire so that all was left was a nice big hoop at the top, tapering to a straight line in the middle and then it spread out to the three little feet at the bottom, like a tripod.

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Then I took my beaded string and I wrapped it around all of those things, to look like bubbles in the sea.

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Then I hung it from my ceiling fan, because I figured it was pretty firmly attached to my ceiling.

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I added some more beaded string, because I knew that once I started hanging the discs it would be harder to do. I put some loops at the top to distract from all the hardware that was going to be visible up there when I was done.

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Next I sorted all my discs into rainbow order.

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Then I grabbed my humble snap swivel. And some pliers.

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And started attaching them to the discs.

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And I did that a million times.

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Then I started tying the discs onto my fishing line. I had originally planned to just use one disc per line, so that the snap swivel would provide the weight needed to keep the line straight and the swivel would allow for spin but before I put it together I reconsidered this and decided to tie multiple discs to the same line. This will prevent clutter on the wire rack and make things easier to install. It will also leave more space around each disc for spinning. If you do this, make sure to tie the discs on at irregular intervals, because you want the colours to overlap in places and if you do it all regularly it will look like a very pretty geometric thing but not like a jellyfish. So I guess it depends on what you’re going for.

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My inner lines were quite long, and each time I moved out a few circles in the rack I made the lines shorter.

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This took several hours, and was quite fiddly because I also used snap swivels to attach the lines to the racks for durability, which necessitated a lot of reaching over my head to fasten a tiny piece of metal to another tiny piece of metal. It is quite a strain on the shoulders after a while. This is where I got to before I threw in the towel for the night.

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The next day I got up early in the hopes that I could catch the early morning sun filtering through the discs but alas it was overcast. I kept going, though.

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Almost there …

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And here is my beautiful magnum opus. The recipients are already in love with it and I still haven’t figured out how to transport it in my car yet. It makes a highly satisfying sound when the pieces click together, like a sink full of popping dish foam.

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Jam Session: Saskatoon Berries

Saskatoon Berry Jam 27You may remember that last year I surreptitiously liberated several service or Saskatoon berries from city property. This year it rained on Canada Day, our national holiday, and between thunderstorms I went out and hauled in about 4 litres of them. Everyone who passed through the kitchen during our Canada Day get-together asked where I’d gotten so many cranberries. I got a little testy explaining that they were service berries each time. I guess they DO kind of look like cranberries, but whatever. Saskatoon Berry Jam 2

I decided to make jam out of all my berries (and I actually ended up with so many berries that I had some leftover even after two batches of jam). I bought two dozen of the wee 175mL Bernardin canning jars and popped them into my canner to sterilize. I turned on the stove and brought those to a low boil.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 4I put the rings aside and put the discs in a heatproof bowl. Saskatoon Berry Jam 3

I heated a kettle and poured almost boiling water over the discs to let the rubber soften.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 9I gathered my other canning tools and had them handy. Always use non-metallic implements when making jam. Saskatoon Berry Jam 12

I get very irritated when I make jam because I always end up either burning myself on boiling sugar or burning myself with steam or hot water and everything ends up sticky and it’s already hot making jam in the summer so I decided to double my batch so I wouldn’t have to repeat the process in the same day. When you do this you have to make sure that your proportions are exact so you don’t mess up your ratios of acid to sugar to pectin.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 23The recipe I used is from the Bernardin website and advocates the use of the crystallized pectin, but the liquid stuff had been on sale so I used that instead. The process is a little different using liquid pectin in terms of when you add the sugar and stuff so the process below reflects that. Saskatoon Berry Jam 7

It’s a good idea to pre-cut the packages and sit them upright in a cup so they’re handy when you need them.

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Now that all your canning stuff is ready to go, you can get onto the actual jam component. Grab your berries, about 9 cups service berries (for a single batch, though in these photos that’s doubled), and plop them in a pan. I like to use my Lee Valley maslin pan because it’s kind of designed for jam and candy making and I love it. Plus it has a great handle that is very useful. Mush up your berries with a potato masher so they don’t explode on you later and so all the berry goodness gets out there early on. Saskatoon Berry Jam 6

Tip in as well 4 tablespoons lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine (apparently this helps prevent it from foaming too much but I don’t think it helped in my case).

Saskatoon Berry Jam 8Start heating the berries on medium-high and give them a good stirring. Measure out 6 cups granulated sugar and add that in as well. Saskatoon Berry Jam 10

You’ll find the berries very quickly become way more liquidy.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 14You want the berries to be at a decent boil that doesn’t go away when you stir (watch out for flying berry juice that can burn you). Saskatoon Berry Jam 16

When you get to that state, grab your pectin and quickly add it to the jam and give it a quick but thorough stirring.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 17Let it come back to a rolling boil again and leave that for 1 minute before removing the jam from the heat. Don’t burn yourself! Saskatoon Berry Jam 18

Skim off any foam with a non-metallic utensil. The jam foam was always a huge treat for us as kids to eat with a spoon. I offered it to the Pie and he refused it. I was miffed about that.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 19Grab your jars from the canner and drain them. Saskatoon Berry Jam 20

Fill them with your jam, leaving about 1/4″ of headspace between the jam and where the lid will go. Use a wet towel to wipe off any jam on the edge of the jar where the disc will need to be tightly sealed.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 22Plop the disks onto the jam jars and add the rings and tighten to fingertip tightness. Return the sealed jars to your canner and bring the water back to a boil and leave it for the time required by your canner and the number of jars you have in there. Saskatoon Berry Jam 21

I set my jars on a cookie rack to cool completely. These are the first batch of my DIY holiday gifts this year.

Saskatoon Berry Jam 26And I bought some overflow jars for myself, knowing I didn’t have enough jars for the jam I made. And I quickly filled the overflow jars, and then a bunch of plastic containers I had lying around. SO MUCH JAM. Saskatoon Berry Jam 25

Don’t Fence Me In – Make Baskets Instead

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This is another wee project I picked up to keep me from going stir crazy when I was sick last weekend. I’m behind the trend on this again (surprise, surprise), but I’ve wanted to make these custom wire baskets for ever. The Pie as a rule is against wire baskets because he always feels like he’s going to jam his fingers in the holes and hurt himself, but then again when it comes to me getting up to shenanigans when he’s out of town, I’m not really considering anyone’s happiness but my own. For these baskets all you need is some welded hardware mesh, usually used for fencing off gardens and things like that (this one has 1/2″ square holes), a wire cutter, and a pair of pliers. Or, if you’re lucky, you can get a two-in-one that’s both cutters and pliers. And you’ll need some patience and strong wrists. This is going to take a while.

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I was warned that when I opened the package it might spring open and seriously harm me.

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The only thing between me and certain death was this little bitty wire.

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When I undid the wire, the whole roll spontaneously sprang open — about three inches. I was expecting a large-scale disruption as it fully unraveled and let me tell you, I was disappointed.

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But I kept the wire. Because I always keep wire. And ribbons. And small pieces of string. Man am I a hoarder or what.

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Then it was easy to clip out the basket frame in the size I wanted – the best part about this project is being able to make them exactly the size you need. Make sure to leave those nice sharp open prongs. You’ll need at least one set of those on each seam.

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Folding it up was a little harder than I expected.

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But all the edges matched which was good.

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Folding the prongs down over the other side of the basket took some time. And I made a bunch of baskets on this day. So that took a lot of time.

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I also folded down the tops for a smoother edge.

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It’s just a wee basket.

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But it can hold things like coasters.

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Or my orchid.

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I even made a round one, out of scraps. It was not as hard as I thought it would be.

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I made a bunch more and even painted them for another project I started that weekend, so stay tuned for the results shortly!

Matchbox Gifts

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My mother is absolutely obsessed with match boxes and the things you can put in them, so I kind of had a lightbulb moment when trying to figure out a present for her birthday last week (normally I handle the cake but this year my dad insisted that he had it under control). If you have a mother with a similar fetish, maybe this will work out for you for a nice Mother’s Day present.

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For my mother’s wee giftie, it was just a silly little thing: I decided to give her MAGIC BEANS. But instead of magic beans it was actual bean seeds that she could plant shortly in the garden. And then we could eat the beans. I also gave her some rosemary seeds because I killed her rosemary tree while she was in Florida.

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I love these little tiny glass jars you can get at the dollar store.

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Don’t worry, I DID label all the little jars.

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I decided to make a matchbox from scratch so I could ensure it was the right size to fit my beans. In order to do that I downloaded a template from the internet. I cut it out and used scrapbook paper (it’s a decently stiff cardstock) for my boxes.

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I used a craft knife to get things exact, but it’s a pretty easy template to cut out.

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Then a little bit of strategic adhesion with craft glue.

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And the beans, they fit! They’re a little loose though.

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So I padded the bottoms of the boxes with a bit of felt.

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I broke this photo. It’s okay, though, because it wasn’t a very good one anyway.

 

Then tied up both boxes with pretty ribbon to give to my favourite mother!

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Match boxes (even custom-made ones) are a great creative way to package up smaller gifts of jewelry or what-have-you. Keep that in mind the next time you’re doing some complex wrapping and you don’t have a perfect box to hand.

Have You Tried Milk Art?

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This is a super popular project for folks with kids, because you can teach them all about surface tension and the properties of soap and fat and all that good science-y stuff in a nice controlled environment, with very pretty results.

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The supplies are simple: a large shallow tray (a rimmed baking sheet will do), watercolour paper (sized to fit in your tray), cotton swabs, liquid food colouring, a few drops liquid dish soap, and some milk. You can use almond milk or rice milk or homogenized milk or cream or whatever — you just need some milk with a decent fat content. The results will apparently differ depending on the milk you use (almond milk is supposedly the best), but I only had regular old 2% on hand so I can’t really speak to that.

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On a level surface, pour milk into your tray so that the whole bottom is just covered.

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Now start dotting the surface of the milk with food colouring. Go with whatever floats your boat.

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Take a cotton swab and dip it in your dish soap.

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Gently touch the swab to your milk surface. POW! Watch that science happen.

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This is that same spot a few seconds later.

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Touch the swab all over to make the  colours mix or drag it across the surface to make a trail.

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Now lay your paper down flat on the surface of the milk, then slide it off.

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Let it drip a bit and lay it or hang it somewhere to dry.

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I liked how the colours kept changing as I put in more paper, so I didn’t replace my milk, but you can if you like.

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After a while I had nine full sheets and I was quite pleased with the results.

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You can do whatever you want with these sheets: cut them into shapes and frame them, use them as stationery or greeting cards … whatever you want.

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In my case, I ironed them flat using the high steam setting on my iron.

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You can tell that I let this one dry on a sheet of newspaper can’t you?

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Then I played around with the order of them a bit.

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And used Blu-Tack to put them up on the wall in our bedroom.

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The colours I used complement the other quick wall art I made a few weeks ago so I am very happy with how they turned out – though I would like to try it with almond milk sometime.

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Peppermint Patties

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This was yet another “baking” episode Cait and I got up to – except it involved no baking whatsoever. If you’re not a fan of peppermint patties, then you won’t like this. If you ARE a fan, well, then, maybe you’ll like these, which we made from a mish-mash of these two recipes. Just a warning: if you make these puppies around Christmas time, you may have to search a bit to find peppermint extract in the grocery store. Cait and the Pie and I went to three separate stores before we nabbed the very last one hidden at the back of a shelf. If you’re making these for your Valentine tomorrow you may have some better luck!

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Now, you’re basically making a peppermint-flavoured fondant as the centre of these babies, so let’s start with that.

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In the bowl of your electric mixer, dump in 2 1/4 cup icing sugar, 2 tablespoons softened butter, 2 teaspoons peppermint extract, and 2 tablespoons cream.

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Start beating it on low speed until incorporated (so you don’t get a face full of icing sugar), then increase the speed and beat until you have a solid, smooth mass.

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Now take your fondant and roll it into a long snake between 1″ and 1 1/2″ in diameter (any bigger and the patties will fall apart as you manipulate them).

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Wrap the snake in waxed paper and chill it for about 45 minutes or so. If you shove the snake into an old cardboard tube from a paper towel then it won’t deform while in the fridge.

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In the meantime, plop 12oz chocolate (dark is probably best, but it’s your choice) into a double boiler with 6 teaspoons shortening and let that melt. The shortening is what will give the chocolate a shiny, harder exterior once it hardens again. The magic ratio for shortening to chocolate, if you’d like to use it in other recipes, is 1/2 teaspoon shortening for every 1oz chocolate. And as it happens with every chocolate-dipping recipe, depending on the size of your patties and how quickly you get this done, you may need to melt more chocolate.

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Anyway, let the chocolate cool to almost room temperature (because otherwise you’ll melt the patties when you dip them and that would be bad). Take your snake out of the fridge and slice it into little disks about 1/4″ thick. To avoid the patties warming up and getting floopy, I put half of them back in the fridge.

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Using chopsticks or a fork, dip the cold patty into the cool chocolate and flip to coat. Lift it out of the chocolate and let it drip for a few seconds. Set the patty on a sheet of waxed paper to harden completely.

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The demented ones are the ones that Cait did. I take no responsibility for them.

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Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Enjoy!

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