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Friday, September 19, 2014

Product Reviews - Sizzix magnetic platform, and Alphanumeric dies...

I have been waiting for something like this for a long time.  At least since I have discovered  die cutting at home.  They are individual letter dies.  Many of the letter dies I have seen before are strips or blocks with the entire alphabet (and sometimes numbers and symbols) on the strip.  Therefore if you want to die cut the word "hello", you would have to run it through twice to get the two "l"s, and if you used a strip of paper, end with a bunch of other letters you don't need - I have a little compartment box with a bunch of little die cut letters waiting to be used.  Or you trim a bunch of little pieces of card stock, fit them over the letters you need, and hope they don't shift as you run it through the machine; in the meantime, still running the strip through the machine, wearing on the blades of all the letters and marking up the cutting plates for just a couple of letters.

Regardless, I was in love when Tim Holtz announced these were coming out and have been stalking the sites waiting for this to be released.  It is his set of letter/number/symbol dies called Alphanumeric.  They are thin metal dies that are a 3/4" high, and individual letter dies so you only use what you need.  Also, there are multiples of each letter, ranging from 2-7 of each (depending on the letter) so you can form whole words or phrases - great if you want punch out letters laid out on a page.

It says that it has 125 dies... and lists on the side what items are within and what number there are. For me, this is a *LIE*.... but in a GOOD way!  First off, it doesn't list everything included; there is no listing for periods and commas - I found that when I went through everything, that there were two commas, and two periods included in my package - yay!  Also, there were a couple of extra dies too; I had 3 number "1"s and 2 number "2"s... bonus!  Too bad the letter dies were right on the mark :)

The packaging was very slim, and included a little plastic envelope for storage.  The label fits inside it nicely, but it has a flap closure and I noticed when I opened the shipping envelope that the loose little dies were already sliding out the flap.  The dies are very thin, and some VERY small, so it would be so easy to lose pieces.  Until I have a better plan, what I did was count out and separate the pieces then place them in labeled mini zip bags.  They fit nicely into the bigger plastic envelope.

I had not definite project in mind, but I decided to just give the dies a try and at the same time, play with another new purchase of mine.  A couple of weeks ago, I found the magnetic platform at a new local Michaels, and bought that with my 50% off coupon.  It was designed to work with thin metal dies and to help hold them in place when die cutting - a good idea, especially if you need them precisely placed, such as die cutting a frame with Spellbinders nesting dies, or with these letters.

What you are supposed to do is layer one of your cutting pads over the magnetic die, place your dies, cutting side up, on that pad, and then your material, then the other pad over the material and run that sandwich through the machine.  I was worried that layering the cutting pad over the platform would not allow for enough magnetic grip to hold the dies - but I was wrong - this is me holding the platform and the pad totally upright - nothing shifted.  However, I did find that the magnetic hold was not consistent on the pad - in some areas there is some magnetic repulsion, sometimes the letters shifted, and I had to move the dies elsewhere to get them to align.  Maybe this may change if I were using larger frame dies?

Also, the magnetic platform is just a minute amount too wide to run through the Cuttlebug, meaning you have to use it with a Sizzix machine - but then again, it is a Sizzix product, so be it.  Luckily I have a Big Shot too.  However, this may mean that <hint, hint> Cricut needs to make a magnetic platform as well!

Remember that the dies are laid out backwards, so when you are laying your material to be die cut over the dies, you will want your right side down over the cutting surface.  This is a piece of inked paper I had leftover, that I placed over the dies, and ran through the Big Shot.  Now I am seeing whey the cutting pad is placed between the platform and the dies.   Instead of fighting to pull up the cut material and the dies off the magnet (there is no gripping edge, just that thin little frame along the cutting edges), all you have to do is lift the bottom cutting pad.  Smart!

The paper stays inside the cut edges, but that is why, when you look at the dies, there are some small holes piercing the frames.  You can take a small item, such a small ball stylus, to poke the letters out. A needle, or sharp stylus may puncture the letters, but the small ball stylus pushes out the letters without puncturing anything.

Sweeeeet.  Since this is my practice run to trial the dies, I spelled out the name of the dies, and adhered them to a strip of inked card stock, and glued the letters to it using gel medium to make a label for the back of the envelope.  When the gel medium dries, I will pick out the letters with a gel pen, and maybe add some more decoration for the heck of it.


Sizzix magnetic platform

pros - now I have a way to use the thin metal dies and have them held in place nicely, without having to use any double sided tape or tape to hold dies in place, or worry about shifting of dies when running the platform through the machine.  It does what is says, and I like that it is just one layer.  The tabs of the base platform annoy me.

cons - it can't be used with other machines (step it up Cricut!).  It is not a perfect magnetic surface. It comes in one size, not extended length (not a problem for me right now, but I can't help but wonder about some of the larger thin dies out there).

Alphanumeric Dies -

pros - lot's of dies for a great low price of $19.99 - it really is a steal.  A good size, at 3/4".  A good general font that would work for many things, with a good variety of pieces - at least 2 of every letter, with commonly used letters, such as O, S, E, A, Y, I, N, etc having more.  Includes numbers and several punctuation marks, including periods, and commas, which are not listed on the packaging.  Comes with a storage envelope.

cons - the "?", and ";" comes as 1 piece, but the "!" comes as two pieces and the little dot on the bottom is tiny - I can see that getting lost quite quickly.  It is a thin metal die, which means that materials cut are more limited to thin things such as card stock, vellum, etc, and may be too thin to cut other materials such as felt, foam, etc.  I hope that it works with shrink plastic!  It only comes in capitals.  The storage envelope is a great addition, but not secure for the small little pieces, so I stored them in  fully sealing zip bags for better security. 

I am crossing my fingers that in the <near> future, a lower case version will be available and other fonts would be considered for the future!  Please! 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

This soul needs chicken soup...

ugh, I have had a nasty, icky, phlegmy, gross, drippy cold the past few days, and now I am craving chicken soup.  I had DH pick up a roast chicken and some veggies yesterday and am now making the broth for it.

I hate how bland and pale a soup is when you make it from raw chicken pieces, and also how flavourless the chicken pieces seem to become when you  use a whole roasted chicken to make the the broth too, so I am going to go through my method.  If anyone has any other suggestions for making a better soup, please chime in!

Many grocery stores sell pre cooked rotisserie chickens for a good price, and it certainly saves time and money by not having to turn on your oven to roast a chicken prior to using it for soup.  Also I really recommend using a roasted chicken because there is so much more depth of flavour.  Maybe if you had roasted a big one prior and had some left over... but that is not the case here.

Chicken Soup

1 whole roasted chicken
1 large onion, skin on, cut into large chunks
2 ribs celery, cut into large chunks
5 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed,
1 large carrot, unpeeled, cut into large chunks
1-1 1/2" knob of ginger, cut into thick slices
sprinkle of dried thyme
a bay leaf or two
Cracked peppercorns
water to cover.
a dollop of butter or chicken smaltz

In a large, heavy bottomed dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat.  Remove all the flesh from the roast chicken and set aside.  Dump the carcass of the roast chicken into the dutch oven.  Brown the bones lightly to deepen flavour.  Add the vegetables, garlic, and ginger and brown lightly to release flavour.

Just scrub the veggies well, peels, like onion skin, add to the deep golden colour
Add herbs, pepper and cover with water.  Bring to boil, cover, and drop to a simmer. Simmer until broth colour is nice and golden, and deeply aromatic.  Already, with browning the bones, I found that it was aromatic and the colour were immediately deeper, and more golden.

Hey - I can smell again!

Now I am just letting it simmer... until...


If you skin the chicken and add the skin to the broth, I advise making the broth the day before or earlier in the day so you can set it aside to cool, and be able to remove any large amounts of fat that will rise to the top and separate, as it cools.  Unless of course that doesn't bother you any.

Hmmmmm...  chicken fat?  Sounds delicious!
Anyways, when the broth is done, strain all the veggie bits and bones out of it; squeeze the veggies to release all the liquid and flavour.  Allow to cool and skim fat off.

Chicken Soup
(very much modified from a Canadian Living Cookbook recipe)
Makes 6-8 servings

2 cups peeled, sliced carrots
2 cups sliced celery
1 cup chopped onions
garlic cloves, minced (to taste - I like lots of garlic, it adds flavour and is good for you)
chicken meat from the 1 roasted chicken
(minus a couple of small prime pieces fed to the dogs begging at your feet)
Is that for me???

Really???  No joking, right?


Hey!  What about me?

Oh that looks delish!


More, please!
1/2 - 1 cup frozen peas (I like the sweetness of the peas)
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, or half of that, dried
3 cups egg noodles
salt and pepper to taste
a piece of ginger, grated (optional)
lemon zest and dash of fresh lemon juice (optional)
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf

In a large  heavy bottomed dutch oven, melt a pat of butter, and add carrots, onions, ginger, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and saute lightly.  Add the dried parsley now if using it.

Add chicken stock and bring to simmer.  Add salt and pepper to taste, be light with the salt until the end.  Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes or so.

Shred and chop the chicken and add to pot, cook until warmed through, about 10 minutes.

Add peas and fresh parsley (if using).  Add lemon zest and juice.  Remove bay leaf.  Taste and add salt if needed.

I personally do not like adding the noodles to the soup directly, as I often make a big batch and the noodles become soft and mushy when kept overnight, so cook the noodles separately and add to the bowls as you serve them.

Serve with some nice crusty bread too.

You can leave the lemon out, but I find that it brightens the flavour.  You could also bruise a stalk of lemongrass and add that to the soup too.  I find that the garlic and ginger are soothing to a sore throat, so I like lots of that in my soup too.  For that matter, when I have a super scratchy throat, I may add a few dashes of a super hot sauce to the soup too.  Also the more flavour the better, considering how much a nasty cold can take away your ability to smell and taste!

Eat it in good health!!!!!  May the winter not knock us all around half as much as it did last year!

Hurumph!  No more chicken...  No more pictures! 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Good Times, and Tea...

Maybe I should have done 12 Alice in Wonderland Tags of 2014... perhaps something to consider for next year?  Anyways, in case you could not tell, I love Alice.  I was just playing around when I made this tag - no direction, just wanted to play and get my fingers inky.  

I pulled out my Tweety Jill Alice in Wonderland stamps, a manila tag, and some card stock and went at it.  First of all, I took some white acrylic paint and a checkerboard stencil and just added a random stenciling down one side.

As that dried, I smeared some Distress Stains on my craft mat (I have a fondness for using cheap, flat silicone baking mats for my craft mats btw - they are thicker, more durable, and less pricey than the name brand craft mat).  I used Broken China, Salty Ocean, and the metallic silver I think.  I spritzed and smeared the stenciled card stock through that.  I then stamped the Hatter down one side, using a gray archival ink (Wendy Vecchi's Watering Can by Ranger, I think), masked that out, and added the scripted stamp on the other side.  I then added some random tea party stamps around the surface.  I inked the edges in Pumice Stone, and added that to the manila tag.

I love how the acrylic stenciling acts as a nice resist to the inks.  I added the sentiment on the left side - it is a combination of rub ons and stamping in black.  To pick out the Hatter a bit more, I added some colour with water colour pencils and a water brush.  After all, the Hatter *must* stand out!