Sunday, October 31, 2010

TheJuneBride News: In the Etsy Finds Daily Email!!

Oooh! I don’t generally post on Sundays, but I checked my email after Mass today and, well, take a look…

Etsy Finds 10.31.10

I’m excited! I believe this is the 4th or 5th time I’ve been lucky enough to be featured in the daily email. The first time was over 2 years ago, and it pretty much started me off on a journey of increased sales. I’m not sure if this exposure will translate into anything more than my own mental dance party about it (I would venture to suppose that many potential buyers are busily preparing for Halloween festivities rather than Christmas shopping online right now), but that’s OK. It reminds me that I must be somewhat relevant, and someone named Mike who gets to pick Etsy Find items saw my stuff and liked it. Yay. Happy!

Friday, October 29, 2010

From the Kitchen: Spaetzle, Spilled Tea and a Sore Throat

Maybe I should have written my title in reverse. You see, I have a sore throat today… I’m not feeling so hot. I came down with a mild cold this past weekend, and it has since morphed into something different and little bit worse. Yesterday two of the three kids started to sound like they have swollen lymph nodes too, and the third brought home a paper from school advising me that she “may have been exposed to strep throat.” Oh goody.

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This cold has derailed a bit of my motivation and a lot of my housekeeping efforts, and I’m really disappointed that I cannot now visit a good friend who just had a new baby. We’re the last thing they need, but I was really hoping to be useful and snap a few newborn photos for the family. I don’t tend to get this disappointed about things, but I guess I’ll blame the pregnancy hormones and feeling bad in general. I’ll be more useful if I rest and get better now, and help out when we won’t be sharing anything other than hugs. But I’m allowing myself to feel bummed. It’s normal.

So, instead of cleaning my own house or doing other useful things like folding the laundry, I’m sitting here and “resting”. I have a homemade hot pad for my achy back, a cup of Lady Grey tea from another dear friend (thanks Erin!) and I’m feeling pretty peaceful. And then I drip warm tea on my one pair of comfy lounge pants. Nice…

The real point of this post isn’t a pity party… it’s spaetzle. It can also be written “spƤtzle” if we want to get technical about it. It’s a German egg noodle that I first encountered last year after a sledding party with some friends and our collective offspring. After getting chilled to the core outside, we went in and my friend’s mother (a truly excellent cook) had prepared some mouth-watering chicken noodle soup. My prior experience with chicken noodle soup involved big soggy egg noodles. And if you had leftovers, the soggy egg noodles absorbed any extra broth so, the next day, you had a glutinous chicken gum to eat. Not my favorite. But Sally’s soup was made with spaetzle instead of the traditional “wide egg noodles” I had always used, and I could tell this is what my soup needed. After discovering that it was probably available in any given grocery store (I bet you’d be surprised to know it can be found in the noodle aisle), I now use spaetzle when I make chicken noodle soup.

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My soup is really nothing to brag about (seriously… it’s basic, but not really my specialty), so I’m not going to give a specific recipe. But I am going to strongly suggest that you try spaetzle for your next batch of chicken noodle soup, and see if it isn’t 1000 times better because of it. I’m now going to move my sorry self to the couch before I spill more beverages near the computer. I’m signing off and wishing you a warm, healthful day! If you do something useful today, leave me a comment so I can live vicariously through you :)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Celebrate the Baby: Disappearing 9 Patch – Part II

Finally! I got myself motivated and caffeinated enough to finish my quilt (here’s Part I). Since I’m not expert on the subject of quilting in general or binding in specific, I won’t deign to call this any sort of tutorial or anything. I am, however, feeling quite fantastic with myself now that it’s all done.

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I used a good quality white sheet for the backing, a thinner cotton/poly (80/20) blend for the batting, and a coordinating orange quilter’s cotton for the binding (from my local quilting store… The Quilting Season). I chose that color because it matched my nursery chair, a smallish armchair that fit me like Goldilocks in Little Bear’s bed. I found it for $30 at our local PTO thrift shop… perfect condition, so comfy, and unabashedly orange. I knew it was coming home with me…

The quilting itself was a mish-mash. I started out by using a walking foot with a rounded, meandering sort of stitch to mimic hand quilting down the major seams. I looked good, but I needed to do even more stitching in order to properly follow the directions on the batting, which calls for a spacing of no more than 4 inches between stitch lines. That forced me to pull out my “Big Foot”… a special darning foot designed for free motion quilting. I had done a very small amount of free motion work for past projects, and (with so many small people around) I’m practically an expert at darning at this point. But quilting a big thing was more challenging, especially since I don’t have a quilting table. Still, I have to call it very successful. I have some puckers which I won’t point out… I’m sure more practice could have made that work out better. But it’s finished. I have to again reference the amazing Jodi from SewFearless… she and I were chatting recently about running into a wall with some projects, simply being paralyzed by the idea of a project not turning out as great as we had hoped. Her wise husband had said, “You can always make it better, if by better you mean never finished.” Well said!

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So, after stalling out after the quilting for a couple weeks, I tackled the binding. I made a straight-grain strip 3.5” wide (sewing shorter strips together), folded it in half widthwise , ironed, then stitched it onto the top side of my quilt, leaving a 1/2” seam allowance around which to wrap it. I did my corners using this technique… it really worked well and turned out beautifully. I hand-stitched the binding to the back of the quilt for a smooth, uncluttered look. That last bit of work was well-worth it for the great results. I didn’t have enough fabric to allow bias binding, but I’m hoping the double layer of straight-grain will increase it’s longevity. Time will tell.

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Really... I just love how it turned out! I love the colors. I love the pattern. I love the binding. I enjoyed the process so much more than with any of my previous quilts, and I think it’s because this one involved more craftsmanship and time investment, but it wasn’t tedious work. That really did translate into a better finished product… who would have guessed? It’s certainly no masterpiece, but for a quilt I intend to use regularly, display prominently, and launder normally, it’s even better than I had hoped. And, what’s more, I learned a few things while making it. Bonus!

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Monday, October 25, 2010

From the Kitchen: Ratatouille for Two

I unexpectedly came into possession of some locally grown organic harvest vegetables (did I mention that my mom is a master gardener?), and needed an elegant outlet for some eggplant. This dish was perfect... my husband loved it (because I added meat... ratatouille is traditionally vegetarian), and I really enjoyed it paired with quinoa. Enjoy!


Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed and crumbled (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, coarsely chopped 
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms (I used baby bella)
Salt to taste
1 cup eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 green bell pepper, sliced
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoons dried parsley

Directions:

Saute the sausage until fully cooked, crumbling into 1/2 inch bits. Remove from pan and set aside. Saute garlic, onion and mushrooms in oil in a large skillet until tender, sprinkling with salt as needed. Add the rest of the vegetables and continue cooking until all are tender. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and parsley, then cover for 5 minutes until cheese is melted. Serve with rice, pasta or quinoa (I used quinoa cooked in chicken broth this time... very tasty).

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Life in a Nutshell: Fall Fatigue

Life has been a bit hectic lately (hence the lack of substantive blog posts), but the kids and I went out for pumpkins and fall porch decor today. It was lovely out… we joined some friends last minute… we ate just enough too many doughnuts… I wrangled an impossible bunch of corn stalks and one sneaky yellow jacket into the car. When we got home I spruced up the porch and added our Fall finds. It’s not done yet, but it’s getting there.

And now I’m so tired I can barely stand up. I’m supposing this has more to do with staying up late (= past 8 PM) last night than today’s “exertions”, but whatever. I’m drained and I’m just going to go with it. We’re headed out to our godson’s 7th birthday party in a little while. I’m taking a thermos of tea and a blanket, and hoping for an empty bench at the park on which to play dead while the kids run out their excess. A girl can dream, right?

Hope your day is fabulous!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

From the Kitchen: Applesauce with Friends

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It was a beautiful, messy, relaxing day…

Monday, October 18, 2010

From the Kitchen: Honey Oatmeal Sandwich Bread

This recipe comes from my very own wonderful mom... I have no idea where she got it, but it's fantastic. Soft, moist... perfect for cutting into thinner sandwich-style slices when completely cool. My PB&J for lunch was perfect with some black raspberry jam from a local farm market... mmm... so good. All I need now is another loaf!


Honey Oatmeal Sandwich Bread
Makes one 1.5 lb loaf

Ingredients:

1 1/2 tsp yeast
3 cups white bread flour
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp oil
1 egg
1 cup water

Directions:

Use the regular or express setting for white bread following the directions of your bread machine. If you are given the option, select 1.5 lb loaf size and light or medium crust color. Alternatively, make dough using the dough cycle and bake in a traditional bread pan in your oven.


No matter how you make it, it'll be tasty! So go bake some!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Celebrate the Belly: Maternifying Non-Maternity Pants

I was going to post about binding my disappearing 9 patch baby quilt, but... well, something just became more pressing and I couldn't put this off. Perhaps my title gave it all away... that urgent business is my burgeoning belly.

There comes a point, around the start of the second trimester, when everything baby-related pops up and out of the little internal nest it was previously occupying. I reached that point last week. Even though I've done this 3 times before, once again my hopes for continuing to wear long, snug-fitting shirts over unbuttoned pants and look normal non-frumpy into the labor pains have been dashed on the rocks of the expanding nature of gestation.

But wait! What's this? A lifesaver! My fabulously crafty friend Jodi from Sew Fearless, who practically shares my due date, just blogged a tutorial for altering regular waistbands into gloriously stretchy maternity waistbands! I'm saved!! I don't have to tearfully pack away my favorite Ann Taylor pants, doomed to be outdated by the time I pull them out again anyway. Ann, meet scissors. While I stoutly refuse to cut up my favorite pair of Banana Republic dark wash jeans, most of the pants in my current rotation can handle a new waistband to get me through this winter of expectancy. So let us begin... I'm not going to rehash her tutorial (and I'm going to do it a teensy bit different because I have super awesome 3" wide elastic!!!), but her basic instructions are the perfect place to start in accommodating that blossoming baby bump. She used the technique on a skirt she was sewing from a non-maternity pattern, but the same principles apply to refashioning existing garments. She's starting a new series answering basic reader questions about sewing how-tos, and her first "Taking the Leap" post is chock full of maternity resources for sewing garments to fit your expectant body. Fabulous!!

Here we go! The pants before (I did the ones on the bottom for this since it was my first try and they were the least fabulous to begin with, although well fitting in the bum and legs)...


I cut off the waistband, leaving a nice roundish part in front. I basted the pockets and front zipper shut at the cut, and left the truncated pockets functional, if a tight squeeze for the hands.  I then forgot to photograph it.

Next I cut some of my fabulous super wide 3" elastic to a length that felt good around my waist now, but which will expand happily in the future (when I found it at the store I bought the whole 8 yd roll... it's precious stuff!). I also cut some generic tan knit fabric the same length plus 1/2" for seam allowance. The knit width was 7 inches, enough to cover the elastic band and leave a 1/2" allowance for sewing it to the pants.


I overlapped the elastic to sew it into a circular band, and sewed the knit ends together. I folded the knit band in half, tucked the elastic band inside, and did a triple zigzag near the top to ensure the elastic didn't migrate or twist (not sure of the official name of that stitch).

Then I sewed the band to the bottom, centering the knit seam in the back. Ta da! (Feel very free to be underwhelmed by the photos... I was not in the mood for modelling and, for some now-unknown reason, my kitchen floor seemed like a good background. Forgive me. It was a looong day in the non-crafty part of my life.)


The color match isn't great, I'll admit, but I do not intend to let the maternity aspect of the pants be seen, so it doesn't much matter. Now just imagine a nice round belly in there... very comfortable, stays in place, looks just like a normal pair of pants when worn with a long shirt. Ahh... sweet preggo relief! Now, onto the other pairs of pants...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

From the Kitchen: Ultimate Streusel Cake

Brought to you by special request!!

I made this decadent recipe recently for a big family brunch... it was delicious! I picked up a couple of Martha Stewart annual cookbooks at a rummage sale and this was the first recipe I tried. Sweet, cinnamony success :)

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Ultimate Streusel Cake (from Martha Stewart Living Annual Recipes 2002)

Cake Ingredients:
2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
10 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
1 c granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 c sour cream
Streusel Filling Ingredients:
1 1/2 c lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 c chopped pecans (optional; I omitted)
1/2 c all purpose flour
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves (optional)
8 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
Icing Ingredients:
2 1/2 c sifted powdered sugar
1/4 c milk
Directions:
Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 10 inch Bundt pan; set aside. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt from the cake ingredients; set aside. Cream together butter and sugar from cake ingredients. Add in the 3 eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add in flour mixture, then fold in the sour cream just until combined. Prepare streusel filling by combining all ingredients and mixing until crumbly. Spoon half of the cake batter into Bundt pan, making a ring-shaped well in the batter. Sprinkle 2/3 of the streusel in the well, then cover with the rest of the cake batter. Sprinkle the remaining filling on top. Bake for approximately an hour, until toothpick comes out clean. Cool cake on wire rack for at least 20 minutes. Prepare icing by mixing powdered sugar and milk, then drizzle over slightly cooled cake. Serve warm.
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Random Finds: Windows Live Writer

Holy cow… this is a test, but boy oh boy am I excited about it. Blogger has been driving me batty lately with the new “enhancements”, but after some random crafty blog browsing, I came across a recommendation for this fine free utility. Windows Live Writer. Easy blogging… beautiful! Here’s the description so you know what I mean:

Windows Live Writer makes it easy for anyone to tell stories like a professional blogger. You can create beautiful blog posts, and see what they'll look like online before you publish them to your blog. Plus, you can publish your blog to any of your favorite blog service providers, such as WordPress, Blogger, LiveJournal, and more.
Seriously… I’ve been using this for about 3 minutes now and I’m on Cloud 9 about the ease of making things look just how I want them to look… no weird extra html hanging around to throw off my layout, and more photo options that are so easy a caveblogger could do it. They import your blog settings. You can post to multiple blog accounts. You can work offline. It really looks like a perfect application for the artful blogger (and the artless blogger, for that matter). I’m sold.
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Don’t you feel a bit more happy now? Check it out!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Etsy Thoughts: One More Great Etsy Tool

I've had a link to this in my favorites for a while but haven't visited in almost as long. So let it be written: Tagtastic has some great ways to see how effective are any given Etsy seller's tags, ostensibly to be used for improving your own (but the site is also called "craft weasel"... makes me want to snoop!). Regardless of what you do with it, it's worth checking out!!

From the Kitchen: Sweet Crunchy Granola

I had been wanting to make some granola for a while now, but recently my 6 year old asked me to make it and that was the motivation I needed to get going. I looked at a lot of recipes to get the basic idea, then came up with my own ideal combination of oats and extras to get the nutrition and taste I liked. I really wasn't sure it would turn out, but I'm pleased to say that it really, really did turn out... it's better than store-bought, and more nutritious as well. And it was easy!


Sweet Crunchy Granola
Makes about 8 cups

Ingredients:

4 cups rolled oats
3 cups crispy rice cereal
1/2 cup wheat bran
1 cup freshly ground flax seed meal
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease one large roasting pan. Mix oats, rice cereal, bran and flax seed meal in large bowl. In medium saucepan, combine sugar, maple syrup, honey, oil, cinnamon, vanilla and salt. Turn heat to medium and bring to a rolling boil. Remove from heat, pour over oat mixture and stir to coat evenly. Spread mixture evenly in roasting pan and bake for 30-45 minutes, stirring well every 10-15 minutes to cook thoroughly. Continue stirring intermittently as it cools to ensure it doesn't harden in large clumps. When completely cool, store in an airtight container.

You may of course add dried fruit, toasted nuts or anything else you want, but I left most of mine "plain" because my kids are not into extras. I did make one bowl of it with pecans, raisins, pineapple, mango and coconut... it was delicious!


When my granola was ready, my 6 year old tasted it and told me she didn't like it... she said it was "not peanut buttery enough". I tried to explain that it had zero peanut butter in it. After clarifying what exactly she had been hoping for, I'm now on the hunt for a good peanut butter granola bar recipe...

*Update, even before publishing this post: So... this recipe has been queued for a while and, in the meantime, I ate all of my first batch. So, tonight I made another double batch. It just came out of the oven and for the last 5 minutes I just stood there, tempting the burn unit, snitching little bits of hot granola and stuffing my face. There's no one here to see the oaty bits stuck to my face and fingers. I deserve that sort of temporary bliss today, don't I? I mean, I did mow half the lawn before I had to stop to eat a snack then hide in the kitchen while my husband finished the back yard. And I did do some laundry which was really material for another project and nothing relating to the mounds of kid clothes waiting for the wash. And I worked really hard at the computer on Etsy stuff while putting off the more physically demanding aspects of creating goods to sell. Mmmm... hot cinnamony granola... well worth justifying :)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Etsy Thoughts: New Tools for Etsy's API

Ooooh... this'll be quick because I have some work to do (and the energy to do it), but I had to share!

I just bumped into 2 websites that use Etsy's API (application programming interface) to make your life easier. Well, if you're an Etsy seller anyway.

The first is Tools4Etsy.

They offer a variety of seller tools (and advertising), but their single most popular offering is TagWars. This application allows sellers to compare two sets of tags to see which wins in terms of popularity, relevence, probability and average views per day. Get the most out of your 14 little tags!

The second is Etsy On Sale.

This site allows sellers to painlesly put entire sections of their shop on sale. The seller can specify the duration, timing, percentage and all teh relevent details fo their sale, and Etsy On Sale does the dirty work f altering prices. Beautiful! It's also a great place to stop and shop for what actually is on sale over at Etsy. Fun for the whole family.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Through the Looking Glass: Itty Bitty Photo Shoot











Thanks to my mom friends for sharing their beautiful, sweet babies!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Celebrate the Baby: Disappearing 9 Patch Quilt - Part 1

I'm not a "real" quilter. I can sew a straight line, and I understand the basics. I never rarely use pins. I make mainly lap-sized baby quilts, mainly straightforward 4" square blocks, and mainly to give away to friends. And I have so many friends with babies that I can't keep up!!
But not today! Today is about the quilt I insisted that I make for my own baby before I get burnt out on them and give up entirely on the one I'd like to have around when my own bundle of joy arrives. I'll show you an oh-so-easy, oh-so-satisfying fast quilt pattern. It's called "Disappearing 9 Patch" (D9P), and I ran into a lovely blog post by fellow Etsy artisan Donna Francis (Donna's in the Attic) that inspired me to give it a whirl. I had the fabric (you can really get away with using scraps for this small of a quilt), I had the color scheme (blue, white and orange), but I had not yet settled on a pattern. As is my custom, I was trolling Google images for inspiration and bumped into her 2009 Christmas quilt. It really appealed to me (secretly I think it was the cute plaids) and I knew it was worth a try.

To make the blocks, you will essentially sew blocks of 9 patches (hence the name), then cut it into square quarters and rearrange them to your liking, then sew together into a block again. By artfully choosing your fabric, leaving borders (or not) and selecting a rearranged look that suits you, there are endless possibilities with the D9P pattern. My quilt was easy, and today I'll show you the making of the quilt top.

First, allow me a moment to share my candor about quilted intersections. Though I rarely pin anything (I generally reserve the tediousness of pinning for the binding process only), I am a freak about having square corners. To combat "wonkiness", my tactics are two-fold. The first defense against crooked quilting is to cut precise shapes. I use a rotary cutter, and am very particular about exact sizing. A second option, especially for basic grid-type quilts made entirely of squares of identical size, is stolen from watercolor quilting. After cutting out your squares, you arrange them and then iron/fuse them onto thin interfacing, then simply fold and stitch. Perfect corners every time. The down side if that you do lose flexibility with ironing down the seam allowances and end up with a somewhat more lumpy and bulky end result. Still preferable to crooked corners. After cutting perfect shapes, the next best thing for getting perfect corners is probably choosing a pattern that won't show mistakes! With the D9P, all you have to do it get the initial 4 intersections right (not hard if you have cut your pieces properly), then just one more when you sew the cut blocks back into one rearranged block. I left a 2" lattice between and around each block, so there were no more critical intersections after that... easy peasy! And the process of quilting the layer together will also hide a multitude of piecing issues.

Step 1: Choose fabrics and cut to size


I grabbed an assortment of pre-washed quilting fabrics, vintage linens and other cotton fabrics and cut them into 4" squares. The white was a thick, nubby vintage sheet... I avoided discolorations but kept some slubs for texture. I cut 2-8 squares of each of 10 or so colors, and I had leftovers when I was done. Each block required 4 white squares, so I cut 36 for the 9 blocks I was making.


Step 2: Design your blocks of 9 patches

Here I put one main color for the outside corners (either orange or blue), and the other color for the center. The remaining 4 squares were white to blend in with the lattice I was going to place between blocks.


  Step 3: Sew and press 9 patch blocks



Step 4: Cut and rearrange 9 patch blocks

I cut each finished 9 patch block into square quarters, then rotated to get a vaguely wreath-like pattern.



Step 5: Sew and press finished blocks

Astute readers will realize that I randomized my squares to have 4 different oranges and 4 different blues in each rearranged block. I couldn't help myself :)

Step 6: Sew in lattice and borders

Arrange your finished blocks to your liking, then measure the width of each block and decide how large of a space you want between blocks. My finished blocks were 10.25" wide and I wanted to make the space between blocks 1.5". So I cut 6 strips of white that were 10.25" by 2", and those I sewed in to make 3 vertical columns of blocks. I then cut 4 strip equal to the height of the columns by 2". Those were sewn on each side and in between column. I cut 2 more strips for each of the top and bottom, the width by 2".


So here we are... finished quilt top, ready for quilting!


Next week (hopefully!) I'll talk about the last 2 steps... quilting and binding!!

Monday, October 4, 2010

From the Kitchen: Susie's Chocolate Eclair Dessert

This recipe traditionally comes out around July 4... my husband's Aunt Susie brings this to an annual gathering of family and friends that has been going on for over 50 years. I did say I was a little behind with the recipes, didn't I? It's so good... she never has leftovers. I was offered the recipe this summer... so, accordingly, I made and photographed this late in the summer. That day was destined for a power outage. We were having a Friday party, and this is the perfect dessert for a muggy day (though it requires at least an overnight stint in the fridge). That muggy day later turned stormy, and our dinner party ended up crammed into our basement for a good while until a break in the weather allowed our guests to flee home before kids' bedtimes. In the meantime, the dessert was forgotten, and the power was out for nearly 3 days... not ideal for eating refrigerated desserts. I was forced to take some dishes of this over to our neighbors to see that it got eaten. No one complained :)


Susie's Chocolate Eclair Dessert

Eclair Ingredients:

1 box graham crackers
2 boxes french vanilla instant pudding
3 c milk
1 regular-size tub Cool Whip (6 oz?)

Topping Ingredients:

2 envelopes Choco-bake
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp light Karo syrup
3 tbsp milk
1 1/2 c powdered sugar

Directions:

Mix pudding and 3 c milk thoroughly. Fold in Cool Whip. In a 9x13 pan, line bottom with a layer of crackers.Spread half the pudding mixture over. Make another layer of crackers, spread the rest of the pudding, and top with a final layer of crackers. For the topping, melt together all the topping ingredients in a small saucepan, being careful not to burn it and removing all lumps. Remove from heat. While topping is still hot, use 1/2 of topping at a time and spread it over the top layer of crackers. It hardens quickly, so work fast! Cover and refrigerate at least overnight, ideally for 24 hours before serving. If there are leftovers (ha!), keep them refrigerated. Enjoy!