Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I couldn't just let this project go though - they're just too cute!
If you feel the need to make placecard turkeys for your loved ones at your turkey dinner, these turkeys could give you some needed inspiration! (she even made a mini turkey for her tiny nephew!)
Holiday Turkey Project
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Okay. Not really. That's gross.
This cake is actually a kind of spice cake morphed with a fruit cake. Most people, including myself, cringe at the thought of fruit cake. Well, cringe no more people! This cake is super moist, super rich and ultra decadent. It will be a smash hit at any party. Be sure to bring some milk to wash it down!
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 eggs beaten
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 - 8 ounce crushed pineapple - undrained
1 1/8 cup chopped pecans (save 1/8 cup for frosting sprinkles)
1 3/4 cup mashed bananas (about 2 1/2 bananas)
- Combine first five ingredients in a large bowl and mix.
- Add (beaten) eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not beat.
- Stir in vanilla, pineapple, 1 cup pecans and bananas. Stir well.
- Pour batter into 3 - 9 inch greased and floured pans. Be sure cake is thick around edges.
- Bake @ 350 degrees F for 23 - 28 minutes. Insert toothpick until clean. (My cakes were done at 20 minutes so be sure to keep a close eye on them.)
- Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Removed from pans and allow to cool completely on wire racks.
1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened
1 - 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 - 16 ounce package powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
- Cream butter and cream cheese with mixer.
- Gradually add powdered sugar. Beat until light and fluffy.
- Add vanilla and beat more.
- Spread cream cheese frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake. Sprinkle pecans on top.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
But who does love candy? The nephews.
I spent this Sunday past making a handful of fun felt bags to fill with goodies and send out to the nephews (three of them, ages nearly 3, nearly 4 and nearly 14) and to my stepbrother (age 14). I know that for the two bigger boys the end product may be a bit childish but the goods inside will be appreciated.
I found the idea for the ghost bag online at Better Homes and Gardens (yup, my fave craftie website). I knew that when I finished my test a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to do SOMETHING not involving studying so I guess this was the project.
I downloaded the template from the website and blew it up until I had the size I wanted. I think I ended up with a 9" x 11" template (it doesn't matter as long as the ghost fits!). My next step was the craft store.
Normally, I would just suggest buying squares of pre-cut felt, but I decided to go with the felt on the bolt because in general, it's a bit stiffer. I got a yard of orange and a yard of white (on sale 50% off!) and then a couple pieces of black and purple in the pre-cut pieces. I felt that purple is a more Halloween-y color than the navy blue that BHG suggests for the "Boo!" letters.
When making multiples of anything, make one first to make sure it works. Then you can have one completely done and just tweak the remaining whatevers.
My first step was to cut out a template for the actual bag. I used the 11x17 sheet of paper the ghost was printed on (I had multiple copies) and measured it out. Remember that 90 degree corners are awesome (not 87 or 92, etc). I used that template (cut out) to just draw an outline with a Sharpie (one of the fine point kind). You can also pin the paper to the felt and cut out the bag that way. Don't forget to cut out two!Next draw an outline of your ghost and cut it out of the white felt. You only need one of these.
Now take one of the bag pieces you have cut out and position the ghost piece where you want it with his entire body on the felt - you will cut off the excess in a bit. Pin it on and sew the entire edges with the sewing machine (if you don't have a sewing machine, you can sew it by hand but it will take forever).The next step is to take the ghost felt rectangle and plain orange felt rectangle and stitch the three corners, leaving the top open. Personally, I chose to stitch the bottom of the bag so the stitch was in the inside of the bag (place the ghost felt and the plain felt outsides facing inside and stitch the bottom. Snip the excess fabric and turn inside out.).
Turn the bag so the outsides are facing out. Sew each side of the bag shut. Using shears or regular scissors, cut the excess of the side of the bag.
Now you will have to draw a line from the ghost handle part out in each direction along the top of the bag and cut the excess orange felt. Make sure that the front and back line up while cutting.
Yay! The bag is done! Now for the decorative elements:
Turn on your tv. This part is a bit time consuming.
Using the letters from your template, cut out two eyes, one mouth, one "B", two "O"s and one exclamation point. Using fabric glue (I'm guessing you could use hot glue except that it might leave trace amounts on the fabric if it leaks through) apply the appropriate letters and eyes and mouth. Use a heavy book for weight and lay it on top of the bag. Leave overnight for best results.
Now you're really done!
But, if you are like me, you have multiple bags...so after finishing your bags you may want to make tags.I simply used a cookie cutter to outline a bat shape onto black cardstock (only because I'm lame and like everything to be the same). After cutting out the bat shape, I took a hole punch (well, more like a brad punch because I couldn't find my single hole punch) and made a hole in the corner.
I wrote the recipient's name on one side with a rock star product called (generally) the metallic paint marker. These things are FABULOUS. Except if sniffed in excess, may cause wooziness (please try to avoid sniffing especially if pregnant). They write superbly well and are super shiny! Love it! So anyway, I used that to write the recipient's name and my name on the tag and tied it onto the bag with a black cord ribbon I had lying around. Because I have stuff like that. Lying around.
Now for simplified instructions because I got really wordy up there:
1. Cut out felt (ghost and bags).
2. Sew ghost onto bag.
3. Sew bag together.
4. Cut excess felt off top of bag to align handles with top of bag.
5. Trim with shears.
6. Cut out decorative touches.
7. Glue decorative touches.
8. Label bag.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Sunday, September 14, 2008
So, with Carrie coincidentally in town to help out with my next attempt, I next opted for a jar of fire roasted red peppers, also packed in brine (not necessarily the brand depicted here, but something similar).
I was delighted to find that the jar contained several whole, peeled bell peppers (I was prepared for pieces); soon after removing and draining the peppers, however, Carrie and I realized that filling these peppers whole and intact would result in an alarmingly large quantity of goat cheese per pepper - much more than any mouth would want to take on. (Just think of what a ripe bell pepper looks like, and imagine the interior capacity - quite a mouthful!) Instead, I ended up halving each of the roasted peppers lengthwise.
The pepper strips were a bit messier looking and messier to eat than the tidily self-contained peppadews, but in general we were happy. I would say if you're looking for more goat cheese flavor than pepper flavor, this is your best option so far.
Friday, September 12, 2008
But having your teenage years serve as fodder for VH1 is nothing compared to watching them turned into American history for the preteen-and-under set. For my sister, this milestone came last fall when her younger daughter saved up and bought herself the newest “historic” American Girl doll: Julie, a young girl growing up during the bygone days of the 1970’s. Leave it to the folks at Mattel to unearth rainbow patches and Jiffy Pop as essential artifacts of American history. In fairness, I can see that our nation is young enough that you quickly run out of relevant eras to commemorate – it may not be too long before they introduce “Madison, Girl of the New Millenium” complete with iPhone, Crocs – er, sorry, Rainbows – and Jonas Brothers cd.
At any rate, my Mom had a lot of fun whipping up a bunch of clothes to augment Julie’s peasant-blouse-and-bellbottoms wardrobe: tie-dye top, loud print dresses, and cranberry velvet ensemble worthy of Laurie Partridge, to name just a few. Another project she had in mind but didn’t get done in time for Christmas was a metal lunchbox similar to the accessory set you can buy from American Girl . We tried to get this done in time for Christmas, but as often happens that time of year, other things took priority. I ended up taking it home with me, promising to send it to my niece (“Julie”?) ASAP, and giving her full permission to nag me until I delivered. (A crucial measure given my notoriously poor performance in actually finishing projects such as this.)
In fact poor “Julie” (and Julie) didn’t get her lunchbox until this summer – many stupid things factoring into the delay – but I believe she was pleased with the results.
Although I’ve tried my hand at many things, I am certainly no metalworker. Thus, to make this box I of course needed to find a small-sized metal lunchbox to cover. Often you can find these filled with candy at Target-like places, especially around Christmastime, but we had trouble this (last) year. In the end we found the perfect size mini-lunchbox, not in a store, but in one of my sisters’ minivans: a used but perfectly acceptable specimen about 4” x 2 5/8”, with the Tootsie Pop logo on both sides and around the edge.
Julie’s lunchbox features a 70’s-ish flower graphic – cute, but to me, not as uniquely true to the era. In my memory at least (and admittedly, my lunchbox-carrying days were in the 80’s, not the 70’s) lunchboxes were all about branding: TV shows, movies, and toys. My sister had Annie, I still have my old Dark Crystal, and one of us had Strawberry Shortcake at some point. I remember people with the Dukes of Hazzard, Cabbage Patch Kids, GI Joe, etc.. No doubt many would have gone straight for Scooby Doo to evoke the 70’s, but for our family the quintessential TV brand of the era will always be The Brady Bunch.
Now as it happens I have a bit of experience in the area of recovering metal lunchboxes. Several years back, in the spirit of many things Christopher Guest , I gave my brother a Mitch&Mickey full-size lunchbox that has never to my knowledge carried a peanut butter sandwich but has intrigued one or two people over the years it’s sat in his office. For the Mitch&Mickey box I just formatted scanned images into two rectangles the size of each face of the box, printed them onto sticky-back paper, trimmed, and attached. I made smaller “stickers” to cover odd existing designs along the box edges, then gave the whole thing a couple coats of clear acrylic spray to both protect and add a nice sheen. (This final step is a bit dicey if you’re using an inkjet printer, as the ink can run if you’re not careful.)
The process for the Brady Box was essentially the same, although I had a bit of trouble at first finding high-resolution Brady images online, particularly the classic blue nine-square grid which I had envisioned as one face of the box. In the end I found a few helpful sites, the best of these probably being the Brady Bunch Shrine, and also scanned some of the images from the episode guide that accompanies The Brady Bunch – The Complete Series which I just happen to have on dvd. Then I just messed around with the images in Photoshop and InDesign, formatting them to the dimensions of the box.
Whereas for Mitch&Mickey I could use smaller stickers to cover the edges of the lunchbox, the scale of the Brady Box was too tiny for that. I opted instead to completely paint over the edges of the Tootsie Pop box with enamel paint (like you use for model cars). The stuff’s a bit of a pain to use – very goopy – and careful as I was it was virtually impossible to avoid getting it where you didn’t want it, but two coats of the stuff did a good job of covering the Tootsie graphics. As with Mitch&Mickey, I gave the whole thing several spray coats of clear acrylic protection.
Julie’s official lunchbox comes complete with an actual (albeit inedible) lunch, including sandwich, chips, thermos, and Hostess-style cupcake. Although I’ve made my fair share of FIMO/Sculpey items in the past, for this project I opted for a more basic, and in many ways easier modeling option for the food: salt dough.
I have a great fondness for this medium. High on my roster of happiest memories are the nights we would pull out our homemade salt dough ornaments each Christmas along with our salt dough Nativity set. (My own contributions to both of these were minimal and somewhat embarrassing; I was probably about 5 when we made them.)
Salt dough is a very easy-to-make and easy-to-use dough that you typically mold, bake, and paint. (I suppose you could tint it into individual colors if you wanted.) Anyway, salt dough really deserves its own post, but here are the basics: 2 parts flour to 1 part salt to ½ part water (approximately – actually, start with that much water but be prepared to add half as much again). This forms a Play-Doh like dough that’s easier to mold than Sculpey and of course far cheaper. If you want, you can add wallpaper paste for elasticity (I don’t do this) or a little oil to make it less sticky. Because of the salt, the finished texture is a bit courser than Sculpey, but the results are pretty satisfactory. In fact, for food (especially bread) the texture is almost desirable. After molding, set your items on a cookie sheet and bake for several hours at a very low temp (about as low as you can set the oven) until hard.
My salt-dough apple attempts kept cracking (possibly adding the wallpaper paste would’ve fixed that), but I eventually got something satisfactory. I made the sandwich in separate components – lettuce, cheese, ham, bread – so they would be easier to paint, and ultimately assembled it with GOOP glue (you want something goopy to make up for unevenness). I even lucked into finding a tiny ziploc bag the perfect size to hold Julie's ham sandwich. (Wikipedia says Ziploc bags were originally test marketed in 1968, so nothing anachronistic here.)
My cupcake was the most fun; it felt like cheating to just paint the swirly icing on, so I formed my own, carefully, with the salt dough, and glued it onto the cupcake after painting. I used craft acrylic paint for everything and, as with the lunchbox, gave everything a good coat of clear acrylic to protect it.
Julie’s lunchbox comes with a cute little thermos, but I had no luck finding anything good to convert into a mini thermos. Chapsticks are too tall and thin, medicine bottles, even small ones, are too big and often have raised writing on the caps. The only other good options are made from glass, which seems inappropriate for what after all is supposed to be a toy. In the end my food took up so much space inside the lunchbox there wasn’t room for a thermos anyway, so I decided that “Julie”’s Julie probably buys milk from the cafeteria.
Assuming they even had pasteurized milk way back in the 1970’s...
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
It's tangy and sweet, but mostly sweet. Everyone is always so impressed with a triple layer cake. It's so easy to do though.
A coworker of mine requested a citrus-y cake and I forgot to download a recipe before going home for the weekend. Luckily, I had made this cake earlier in the year and had the recipe at home. It's pretty time consuming, but completely worth the effort.
The cake recipe comes from Better Homes & Gardens website (one of my personal favorites) and even has pictures! Woo!
Here's my suggestion on order of making the three parts of the cake:
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
- 6 tablespoons lemon juice
- 6 tablespoons water
- 6 beaten egg yolks
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine, cut up
1. In a medium saucepan stir together sugar and cornstarch. Stir in lemon peel, lemon juice, and water. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly.
2. Stir half of the lemon mixture into the egg yolks. Return egg mixture to the saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until mixture comes to a gentle boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Add butter pieces, stirring until melted. Cover surface of the curd with plastic wrap. Chill at least 1 hour or for up to 48 hours. Store covered in refrigerator up to 1 week or transfer to a freezer container and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw in refrigerator before serving. Makes 2 cups (sixteen 2-tablespoon servings).
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 4 eggs
- 2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
- 1/2 recipe Lemon Curd (see Recipe Above) or 1 cup purchased lemon curd
- 1 recipe Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting (see recipe below)
- Lemon peel curls (optional)
1. Allow butter and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, grease and lightly flour three 9 x 1-1/2-inch round cake pans. Combine flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, lemon peel, and lemon juice; beat until well combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each. Add flour mixture and buttermilk or sour milk alternately to beaten mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Pour into prepared pans.
3. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans. Cool thoroughly on wire racks.
4. To assemble, place a cake layer on a cake plate. Spread with half of the Lemon Curd. Top with second layer; spread with the remaining Lemon Curd. Top with third layer. Frost top and sides with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting. Cover and store cake in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. If desired, garnish with lemon peel curls. Makes 12 servings.
Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 16 ounce box Domino 10x sifted powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
Directions:In a medium mixing bowl combine cream cheese, butter and lemon juice; beat with electric mixer on low to medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating well until reaching a spreading consistency. Stir in the lemon peel.
To assemble, place a cake layer on a cake plate. Spread with half of the Lemon Curd. Top with second layer; spread with the remaining Lemon Curd. Top with third layer. Frost top and sides with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting. Cover and store cake in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. If desired, garnish with lemon peel curls. Makes 12 servings.
Here are my personal recommendations/suggestions:
You will need about 4 -5 lemons for the lemon peels because by the time you use your nifty lemon zester (my fave tool...oh crap! I literally just now remembered that I bought a microplane and never used it!) and chop the lemon peels, they get a lot smaller. Make sure to chop them as it will be very zesty!
Make your lemon curd first and refrigerate it for a good bit (more than one hour). It sets up VERY nicely over an hour.
When putting your lemon curd on the cake, first put some frosting in a decorator's bag (you don't need a tip) and cut a small hole in the end. Pipe frosting around the bottom layer of the cake and then put your lemon curd on. The frosting will contain the lemon curd and make sure it doesn't ooze over the edge, into your frosting sides. Do the same for the middle layer.
Lemon curls are pretty on top. Leave one lemon for decorating the top. It's pretty.
Note: The picture above is from the first time I baked the cake. I forgot to take a picture this week!
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
She started by inflating several standard-size rubber balloons to about the size of a human head, maybe a bit bigger. These she covered with two or three layers of standard newsprint papier-mâché. This yields an egg-shaped base, which when dry can be cut in half to make two basic “masks.” When I arrived in Georgia, she and my nephew had already made a couple of these into orcs by applying features such as eyes, nose, scars, and scary lumps to the half-eggs with other bits of newsprint molded and dipped into the flour glue.
Orc #1 was based on this attractive guy:
Orc #2 was based on an orc called Grishnakh – different looking but just as generally disgusting as the first model. I used the same process as before – this time giving him a wider nose and heavier browbone. I should say that all this built-up wet newsprint gets a bit heavy, such that especially for this guy the shape of the mask was somewhat distorted by the weight. In a way he looked more clownish and silly at this point than scary, but the great thing about making orcs is that it’s nearly impossible to mess up – your result might be different than expected, but it’s no less an orc. Sum total I probably spent about an hour and a half on both orcs, getting my hands completely gooey in the process, then left them to dry overnight.
Next day, I had two still quite soggy orc masks sitting on the counter. Seeing as the newsprint was more than an inch thick in several places, not too surprising. With the party a few hours away, I pulled out a hair dryer and, switching back and forth between the two orcs, began drying. I regret to say that the carbon footprint for this project was relatively large, as I spent more than a half-hour blow-drying orcs, passing the time reading Entertainment Weekly, until they were still clammy but dry enough to paint.
As party time neared, I was charged with the task of setting up the orc ambush scene. Mom found several odd garments to use for their bodies – old graduation robe, pancho, lengths of old fabric – which I took out to the chosen cluster of trees, along with coat hangers, wire, duct tape, and the four orc masks. Working with my brother-in-law, I found that the best method for hanging the orcs was to make two holes in each mask: one at the bottom (below the chin) and the other at the top (above the forehead). We pulled the coat hanger hook up into the bottom hole, secured it inside the mask with duct tape, and wrapped a length of wire around the top of the hook which we pulled up through the hole at the top of the mask. Then we tied the other end of the wire around a tree branch at about head height. Afterwards I draped the fabric and clothes over the coat hangers, trying to suggest some type of body mass beneath. Some of my judgments here, however, were questionable: particularly the pairing of a red length of fabric with a black graduation robe, effectively turning Grishnakh into a University of Arkansas grad. Anyway. To add a little ferocity, I found several long branches, which I propped up alongside the orcs to represent some type of staff-like weapon. (All the "real," plastic weapons were in use by the party guests.)
Once assembled in the woods, the effect was pretty cool. Somehow my initially clownish Grishnakh proved the scarier (despite his Razorback regalia), while the pointy-eared orc looked a bit goofy. Perhaps it was the lack of teeth. Neither actually came out much like my model - I guess the images wre more inspiration for my own unique creatures than literal models to be copied. My nephew’s and Mom’s orcs looked equally good, and the grouping as a whole made a great backdrop for the archery contest.
The whole papier-mâché dimensional mask idea is one that I'd love to try again - given more time it would've been fun to add stringy hair, build out the ears, use cardboard to make teeth, and otherwise get these guys a little closer to the Weta models. However, I think it was pretty good work considering the time constraints. Maybe for Halloween. Or if my brother ever decides he's Peter Jackson.
Lesson Learned: Where there's newsprint, there's a way: Dimensional papier-mâché sculpting is a really fun and reasonably quick way to achieve great effects; however, next time allow at least a full day for the thick, gloppy newsprint to dry.
Before I get to the activities, I should mention that several of the party-goers were in costume: Legolas complete with pointy prosthetic ears, Aragorn, Éomer, and others in mail shirts with shields, etc., boy Hobbits in tunics (Frodo with a gold ring on a chain around his neck), girl Hobbits in cheerful vests and skirts, Éowyn in a more Rohan-esque vest, blouse, and skirt, and of course Galadriel in white gown with golden crown (crafted from a dollar store windchime). Nearly all of this was made by Mom in the days leading up to the party.
On around to the swingset frame, where none other than Shelob – papier-mâché piñata courtesy of Mom, with wiggly hairy legs of doubled-up pipe cleaners and eerie bulging yellow eyes – awaited the group for yet another challenge. Each guest took a blindfolded turn at defeating the horrible spider, armed only with courage and of course Sting, one of many plastic swords in my parents’ grandchildren-friendly collection.
The spider proved so formidable that our initial Sting actually broke from its hilt and had to be replaced. Mom had cleverly given Shelob a segmented body, with two separate balloon-formed cavities. The nice thing about this was there were actually two piñata-bashing victories, and two candy spillages. When at last the beast was bested, its sugary sweet insides collected by the assembly, the group proceeded inside for the final challenge.
The front hall may not look like Mordor, but there at the foot of the stairs rose the fiery Mount Doom, another of Mom’s papier-mâché creations. Each guest was given ten gold rings, and standing above the mountain, took his turn at destroying the Ring of Power (or actually, getting the highest out of ten into its opening). (The rings were a dollar-store deal: 100 for $1.)
Finally it was time to depart Into the West – that is, about five minutes away to the home of Legolas – where presents were opened and Hobbit-hole cake (made and decorated by my sister) was served. Then, exhausted with knife, sting, and a long burden (or something like that), the adults crashed while the older kids stayed up watching The Return of the King and younger folk watched the much shorter Lord of the Beans. A fitting, restful ending to a truly fun and memorable day.