Other Crafts

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

Actually, in this case, you don’t need to! There’s a handy pull string to reduce your smashing by 100%.

I had seen these mini pinatas ages ago on the dearly departed Craftster, and saved the tutorial for myself despite being an asocial and unromantic weirdo. I managed to find the original tutorial using the Wayback Machine, but also took my own step-by-step pictures in case that ever ceases to be.

To start with, you’ll need to cut out two hearts from cardstock or posterboard. Mine are just a hair over 8″ across because I was using letter-sized cardstock, but you’re limited only by your imagination and raw materials. You’ll also need a “side strip/strips” whose width will dictate how deep your pinata is (and how much you can stuff inside it). I cut three 2.5″ wide x 11″ long strips from another sheet of cardstock, but only wound up using two of them.

Once I taped my two strips together, I could start attaching them to my first heart. I ran pieces of masking tape along one edge of my new double-long strip and then starting curving it along the edge of my heart and taping it down. Your edge will – nay, should – be shorter than the full circumference of your heart; that gap is where you’ll add your candy.

Here’s one spot where I deviated from the original tutorial: while I only had one heart attached to the edge, I poked a couple of holes in the edge and added a hanging loop, in case the recipient wants to display it.

Once I was satisfied a) with the size of my candy door, and b) that my hanging loop was secure and I wouldn’t need to access the inside of the pinata, I added my second heart and secured it to my edge with even more masking tape.

Now the raison d’être: add your candy. If you want this to be hung/displayed for a while, you may want to be mindful of the weight of whatever you’re putting in.

Remember when I said I wouldn’t need to access the inside of the pinata anymore? I lied, kind of. Once the candy is in, you can cover the opening with a folded-up piece of tissue paper, but to add a pull string you’ll need to affix that to the inside of the pinata above the opening, then tape it to the underside of the tissue. It’s a bit fiddly, and if I do one of these again I might attach it before I add my second heart, just to save fumbling around after. Make that pull string good and long so that your recipient has something to grab onto!

And now…you get to decorate! This was less annoying than I thought it would be. The girl who wrote the original tutorial used shredder scissors to fringe her tissue paper, but I did it old-school with normal scissors, and managed to not completely cramp up my hand.

I decided to go for a quasi-ombré look, and overlapped rows of tissue to keep it looking full and fluffy.

Once I got the heart faces done, I cut short pieces of my fringed tissue to do the sides. I used your garden-variety glue stick for this, and it was shockingly neat: no gluey residue, and practically zero dry time.

Finally seeing the light of day! Once my tissue-papering was done, I made a little instructional tag for my pull string, just in case there were any doubts as to what to do.

This didn’t take me too long, overall – a couple of episodes of Lolita Podcast – but just long enough to serve as a good reason to not be polyamourous.

Thanks for looking…happy Valentine’s Day!

baking

Cross my heart and hope to die, here’s the digits that make pi…

3.14159265358979323846…. (see here)

Happy Pi Day! (Pie Day?) Although I have made pie before, with reasonable success, it’s not my first choice of things to make. My pastry is okay (my mom’s is a million times better), and I honestly find it a bit fussy, with the cutting-in of butter/Tenderflake, the keeping it cold, the not overworking… Someone else can do the baking, thanks; I’m happy to just be a taste-tester.

I was inspired partly, I admit, by Lara Jean’s turnovers in To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You – yay for Netflix original movies! – but thought this seemed like a good time to find a way to slake those pie cravings without getting up to my elbows in flour. And if they were individually portioned, that would be great, too.

Did someone say hand pies?

Presenting…pie in less than an hour.

Start with your base ingredients:

This is it, plus an egg and some white sugar. That’s all. So far, so good, right?

Start with one of the two crusts in your box. They come round, to fit into a pie pan, so we squared out the corners as best we could. Hey, this was for home consumption, and appearance wasn’t going to count for too much. Score your dough into eights – a 4 x 2 arrangement. Half of these are going to be your bottom crusts, and the other half will be your top crusts. Try to pair the funny-shaped ones together. Heck, if your cutting is more precise than ours was, you should have mirror-image pieces for easy pairing.

Arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. We used smaller sheets, so four felt like an adequate number to make at a time. We got four complete pies from each dough round, for a total of eight.

Spoon your filling into the centre of each bottom crust, and brush the edges with an egg wash (really just one beaten egg) so that the tops will stick. I hate to be the bearer of retroactive bad news, but that’s way too much filling you’re seeing. Use less than we did. It’s tempting to fill them to the gills, but don’t. You’ll want a nice wide border along the edge for your top to stick to, no matter how delicious you think cherries are.

Speaking of your tops: perforate them with a common dinner fork, and set each one on its corresponding bottom. Use your fork to press the edges together, crimping them as you go along. See that ooze along the sides? Like I said, use less filling. Learn from my mistakes. Oy. Once your edges are all crimped, brush them with some egg wash and sprinkle with a bit of white sugar, if desired. Coarse sugar would be an excellent substitute, if you like a little bit of extra crunch. We baked ours at 375° for 17 minutes, but time and temperature could vary depending on whether your oven runs hot or cool. We had set the timer for 20 minutes initially, but pulled them out early…

…and had these to show for it. The murder-scene cherry ooze would have bothered me if I were trying to impress a VIP, but for home consumption, it wasn’t an issue. (And anyway, once they cooled, any excess ooze stayed on the parchment.) The tops look a little thin and delicate, likely from the dough being rolled thinner than was prudent, but the taste wasn’t impacted.

These are kind of the culinary equivalent of rounding pi down to 3, but if you’re craving pi…er, pie…they’ll do the trick.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

craftmas, General Sewing, Uncategorized

On the second day of Craftmas…

…my true love gave to me: ein Schal für Schnuckiputzi!

Last year, I cross-stitched Berlin as a Christmas gift for my friend of German descent, which felt like it took more or less forever. This year, I opted for something less ambitious but far more pragmatic: a double-layer fleece scarf, in the colours of the German flag, perfect for warding off the frigid Prairie air.

I used this tutorial, which I also used a few years back to make a scarf for my dad, so I already had a pretty good idea of what I was doing. (That never happens!) I found the fleece at a good price back in the summer when, ahem, the eventual recipient happened to be with me.

HIM: What are you going to do with the fleece?

ME: Oh, remember those Star Trek stockings I made? I want to make more. I’ve already got Spock blue at home.

Good excuse, right? Fast-forward to the cutting table.

OVERLY OBSERVANT FABRIC STORE EMPLOYEE: Looks like you’re making a German flag.

ME: Um, no. Star Trek stockings.

OVERLY OBSERVANT FABRIC STORE EMPLOYEE: So where’s the blue?

Much measuring, cutting, and sewing later, I had this:

My model is in the Witness Protection Program. 😉

Actually, I’m lucky I was able to take it off long enough to have her model it for me – it’s soooo warm and snuggly!

It’s nice and long, so he’ll be able to wrap it around and make sure he’s covered. Perfect for those early-morning waits for the bus!

Thanks for looking! 🙂

baking

The Hunt for Red Velvet

I know that red velvet cake is generally considered to be a southern dessert.  That’s “southern” as in “below the Mason-Dixon line”, and not “Windsor” – being within spitting distance of the Ambassador Bridge doesn’t count, but I really, really wanted some sort of red velvet cupcake for Canada Day.  It’s red cake!  With white icing!

Silly me: if I wanted a patriotic dessert, I should have stuck with something simple like Nanaimo bars or butter tarts (again).

See, I’ve got issues with red velvet cake.  The Crimson Velveteen cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World are moist and delicious, but, well, darkish.  (The authors fully own this colour issue, arguing that their dessert is much classier than some of the day-glo red versions you see.  Very well, but what if I want bright red?)

Last year I tried the recipe on the Brown Eyed Baker.  Those puppies were nothing short of fire-engine in the picture on her site, but were just as dark as my original recipe and much less flavourful once baked.  Talk about your bait-and-switch!

When I happened upon the red velvet recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction, I thought I had died and gone to baker’s heaven.  Sally is a full-on baking geek who understands the chemistry and technique involved in making a truly spectacular dessert.  I followed her recipe to the letter, and was rewarded with lovely, brighter-red cupcakes.  (The secret is using about half the cocoa called for in other recipes I’ve seen.)

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They’re red and gorgeous and perfect!  They look exactly like the ones on the blog (piping techniques notwithstanding).  They rose, and formed these perfectly rounded tops upon which to pipe scads of icing

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And they’re just as beautiful under the wrappers, too.

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This is as striptease-y as it gets.

I so appreciated the methodology of the recipe: there’s butter for flavour; oil for moisture; buttermilk to make them tender; and two eggs, the whites of which were whipped and folded into the batter separately to keep things light and fluffy.

There was just one problem…they were kind of dry.  Okay, really dry.

My test audience was split about 50/50 as to whether or not this was a dry cake.  One conceded that “they were fine at first” and only got dry after a few days.  On the other hand, whenever I ate one, I felt like I was playing that old party game wherein one tries to whistle while eating crackers.  And I’ve made hundreds of moist cupcakes, so believe me, I know a dry cupcake when I taste one.  So disappointing!  The only thing I can figure is that the cornstarch in the batter dries them out – there’s cornstarch in the vanilla cupcakes from VCTOtW, and they’re nowhere near as moist as the other varieties.

It’s back to the drawing board for a red velvet recipe that’s at once moist and red; in the meantime, I think I’ll have to order a piece from Sals when the craving hits:

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(Now that’s a red velvet cake!)

Update: After this fiasco, I tried the Betty Crocker red velvet cupcake mix-in-a-box, and once I got past the shame of using a mix, was forced to admit that they’re pretty darned good.  Darker in colour than my scratch-baked cupcakes, above, they’re moist and light.  And I still made my own icing from scratch, so that makes them practically homemade.

Happy Canada Day! 🙂

 

Cross-stitch and Embroidery, Other Crafts

Snarky Ways to Leave Your Lover

(with apologies to Paul Simon)

“Your problem is trying to be too nice,” she said to me.

“You’ll find it easier if you’ll only be snarky.

It’s just the simplest way to get yourself set free –

Just use snarky ways to leave your lover.”

She said, “Some people think that ‘snarky’ equals ‘rude’.

In fact, some puritans would have it labelled ‘lewd’.

But nuts to them!  I say, who needs their attitude?

Embrace those snarky ways to leave your lover.”

CHORUS

Just tell him, “Nope, dope.”

“Can you not, Scott?”

“Would you go away, hey,

And let me be.”

I said, “No way, Jay!”

“OMG, ewww, Lou.”

What else can I say, hey,

Except for, “Bite me.”

She said, “Don’t let your conscience tell you that it’s wrong.

I hope you’ll see the light before I end this song.”

I said, “That’s great and all, but won’t it take too long

To learn these snarky ways…?”

She said, “Just try to find your inner snark tonight,

And I believe that your man-child will be gone without a fight.”

And then she left me, and I realized she probably was right

‘Bout using snarky ways to leave your lover.

(repeat CHORUS)

Soooo, I signed up for the Be My Snarky Valentine swap on Craftster, after having to sit out the Christmas edition due to having about a dozen other things to try to get done.  But all I really have to do on Valentine’s Day is show up to work (because it’s a weekday, not because I work in a Valentine-specific industry), so I figured I could swing this one.  We each had to craft one small, snarky item plus one snarky card for our partner.

While I typically find Valentine’s Day a bit annoying (and hence the appeal of a snarky swap), I’ve always liked the aesthetic of conversation hearts.  Heck, I don’t even mind eating them, although they tend toward chalky.  I’ve even been known to paint my nails in the same colours and stage ridiculous manicure shoots at my desk:

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(Seriously, what did we do before smartphones?  How did we document the inanity?)

So it seemed like a no-brainer for me to incorporate them into my snarky swap package, somehow.  Fortunately, my partner said she likes pastels, so I thought a mini felt garland might be in order.

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Each heart is about 3 inches across at the widest points – I didn’t think to measure them – and are spaced 4 inches apart, with 6 inches to the hanging loop on each side.  I cut out two hearts of each colour and then applied fusible interfacing to one before sketching on my snarky sentiments to embroider.  Once they all said something, I sandwiched the ribbon between the two hearts, and blanket-stitched around each heart to secure the ribbon in place.

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I’m also a little particular about the colours being in the proper spectrum order, or at least as close as you can get.

Because I’m a cross-stitcher at heart, that’s the approach I used for my card.

Garland 1-2

I had some sparkly white Aida left over from my mom’s cat ornaments which was just perfect for my background.

Whatever your Valentine’s Day brings, I hope it’s better than Ralph’s. 🙂

craftmas, Cross-stitch and Embroidery

On the first day of Craftmas…

…my true love gave to me: a triumvirate of cats for the tree!

Back when I got my first cat – that is, my first cat I adopted on my own as an apparently responsible-looking adult, and not a carryover from my childhood – I celebrated her first Christmas by buying one of those commemorative yearly ornaments from Hallmark, and slipped her picture into it to give to my mom.  Aawww!  Grandkitten’s first Christmas!

By the next year, she had a younger sister, and this meant either a) Photoshopping the two into the same picture, or b) being lucky enough to get a shot where they were sitting side-by-side and not trying to beat the living crap out of one another.  And then a few years after that, my parents adopted their own furry bundle of joy.  It seemed weird to give them an ornament with a picture of my cats but not one with theirs, so yay, Photoshop!  Also, some of Hallmark’s offerings had been not-so-cute over the years, so there had been a year or two with no ornament from the furkids.

This year, I decided to do something completely custom and stitch an ornament for each cat.  I found these patterns on Etsy and knew I could make them work:

Cat Ornaments 1-2

Of course, the markings aren’t quite right, so I had to change the patterns up a little bit.  My muses (or mew-ses)?

Yes, apparently he’s offended by the pink sparkly ball on the Christmas tree.  I’ve given up trying to understand him.

For the most part, I altered the patterns as I went along without a point of reference, but the black-and-white has such asymmetrical markings that I used a picture to make sure she looked right immortalized in thread.

Cat Ornaments 2-2

I didn’t use a ton of backstitch, partly to expedite the process and partly to keep them more organic-looking and less cartoonish.  They’re framed in 3″ wooden embroidery hoops painted gold, and ready to be displayed.

Thanks for looking – 11 days to go! 🙂

baking

Moooommmm…my dessert is staring back at me!

I feel like I’ve gotten away from baking cupcakes lately.  Maybe because it’s all been done?  I don’t tend to get too crazy trying new flavours or techniques, and there are only so many ways to blog about chocolate (“No!!”) or vanilla (“Really?!”) cupcakes.  It’s a bit like watching someone’s really terrible vacation slideshow.

Whatever my reason, conscious or unconscious, I decided to make some mummy cupcakes for Halloween.  And this time I did exactly what I didn’t want to do the last time I made them: I broke down and bought candy eyeballs by Wilton.  In my defense, I saw no less a baking authority than Anna Olson use them.  I can’t explain why, but I tend to trust her far more than I do most of those soi-disant “experts” on the Food Network – she actually seems to know what she’s doing.  If these little shaped sprinkles (as the package describes them) were good enough for her, well, they’d be more than adequate for my purposes.

Mummies-1

Adorable, right?  My frosting process was thus: fitted with a basketweave tip, I first piped a strip across the cupcake to secure the eyes, and then added my bandages in what I hoped was a random pattern.  I didn’t want to paint on a bloody-looking mouth this time, so I left negative space instead to let my dark-chocolate cake show through.  Did you know that it’s really, really hard to randomly generate the mouth shape you’re hoping for?  After the first couple, I started outlining the mouth before adding my bandages – only to discover that my cupcakes looked like they were wearing blackface.  Ugh!  Some of them look truly horrified at that unhappy coincidence; luckily the end product turned out completely inoffensive.

All was well until I stored the uneaten cupcakes in the fridge to be consumed the next day: when I pulled them out, some of them had arbitrarily dilated pupils – usually just one, but not every single mummy had that problem.  I assumed that somewhere in the room temperature-to-refrigerated-to-room temperature cycle, condensation had formed and dripped on some eyes.  They were kind of ugly, but still tasted fine.

A few days later, I made a batch of vanilla funfetti cupcakes for a friend’s birthday, and was able to use more of my candy eyes to Minion-ize them.

Minion Cupcakes 1

(You’re not losing your mind; those are two different sizes of eyeballs.)

These guys made me smile so much, and I was determined to keep them looking good, so I kept them well away from the fridge.  But lo, by the next morning, some of my Minions were afflicted with the same ocular disorder that had plagued my mummies.

(I am so, so glad that I decorated these the day of his little birthday soirée, and that only the leftovers got bug-eyed.)

Having seen this happen with no significant temperature change, I can only guess that it’s not a condensation/temperature issue; rather, once the icing softens the eyes a bit, the pupils bleed.

Has anybody else had this problem with the Wilton eyes?  Or is there some trick to keeping the eyes looking (ha!) the way they should, short of using them immediately before serving?  At $4 a pack, I don’t think it’s worth fighting over, but I’m going to have to think long and hard before buying them again.

Oh, well.  Thanks for – ha, ha – looking. 🙂

Cross-stitch and Embroidery

Shouldn’t that be “cats”?

We’ve established by now that I love Halloween, right?  Okay, good.  And cats?  And cross-stitch?  And most things retro?  Then you may be able to guess how excited I am about this finish!

I bought this pattern from Sastuma Street’s Etsy shop last year (at the same time I bought “Sorry We’re Dead“), but didn’t have time to stitch it before last Halloween.  That became my goal for this year!

My take on “Halloween Cat” (although there are in fact three of them in the picture) varies slightly from the pattern instructions.  The model was stitched on 32-count fabric over two threads; I used 28 count.  The model piece’s fabric is periwinkle, but I opted for this gorgeous hand-dyed “African Violet” I found at my local needlework shop – which, in spots, is a perfect match to DMC 554.  Oh, and rather than use the recommended DMC 3819 for the cat’s and kittens’ eyes, I seized the opportunity to use neon green from the same package I got the colours I used for “Sorry We’re Dead” last year.

Finished, and ready for washing:

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In its shadow box:

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A gratuitous back shot, just because:

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I thought it would be fun to take progress shots and set them to music.  I’m weird that way.  Enjoy!

It’s now framed and on display in the living room…at least for a few more hours.  Oh, and see what I mean about the fabric matching the thread?

Purple Match

As always, thanks for looking – and Happy Halloween!

baking, cooking

“M” is for “May” and “Mother” and “Meringue”…

Note: This post was originally written and meant to be posted on Sunday; however, because of some technical issues with WordPress first obscuring my photos and then abruptly deleting my entire text, there has been a slight delay.

My neighbours, who are DINKs (to clarify: very nice people, who happen to be Dual Income, No Kids), made the rookie mistake of going out for breakfast this morning.  The restaurant, they reported later, was absolutely packed.  You people have no children!  That’s a free pass from having to do the Mother’s Day brunch mob!  That’s one big advantage to not having kids!  Of course, the advantage to having children who are old enough to use the stove without summoning the local fire department is that you also get to avoid the crowds, and enjoy a home-cooked breakfast, possibly still in your pajamas.

I had mulled over a few ideas for what to make for breakfast, but decided to go with an old standby: giant(ish) baked apple pancakes, which I’ve posted on here before.  They come together really quickly, and yet look so impressive – because whoa, that thing’s the size of my plate!

Just after coming out of the oven, all puffed-up and golden at the edges.

The butter and brown sugar create a built-in syrup of sorts as it bakes, no maple required.  Fun fact: I once forgot to add the brown sugar to the pie pans before baking, and although they released super-easily, they were a little dry and not…quite…right.

I also wanted to make something for dessert, but not the same-old.  Cupcakes are nice, and all, but it’s been done.  While flipping through my collection of cookbooks, I found a recipe for flapper pie in the Kitchen Magpie’s book.  (Hardly surprising, since said book is titled Flapper Pie and a Blue Prairie Sky.)  The recipe took me a little bit out of my comfort zone, but seemed fairly simple, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Did I say “a little bit out of my comfort zone”?  This thing had me tense.  It was only the second time I’ve had to make a thick, pudding-like filling using cornstarch and heat as my catalysts (the first time was the pudding for my Brooklyn Blackout Cake), and I thought it was never going to thicken.  When it did, though, did it ever.  One minute, I was stirring what was in essence a pot of liquid, and the next it was producing a diabolical plopping sound as it came to a boil, and I’m pretty sure I could have gotten my spoon to stand up in the middle of it.  Also, I had never had occasion to make meringue before, and was convinced I would never get stiff peaks out of what seemed like fairly benign ingredients.  But lo (and behold!), the Kitchen Magpie did not fail me, and before long I was topping my pie and popping it into the oven to brown up.

It didn’t come out of the pan quite as neatly as I would have liked, but it did stay more-or-less intact, and tastes like it’s supposed to.  Certainly the Woman of the Hour was impressed – and that’s what matters, right?

Thanks for reading – Happy Mother’s Day! 🙂

baking, cooking

What rhymes with “glass”?

“Glass…glass, hmm…I’ve got it: ‘alas’!” – Linus Larrabee, Sabrina

With Easter approaching (or, ahem, upon us), I wanted to make something light and springy – in taste and appearance, not texture.  No one likes rubbery cake.  Years ago, my grandmother used to make a dessert we called “Broken Glass”.  A quick Google search reveals that yes, this is still something that people know about, and recipes abound.  I used this one, but I think I’ll re-write it for myself to better order the steps.

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If you decide to make this, you really ought to consider making your gelatin first.  The recipe calls for strawberry, lime, and orange, but I opted for a cherry-lemon-berry blue combination.  You’re limited only by your imagination, your personal preferences, and what’s readily available in your local grocery stores.  (There, that’s not very limiting, is it?!)

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Although the crust is the first step in the recipe – and the second, if you count “chill” as a step – I held off on making it until my gelatin was nice and firm.  The crust really doesn’t need to chill for that long, and you want to make sure you’ll have sufficient fridge space for everything.  If you’ve got a gloriously large and/or empty fridge, good for you; feel free to shove everything in there at once to chill and/or firm up.

A word about the dreadfully ambiguous eighth step “Set aside until slightly thickened”: I have no idea what “slightly thickened” means, especially since at no time are we told to put it in the fridge to start the thickening/setting process.  At last, something that doesn’t go in the fridge!  When I made this, I let it cool to room temperature so that it wouldn’t completely dissolve my formerly-frozen, now-thawed whipped topping.

And a quick word about pineapple juice: make sure it’s pure pineapple juice, unsweetened, and untainted by other “filler” juices.  My friend made this recipe using a pineapple/apple/pear blend, and it left a funny taste to the filling.

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You should wind up with something that looks like this.

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Isn’t it pretty when it’s cut?

This makes a light, fruity dessert that goes down easily.  It’s also a great recipe for summer because there’s no oven involved – and no stovetop, either, if you boil your water and pineapple juice in the microwave.

Thanks for looking – and Happy Easter! 🙂