November 21, 2010 § 3 Comments
I love Autumn. Texas doesn’t get very much in the way of autumnal weather, unfortunately–we sort of skip straight from the heat of Summer into the everything-is-dead-and-cold of Winter, so I treasure the Fall. I fight the onset of Christmas in order to focus on pumpkins and leaves and turkey. (Christmas is my favorite holiday, but it seems to come earlier and earlier every year, and I run out of enthusiasm by December if I start getting into the Christmas spirit in September).
Here are some things that I’ve been doing with my Autumn:
Something about the weather puts me in the mood for baking, and last week I decided to try my hand at my very first pie, with my very first from-scratch pie crust. It was not at all as difficult as I had been led to believe! In fact, it was easy–easy as pie, if you will. It was time consuming (although a lot of my time went to assembling and then learning to use the apple peeler-corer-slicer that my mother inherited from my grandmother) but so worth it. I made the crust following the instructions in a recent issue of Better Homes & Gardens, and then made the basic apple pie filling found in the red plaid Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. I used six Granny Smith apples, although not all of the apple found its way into the pie…did I mention that there was a learning curve involved with the apple peeler-corer-slicer? Let’s just say that there was a certain amount of apple carnage (and by ‘certain amount’ I mean ‘all over the kitchen’) and leave it at that.
I made the pie for a Single’s ministry Thanksgiving potluck at church, and it came out of the oven just in time to be whisked into the car, so I only had time for one quick shot:
Rather than make slits in the top of the pie crust, I used cookie cutters in leaf shapes. The pie seemed to be a big hit–half of it was gone by the time I got to the dessert table (and there were three dessert tables, one of them devoted entirely to pies). I certainly thought it was delicious–so delicious that I’m anxious to try it again! Maybe this time I’ll have the presence of mind to devote a blog post to it…
If I could have an Autumn to spend, somewhere with leaves that turn real colors and air that gets genuinely crisp, with nothing but my knitting and a stack of books…I think that would be very nice. I love knitting, but my enthusiasm for it wanes during the heat of the Summer, when it is too hot to go around with wool in your lap. I haven’t been completing very many knitting projects lately, but I did manage to finish two items just in time to send them off to have adventures without me–they went with my friend Mary to Prague! (but are modeled in the pictures below by me)
A neckwarmer is a wonderful thing–I improvised the cable pattern on this neckwarmer, and made it with knit one, purl one ribbing so that it’s reversible, and it has a loop and button to keep it snug on the other side. The hat was made with the Sweatshop of Love’s Slouchy Beret pattern.
On the first Saturday in December I’m planning to share a table at a craft fair with some friends of mine, so I’ve been working on a few items to sell–today I finished painting these peg dolls, which all represent the characters from the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red
And I worked on making these paper flowers, cut from dictionary pages coated in mod podge for durability
…there will be more on these crafts later, when I have completed projects to show you!
I did my crafting while watching my new DVD set of Doctor Who: Season 5, and speaking of Doctor Who…next Tuesday is TARDIS Day, when Doctor Who fans celebrate the first day that the classic science fiction show aired on British television. I’m celebrating my participating in a fan swap, and I put together a TARDIS themed package for my swap partner. I (of course) did a little crafting to go into it, so once my swappee has opened their package I’ll post pictures here!
The biggest thing that I am doing with my November, however, is NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Writing is hard work! Sometimes it’s delightful, sometimes it’s a dreadful slog, but it’s always rewarding. It helps that I decided to keep things easy this year–no complex plot for me! No attempt to say something profound about the human condition! The story I outlined is simple and (hopefully) amusing and light-hearted. There are nine days left!
November 8, 2010 § 1 Comment
Halloween is over, but I’m still behind on my October craft posting! I wanted to show you my pumpkins!
I am not a master of pumpkin carving. I carved my very first pumpkin last year, and discovered that pumpkin carving is great fun (gutting the pumpkin, however, despite the opportunity for macabre humor, is not my favorite. Slimy things! Augh!).
Last year my very first pumpkin featured the Other Mother, an appropriately terrifying figure from Neil Gaiman’s novel Coraline (one of my favorites).
I meditated on the design, then drew it on the pumpkin with a pencil. My pumpkin, by the by, was named Bertha, and unfortunately Bertha had a big rotten patch on her bottom. So I cut the bottom out of the pumpkin entirely. The Other Mother has a button eye and is brandishing the needle that she wants to use to sew buttons over your eyes. Scared?
You should be.
I carved the entire pumpkin using only kitchen knives, which was a frustrating experience (especially when I painstakingly carved out a curl of hair…and then accidentally sliced it off) and I swore never to carve a pumpkin again without that tiny saw sold specifically for pumpkin carving. Next year, tiny saw, I promised. Next year, you and me.
Then the next year rolled around and became this year, and I went to a Halloween party with my friend Angela, and we decided at the last minute to participate in the pumpkin carving contest. We were presented with a pumpkin, and a handful of kitchen knives.
No tiny saw to be seen.
Oh well. We had a kitchen knife and thirty minutes, so there was no time for tears. There had been a quick brainstorming session right before the contest to choose a design–we didn’t want to do a traditional Jack O’Lantern face, but we needed to do something simple that we could draw and carve quickly. In a moment of brilliance we said ah-ha! And this is what we carved:
Can you tell what it is? Yes? No?
It’s supposed to be a ‘witchy’ variation on the face/vase optical illusion–something like this.
It would have been better if the faces were perfectly symmetrical, but for a hasty free-handed drawing in pencil on a pumpkin with a natural wonky tilt, I think did pretty well. While we didn’t win an official prize, Angela and I know in our hearts that we are the true winners of everything.
The next day I carved this year’s real pumpkin, a pumpkin lovingly named Doxie. I decided to revisit last year’s Neil Gaiman theme, mostly because I re-read The Graveyard Book in preparation for Halloween and fell deeply in love with it, but also in honor of All Hallow’s Read, because Neil Gaiman is right–we need more holidays that involve the giving of books.
I was looking forward to using my tiny saw.
Guess what happened to the saw.
No, go on, guess.
I broke it. Snapped it in half almost immediately.
Fortunately I was able to borrow Angela’s tiny saw while she used the scraper tool on the other end of my saw’s handle, although I did use a kitchen knife a bit. At least the results were good!
My Graveyard Book pumpkin was really very simple–I just used the silhouette from Dave McKean’s cover art.
I think it made a nice, simple, striking pumpkin, don’t you?
Did you carve any pumpkins this year?
November 2, 2010 § 2 Comments
My sugar cookie experimentation continues–eventually I will make some cookies that turn out exactly as I envisioned them.
I live in hope.
But in the meantime…
I wanted to make cookies inspired by Day of the Dead art–brightly colored and a little macabre? I am all over it. With that in mind, these cookies were meant to be a lot more colorful, but I got annoyed and stopped after two colors. I also left some cookies plain–not Day of the Dead, but a very classic Halloween look. Here’s how I made them:
I started with sugar cookies (from a mix. Because I continue to be lazy). While they were cooling I made white chocolate skulls using a chocolate mold that I got at my local craft store–
I just used the front half of the skull mold, so that it would be flat on the cookie. To fill the mold I chopped up about a third of a block of almond bark, put it in a disposable plastic decorating bag (you could also use a plastic zip-lock bag–just make sure that it’s a sturdy one, and not a flimsy sandwich bag. Flimsy sandwich bags have been known to burst at the seams at inopportune moments, Go for the freezer bags instead), twisted the top closed, and popped it in the microwave for thirty seconds–
–then I took the bag out, kneaded it a bit, and put it in for another thirty seconds. When it was thoroughly melted I snipped the tip off of the bag and used it to fill the mold. Don’t be too hasty! you don’t want to overfill the mold. Fill it most of the way, then tap the mold gently on the table to get rid of air pockets and settle the chocolate. If your mold is still not quite full then add a little more chocolate and tap it again. Then just pop the filled mold into the refrigerator for about fifteen minutes, and voila!
My mold could only make four skulls at a time, though, so in between batches I worked on the cookies. I used i am baker’s special version of royal icing again, and this time I was much more successful! My icing actually hardened enough that I could handle the cookies easily, hurray! First I used a very thick version of the icing to outline my cookies–
Then, while the outlines were drying, I started adding my white chocolate skulls to the center of each cookie, sticking them in place with a little squiggle of icing for cement–
Then I left them to dry a little longer, to make sure that the outlining would harden–
Then I made another batch of icing that was a little thinner (but not as thin as the icing that I used on the stained glass cookies, eish) and used it to flood my cookies–I used a toothpick to spread the icing right up to the skull and out to the outlined edge–
Then I left them to dry overnight, and ended up letting them dry for a couple of days. I decided to experiment, and instead of using more icing to decorate I wanted to use candy coating, which you can find in the baking and candy aisles of your local craft store. It comes in several colors, and I thought it would be easier than making and tinting several batches of icing. This was sort of true, but it came at a price–I melted the candy coating using the same method that I used for the almond bark, except that this time I put a coupler inside the bag before microwaving so that I could attach a decorating tip when I took it out (it would, of course, be a terrible idea to put a metal decorating tip into your microwave). This worked just fine….but the bag of melted candy coating was a little too warm to hold comfortably for piping, and the melted chocolate was runnier and harder to control than royal icing, and I wasn’t satisfied with the designs that I was free-handing….
So, a good idea that didn’t give me the results I wanted. Would I decorate with candy coating again? Yeees, maybe, for something that I didn’t mind making a little sloppy. Will I ever use it again when I have a very specific vision that calls for more precise piping? No. Bad idea. That way lies screaming, and tears, and the angry eating of cookies in order to punish the cookies for not being pretty enough.