Category Archives: craftiness

rainbow cupcakes


Over the last couple of years, and several cupcake productions, I came up with a method for making rainbow-topped cupcakes that is easy, fun, and very colorful. (Did I mention they have rainbows? We’re big fans of rainbows in this house.)

What you’ll need:

  • cupcakes (duh)
  • frosting, preferably in a light color (I make the standard butter cream frosting based on the recipe on a package of powdered sugar)
  • decorating sugar in a range of rainbow colors (also called sugar crystals or sugar sprinkles) I used bright pink, orange, yellow, light green, light blue and purple
  • (optional) other candy decorations
  • one or more small round dishes (soy sauce dishes are ideal, as they are the right size for cupcakes, and have a slight curvature)

What to do:
1. Pour out a small amount (about 1 teaspoon) of single color of sugar into the soy sauce dish.
2. With a finger, nudge the sugar over to one side of the dish, making a thick line. Don’t worry too much about shaping it.

3. Pour in your next color, and again nudge the sugar. The sugar will start to look like stripes.

4. Repeat with each of your next colors until either you have no more room, or until you have put in as many stripes as you like.

Repeat with multiple dishes if you want to make a production line.

5. Frost a cupcake, or a few cupcakes.

6. Invert the cupcake, and carefully lower onto the sugar stripes. Gently roll it around, pressing lightly, so that the whole top of the cupcake makes contact with the sugar.

7. Turn it back right-side up and admire the rainbow. (Here’s where I seem not to have taken a photo.)

If you want to add other candy sprinkles (like these stars), sprinkle a handful onto the top of the sugar stripes. (You’ll need to put the candy sprinkles again each time you dip a cupcake, but the rainbow stripes will last a few dips.)


This time I remembered to take a photo.

8. Frost another cupcake and dip it. With each dipping, the sugar stripes will shrink a bit. You can experiment with rolling the cupcake top around to make different patterns with the stripes. When the sugar gets low, push the stripes aside and start adding more stripes (like in steps 1 through 4.) Or, if you want to keep the stripes more even, you could dump out your sugar and start fresh in your dish. As for me, I enjoyed seeing the way the stripes shifted with each cupcake, and the patterns that emerged from adding additional stripes as the sugar in a dish ran low.

You can see here that the stripes vary, with the colors being more curvy in some parts, or more tightly spaced.

9. I also added white chocolate unicorns to the tops, after the sugaring. (I made these in advance with one of these unicorn candy molds. They were probably more trouble than they were worth, but I am a glutton for punishment. Unicorn-shaped sugary sweet punishment.) These needed a dab of frosting to stick to the cupcakes.

Notes:

  • I don’t know how long it takes to do this project. It’s probably faster if you don’t stop to take pictures a gazillion times. I think it took a good hour, but it was fun.
  • I could imagine doing this as a project with kids, especially if you are flexible about how the stripes will turn out. (And also if you anticipate needing to clean up a lot of spilt sugar.)
  • You could also experiment with making other stripe-based patterns with the sugar, such as for holiday themes (eg. red, white and blue or whatnot) or just in some favorite colors
  • While I’m not super thrilled about using all this artificial color, it does strike me that the sugar-sprinkle topping probably has less food coloring than you’d use to make saturated color frosting, or that you might use to make, e.g., rainbow cake batter. You might also try using natural dye colored sugars, such as those from India Tree.

Other Tips:

  • Wait to frost the cupcakes until you have the sugar ready. You’ll need the frosting to be freshly spread to get the sugar to stick. (If you do frost the cupcakes earlier, or use pre-fosted ones, try giving the frosting a bid of spreading with a knife.)
  • If your sugar came in a container with a shaker top (with little holes), remove the shaker insert to pour. (Or, if you have the kind of container that has the shaker built in, you might want to make the holes bigger using a knife or kitchen scissors. Shaking it out will be tedious and you will feel like stabbing something anyhow. If you do not want to mess with the integrity of your shaker, or if the hole is still too small to really pour, shake your sugar into a separate bowl, and then pour into your soy sauce dish when you have a good amount. If you shake into the soy sauce dish directly, the sugar will fly everywhere, and the integrity of your stripes will be breached.)

  • Why do they do this?


    I was lucky not to have injured myself in this step. They also make sugar that comes in separate jars, which is easier to pour.


These were some that I made a couple of years ago. At the time, I was attempting tie-dye cupcakes. They evolved into rainbows.

calling cards

When I went to BlogHer in 2010, I got my act together to get some business cards printed. Unlike those cursed with foresight and preparedness, who may be easily enticed by services that can (for example) make business cards for you (with sufficient advance notice), I found myself needing alternate arrangements. My plan involved printing a regular 8 and a half by 11 sheet of card stock with 12 copies of my newly designed business card, and since I didn’t want the back to be plain, I had the image of my big doodle (currently on my banner) printed on the back. I carefully cut the cards apart with a paper cutter, giving me 12 cards per sheet, each with a different piece of the doodle on the back.


Front.


Back.

This year, upon deciding on a Wednesday that I would be leaving for BlogHer on a Thursday, I didn’t have a lot of time to make business cards. I did remember coming across some leftovers of the old cards, and I made it my mission to track them down on Thursday. Given that our house eats things, this was no small challenge. However, I thought to combine the task with getting some things off my to-do list, namely getting some things into the attic. The good news is that I got the cradle mattresses into the attic (roughly 3 weeks before the last person who used them turns 4), as well as several other large items that have been clogging the frightening pile of things that is somewhat ironically called “the guest room“.¹

I also found the target of my search. Mission accomplished!

Sort of.

I guess I gave away quite a few cards in 2010, the majority to people who probably thought I was insane, and who I never heard from again.² I found 2 loose cards, and a stack of 12 that were rubber-banded together.

Upon finding them, I realized that I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to give them away. You see, the 12 unique cards from a single sheet could be re-assembled like a puzzle.

Backs, re-assembled.

Since it was my last full set, how could I break it up? Realistically, I was not going to make more of these cards. Possibly ever.

In my rush to pack, I managed not to bring the two loose cards. However, I did think to cut a few blank business-card-sized rectangles from some plain index cards, and I packed a box of glittery crayons. For the many years before I ever had any sort of business card, I joked that I should just make some with crayons. The time had come for that joke to be realized.

Indeed, I did give out a few such hastily-scribbled cards on Friday. Then late Friday night, having gone back to the hotel room both tired and wired, I found myself unable to go to sleep. Instead, I sat down and did what any normal person would do: I got out my Japanese brush pen (which I keep in my backpack) and lettered some text on one side. Then I doodled a few of my smiley little sea creatures and micro-organisms on the back. I even colored a couple with crayons (and took this photo) before sleepiness kicked in.


It is totally normal to hand-draw business cards at 11:30 at night and color them with crayons. I don’t know what you are talking about.

You may also note that I have included my Twitter handle. Several people asked for it, so that is what I scribbled on the crayon-written cards. Having given out that info, I then felt that I should see what I’ve said on Twitter. I saw that it had been a…while. So I tweeted, which I’m pretty sure is one of the signs of the apocalypse. And since that one stray tweet, I have gotten caught up in a comparative tide of tweeting, which likely will come to an end as soon as my work finds me once more.³


¹ It is a hazardous space that has neither room, nor guests. (At least no guests have yet been uncovered under the piles.)
² I also gave some to my friends, who already knew I was insane.
³ I have this half-finished book review that followed me down on the train to New York, but I managed to ditch it somewhere in Penn Station. I fear it will track me down tomorrow. Those buggers are dogged.

When red + white = blue. (Experiments using red cabbage to dye eggs blue)

Abstract:
+ =

Introduction:
A couple of years ago, I learned that it was possible to dye eggs blue using red cabbage.¹ Typically, we have used a variety of artificial coloring options for our egg-dying needs, whether liquid food coloring or the store-bought Paas-type kits. Last year I was determined to try my hand at doing some natural dyes with vegetables. In the end, I gave up on my plans for using onion skins or artichokes. (The water from steaming artichokes is often an intense bright blue-green, but not from the particular ones I made that day). But I followed through with the cabbage.

I had forgotten how long it took to dye the eggs, but looking back at the photos, I see that it did indeed take a lot longer than the food coloring. So be warned: The eggs took a good couple of hours of soaking to get blue.

Methodology:
I started by cutting up some red cabbage and boiling it in some water.²

The resulting juice was quite purple, and I was doubtful that it would produce blue. It was, however, quite pretty. (6:18 p.m.)

We dunked the first egg and let it soak. 16 minutes later, a peek showed the egg looking somewhat lilac-colored. (6:34 p.m.)

At some point, I added a bit of vinegar to the cabbage juice, inspired by the instructions for dying eggs on the box of food coloring. The purple cabbage juice turned even redder, which made me even more doubtful of achieving blueness. So I poured some more cabbage juice into another glass to have one without vinegar, and dunked another egg to soak.

Here we are, almost an hour after first dunk. Getting to be the kids’ bedtime. Time to break out the chemicals. Here’s Phoebe, squeezing out some blue food coloring. (7:22 p.m.)

I don’t have a time for when the first egg (from the vinegar mixture) came out, but it did indeed come out blue eventually. Having read up a bit on red cabbage (as one is wont to do), I had learned that red cabbage juice changes color based on pH levels. Acid leads to redder colors, and adding something alkaline, and raising the pH, should make it bluer. I then tried adding baking soda to the cabbage juice with the vinegar. The change was instant and dramatic, turning from red to greenish blue.

Here we are, hours after the first dunk. (11:27 p.m.) The two glasses show “neutral” cabbage juice (left), and alkaline cabbage juice (right). In the background are the rest of the completed eggs, mostly dyed with food coloring. (I think the first cabbage dyed one is there in the photo, too. Second row, left, behind a yellow egg.)

Results:
Here are the chemically-dyed (top) and cabbagely-dyed (bottom) blue eggs arranged together. The lighter-colored leftmost cabbage-dyed egg is the one from the baking soda solution. (Blotchiness is due to condensation that happened from putting the previously-refrigerated eggs outside for the egg hunt.)

3 of one, a half half dozen of the other.

Discussion
In the process, I realized why it is that it helps to add vinegar to dye eggs. Egg shells are composed primarily of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is commonly used to neutralize acidity and raise the pH level: it is the main ingredient of antacids such as Tums, as well as agricultural lime. Acids can dissolve calcium carbonate. I’m guessing that adding vinegar starts to break down the egg shell, allowing the color to permeate and bond more quickly to the shell.

This would explain why the redder cabbage juice with added acidity led to a bluer shell (or got there faster) than the bluer-appearing cabbage juice with baking soda added.

Future study:
This year, I’m hoping to try the cabbage dye again, and also to experiment with beets, carrots, berries, and turmeric. I also may play around with acidity levels of the dye solutions again, as well as using brown eggs in addition to white. I wonder if pre-soaking an egg in vinegar would make it more permeable to dyes. (Did you know that you can dissolve the shell off an egg with vinegar? That’s another science experiment for us to do.)

Conclusions:
Can you tell I’ve been wrapped up in academic writing? I need to get to bed.³

References:
More resources on using natural food dyes for eggs can be found at various places around the web:
Natural Easter Egg Dyes on about.com, Making natural Easter egg dye, Three ways to dye eggs, Natural Easter Egg Dyes

Appendix:
Here are all of the photos from above, plus a few more.

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¹ I think it was from NotSoSage, who sadly, has purged her blog archives. I’m pretty sure she also made red/purple eggs using red onion skins.
² That’s not entirely true, I started by buying a red cabbage. And there were steps leading up to that as well. I had to get up in the morning, for example. Sometimes that is the hardest step.
³ Seriously, I need to get to bed.

potato prints

This morning, I decided to do an art project with the kids. Specifically, we made potato prints. (I’ll let you guess what inspired me to do this particular project…) We’re at my in-laws’, and I didn’t want to risk getting paint on the furniture (or walls), so we worked out in the backyard. It was a beautiful day to be outside, but a bit windy for a project involving paper. Phoebe’s tendency to collect piles of rocks came in handy, providng us a ready supply of paperweights.

I can’t remember when I last made potato prints. I’m not sure I have done this as an adult, even. It was a lot of fun. (It would have been more fun if not for the wind.) And I did like the way the prints came out. I loved the way the thick paint made veiny patterns on the prints. (We used some washable Crayola paints that John picked up at the grocery store.)

See the slideshow, below, for more photos from this morning, and this morning’s results. I put even more photos up on Flickr.

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6 in a million giraffes

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a friend telling me about a cool online project: One Million Giraffes. Someone has started a website where he has the goal of collecting, as you might guess, one million giraffes. What you might not guess is that he is trying to do so by 2011, and that he wants all the giraffes to be created by participants without using a computer as part of the creative process. (For the full rules and more details, check out the rules page. There’s even a blog featuring favorite giraffes.)

Whereas my immediate response in learning of this project was to make some giraffes, it has taken me over a month to actually send mine in. But I’m happy to say that I uploaded my photo of 6 giraffes last night, and they now appear on the site. They are currently on page 2 of the site, but I expect they’ll be bumped down pretty fast. For the direct link, go here.

Here are the giraffes I cut out the same night I got the email–I took a piece of orange construction paper, folded it into 6, and cut the giraffes in a stack free-form. Then I taped them to the window.

These are not llamas.

Phoebe observed, very observantly, that my giraffes had no tails, and that giraffes have tails. She was right, and my giraffes looked more llama-like than giraffe-like. So, I retrieved them and retooled them to be tailed.

I also liked this picture of their shadows.

hellfire and dalmatian

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Hellfire and dalmatian.

As I mentioned, Phoebe wanted to be a firefighter for Halloween this year. Her costume turned out to be a cinch. She’d gotten a freebie fire hat at a recent daycare field trip to the firestation, and then our daycare provider had some other firefighter costume gear to lend us. A totally free costume.

Seeing as he doesn’t yet have a say in the matter, I figured I would dress Theo to go along with Phoebe’s firefighter. (As you may have noticed, I’m all about going with themes.) At first, I thought, “Theo can be a fire!” As I thought about the costume, however, I realized that there was a good chance that he would end up looking like a baby on fire. Um…perhaps a tad more disturbing than I had in mind.

So, the plan was to go with a dalmatian (the traditional firehouse dog).

For the pre-Halloween party on Tuesday, I hadn’t managed to get a dalmatian costume together. Theo went as a (very cute, and still black and white spotted) cow, instead. On Wednesday, I stopped by a used children’s store (where they sell used things for children, not actual used children). I had plans to get some white clothes, a white hoodie if possible, to which I would affix black spots, a tail, and some ears.

As it happened, the store had a rack of Halloween costumes. Which were additionally marked down. And there was a dalmatian costume. In Theo’s size. For $4.00. Suddenly, the whole home-made costume idea seemed like it would be a big ordeal.

Apparently, though, I still had a hankering for assembling a Halloween costume, because I decided to put together a costume for myself. I would be the fire to go along with the theme. I wore a red shirt layered over an orange shirt, along with an orange and red swirly-patterned shawl that I happened to have picked up for 1 euro at a Sevilla flea market. I fashioned a hat out of fleece left over from Theo’s carrot costume from last year, and attached flames of red and orange tissue paper to it with staples. (I was in a hurry. I made the hat this afternoon while Theo napped.)

I was quite pleased with the end result, especially considering that I bought nothing new to make my costume.

Of course, wearing this hat around our neighborhood reminded me of something: the fact that I have no dignity.

John, on the other hand, has some. He totally ignored my suggestion of a costume for him. Because you know what would have gone really well with both the firefighter and the dog costumes? A fire hydrant.

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Christmas tree ornaments and holiday songs

It’s been another long crazy day, with little to show for it. However, I do have something to show for some of my recent days.

I made a few ornaments for some relatives again this year. (Not as many as last year, though.) I was all set last week to mail out a parcel full of fair trade chocolate to some people (Theo brand!), which I’d wrapped up in some re-usable gift bags from Wrapsacks. Then Phoebe came home from daycare with some ornaments she’d made with pipe cleaner and plastic beads. And then I was apparently overpowered by the desire to make some more ornaments. Perhaps due to my need to one-up my two-year-old daughter. I’ll show her!

And so it was that in the midst of feeling overloaded, I was up past 1 in the morning, scavenging and snipping and stitching. I cut some tree shapes from a bit of green felt (leftover from Theo’s Halloween carrot-top hat), and sewed on some glass beads, and some bits of chain on one:

tree_ornaments1

Last night, once the little people were asleep, I sat down with my laptop and was greeted by a message telling me that my computer had not been backed up in 110 days. Gulp. Whereas I haven’t done huge amounts of work on my laptop in that time, there has been a fair amount. And what’s more, I have taken quite a few pictures. Theo is, in fact, only about 120 days old now, so losing those pictures would have been more than a little upsetting. Seeing as my laptop had been acting a bit screwy with the sound output the night before, I knew I shouldn’t wait any more.

While I waited for my backup to finish, I took a few pictures. I’d been saying I’ve wanted to try out some macro photography, and my little point and shoot Canon can only get me so far. (Or so close, as the case may be.) So John set me up to play with his Nikon SLR and a macro lens. Here are some of the results:

santa_ornamentclownfish_ornament
A couple of ornaments on our tree.

thai_dancer_dollsjapanese_doll
Some dolls from my grandmother’s collection that she would display at Christmas.

preampmic

That last pair relates to something else I did recently. They are closeups of my pre-amplifier and microphone, which I used to make a recording.

I submitted a song to the 2008 Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, which Neil of Citizen of the Month is so graciously hosting. I lost my voice last week when I had a cold, so I almost chickened out. But I mostly got my voice back, and I figured I would regret it if I didn’t send in a recording.

(The song I sang is Coventry Carol, and I have a post drafted about that song which I’ll probably share in a few days.)

bunny and carrot (and also a cat)

I had grand ideas to have Phoebe and Theo’s Halloween costumes coordinate in some way. As Phoebe wanted to be a bunny, I thought Theo (who had no input in the matter) could be a carrot.

I early gave up on the idea of making Phoebe’s bunny costume, thinking that it would be easy to find one ready-made. I had plans to make Theo’s costume as well as my own, and thought making 3 costumes would be insane. We had some trouble finding a bunny in her size, as it turned out, and ended up ordering online. But seeing as I am a pathological procrastinator, we did so only a week before our party.

A few days before the party, we got a bit antsy, and when we saw a much-discounted white kitty costume, we decided to get it, thinking that I could transform it into a bunny in a pinch. As it turned out, the bunny costume arrived the same day. But, it also turned out to have enclosed plush-covered feet. Such that one could not wear the costume with shoes. As one might want to do when walking outside. Such as one tends to do for trick-or-treating.

So, we decided she could wear the bunny costume for our party, and then the kitty cat for trick-or-treating. (And as such may have set the expectation for future years of having two costumes for Halloween…)

I did manage to make Theo’s carrot, using orange fleece (so as to need minimal hemming) and some green felt for the greens. I made up a pattern for carrot bunting-type thing as well as a hat. We don’t have a sewing machine, so I stitched it up by hand. Much of it while I was on the phone for a work conference call a few hours before the party.

And, because I had to go and run off at the mouth (or whatever the typed equivalent is) about having each of my posts this month feature some word that I like, I felt compelled to follow through in some way. And while I do think the word bunny is a fine word¹, it seemed a bit…um…fluffy…as a followup to yesterday’s omphaloskepsis.

So, I dug up a couple of new words to go along with this post. Both of these are from a site called Luciferous Logolepsy.

    apiaceous
    adj. – parsley-like; belonging to plant family including carrot, parsley, etc.

    macrotous
    adj. – having large ears


My temorarily macrotous daughter and briefly apiaceous son.


Here is Phoebe as a kitty. No bonus word for this image, unless someone else wants to add one.

¹ I did discover though, that in British English, bunny can refer to a squirrel. Which funnily enough was Phoebe’s costume of last year.

The Curse of the Mummy Blogger

We had our Halloween party last Friday. It was a “costumes optional” affair. As hostess, of course I had to dress up. (Okay, fine. I love to dress up.) I decided to be a mummy. It seemed appropriate. You know, seeing as I’ve been pretty wrapped up in myself. And feel a bit holed up and isolated. And starting to feel old. Now that the air is getting dry with the crisp outdoor air and heated indoor air, my skin is a getting a bit shrivelled. (I don’t have time to shower most days, let alone moisturize…)

Oh, right. And then there’s the whole pun business. How could I resist?

My costume was a bit better in planning than in execution, but I guess it worked well enough. (It might not surprise you to learn that I ran out of time.) I used an old white sheet that had been in our rag pile, and tore it into strips. I then soaked the sheet in tea. (I used Lapsang Souchong, because I have a lot, and don’t drink it much. I also figured the musty smell would work.) I wore an off-white shirt and some off-white pajama pants, and wrapped myself. I stitched here and there and safety pinned to hold things in place. There wasn’t too much time, as I started the wrapping about an hour before the start of the party, so I didn’t manage to wrap as much of myself as I’d hoped. Ah well.

John didn’t get any pictures till the end of the night, by which time I was largely unravelled. But you can still get the effect. (Go see the picture…if you dare…)

I also made Theo’s costume, though not Phoebe’s. Phoebe was a bunny, which was her idea. And a harder costume to track down than you might imagine. Theo was a carrot. I’ll try to get some pictures.