Archive for September, 2009

Project #242 – Pittsburgh Tunnels Quiz

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

I’ve been a sporcle quiz addict for about a year. Thanks to them I can enumerate all of the elements in the periodic table, name all of the Presidents of the United States and write out all of the sea areas of the BBC Shipping Forecasts.

Recently, sporcle opened up their quiz generator so that anyone can put together their one of their own. I put together a quick one honoring my current hometown.

Name the Tunnels of Pittsburgh

Project #241 – Striped Shirt

Monday, September 28th, 2009

There is something about this shirt that gives me an acute case of ‘I don’t wannas’. I managed to get it to a state of near completion, but I just can’t get myself to finish the bottom hem and add buttons. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this shirt, but every time I look at it I get the urge to clean the kitchen, or cut out a pair of pants, or do anything but work on this project.

This is the exact opposite of how I usually prioritize household tasks. My normal mode of operation is to perform tasks that can be accomplished easily so that I can give myself a check mark on my to-do list. So, it’s not the most efficient scheme, but it’s one that maximizes my self-satisfaction. This shirt is a good example of a low hanging fruit, one that shouldn’t take more than an hour to complete, but self motivation is lacking.

I’m going to put this one aside and take a break from it. Perhaps the urge to complete it will return later when I’m trying to avoid something else.

Project #240 – Reese’s Caramel Bars

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Clark doesn’t like sweet things very much, but Reese’s Pieces have a magical property that suddenly renders any dessert into his favorite thing ev-AH. I don’t know if it’s the weird peanut butter or the candy shell, but if I made artichokes with Reese’s Pieces he would probably eat them all and then ask me to make more for tomorrow.

So, now I have the perfect ingredient to reverse a past cooking failure. My so-so popcorn toffee bars will now be rendered as the caramel bars they were supposed to be and then elevated to the next level with peanut buttery goodness. (Woooo!) I now have a proper candy thermometer to guarantee success (Yeah yeah, I talk about it a lot, but I love it so much that I can’t stop talking about it. [Woooo!]).

So, I popped a pot full popcorn the same as I did here, and let it cool. I lined a 9″ by 13″ rectangular glass pan with greased wax paper (bad idea*) and poured my popcorn in to form a 1 – 1.5 inch deep layer. I then sprinkled about a cup of Reese’s Pieces on top.

Lastly, I made my third batch of caramel this month (recipe here) and poured it over my popcorn, coating uniformly. It will sink through and form a chewy bottom layer. Just let the bars cool for an hour and then slice and enjoy.

Sharing is recommended because each bar has enough fat and sugar to take 30 minutes off of your lifespan.

*If you don’t like eating paper, don’t do what I did. The wax paper, despite the layer of grease did not peel off the bars without leaving half of itself behind. Instead, use thicker parchment paper. Luckily, I have a husband who doesn’t mind eating anything attached to something containing Reese’s Pieces, but I don’t recommend it.

Peanut Time

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Project #239 – Fake Chicken Eggs

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

In order to get chickens to do what you want, sometimes you have to play to their instincts. Chickens naturally prefer to lay eggs in a nest that has already been used. It’s better to use a nest that has been proven safe rather than taking a chance and building a new, untested one. Most people take advantage of this chicken behavior and put out fake eggs in a place of their choosing. Otherwise, free-range chickens will just lay where they please and their humans are left playing a real-life Easter Egg hunt.

But why fake eggs? Why not use real ones from the supermarket? Chickens are curious and they have a way of discovering that real ones, even hard-boiled, are delicious. Once they go down that path it’s hard to make them stop. They’ll peck at the fake ones and then ignore all eggs because those first few sure weren’t tasty.

Our chickens are almost old enough to start laying eggs and we’d prefer that we got a first crack at them. I decided to make a few test eggs out of polymer clay and see how they worked for the chickens. Polymer clay is expensive, so I decided to make two with different materials in the center to see which worked best. I wrapped my clay around a ping pong ball and a large marble and then baked them at 215 degrees F for 30 minutes.

The marble egg came out just right, but the ping pong ball one exploded right before I pulled it out of the oven. That’s too bad because we have a lot of defunct table tennis balls sitting around the house that are dying for a purpose.

I’m going to make at least two or three more and add them to one of our nesting boxes. The funny thing is that these are supposed to work even if a chicken has never seen an egg. There is supposed to be something about round objects that trigger a nesting instinct in those little peanut brains.

Project #238 – Sea Salt Caramels

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

I had a stroke of good luck this week: I found an unused gift card for Bed, Bath & Beyond and I remembered to take it with the store with me for once. We finally have a real candy thermometer, so I am no longer obligated to use our meat thermometer at temperatures it was never built to withstand. It’s nice to have good tools.

That means that I can finally make caramel candies and be sure that I won’t end up with something that will pull my fillings out. Caramels are my favorite candies and it’s wonderful to get a batch with the perfect buttery, chewy texture.

I used this sea salt caramel recipe from once again, although with my shiny new candy thermometer managed to turn out caramels instead of a big batch of toffee (again).

I really like the trend towards mixing sweet with salty for candies. The above recipe, despite its name, isn’t really salty at all, so I added a pinch of salt on top to get it to that next level. Just that little bit really adds another dimension to the taste of these candies. There’s something about that briny flavor that makes my mouth water in ways that sweetness alone does not. Still, I love to make batches that are half-salted and half-traditional caramel and alternate between the two tastes when I’m having a treat.

Project #237 – Chicken Palace

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

After weeks of work we finally have a fully functional and permanent chicken coop. It’s two stories, almost all of the wood is recycled, and all together it provides more than 6 square feet of space for each of our three animals.

The chickens knew that it was built especially for them. Before we finished their new residence I placed Elanor the chicken on the roost to see if she would be comfortable. She grabbed on with both feet and refused to let go, not even to go to sleep in the kitchen for one of the last times with her sisters. So, we let them all sleep in their incomplete chicken coop, and they haven’t stopped loving it since. Each night they take the ramp to the second floor and hop one by one onto the roost. They are especially keen on it now that they have a roof and protection from predators.

Clark did all of the construction. I helped with the painting and chicken wire. The top box was made of a box-like wooden coffee table that we got for free from Construction Junction. The posts holding it up were old stair posts that we got for 25 cents each.

It looks good, and I hope it lasts for years and years.

Project #236 – Half Baked Idea Poster Prototype

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

This afternoon I took a trip to the Waffle Shop to do a run-through of my Visionary Ideas talk. Since my idea involved teaching chickens different kinds of phonemes, I loaded Mary into the car to see how she behaved when separated from her sisters.

One of the rules for the contest is that digital aids aren’t allowed. I’ll be using posters with cutout illustrations. The shop is rather small, so I made a demo poster-slide to see if it would work for the area, but I learned that instead of sizing everything for the dining room table sized diner, I would have to make everything large enough for the cathedral across the street. Nuts. I need to figure out how to make my visual aids big enough to be seen from 100 feet away.

Mary did not like her trip, but only grumbled while sitting in the Waffle Shop and grudgingly accepted peanuts as a consolation. However, when I took her across the street to the church she went completely bonkers. She’s never been in a space that big and the enormousness of it spooked her. I’ve never heard a chicken scream before, but her only reaction to the sanctuary was an “AAAAAAAAAAAA! [pause for breath] AAAAAAAAAAAA!” She stopped as soon as I took her out of there, but the damage was done. She’d spent less than an hour out in the East Liberty neighborhood, but she was just done with me for the rest of the day.

Luckily, my talk will be later at night when she’ll be a little more mellow. We’ll keep her cage covered by a blanket just to keep her calm.

Project #235 – 55 Years Gown

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

Dim light and photography don’t really mix, but it’s what you have to do if you want a picture at a wedding reception with mood lighting. I sewed most of this dress right before leaving for Indiana a few days ago, but I was tacking down facings and stitching the hem up until an hour before the wedding ceremony.

The pattern is Vogue #2960, originally published in 1954, hence the name of my dress. Two people I love were born in that year, so it’s a good one.

This is the first time I’ve ever done bound button-holes. I think I’ll need to do a few hundred more before I get the hang of it; they are not for the faint of heart. I think they where a good choice for what would be a formal dress (much neater than machined button holes), but I’m dumbfounded as to why any pattern with such a difficult set of details would be classified by Vogue as “easy”. I really makes me scared to try any vintage reprints labeled as ‘average’.

Still, I loved wearing this dress and I think the color suits me. I made it out of three yards of silk shangtung that I purchased with this pattern specifically in mind. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so many compliments on a dress before. Maybe the good wedding vibes prompted everyone to be free with positive comments, but it’s nice to get nice feedback on a dress that has to fit in amongst hundreds of really nice store-bought ones.

It feels a little weird to tell people that I make most of my own clothes. It’s a little like fishing for compliments when I say that I made something, so I’ve been keeping my mouth shut most of the time in public. Still, the rumor got out, so I’m not sure if people were saying ‘What a pretty dress!’ or ‘What a pretty dress, you know, for something handmade.’

Whatever. I like it and I’m going to wear it again.

Project #234 – Baby Pengiuns

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

I guess wasn’t done making penguins even though I ran through almost all of my black polymer clay making yesterday’s penguins. Every flock needs their own little guys. I went through a few drafts trying some different beak, face and tummy colorations, but this was the better combination. Still, I think they need some work and it doesn’t help that the metallic clay is a little weird.