Tuesday, January 06, 2009

leaf Project #6 - Mini Cupcakes with Marzipan Birds and a Marzipan Laptop

I've been working extra long hours (Startups! Arg!), but I always seem to have just enough energy to make something when I get home. It's the best therapy for me. Going to the gym or sitting around watching a movie would wipe me out, but sewing and baking always make me feel so much...lighter when I'm done, even after I clean up after myself.

Today I came straight home and baked a batch of mini-cupcakes. We're hosting this week's Dinner of Champions and I wanted to have something done in advance so that I wouldn't have to scramble to get everything done while cleaning and cooking dinner. Mini cupcakes are the best because it's a lot less guilt-inducing to have one rather than a whole fist-sized cupcake. Personally, I try never to have guilt over eating cake, but my husband is always watching his weight and limiting desserts.

I adapted the cooking time and temperature from a recipe for regular cupcakes. My first attempt turned out to be correctly guessed and 30 minutes at 375 degrees yielded fluffy, delicate cakes.

The dark chocolate icing is from my own personal buttercream recipe:

  • One part powdered sugar
  • Two parts cocoa powder
  • Two parts softened butter
  • ~One tablespoon milk
I usually make as much as I need at the time. I add enough milk to make it a tiny little bit too runny and then put it in the fridge for a few minutes. This usually yields the perfect texture.

The best part of these cupcakes are the Marzipan decorations. Since my friend, she of the birthday and the kitty figurine, will be coming over I thought dessert could use an extra-festive touch. Her favorite color is blue, so she gets blue birds. I bought the marzipan in pre-made block form and added food coloring. The color of the birds' beaks and the laptop screen is the original color of the marzipan.

I'm pretty indifferent to the taste of Marzipan, but I love how easy it is to use. It has the texture of playdough and it will dry out and hold its shape in a similar way, making it a snap for all kinds of decorations. I looked everywhere for marzipan for my wedding cake a year and a half ago, but all of the blocks I found were dried out and unusable. This batch came from cost-plus world market in the fancy foods section. When I saw how soft it was I automatically bought three bars, and I've been having fun with it ever since.

I didn't quite have enough of the little bit I mixed up to make a fourth bird, so I made a little blue laptop, further evidence that I'm spending too much time at work.

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posted by Alison 1/06/2009 10:31:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, January 05, 2009

leaf Project #5 - Polymer Clay Kitty

Today was one of my best friend's birthday and I completely forgot until I asked her boyfriend/my coworker what his plans were this evening. And of course, they were to take her out to dinner. So, I had a day to scramble for an appropriate gift. All of hers are thoughtful, purchased months in advance and include a thoughtful note. I can't compete with that.

So, instead, I summoned my crafty powers to make her a tiny replica of her cat, Oliver. This is a cat that tries to drink out of houseguests' water glasses and always manages to get his claws stuck in any sweater that enters but house. Still, I must put my feelings aside because my friend really loves her kitty and she might (hopefully!) enjoy a tiny version of his likeness.

I made two of these guys out of Fimo. I tried to color in the eyes of the first and ended up accidentally knocking off its head. I made a second one and left the eyes alone. To salvage my earlier efforts, I glued the kitty's head back on and added eye lashes. Now mini-Oliver has a girlfriend...um or it's mini-Oliver in drag. Choose whichever narrative suits you.

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posted by Alison 1/05/2009 11:32:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, January 04, 2009

leaf Project #4 - Retro Cocktail Dress

I only had one weekend day left until my cocktail party, so today would have to be the day if I wanted try to replace yesterday's dress. I chose to make Butterick 4792 mostly because it had only 3 pattern pieces and I figured that I could put it together quickly. I should have looked at everything more carefully because it turned out that I would need two of the pieces out four times each.

I shortened the skirt by about 5 inches to get the whole thing to fit onto 3 yards of emerald green dupioni silk. I shorten and lengthen a lot of skirts, so I have a handy little compass-y contraption made of two colored pencils in my sewing box at all times. I just adjust the rubber band to lengthen or shorten how far from the hem I can trace.

I'm not quite done with this one; I need to shorten the underskirt and hem the whole thing. I did spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to unwind the tavern puzzle top every time I sewed a new seam, but I managed to get it to this state after about 6 hours of sewing.

I'm wearing a bra in the picture, one with straps. I used a elastic hair loop to bring my straps in front together so that they wouldn't ruin the neckline of the dress. It's still comfortable and a lot cheaper than the $19.95 the folks on TV are charging for a Strap Perfect, though this solution doesn't come with free boob tape.

I'm also wearing my big pink crinoline for my project picture. It's been getting lots of use lately with my recent run on 50's era reprint patterns, but it's got a bit too much length and volume for this dress. I would likely have to make another by this coming weekend, which might be a deal breaker with all of the overtime I'll be doing this week. I kind of want to save this one for springtime when it will finally be warm enough for me to wear it outside without a jacket.

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posted by Alison 1/04/2009 08:26:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, January 03, 2009

leaf Project #3 - Silk Cocktail Dress

I have a special occasion in one week, a party that will require a formal cocktail length dress. Which (yay!) means that I need to make another dress. I've made only one other dress out of silk before, but I like the squeaky sound that my sewing needle makes when it sews silk dupioni.

I'd been waiting for Vogue patterns to go one sale forever because they are freakin' expensive even with the usual discount. $15? Hell no. I'd even flip through the online catalog at work and get all antsy because I wanted my pattern now. When they went on sale on the 1st of January I marched down to the fabric store on a mission for Vogue 8494...aaand they only had one copy in the cabinet, not in my size, of course. I pouted for a little bit and then I remembered that some evil customers will squirrel away the best ones in another drawer until the sale starts. I flipped through a few of the cabinets and I magically found just what I was looking for, and in my size, too. Yoink!

I put this dress together in about four hours, mostly while watching Jaws. After I sewed the outside dress together I took it into the kitchen to show my husband and in the dim light I realized that my iridescent, purple-gray fabric took on the exact color and shininess as a trash bag. Which sucks because: 1) This is actually really nice fabric in the daylight. 2) It will be nighttime and dim (but not dim enough) at the party. And 3) it would have been way cooler if I had decided to use actual trash bags for the dress 'cause everyone would have been like "Trash bags?! No way!" and I would have been like "Yes way!!!1" Plus, trash bags, unlike this fabric, cost about 10 cents a yard. Rats.

Anyway, I'm not sure I'm in love with the silhouette. The dress in the pattern picture has a skirt that's a little more full. I'm going to iron the hell out of this dress to see if I can get the bottom half looking a little less like a paper-mâché tube. I still have six days to replace this with something better, but I'm probably over-thinking this cocktail party outfit. If I have two Salty Dogs as soon as I arrive, I will probably stop caring so much.

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posted by Alison 1/03/2009 11:56:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Friday, January 02, 2009

leaf Project #2 - Robot Apron

I have a fondness for aprons that leads me to collect them like stamps. They're often colorful, they keep messes off of clothes and they add extra pockets. I'm sitting here picking little stray threads off of my skirt as I type this. An apron worn during sewing would have saved me the trouble.

I would really like to wear aprons more often and I sometimes fantasize about starting a new trend. However, I already look like an anachronism much of the time with my poofy-poofy skirts, so the addition of an apron just calls extra attention. On the occasions that I forget I am wearing an apron and leave my house I get extra funny looks and occasionally if I'm in a restaurant I'll get asked for the check.

Still, I should grow a backbone and wear this apron everywhere. First, robots are the best. Secondly, I like the silhouette. Thirdly, it's cotton canvas and a little more sturdy than my vintage church rummage sale aprons which have gone transparent from decades of washings.

I originally bought this pattern (McCall's 5825) because of the picture. I admit that I sometimes buy patterns based on the fabric or extraneous clothing featured in the cover picture. I saw this one and really wanted the black Amelia Bedelia style black dress. Who wants to dress up like an old-fashioned maid, but without the sexual overtones. Me! Me!

I can't find this pattern anywhere online, but I found it by rummaging through the pattern cabinet at the fabric store. I also found lots of forgotten patterns that were hidden by customers in empty drawers. I'm on to all of you cheeky monkeys.

The fabric was a lucky buy at the Kichijoji Yuzawaya in Tokyo. I found a discounted bolt with just one meter left on it and got the whole thing for about 400 yen less than usual. The pattern says that 1.5 years is required to make one of the full length aprons, but I was able to squeeze everything onto one yard. Oh pattern, how you lie to me.

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posted by Alison 1/02/2009 11:48:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, January 01, 2009

leaf Project #1 - 10 Minute Headband

I squandered most of this holiday watching movies and cutting out patterns, but never quite mustering up the energy to actually sew any of them together. So today's project will be quick and simple. It will be a headband - one that can be made in less than 10 minutes.

Ingredients: 5 inches of elastic
~21 inches of ribbon

I first snipped the ends of my ribbon with pinking shears to keep it from getting too frayed.

The idea is to make a narrow hem with one end your ribbon and trap the elastic inside. I turned my ribbon down once, inserted the elastic and turned it down again. Holding it in place, I sewed a narrow zig-zag. My feed dogs don't react well to things this small, so I guided the ribbon through with a pair of scissors.

I sewed another line of zig-zag to reinforce and to get the elastic to lay well.

Next, I wound the ribbon and elastic around my head to measure for the best fit. I ended up chopping off about 2 inches of ribbon.

Finally, I sewed the other in the same manner as described above.

Now I can declare my love of robots without having to talk about them and show people on the bus pictures of my favorite robots.

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posted by Alison 1/01/2009 11:35:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

leaf New Year, New Resolution

Last year, I made a resolution not to buy any clothes that I could make myself. Therefore, instead of buying any new skirts, dresses, or button-up shirts, I cut my own out and stitched them together while sitting on the floor and watching trashy TV. The idea was to improve my sewing and tailoring skills while saving money. Though I started out slowly, I ended the year with about 40 new pieces of clothing, including 19 new dresses, and the 20th is cut out and sitting next to the suitcases that I haven't unpacked from Christmas yet.

So I would call 2008's resolution a success and I have been tempted to try something else to engage another skill that needs work. So, this year I'm going to try to write more, and focus on writing about what I know best: making things. I'll try to make something new every day, and if I need a break I'll write about things that I've made in the past. Still, the goal is to write a lot and try not to take too long doing it. I'm a slow writer and I need the practice at getting my thoughts together quickly.

Cheers to the new year!


posted by Alison 1/01/2009 11:03:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

leaf Part 8: Aaaand We're Married!

Part 1: Tryin' to Get the Pretty
Part 1.5: Old, New, Borrowed, Robotic
Part 2: Please Help Me; I Can't Dress Myself
Part 3: Poise!
Part 4: The Philosophy of the Ham
Part 5: Setting the Scene
Part 6: Moments Before
Part 7: The Gettin' Hitched Part

Mr. Lollipop and I discussed our ceremony at our First Anniversary dinner. We both agreed that it is one of the most intense experiences either of us has had. This was probably due to the fact that we had prepared for the ceremony for months during premarital counseling and the fact that it was *our* ceremony. I like to think that maybe our guests felt the same way. We didn't hear a peep from anyone in the pews the whole time, nothing from the dozens of young children who attended. Maybe it really was a *holy* experience.

We were allowed to have chairs placed for us at the front of the church for use during the reading portion of the ceremony. I highly recommend doing this if your ceremony is going to last longer than 20 minutes. My dress was heavy and I appreciated the break.

This is a shot of my bridesmaids during the ceremony holding their bouquets. All of them were assembled by my awesome cousin Aileen (she's the one in the extreme foreground) and each has a baby artichoke in the center. We saved crazy $$$ by doing our own flowers. I'll give more details about this in a later post.

This is my bouquet. It is made of almost 100% flowers from Whole Foods and more baby artichokes. (Again, thanks Aileen!) I was a little nervous about making my own bouquet, but I think it turned out well and it was fun to carry it around for a day.

This is the picture of me that is currently sitting on Mr. Lollipop's desk.

This is my cousin Maureen doing a reading written by my cousin Mark. Mark is in the Air Force. We chose our wedding date based on his leave date, but the military canceled his days off months before our wedding. So, instead he wrote something original to read at the ceremony.

I'd skimmed the reading just to give Mark the 'OK' as to its quality, but the meaning and care really hit me once I heard Maureen reading it out loud. I started tearing up. Luckily, Mr. Lollipop always carries a handkerchief. I blew my nose and then crammed it back into his pocket, if full view of all of our guests. They had a good chuckle.

A year ago, our friend Keith was finishing up seminary and couldn't perform the whole ceremony himself, so we had him do the homily. He was great.

Okay, so we made it through the first part of the ceremony. We used traditional vows from the Book of Common Prayer. Now, it was time for the vows. Mr. Lollipop did his first, and then I as I started to say "In the Name of God, I, [Ms. Lollipop], take you, [Mr. Lollipop], to be my *husband*..." And I totally choked up on 'husband'...I'd honestly never used that word for Mr. Lollipop before, but I was able to choke out the rest of my vow. Luckily, Aileen was on point and ran up to give me a tissue. Really, I'd never imagined that I would cry at my own wedding ceremony, but, wow, thank God for waterproof mascara.

Now, a year later I'm wondering what happened to that tissue. I can't remember what I did with it and it isn't in any of our photos. I really hope I didn't hand anyone my snotty Kleenex.

So, I managed to get it together after that and we moved on to the exchange of rings.

Okay, so we made it through the important stuff and now it's time for the blessing. The Book of Common prayer has a choice of two blessings. Mr. Lollipop let me pick, so I went with the one with the line 'Defend them from every enemy...' mostly because that sounds awesome. I don't think we have any enemies, but just in case...you know...

Also, I would like to point out that my Maid of Honor fluffed out my train every time I moved so that it didn't get bunched up and trip me. This was one of the best pieces of advice we got from our photographer all day.

Yay! We're husband and wife!

...And we kiss as my grandparents' plastic Virgin Mary looks on! It's okay, Mary, we're married now!

I gave a big hug to the Maid of Honor.

Mr. Lollipop shook the Best Man's hand.

Mission accomplished! Woo!

All photos above are courtesy of Purvis Photography.

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posted by Alison 9/10/2008 09:06:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

leaf Really?! It's Our Anniversary?

It's official. Mr. Lollipop and I have been married for a whole year. I'm not even done writing about our wedding and we're already back at the same place in our orbit around the sun. (Kids, if you ever want to finish what you started never take a job at a start-up. That goes double if you're the only one with your job title.)

Plus, I think we have about 10 thank you cards left to write. Crud. I hope Emily Post doesn't decide to haunt us. They're also the awkward thank you cards, the ones for people who bought us things that we can't quite identify.

"Dear Aunt Bea,
Thank you for the...umm...trivet? wall medallion? bumpy plate? We will treasure it always.

The Lollipops"

Mr. Lollipop keeps on talking about how this has been the fastest year of his life; I can't help but agree. I'm really happy being married, and I really like being able to say 'my husband'. It just has so much more impact than saying 'my boyfriend'; it's so much more...permanent. "I'll ask my husband" sounds like a much better deflection than "I'll ask my boyfriend."

Actually, this is turning into an anniversary week. Mr Lollipop has a surprise trip planned for this weekend and I'll be blindfolded for most of the drive. He also wrote a poem and did a lovely origami reenactment of our wedding day, which was perfect for our paper anniversary (see above picture).

For my part, I gave him a book of photos, including a few that he can look back in the years to come and remember when I had abs. I also chalked up the front steps with happy messages.


posted by Alison 9/02/2008 12:19:00 AM : (1) comments : splink

Monday, September 01, 2008

leaf Part 7: The Gettin' Hitched Part

Part 1: Tryin' to Get the Pretty
Part 1.5: Old, New, Borrowed, Robotic
Part 2: Please Help Me; I Can't Dress Myself
Part 3: Poise!
Part 4: The Philosophy of the Ham
Part 5: Setting the Scene
Part 6: Moments Before

Yay! They finally let us inside!

Okay. We're walking up the aisle...I'm kind of surprised at this point. I'd been waiting for our wedding for so long that it was kind of hard to believe that it was actually happening.

Mr. Lollipop sees me for the first time.

The boys all lined up in the front.

My dad and I arrived at the front. I've never had this many people look at me at one time before.

At this point my parents offered me in marriage. I'm glad that my parents got their own speaking part, but this is the one part of the ceremony I wish we'd done a little differently. I really wanted my in-laws to offer Mr. Lollipop, too, but I got a straight 'no' from our pastor and I didn't feel like fighting about it.

Eh. I'll admit that it's small in the scope of potential problems. I actually hadn't thought about it for months until I sat down to write this recap. *shrug* I still really like our pastor.

The Pastor asks if there are any objections.

I looked over my shoulder to see if there were any takers. I think our guests took my expression as the stink-eye. Luckily, my family finds this kind of thing to be funny and everyone laughed.

My mom laughed, too.

We passed the test (Yay! We're not related or already married to other people!) and my dad stepped aside.

Mr. Lollipop takes his place at my side.

All photos above are courtesy of Purvis Photography.

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posted by Alison 9/01/2008 11:26:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, May 26, 2008

leaf Part 6 - Moments Before

Part 1: Tryin' to Get the Pretty
Part 1.5: Old, New, Borrowed, Robotic
Part 2: Please Help Me; I Can't Dress Myself
Part 3: Poise!
Part 4: The Philosophy of the Ham
Part 5: Setting the Scene

As a teenager I'd hadn't thought much about what my wedding would be like, but I was pretty sure that I'd be calm and certain before I walked down that aisle. Everything would feel right. A decade later on my wedding day, with all of my anxiety left months in the past, I felt exactly that way in the moments leading up to the ceremony.

Our friends did a fantastic job of making sure that we didn't see each other before the ceremony started. One of our photographers snapped these pictures of Mr. Lollipop before he was hustled out of the way so that I could leave the Rectory and make my way over to the church.

We went with an asymmetrical Dahlia for his boutonniere. As his wife, I am biased, but I think he is exteremly adorable in this picture.

Our wedding coordinator, a.k.a. Our Lady of Awesomeness, a.k.a. Emily, helped welcome people to the church. I'll be writing more about her later.

Most people arrived early. We placed mutual friends on Mr. Lollipop's side to even out the large difference in family size. Still, our wedding turned out to be the largest gathering of my Mother in Law's family ever.

I couldn't walk around without a crew of bridesmaids to help carry my giant dress. It was like being queen for a day, but not in any way I expected. I was very glad that I had a second, lighter dress to change into so that I didn't need any bathroom helpers.

There were a few stragglers running into the church at the last minute. This is a picture of me laughing at them and yelling 'You're late!' at them as they scurried into the sanctuary.

I was acting like a big goof-ball while waiting outside of the church and waved like a monkey at all of the passing cars. I couldn't help myself; I was so frickin' happy that I was finally getting married after waiting so long and spending so much time working for this one day. My Dad knows me well enough to but up with my antics.

All photos above are courtesy of Purvis Photography.

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posted by Alison 5/26/2008 02:42:00 PM : (0) comments : splink


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The author is currently a registered alien living in Nagoya, Japan. The author is teaching and studying computer science in Washington, DC. Alison is working on her Ph.D. at the Language Technologies Institiute at Carnegie Mellon University. She is working on a Machine Translation System for minority languages (those spoken by fewer than 2 Million People).

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