Monday, January 28, 2013

Fishing under the track cake

My son turned two about the same time as we celebrated father's day. Since we had my family and my husband's family over, I made a big cake. The top layer is a cheesecake where it is marbled blue (it's supposed to be the sky. Did you get that?) and the bottom layer is a 14" round cake surrounded by Geotrax trains. I added candy rocks and a man sculpted from fondant with a pretzel and spaghetti noodle fishing pole. The pier is constructed if tootsie rolls slightly melted over stick pretzels. I used bamboo skewers to support the inside portion of the track and uphold the sky. Candy fish and crushed oreo road base complete the look for the cake.

upcycled padded bench seat cabinet

I don't know if this is an up-recycle or a re-upcycle, but whichever it is, this is it. When I was first married I inherited a table setting from my husband's grandparents. It had seats for four, but leaves to extend it to a table for six. Naturally I took the opportunity to make a bench.
The existing four chairs looked like this. The picture above is a bar stool with sawed off legs; size of a chair, swivel of a stool. We acquired three, two of which I dismantled to make the bench seats. I tried to keep the swivels to make an enormous game spinner, but we moved three times after that and in one of the moves they had been moved too many times and were recycled.

The bench body is a set of cabinets, probably the type found over the stove or fridge, (not very deep, not very tall) that I bought from a thrift store. It was an older cabinet, which has the redeeming quality of being constructed of plywood rather than particle board; better for solid construction.

The legs might have been nicer had they been sculpted, rounded, etc, but I sometimes chunky and geometric is nice too. I made them from scrap 2"x2" lumber and mounted them to the cupboard by screwing them to the sides and making the top of the leg even with the top of the cabinet.

Then I bought a solid sheet of pine for the seat portion and attached the seats of the chairs to the seat. The bench, with the seats, was attached the the legged cabinet and the entire ensemble painted black before attaching the silver handles.

It worked well for us for many years, but three years ago we purchased a new dining room set which made the bench seat less necessary, so it was retired to the basement, where it has been acquiring dust and cobwebs ever since.

We painted the living room this past month and decided to update the decor some. We went to a furniture store, because that is a good place to dream even if you can't afford to buy. We saw a padded bench seat and that was where the dream began.

I came home and dismantled the seat. It is here I must interrupt to talk about a couple of mistakes. The first is I counter sank the screws and then filled them before painting. This made it much more difficult to take the seat apart. The second issue is the seats were screwed to the pine plank. The pine plank was screwed into the cabinet, which left the screws into the seats inaccessible. It was difficult to dismantle, but eventually, through great perseverance, it happened. 

Using the pine plank, I was ready to upholster a padded seat. I bought a 3" thick pad and had the store cut it to the size I needed. While you can cut it yourself (using an electric knife), I don't own one, so I had the store cut it to two inches larger than the pine plank. By having the foam larger, it allows for a plush and overstuffed look rather than emaciated and dilapidated. (Think about how you look trying to fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans 1 month post-partum. Plush? Overstuffed?)

The next step was to make a cover to go between the foam and the upholstery fabric. This layer serves to keep your fabric from sticking to the foam. The liner has three layers quilted together. The top is nylon, or some other slick and slide fabric, the middle-a thin layer of batting, and the bottom is interfacing. The interfacing sticks to the foam while the nylon allows for sliding of the upholstery. I traced the perimeter of the pine plank (the black line), and then measured out the distance of the thickness of the foam plus the pine plank (In this case 3 1/2 inches) all around (marked in red). I then cut along the red lines to create the foam covering layer of the upholstered bench seat.

The next step is to sew the edges to make the corners. Essentially you are taking a flat, two dimensional layer of fabric and making it into a three dimensional shape. My math skills are not stellar, so I imagine explaining said use of mathematics might not be so superb either.

You want to make a 90 degree angle to fit over the foam and pine plank seat. 45+45=90.

If you take the top and fold it to the side edge, it will create triangle. That is where you stitch. As you can see (barely) it is stitched from the black line indicating the size of the pine plank along the red line which is indicative of the 3 1/2 inches measured to create the necessary depth.

If you 've done it correctly it will create a fabric box, much like you can see in the picture.

Repeat that step for all four corners. The same process should be followed for the upholstery fabric, only now you have measurements and I would recommend using marking pens or something washable rather than permanent ink because if it bleeds through, it will ruin your finished seat. Also, you will likely want to allow even more fabric so that the wood is not visible beneath the seat. In this instance I did 5/12 inches total so that it allowed for two inches of overlap.

Once you have finished both the liner and the upholstery, it is a matter of stuffing the foam in, placing the wood on top, and stapling it down. I marked the wood 2" in so I could get a straight line. I would recommend that so that the pull is even and you don't have a lumpy finish because the fabric is stretched tighter in some areas than in others. Additionally, although it is not strictly necessary, I finished the edges of the upholstery fabric because it had a tendency to shed. . . like a long haired cat. . . going through chemotherapy. . . in the spring.

Once it is stapled all around, you'll have a beautiful seat. The final step is to reattach (or attach if you are building this from scratch) the seat to the bench. Turn over the seat so it is wood side up and center the seat on it. Then use screws of the right thickness (3/4 in this case) to attache the seat. Too short and the set falls of, too long and you run the risk of impaling unsuspecting guests.  I don't know that there is an exact formula for the ratio of screws to the size of the project, but I used 10 because that is how many there were in a package. Six probably would have been sufficient.
And there you have it. I should say that this is centered only side to side. The back is flush so that it can sit against the wall. It provides extra seating and storage for blankets or CD's or movies or small children; whatever I decide to keep in there. (Yes, the small children have all tried it out). I like it for blankets because they are out of sight, yet easily accessed for movie night.
No further explanation, just wanted to show it in its natural settings with the lamp and the mirror. Doesn't that look inviting? Like you wished you lived with me? I'm glad you don't. I'm not very hospitable and I already struggle with patience and kindness for the number of people already residing there.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

bumper sticker

Probably my posts should be uplifting, meaningful, and in some way make a better world for me and future generations. I have some projects in the works that fall under that category, but I post less when I'm actually doing something. So. . . in the meantime, view this.
My mom said to add old people to that.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Beef: It's what's for dinner. . . or dessert?

Funny, huh? I don't mean to be too straight forward and crush feelings of others, but if you can't figure this one out (more or less) from the picture, you ought not be attempting much of anything in the kitchen.

The body is a cake ball, not the kind where you bake the cake and mix it with frosting and all that other stuff - although I imagine that would work -but is cake, baked into a ball, much like it sounds. I could have dipped it, but nestled the warm cake balls in a bed of powdered sugar and then dusted the tops. If you're really into marshmallows, like my sister, a gigantic marshmallow would work for the body instead of the cake ball.

The head and feet are marshmallows; the feet miniature marshmallows and the head regular size with the tip dipped in pink candy melts. The ears are pumpkin seeds that I harvested and roasted. The horns and tail are chow mien noodles. The spots, eyes and nostrils are dark chocolate because it is full of antioxidants and I didn't want to buy more candy melts.

Look, a whole herd.

One might ask, "For what purpose were these made?"

Uh, 'cause I can. . .I have a cake ball maker.

I'm using them in my honors English class as we read a story, supposedly full of symbolism, about a cow that escaped the slaughter house and ran back to the pasture to warn all the others of what was in store for them.

But perhaps you don't have that luxury of an entire class, a captive audience to hang on your every word. Don't be discouraged; I have some alternate uses.

I also plan to give one to my friend, a friend who texts me each morning to offer encouragement about getting out of bed and working out. It will say something like, "Thanks for helping me get up and get mooooving."

That is not all though, oh no, that is not all. . .
Suppose you are in a terrible relationship and you just don't know how to end it. What better way than an adorable cow confection and a note that reads, "I feel like it's time for me to moooove on."

The converse could also be true. If you are romantically involved with someone who is dragging his/her feet, wrap one up in a pretty pink bakery box with a note attached to the ribbon that says, "It's time to mooove forward."

Valentines day; "Have you herd? I've spotted you and want you to be mine."

Therapy: "There is more to life than black and white, allow color and shades of grey."

Birthday: "Have an udderly great birthday."

Thank you: "My udder thanks."

Just because: "You are udderly great."

Bi-lingual: "Mooochas Gracias"

Christmas: "Moooory Christmas"

Hanukkah: . . . Oh wait, it wouldn't work for Hanukkah, don't do that.

Thanksgiving: "Pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie and cow pie; all parts of the first Thanksgiving." (and you could serve it with a chocolate pudding filled tart)

Invitation: "Hoof it on over to my place for a party."

Story hour: "High-tail it on over for a high tale."

See how the possibilities are endless?

I can also do pigs, but I forgot to take a picture.

When I was younger, we didn't have a barn. When cows got pneumonia, they needed a warm place to stay. For us that ended up being the bathtub. I told my students about that and one of them in particular was fascinated with the story, so I made her an ornament for her tree. It wasn't at all this romantic and/or cute, but no one wants a sickly calf in a manure filled tub hanging on their Christmas tree. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Twelve days of the Holidays

I've just emerged from the holidays somewhat. Yes, I realize we're a third of the way through January, but over the holidays my husband and I took a huge step in our relationship. . . we finished the living room. But that will have to be a story for another day.

The kids were home from school and we had a good time. Okay, that is an outright lie. We had a lot going on punctuated with bouts of fun.

Here are twelve of the things (like the 12 days of Christmas, but shorter, less musical, less repetitive and less likely to be played over and over) we did over the holidays, in no particular order because I can't really remember the order.

1. Treats for the neighbors.
One of my childhood memories was candy making with my mom. She had a big marble slab for candy making that I'm pretty sure we, as the children, broke. That is probably why she stopped, or maybe life got busy. One of the other differences between us, besides that she had a marble slab and I don't, is her candy was good.

So instead of making candy as treats for the neighbors, we baked pumpkin squares.

2 eggs
1  2/3 cups granulated sugar
1  cup applesauce
2 cups or a big can (15 oz.) pumpkin
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
dash of cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the eggs, sugar, applesauce and pumpkin until light and fluffy. Stir together the flour, baking powder, spices, salt and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth. Spread the batter into a greased jelly roll pan. Bake for 20-30 minutes. Frost with cream cheese frosting.

In order to be festive we made snowflakes and snowpeople. The face is a blob of cream cheese frosting placed with large decorator tip. The nose is made from candy melts. The eyes and mouth are of melted chocolate chips. I used a bag and a small piping icing tip for the eyes and mouth. Some turned out well, but others, where the chocolate didn't cut off in a neat little circle, ended up looking like Bane from Batman.

2. Number 2 may seem a lot like 1, but when you see the pictures you will understand exactly how different they are. I can no longer recall why we made a second round of treat plates, but we did. The first set of snow people were mistaken for something else, so on the second round, I added hats. Obviously it is now simple to tell that they are snowpeople. The hats were a wise choice. 

 Not all of them had mustaches, but you must admit it was a nice touch.

3. More treats for the neighbors

My college roommate gave me this recipe. Another roommate made a similar treat, but she called them Fridgie Treats and the cashier at the store where I purchased the ingredients called them peanut butter yummies or something like that.  I'll stick with Scotcharoos.


1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
6 cups rice krispies
1/2 of 12 oz bag chocolate chips
1 12 oz bag butter scotch chips

Combine corn syrup, peanut butter, and sugar in sauce pan.  Cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and peanut butter is melted. 
Add rice krispies and stir together.
Pour into greased 9x13 pan.
cover with chocolate and butterscotch chips.
the heat from the rice krispie mixture will melt the chips.
As they melt, use a rubber scraper to spread evenly to cover the top of the dessert.  If necessary, you can put it in a hot oven under broil for a short time to melt the chips. 
Allow to cool fully and then cut into squares to serve.

I also drizzled them (while still warm and the chocolate gooey) with festive red and green. I'm not going to say I'm a gifted culinary artist, but all of them got eaten.

 4. Even more treats for the neighbors.

Chex Muddy Buddies (a.k.a. puppy chow)

9 cups Corn Chex®, Rice Chex®, Wheat Chex® or Chocolate Chex® cereal (or combination)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • Into large bowl, measure cereal; set aside.
  • 2 In 1-quart microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter uncovered on High 1 minute; stir. Microwave about 30 seconds longer or until mixture can be stirred smooth. Stir in vanilla. Pour mixture over cereal, stirring until evenly coated. Pour into 2-gallon resealable food-storage plastic bag.
  • 3 Add powdered sugar. Seal bag; shake until well coated. Spread on waxed paper to cool. Store in airtight container in refrigerator. 
  • As you can see, I took an extra step. I dipped plain Chex cereals in red or green candy melts and then used a piping decorator tip to make ribbons so that mixed throughout it would look like muddy buddies with presents mixed into it. 

5. Worked on Christmas gifts.

I made books for each of my kids. Time consuming little treasures they were. I also made my daughter a skirt to go with her black sweater and a matching outfit for her dolly. Plus, what doll wardrobe would be complete without a Home Depot apron? Not every dolly romance works out and when she finds herself abandoned with four children she'd better have more skills to fall back on than a vast wardrobe. 

6. Spent time hanging out in the toy room with the kids.

On Christmas my daughter got a new Barbie and I promised I'd play Barbies with her. The day I went upstairs, this is what I found.

What a beautiful home for three men and 15 women, though there is no bathroom so I can't imagine the perimeter of the property, but they all look fairly settled except for Mirida, who is about to plummet to her death and . . .

I asked my daughter about it and she said they were in love. So for all you Barbie-haters that say the toy promotes an unhealthy body image and poor values etc. etc. etc. someday when my daughter is an anorexic prostitute in Las Vegas, you'll be able to return to this blog and  post "I told you so" and tell me that I should have burned the house to the ground and dismembered the Barbies, all while she sat by sobbing,  and perhaps you will be right.

But I can't.
I loved Barbies.
I loved my barbie house.
I loved to change their clothes and do their hair.
I played with them until I was like 14.
I had a Micheal Jackson Barbie with a sparkly glove.
I have never worked in Las Vegas.
I had a special suitcase with my Barbies and Barbie clothes so that I could take them with me to my best friend's house and we could spend hours playing Barbies. 

7. The seventh thing wasn't planned. I had some marshmallows out for something else and the kids asked to eat some. Like the perfect mother that I am, who is concerned about their childhood obesity and their teeth rotting out of their jaws, I consented. They asked for pretzels to go with them. This is what happened.

Here we have momma-mallow. She's short, but a spit-fire. Also depicted is momma-mallow checking the mail in the mailbox. I guess not every hour of her life can be excitement riddled. 

And what mallow family would be complete without super-diaper-mallow. I'm still not certain if he is super-diaper mallow because his diaper is so large or if he is super diaper-mallow because he is a diaper covered super hero.

You'll see him both sitting and standing, so he has the added benefit of being pose-able.

There was a third figurine, but he was consumed before I could get a picture. I have a saliva covered head shot, but didn't think that an appetizing post to make.

8. Made a lamp

Okay, that is misleading. I didn't actually make the lamp. The lamp is one that turns on at a touch and is one we were given at our wedding. It was silver and gold as is evidenced by the random two second video I have (I didn't know I was going to paint it at that point, so it's weird that it's in the video) of it, and has spent many happy years softly lighting our living room. Only this year, as we repainted, did I find out that my husband hates the table on which it has rested for nearly 11 years, which rendered it homeless. (It doesn't have a spot, but spotless is the wrong word because with people touching it all the time it gets dirty). I thought about giving it away, donating it to a thrift store, or storing it in the basement, but then, as I was cooking, I thought it would make nice, inexpensive, under cabinet lighting. So I taped off the gold (if I were more confident in my lamp electrical wiring abilities I may have taken the whole thing apart to paint) and spray painted the silver to give myself a new red lamp. It's a lot like Christmas, only a lot less work and infinitely less expensive. And although I know eventually Tony Stark is going to show up on my doorstep demanding his lamp, never discount the possibilities of a fresh coat of paint. It adds color to the room and light to an otherwise dark corner of the kitchen.

9. Spent a great deal of time in contemplation.

As we took down the decorations from the living room to repaint, I took down a photo of my mom and dad. A lot of people say the holidays are hard after the death of a loved one, but for the most part it wasn't too bad until I took down his picture and looked at him and thought "Holy Crap! What just happened?" I was a bit melancholy and nostalgic the rest of the day. I sure do miss him, but can't really feel that he is that far removed.  Also, as it is the season where the Christian World celebrates the birth of Christ, I contemplated a great deal on Him. The two things may seem unrelated, but much of my understanding of my Savior came from the way my parents raised me, the example they've given in the lives they live, and helping me to find my spiritual side. I find it easy to develop a relationship with my Heavenly Father because of the relationship I have with the father He sent me on this earth.

10. Spent a great deal of time with family.

One of the best parts of being married is having another family. I'm not going to say it's all butterflies and unicorns all the time, but it is nice to have more people that care about you. It is a blessing to be able to spend time with people that one might not have accepted into one's life in any other way. And the holidays seem to warrant spending additional time forming and maintaining those relationships.

11. Went sledding and celebrated the snowfall.

As a general rule, I don't love snow. I love it on Christmas Eve, and that is about it. I used to appreciate snuggling under a blanket, hot cocoa and a good book. Now it means that we are all trapped inside and even when the indoor temperature is consistent, it's cold. Any other time of the year and it is just cold and makes for a lot of dingy roads, cars, boots, etc. I do appreciate the water it brings to the desert and the fact that I'll be able to water my plants next summer. On one of the better snow-fall days we went sledding. We have a sled used for hauling deer carcass that we use. It fits 3-5 children depending on size and is fairly thick plastic, so we've had it for several seasons. We also tried a laundry basket, which worked fairly well, but isn't really contoured to glide through the snow; weird.

12. Put together a couple of 1000 piece puzzles with my son.