Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I selected a medium-sized glass fishbowl, although a display of several smaller bowls would be interesting, too. I collected leaves of varying sizes and types outside, including oak, maple, and birch. Using my Cricut and some leftover vinyl, I cut out the phrase "share the harvest," with the words "share" and "the" at 1.75" and the word "harvest" at 2." As I mentioned in my first post, you could use contact paper for this step, but contact paper will not mold as easily to a spherical surface; consider a straight-sided or cylindrical vase for this project if using contact paper. Also, craft stores frequently carry stencils made specifically for glass etching, although I have never tried them. After the lettering was cut, I traced the leaves onto the paper backing of the vinyl, drawing in a simplified version of the veins of each leaf. I cut the leaves out with scissors (cutting the thin veins out with cuticle scissors). I pressed transfer tape over the each vinyl leaf, pressing lightly around the edges and veins. I HIGHLY recommend using transfer tape when using vinyl for intricate designs; the tape will ensure that the shape of each leaf (or letter) is retained and placed exactly where you want it. This step will save you a lot of headache. After the vinyl was affixed to the tape, I carefully peeled off the paper backing, leaving the adhesive side of the vinyl exposed. Then, I carefully positioned each word and leaf over the glass, making sure they were in the correct spot before allowing the vinyl to make contact with the glass. I applied each element in this manner. Once all of my vinyl pieces were correctly positioned on the glass, I cleaned the bowl with a streak-free cleaner, to make sure the etching cream would be in direct contact with the glass. Then I used a paintbrush to apply the etching cream, making sure to get in every corner of each letter and the veins of the leaves. I switched to a larger brush to cover the more open areas of the bowl. As always, when working with etching cream read the safety instructions and take appropriate precautions.
I should note that this project would be much less time consuming using an etching bath. Instead of a cream, it is a liquid that is poured around your glass object. It would probably produce a much more evenly frosted piece in a much shorter period of time. Etch bath, however, is more costly than the cream (which I already had on hand). Also, I sort of like the mottled look that hand brushing the cream gave my glass, it's in keeping with the rustic autumn theme I have going. After the whole bowl was covered, I let the cream sit for 5 minutes, then rinsed it under running water and cleaned the it (inside and out) with the glass cleaner again. After it dried, I went back over it with a small paint brush and extra cream to fill in the small spots that didn't get etched the first time. Then another rinse and wipe-down. One small votive inside, and voila, one harvest-themed luminary.
Although I wanted to make a piece that was not holiday specific, this project could be easily (and awesomely) adapted for Halloween or Christmas. Tombstones, ghosts, and a full moon would all be easy shapes to cut out that would look great with a flickering candle behind them. Small round votives could even be etched to look like mini Jack-o-lanters. Phrases like "Boo" or "Spooky" for Halloween. "Joy" or "Ho Ho Ho" for Christmas. The possibilities are endless. Be creative and enjoy!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
3 c. all purpose flour
3 Tbsp. water (or as much as necessary)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
I put the flour in the bowl of my food processor and mixed the remaining ingredients in a glass measuring cup. With the processor running, I steadily poured the egg mixture in and let the processor run until a ball began to form and pull away from the sides of the bowl. I dusted the inside of a glass bowl with a little flour, then emptied the contents of the food processor into the bowl. I gave the dough a few quick turns, kneading it several times with my hand. It should not be tacky enough to stick to the fingers; if it is, knead in more flour. The dough should rest, covered, in the bowl for an hour before rolling.
I had decided to make cheese ravioli, so while the dough rested I made the ricotta filling:
1 c. ricotta cheese
1-2 Tbsp. fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine
Pinch nutmeg (optional)
After the pasta and I had both rested for the appropriate amount of time, I divided the dough into two portions and began to roll the first half in my pasta machine. You could also roll the dough by hand, but I like mine really thin and, unfortunately, my arms are really weak. Using a pasta machine, you should start on the largest setting out, decreasing the size until the pasta is the thickness you like. Once the pasta is thin enough, you can make it into your desired shape. Cut it into wide strips for lasagna noodles, thin strips for fettucini, or thinner strings for spaghetti.
Using the ravioli roller on the pasta machine and my filling, I made about 65 ravioli, but with more thinly rolled pasta this recipe could make closer to 100 ravioli. I also used some of the dough to make tortellini. My husband had never tried it, so I made a dozen or so just so he could try them. Once the dough was rolled to my desired thickness, I cut it into squares. I put a SMALL bit of filling in the center of each square, then brushed the edges with water. I folded the dough into a triangle, then wrapped the long side (or hypotenuse for the mathematically inclined), around my index finger. I brought the two corners around my finger and pinched them together, then folded the top point down (see picture, showing each step).
When the pasta was ready to be cooked, I put a pot of salted water on to boil. Once the water came to a rolling boil, I placed the ravioli in, one-at-a-time. They only take a few minutes to cook and, conveniently, they float when they are done! Also, if you make more pasta than you are ready to cook, filed pastas could be frozen individuually on a cookie sheet, then put them into a Ziploc bag. String pastas could be air-dried over a piece of dowel with each end resting on the back of a chair and stored in airtight containers.
Needless to say, after all of this hard work, we engorged ourselves on ravioli. I had mine with butter and parmesan and my husband tossed his with a little marinara. Perfect.
Note: Homemade pasta is something of a blank slate for the creative cook. You could roll fresh herbs into your sheets of dough, or mix roasted garlic or sun-dried tomatoes (or both!) with your dough. Butternut squash puree filled tortellini with brown butter and sage? Sweetened ricotta filled ravioli sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar for dessert? Any flavors you love could be integrated into your pastamaking foray; that's the fun of it. Be creative and enjoy!
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
The process that occurs when soap is formed, when fats mix with the alkaline lye, is called saponification. Handmade soap is made through a different process than commercially produced soaps. The method of soapmaking I learned is called "cold process," where saponification takes several days and glycerin, a biproduct of saponification, is left in the finished soap. Glycerin is an emollient that is beneficial to the skin, and it is frequently removed from commercial soaps. (Norma Coney, The Complete Soapmaker: Tips, Techniques & Recipes For Luxurious Handmade Soaps).
I will say that buying soapmaking supplies is a rather hefty initial investment. Because the recipe I used is from The Soap Barn Co., LLC (see Note below) and is probably proprietary, I won't post it here. There are numerous websites, however, with free basic lye soap recipes, like the one found here. Coconut oil and palm oil may seem pricey, but they really do make beautiful, richly-lathering bars. I bought bulk amounts of both and still have oil left after three full batches (almost 10 lbs. of soap). Handmade soap in specialty shops usually costs more than $5 per bar and you can make your own for a fraction of that price, depending on the type of oils and additives you use. I should also say that, as the name suggests, making lye soap requires the use of, you guessed it, lye (a.k.a. sodium hydroxide). Lye, when mixed with water, creates an alkaline solution that can cause burns if it comes into contact with exposed skin (if you've seen the movie Fight Club, you know what I'm talking about). The fumes that are produced when the lye and water are combined can also be irritating, so don't inhale them. When you purchase lye, be sure to read all safety instructions before working with it and wear appropriate protective gear. Besides, rubber gloves and safety goggles really get you into the mad-scientist spirit of soapmaking, and that's half the fun!
First I prepared my mold, which was just a clear, plastic, shoebox-sized container. I used a cheap garbage bag as a liner for the box. Then I measured the lye into a plastic pitcher and combined it with the appropriate amount of water, according to the recipe I was using; once mixed, the solution heated up rapidly. While I waited for this to cool down to the correct temperature (I've read temperatures ranging from 80 degrees Farenheit to 110 degrees Farenheit, so again follow your recipe; my target temp was 80 degrees), I measured the oils into a stainless steel pot. The alkaline mixture can corrode some metals, so use caution when choosing a pot to mix in (I got my stainless stockpot at The Salvation Army Thrift Store for the sole purpose of soapmaking); use either stainless or enamel. While the lye solution was still cooling, I heated the oils to the appropriate temperature. The idea is for the lye solution and the oil mixture to be the same temperature when combined. When the temperatures were correct, I slowly mixed the lye solution with the oils using a rubber spatula, then it was time to stir. You can stir by hand, which takes a L-O-N-G time, or use a handheld mixer or immersion blender (my personal favorite). Using my stick blender, I mixed the soap until "tracing" occured (or "trailings" appeared), which essentially means that when a spoon is drawn through the mixture, lines will stay on the surface of the mixture, remaining distinct. Sometimes this is subtle and requires a careful eye to see, although with a stick blender it happens rather quickly. Once trailings appeared, I mixed in my essential oil (I used lemongrass) and poured the contents of the pot into my prepared mold. I snapped the lid onto the plastic shoebox, wrapped it in a blanket and put it upright in the closet, so it would be out of the way in our small space. Insulating the soap with a blanket slows down the rate at which it cools, preventing it from separating.
I allowed the soap to sit, covered and wrapped in a blanket, for a full day. Then I uncovered the mold and left it exposed for another day. After the second day, I pulled the block of soap out of the mold and cut it into bars. The size, and even shape, of your bars are a matter of personal preference; I made generous 4 oz. bars that measure about 2" x 3". The bars will need to cure for several weeks. I stood mine up vertically (as pictured) on a wire rack and will leave them to cure for probably 4 weeks. In about a month, my husband and I will have beautiful, lemongrass-scented soap.
Note: The Soap Barn Co, LLC is an admirably socially and evironmentally conscious business. I enthusiastically encourage anyone in the Genesee County, MI area to take a class with Ms. Grant or stop by her store to be inspired by the many oils, additives, and prepared soaps. For those who are not in the Gen. Co. area, supplies may be ordered through The Soap Barn Co.'s website at http://www.thesoapbarn.com/ and shipped to you. Once you learn the basics of soapmaking, there are endless combinations of essential oils, fragrance oils, herbs, flowers, etc. that can be used to make your uniquely perfect bar of soap. Be creative and enjoy!
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
There are numerous booths at the fleamarket that sell very inexpensive (but good quality) nail clippers, tweezers, nail files, etc. I purchased one of everything for each bridesmaid (and myself of course!) and decided to make manicure/pedicure kits. I bought super discounted $1/yd. fabric, binding tape, grosgrain ribbon, and clear vinyl (which is surprisingly inexpensive at fabric/craft stores). I also purchased iron on letters to put monograms on the completed kits.
I basically started by laying out all of the items I had bought with the correct spacing between them. I determined the size of fabric I would need to cut, taking into account the space I would lose to stitching. I opted for a rectangle that would have manicure tools on each end, then would fold in half and roll up (see pictures: the crease in the center is where the rectangle would be folded in half, then rolled up from bottom edge in photo to top). I cut the fabric first (which was a rather thick, home decor canvas), then cut plain white muslin as a liner; the size of mine is about 12" x 20". Using the size and height of the various tools, I decided what size to cut the vinyl (about 12" x 6"). This made my pockets just under 6" deep. I stitched binding tape along the top edge of each piece of vinyl. Then I pinned the vinyl to the lining fabric and stitched perpendicular to the edge at regular widths (wide enough to accommodate my tools, there is stitching between each item under the vinyl). Then I pinned the fabric, lining and vinyl together and stitched binding tape around the entire perimeter of the rectangle, making sure to stitch through all of the layers. The binding tape covers the raw edge and binds (hence the name) all three layers together.
When I was finished binding the outside of the rectangle, I cut a length of ribbon, folded it in half, and stitched the fold under the binding tape edging about 1/4 of the way up the side of the rectangle. When the parcel is folded in half, this ribbon will be halfway up the edge. When the bundle is rolled up, from the plain edge toward the ribbon edge (as shown in the picture, the right edge would be rolled under all the way to the left edge), the ribbon will wrap around the outside of the roll to hold it together when tied in a bow. I finished the bundle by ironing on the monograms and filling the pockets with the goodies. These instructions may be unclear, but the pictures should help.
This project is just a jumping off point; it can easily be adapted to other tasks (just in case you don't need a mani/pedi kit). Seed packets, gloves, a ruler, marker, shears, twist ties for attaching plants to stakes for a gardener, maybe with a cute garden print fabric. One end with long, narrow pockets for knitting needles or crochet hooks and maybe two rows of vinyl pockets on the opposing side to hold stitch markers, measuring tape, cable needle, small scissors, etc. Sewing notions? Screwdriver or wrench sets? Hotwheels for race night sleepovers? Be creative and enjoy!
Monday, September 14, 2009
I used my Cricut to cut the couple's monogram out of some leftover vinyl I had on hand. Cricut also sells vinyl cut to size for their cutting machines, but it is rather pricey. Alternatively, you could use letter stencils to trace the monogram onto contact paper (or just freehand them if you are feeling especially artistic). It is very important to make sure your glass objects are clean before you apply your letters/cutouts! I decided to have just the letters frosted, so I applied the vinyl surrounding the cutout to my glass, leaving the actual letter out. You could also have the entire surface etched with just the letters left clear, in which case you would apply the actual individual letters to the glass and spread the etching cream around them, covering the entire surface. Make sure to smoothe out all of the edges so no etching cream gets under your stencil (any glass that comes in contact with the cream will be etched). Etching cream is typically comprised of flouride compounds that alter the glass after contact (according to Wikipedia). Pay attention to the manufacturer warnings on the cream you buy because it can irritate skin, eyes, etc.
I used a small paintbrush to apply the etching cream to the letter "spaces," making sure to apply it rather thickly, filling in each letter completely. The particular brand of cream I bought needed to sit for a full five minutes before being rinsed off. I also cleaned the glass again with a streak-free glass cleaner once it was rinsed. When you do rinse the cream off, it will look like there is no etching. Don't worry! Once the glass is dry the etching will be more apparent.