Thursday, October 31, 2013

brain and brain - what is brain?

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.  I dressed up and trick-or-treated well into my, ahem,  teenage years, until my boyfriend gently suggested that we could just buy our own candy and attend a costume party to get the same effect.  I put away my cape and hung up my candy bag, but I still have plenty of accoutrements for this season.

Paper cutters.

Rubber and acrylic stamps.


Craft paper.

Cookie cutters and other miscellaneous baking accessories.

This year, though, we were going to be out of town the entire week before Halloween, getting back the afternoon of the 30th.  This somewhat curtailed my Halloween activities this year, but I still rushed to put together my cards.  I got them glittered just in time.

It's hard to see, but the brown border is cut-out spiders, and the text is from Edgar Allen Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher".  Love. 

I always bake for Halloween.  I initially made ghosts to go in gift boxes, but my royal icing was too thin and the black ran into the white.

No matter.  I used the extra royal icing to make "monster eyes" and decided on my old fall-back:  cake pops.

Cake pops are so easy to make.  A box of cake mix, a can of frosting, and a bag of candy melts, and you're in business.  Bake up the cake, crumble it, and mix in between 1/2 and 1 cup of frosting to obtain a Play-Doh-like texture.

I always use Wilton Candy Melts, which are around $2 a bag and come in many colors.  I melt them and thin the consistency with a little canola oil.  Works like a charm.  This year I bought green and pink candy melts, because I decided to make zombies and brains.

I had a 'brain' plastic mold, so I used my (clean!) fingers to spread some melted pink candy inside. 

I froze the mold for 4 minutes so the candy could harden.  Then I removed it from the freezer and pressed cake into the cavity.

I spooned a generous portion of candy on top and spread it out with my fingers.

Back in the freezer for 5 minutes, and they're done.  They can be stored at room temperature for over a week...the candy acts as a seal and keeps the cake moist.


In the immortal words of Eymorg Kara on the original Star Trek:  "Brain and brain!  What is brain?"

The zombies were just as easy.  I rolled rough round-ish balls of cake.  The green candy melts were melted, and I rolled the end of a lollypop stick in the liquid and inserted that end into the cake pop.  I froze them for 20 minutes.  Next, I just dipped the ball in the green melt, tapped off the excess, and attached two "monster eyes" - asymmetrical for effect.

I let them harden on the edge of a cooling rack...

...and in holes punched in an egg carton.

They are completely dry within 30 minutes.

I bought the lollypop sticks at a craft store, along with little plastic bags to protect them in shipping.  The ties?  Black cotton thread.

Zombies and brains...a perfect pair for a Halloween snack.

Hopefully next year I can publish a Halloween craft/recipe before the actual holiday, but these are quick and easy enough to get a few together in a few hours if you've got the time before tonight.  I used one box of cake mix, most of a can of frosting, and two bags of candy melts for 12 brains and 26 zombies.

Happy baking!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It's a piece of cake!

I've just come from the dentist (dramatic sigh), and it's not great news.  I have two old fillings from my teenage years that have allowed a bit of decay beneath their protective covering, so both need to be drilled and re-filled.  It would seem like a simple procedure, except that I have the misfortune of having both an incredibly low tolerance for pain (i.e. the "big baby" syndrome) and a virtual inability to get numb with oral injections.  A basic filling has traditionally meant over two hours in the chair, getting shot after ineffective shot...over ten a tooth.  My last dentist in Indianapolis was the only one who was able to fully numb me, and now, of course, we live in another state. 

After robotically scheduling the follow-up appointment, I allowed myself a brief cry in the safety of the parking lot before pulling myself together.  I decided three things:

1)  Fast food for supper tonight.
2)  4 p.m. is NOT too early to put on flannel pajamas when you're feeling sorry for yourself.
3)  If I was going to do the blog, I was going to do something fun.

What is more fun than CAKE?  Cake has nothing to do with pain or teeth or useless injections.  Hooray for cake!  This particular cake, too, never gets stale.  It has ZERO calories, and you can slap a stamp on it and put it in your mailbox, and it will most assuredly be picked up (but not consumed) by your mail carrier and taken to the destination address.  This is the incredible non-edible cake!

You need:
- a sponge
- a serrated knife
- caulk
- pastry bag
- spray paint
- spray adhesive
- cardboard or thick paper

First, you need a sponge or two.  We picked these up at Lowe's.

Take a serrated knife and cut each sponge at an angle so that it resembles a wedge of cake.

With the same knife (and maybe some scissors), cut a little valley in the middle of the cake.  This is where the "icing" will go.  It doesn't have to be very deep.

Next, spray your sponges down with the spray paint.  Want to make chocolate cake?  Use brown.  Strawberry?  Pink.  Vanilla?  White.  You get the idea!

I let mine dry overnight before doing a second application.  You don't want any of the yellow to show through.

Take one of your dry wedges and trace its shape onto a piece of thin cardboard or stiff paper, and then cut out the shape.  Use your spray adhesive to fasten it to the flat side of your cake slice.  Let it dry for a few hours.

Apparently there's a device called a 'caulking gun' which forces caulk to flow smoothly out with minimal effort.  I just stomped on mine, which wasn't nearly as effective.  Still, I was able to get enough caulking into the pastry bag to get the job done.  One tube of caulk will probably be enough for two or three slices of cake.

Once you have your pastry bag filled, snip off the end.  Exert pressure and fill the center well of the cake with caulking.  Next do the top and sides of the cake, just like you'd ice a real cake.  Give it some decorative swirls and flourishes.  You can use a small paint brush to achieve this effect, too.  Be careful not to drip caulk onto the cardboard dries really fast.

Let your cake slice dry for 3 - 5 days, lifting it from time to time so that it doesn't stick to the surface it's resting on. 

Ta da!

It looks just like a REAL piece of cake.  When it's dry, you can stamp and address the flat side.  When estimating postage, treat it as a package and not a letter.  It should only cost a couple of dollars to mail.

It seems improbable, but this really will be delivered as-is.  And it really does look just like a real piece of cake!

Wouldn't this be fun to send to someone who's having a birthday or some other celebratory event...or even just having a bad week?  The possibilities are endless!

I hope you have a great crafting week, free from the drama of treacherous teeth! 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Beautiful Bogs

Recently, the South Carolina Master Gardener Association hosted another plant sale at the Botanical Gardens.  I didn't want to go, because I'd just spent a fortune on live plants and bulbs from Bluestone Perennials.  But somehow, pulled by an unseen force, we found ourselves there last Saturday. 

Once again, I was drawn to the bog plants.  They are just so cool!

Each interior plant surface is covered in little sticky hairs...

...perfect for catching hold of tiny legs.

I believe these plants emit a sweet smell, too.  We saw lots of insects visiting.  Mostly bees, who tested the waters...

...before drifting headlong toward the danger zone.

(Soundtrack available here:)

The bee gets too far in and slips down the long stalk.

Unbelievably, some bees are able to chew their way out before being dissolved:

These bog plants come in lots interesting shapes...

 ...and colors.

Many even flower.

The bog plant I bought in the spring is barely hanging on, mainly because it just didn't get enough sun this summer.  I'm hoping my new bog plant will do better!

The beautyberries around the house have all ripened.

The toad lilies I planted in the spring are blooming.

This 'mystery plant' has bloomed...

...and has proven to be the first camillia of the fall.

We have oak trees, so we have acorns.

I've been collecting them, because I'd like to make an acorn wreath.  I love them at this stage.  Some have started to turn brown...

But most are that lovely Granny Smith apple-green color.

I think I'll have enough soon!

I've been baking again...TWO batches of homemade Oreos...

...and I finished embroidering those pillow cases.

The main thing I've been doing, though, is studying.

That's right - I'm going back to school.  I'm going to apply to the Master's program for Entomology at Clemson University next year.  I've loved insects for years, and I just need a change.  The only problem is that I'm a little lacking in the math department.  I goofed off in high school and never took anything beyond Pre-Algebra.  It took me two semesters in college to pass Algebra, and I muddled through a senior-level Stats class and Finite Math, also as a senior...but I've never taken any other math class.  Ever.  So now I'm teaching myself Algebra (note:  it's not just like riding a bike), and then I'll teach myself Geometry.  Fingers crossed that I'm able to get a decent score on the GRE this winter and move forward!

Hope you're having a good week!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Web Weaving 101

Our dryer broke a few weeks ago.  We waited two weeks for the electrician to come and determine that it was receiving power, and then another week to get the new dryer here and installed, only to discover that the cord didn't fit our outdated outlet.  The electrician is coming tomorrow, thankfully, but in the meantime we've been hanging our laundry to dry in one of the few sunny spots - on the back deck.

It didn't take me long to discover two spiny-backed orb weavers that were making their webs there, spanning the area from the patio umbrella to the deck railing.

They have the most interesting spiky backs, and these had yellow-speckled abdomens.

On one trip outside with yet another basket of wet laundry, I noticed one just starting to spin a web.  It was absolutely fascinating!  She had already secured the long strands that radiated outward from the center, which was just a few strands.

She focused on stabilizing the center first...

There, that's better!

Then she made her way to the outermost edges and started spinning her way inward.

She pulled up on each center section before moving on, leaving behind a tidy white strand.

There seemed to be several supporting strands.  Their placement looked random to me but I'm sure it made perfect sense to her.

It took her around an hour to finish the whole web.

What a beauty!

I was coming home from running errands later that week and noticed another web in the front yard.  This one had distinctive dashes all around the outside edge, clearly to help others see where the web was located and to avoid it.

It was another spiny-backed orb weaver, and a pretty clever idea, I think!

Another orb weaver has a web outside my office window.  It's amazing how the basic integrity of the web is maintained, even when it's full of holes from blundering insects.

We've had some beautiful fungus pop up in these early fall days. 

It's hard to identify fungus because there are so many different varieties, but I think this is turkey tail fungus, so named for its similarity to that noble bird's hindquarters.

This is almost certainly Laetiporus sulphureus: The Chicken of the Woods.  This is an edible fungus that, when cooked, supposedly tastes "just like chicken".  Isn't it beautiful?

Bonus:  a little garden slug!

Finally, we have what I think is abortiporus biennus growing in our side yard. 

I love discovering all of these interesting things when I go outside.  I hope you have a chance to check out your yards soon too...who knows what you'll find?

Have a great week!