"Anyone that doesn't agree with leggings as pants can physically fight me.
And I'm going to win because I have a full range of motion due to the fact that I am wearing leggings as pants."

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Watch Out it's Like Farting Again

Whenever Kam sees Joey shuffling cards, he lays down in front of her and asks her to shuffle on his back.


And since they spent the weekend playing with some inherited games from our childhood (this Sorry game is from 1964), there was plenty of shuffling to be done.

Apparently he likes it for the sound effects.

Fart jokes. Always popular with the kids.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How to Clean Vintage Pyrex

So in addition to Mason jars, I also have a bit of a thing for older Pyrex.

If it's a reasonable price, I will buy it no matter how grotty it looks.

I know that there's a good chance I can clean it up with a cleanser called Bon Ami. I've seen this stuff for sale at the grocery store and the health food store and even the hardware store, so there's no need to buy it from Amazon. I just needed a link to show you what it looks like. It has a baby chicken on it. Who, apparently, is your good friend. And also French.

We've used this stuff for years (for the sink and the stove and pots and pans) and I thought I was so clever to have figured out how well it works on marked up Pyrex and other plates and dishes. I honestly didn't even notice the endorsement by the Pyrex people until I took this picture.

Because I am just that observant.


This bowl was pretty bad and I wasn't actually one hundred percent sure I could save it. But you can see the part of the bowl that I did clean compared to the part I left alone.

(And yes, after I took this picture, I actually went back and cleaned the whole thing. Why do you ask?)

What about all of these darker lines on my favoritest green bowl? They look like scratches, don't they? Oh, but they're not.



Like magic I tell ya.

One note- I would recommend that you rub very gently and not make a habit of this because even though I haven't noticed any problems while using it, I can't imagine that these glazes could stand up to maniacal scrubbing.

OK, one more picture (this time of a halfway cleaned bowl) because I'm diggin the infomercial-type vibe I've got going here.


But not the kind of commercial where they cut to the black and white video of the totally inept cook who can't even manage to flip a pancake... oh, if only she had some kind of device that could hold the top of the pancake as she flipped it... that would make her life ever so much better... only 19.95 (plus shipping and handling).

I may be inept, but I can flip a pancake.

Wait, what are we talking about?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Do I Look Crazed or is it Just my Imagination

Every time I look at this jack-o-lantern, I can't help thinking that it looks like I'm about to go for somebody's throat.

Note- In case you think this project is ridiculously complicated, I've also got a couple of tips that will make it easier to use the simpler templates they sell in kits at the store, if you'd rather stick with those. (Also, just so you know, my early attempts at carving faces were far from perfect. It definitely gets easier with practice. I really encourage you to give this a try.)

This project has brought me such amusement, despite the fact that I almost gave up after just an hour into it because my chin was starting to remind me of the movie Mask. When I informed Jeff, he wanted to know which movie I meant, the sad Eric Stoltz one or the funny Jim Carrey one.

But I kept at it and it turned out more like librarian Medusa and less like Rocky Dennis (only a slight hint of a goiter left). Since finishing, I've sat and stared at it for minutes that have probably added up to hours. And you wanna know what my favorite part is? The nose piece on my glasses. I know. I'm a dork. But that little detail just does me in every time. Because it totally looks like the nose piece on my glasses!

(It starts to get trippy looking at yourself for this long. And talking about trippy, just how huge are my hands?)

If you'd like to try this, I suggest reading the tutorial here to get yourself familiar with the process of carving pumpkins this way. What follows are my modifications and tips.

-Metal pottery scrapers work really well for cleaning out the inside of the pumpkin and getting it to a nice, even surface.
-Champagne cork, needle and pliers (or just a pushpin)
-Linoleum cutters or wooden carving tools are excellent for working the design.
-Don't forget that little knife that comes with the standard carving kits. Despite its cheapness, it is actually pretty useful.

Clean the Pumpkin
-You know, cut off the top, remove the guts, smooth the inside.
-The part that you're carving should be about half an inch thick and a fairly consistent thickness.
-It's not a bad idea to cut an inch-wide hole in the bottom back of the pumpkin and a big one in the lid for airflow, especially if you don't have a lot of white space in the design.  This is to ensure that there's enough air flow to keep your candle lit.

Create the Pattern (I had forgotten that a good chunk of this part originally came from Photojojo. Thanks guys!)
-It's best to have a high-resolution photo with a dark background. (Aurora took this one while I was weeding, during our garage sale, modeling a vintage sports coat, oddly enough.)
-Using photoshop Jenny helped me convert the picture to black and white and cranked up both the brightness and the contrast.
-Then used the poster effect in the Filter Gallery.
-You might need to mess with the levels a bit in order to get it to something you think you can carve.
-A level of 3 will give you black, white and one shade of gray; this will be the easiest to carve.
-My picture below was a level 6, with some black, some white and four different shades of gray. This makes it much more complicated, but also, much more realistic.

from auroraIMG_3772

Awesome Tip #1- I printed this out on a laser printer (but a Xerox copy would work too). If you want, you can go ahead and print it with a regular inkjet and just tape it to the pumpkin, but it might be worth the time it takes to get it printed up at the copy center (if you don't have your own laser printer). That's because laser printer ink is not soluble in water and, here's the important bit, it does not smear when it gets wet. Which allows you to mold the pattern perfectly over the pumpkin. Like so.

(Spray the paper evenly with water, let it soak in for a bit and then gently form it onto the pumpkin, pressing it into the cracks. It works best if you can find the smoothest pumpkin possible, without deep grooves. Also be careful not to rub it too much or you'll rub the design right off. You can do this with most of the store-bought patterns out there. To test it just lick your thumb and run it over the ink; if it doesn't smear, you're good to go.)

After the paper is molded to the pumpkin, you can either let it dry or just tape over the entire thing with clear packing tape. If you try to poke holes directly on the wet paper, you will rip little tiny holes with each pin prick. Makes it hard to follow the pattern.

Awesome Tip #2- In years past, I've just used a pushpin to poke the holes around the pattern, but this year I created this poking tool using a champagne cork and a needle. I just shoved it right in there using pliers. You wouldn't believe how much more comfortable it was to use this thing. It does make smaller holes, which was good for me because of the detail involved. But if you have a hard time seeing the holes, you may want to try a thicker needle or just stick (heh, heh) with a pushpin.


Transfer the Pattern
-With the needle, you'll want to poke holes around the lines that separate the various colors.
-This one was way complicated so I didn't poke holes between a lot of the different shades of gray.


While I had the pattern still stuck to the pumpkin, I went ahead and skewered the white circles of my eyeballs (like literally, with a wooden skewer). You can also use a drill, but I couldn't find mine and this worked fine (after I poked the plastic a few times with the needle to get it started).


Carving (you can see what it looks like unlit here)
-Leave the skin intact for all black areas. I lightly carved around these using the smallest blade on the lino cutter.
-Remove all white areas completely with the little saw. If the area is particularly small, I'd suggest going around the inside of the line with the smallest lino cutter blade and then following that line with the saw. It'll be much cleaner that way.
-Use the gray areas on the pattern as a guide for how thin to carve the flesh (the lighter the color, the thinner the flesh). This is where the carving tools will come in super handy.
-Once you're mostly done (or having any trouble in a particular area), add some candles, sit in the dark and refine that way. You'll be able to easily see where it needs to be lighter.
-If, overall, the entire thing looks too dark, just take the pottery scraper and from the inside, thin it out evenly.

As soon as I saw this one in the dark for the first time I actually cackled, making exactly the sound that you'd expect to come from someone with eyes like that.

And unless you live with me (or have talked to me on the phone) you have no idea how much this thing cracks. me. up.

ADDED NOTE (Sept 27)- My integrity has just been called into question. And instead of being offended, I'm taking it as the best compliment ever. Yes, it is a real pumpkin. No, it is not a photoshop fake.

But thank you!


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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Giveaway!

Just a quick note to let you know that I've updated the portrait stamp tutorial with a new trick for transferring the image. It gives a much cleaner picture to carve from.


And since a couple of you seemed less than 100% confident about your ability to carve a portrait stamp, I've decided to make one lucky winner their very own stamp. From their very own picture.

How exciting is that?

(Really, how exciting is it? I have a hard time judging these things. I am easily amused and often excited about things that no one in their right mind would find interesting.)


Um yah. Anyway. To enter the contest, just leave a comment here telling me if you've actually tried any of my tutorials or if there's anything that you plan to try one of these days. Or feel free to let me know that you don't like any of my tutorials, but just want a free stamp, damn it. (I'm pretty sure the random number generator won't hold it against you.)

I'm going to keep the contest going for two weeks, ending on October 7th at midnight. You can enter once a day, but you've got to list a new project for each comment.

Good luck and tell your friends (I've decided to give you an extra entry if you link to it)!

Also- Remember to leave your email if your comment doesn't link back to your website. Or just be sure to check back here after the contest is done. Just in case you're the wiener.

Update- Winner announced, here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Marinated Zucchini and a BZT

My garden isn’t quite as bounteous as I’d hoped it to be at this stage in the game. I haven't harvested enough tomatoes at once to make a single batch of Finny's Best Tomato Sauce Ever. Which is sad, because that stuff is incredible.

The one saving grace are the zucchini plants which, despite their tiny size, are doggedly producing pounds and pounds of fruit. If I walk away for a couple of days those suckers can go from several inches to almost a foot.

And my favorite way to serve these guys, you may be wondering?

Sliced and marinated in a homemade vinaigrette. It’s that simple. And so very tasty.


Jenny’s man came up with the original recipe and I’ve tweaked it a bit based on my preferences. The key is to slice them very thin, almost translucent.

They’re great in salads and absolutely fantastic on sandwiches (they add so much flavor in fact, that you can even skip the mayonnaise).

Even the kids in our family will eat these just plain as a side. And you can adjust the flavors to go with the rest of the meal. Jeff’s dad, who hates zucchini, even claimed to like them, but it might have been because the kids were listening. You never can tell with him.

The best use of these marinated zucchini that I've found, though, is as a replacement for L.


What follows is a recipe for the zucchini, not the BZT because of the simple fact that most people know how to stack ingredients on a piece of bread, which makes a recipe somewhat unnecessary. (I must point out, though, the lack of mayo on this sandwich. You won't miss it. Trust me.)

Ingredients (for standard recipe)
-2 T red wine vinegar
-pinch of salt
-a couple of grinds of black pepper
-2 T olive oil
-1 medium sized zucchini

How To
-Slice the zucchini super thin and put in a bowl (or a mason jar if you have one, which I always do).
-Sprinkle with salt, pepper and any other herbs or spices you’re using.
-Drizzle with the vinegar and stir (or put on lid to mason jar and shake) until it’s all well coated.
-Let sit for 5 minutes or so and then drizzle with the oil. Stir again.
-Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more oil if it’s too sour, more acid if it’s too bland and more spices as necessary.
-You can store this in the fridge for several days (see aren't you glad you used that mason jar?). I suggest making smaller batches of different flavors every now and then.


-Instead of slices, you could cube them. These are really good on salads. You'll need to let them sit longer in the vinegar this way, shaking every now and then.
-Instead of the red wine vinegar, you can use another acid like lemon juice, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar- all will work, depending on the flavors in the rest of the meal.
-Instead of the olive oil consider more neutral oils like canola and grapeseed. Extra virgin olive oil doesn’t always play nice with other flavors.
-Try adding other herbs and flavors like the one below.

Mexican Variation (this is based on a recipe by Rick Bayless)
2 T. balsamic vinegar
2 T. vegetable oil (I don’t like olive oil in this recipe)
Pinch of dried oregano
Half a clove of garlic, minced
Pinch of chili powder
1/8th t of adobo sauce (this is the sauce that chipotle chiles come packed in)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Portrait Stamp Tutorial

It seems like no matter what craftiness I have planned, the only thing I'm motivated to do lately is carve stamps. I just find them so very satisfying.

I've graduated from bookplates and little produce stamps to an actual portrait.


What on earth made me think that I could pull this off? I honestly have no idea.

But as it turns out, it wasn't actually that difficult (maybe because of all the practice I've had making bookplates for presents). It did take a few hours to complete, but I managed to get it right on the first try, which doesn't always happen around here.

I think it was helpful that I used a Mastercarve block this time, which was much less crumbly than the Speedy Cut brand.

There are 3 main steps...

-Change the original photo to look like a stamp using photo editing software.

  • A high resolution picture with a white background works best. I used this one that Jenny took, but I could have removed that chair in the background and made it a bit easier on myself during the carving.
  • Crop the picture to the area that you want to turn into a stamp, choosing dimensions that are the right size for the block of rubber you'll be carving.
  • Apply the stamp effect. In my software, Photoshop Elements, it's under Filter -> Sketch -> Stamp.
  • You'll want to mess with the Light/Dark Balance as well as the Smoothness in order to get something that looks reasonable to carve. Remember you'll be removing everything that is white, while leaving all the black areas.
  • Now is a good time to create a horizontally flipped copy in addition to the original. This second, flipped image will be much easier to use as a reference when carving and you can print them both at the same time. (Image -> Rotate -> Flip Horizontal)
-Transfer original image to block using the same directions as in the bookplate stamp tutorial or if you have access to a laser printer or Xerox machine you can try using acetone (nail polish remover) which gives a much clearer transfer, though it does leave the black image permanently on the stamp.

  • Print the image on a laser printer and let dry. Cut around design, leaving a half inch border.
  • Wet a cotton ball with nail polish remover, squeeze to remove all excess liquid.
  • Place the paper ink side down on rubber and tape in place.
  • Quickly, with light to medium pressure run the cotton ball over the image. Do not go over any area more than once.
  • Remove paper immediately.
  • If it is smeared, you can remove the ink from the rubber by rubbing with the cotton ball. Let dry before trying again.
(In this picture the one on the right is the original image, which shows up reversed on the block. The one on the left is what I used as a guide while carving.)

-Carve away all the white.
  • This video is an excellent resource (and also happens to be what inspired me to try stamp carving in the first place).
  • Start with an easier area like the outline of her hair and move to more difficult areas like the thin black lines of her jawline and eyelids.
  • When you think you've got all of the white areas removed, test your stamp. It'll be pretty obvious where you've missed.
  • Continue carving and stamping until you're happy with the look. If you start to get tired or frustrated, you should stop immediately and come back to it later. It doesn't take much to really mess one of these up.

And I guess that's about it.

Now to figure out what I'm actually going to do with this.

Any ideas?


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Monday, September 14, 2009


Last week was an incredibly rough one. Our sweet little kitty died. She was with us for exactly one year, one month and one day.

And it wasn't anywhere close to being long enough.



Her cup tipping aside, she was just the best kitty ever.
-When she was younger she would stand up on her hind legs just like a little Rory Calhoun (or for those of you who don't get the Simpsons reference, like a meerkat).
-She was the most un-scratchyist and un-bitiest cat I've ever known, at least when it came to people.
-She preferred drinking out of our wishing well to the watering bowl with pump we'd bought her for Christmas.
-Whenever Joey cried, Isadora would come to see what was wrong.
-A friend once said about her, "If all cats were like this, I'd actually like cats."
-When she wanted to get down from the window above our bed, she'd meow politely at Jeff and he'd roll over to give her room to land.
-Sometimes in the middle of the night, I would wake to the sound of her playing with Joey's trashcan.

-She was a goof, so she fit in well around here. Here are a few more videos of her silliness.
Stuck in the ceiling
Under the carpet protector
Playing with a balloon
-She loved to sit on my lap whenever I was on the computer. She'd then lay her paws and chin across my arm, despite (or probably because of) that particular pet peeve of mine. And I totally let her. I actually looked forward to it. And I am missing it desperately today and every day I've sat down at the computer since she's been gone.

Goodbye, Sweetheart. We miss you so very much.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Growing Tomatillos- FAIL

OK, boys and girls, it’s time once again for another helpful Don’t Do What Donnie Don’t Does. Garden version this time.

Don’t plant only one tomatillo plant in your garden. Because apparently, they tend to need at least one other friend to cross-fertilize with. I say ‘tend to’ because it isn’t always the case. According to this, sometimes a plant will have the right genes for self-fertilization, in which case you’ll be fine with just one plant. Some of the time, though, it won't have the right genes and you will therefore need two of them.

What you’ll end up with, if you are unlucky enough to get the kind that does need a friend to pollinate it, is a ton of empty little lanterns, but no fruit. Which is exactly what we have.



But at least now we know for next year.

What I'm trying to figure out now, in order to make the most out of this crap situation, is how to string these puppies onto lights or some other equally ridiculous use of my time.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I Think I May Have a Problem.

Hello, my name is Wendy, and I’m addicted to Mason jars.

They are just so handy for so many things. Every time I see them on sale (and they’re always on sale at this time of year), I pick up another dozen.

-I prefer using Mason jars for leftovers in the fridge because they don’t get all stained and grotty like plastic does. And the glass never absorbs smells. Even if they’ve harbored some science experiment gone horribly wrong, I can actually sterilize them in boiling water. Also, everyone can see exactly what is in them, which actually encourages them to eat it. After a couple of days in the fridge, if it doesn’t look like it’s actually going to get eaten, I pop the freezer-safe jars directly into the freezer.

-Whenever I buy a bunch of fruit on sale, or for some other reason end up with lots of it about to go bad, I freeze the excess for smoothies.


I've found that it's best to lay the fruit out flat on a cookie sheet and freeze first, then put the already frozen fruit in the jars- it’s much easier to remove this way. You can use as little or as much as you need.


-It’s also great for storing particularly stinky items in the fridge, like pieces of onion or opened cans of wet cat food. Those lids really keep the smells contained.

-I love to store things in the freezer that would otherwise go bad because I use so little of it at a time. Most of these are ingredients that I use as flavoring when I cook. I keep whole ginger (that I grate on a rasp as I need it), rolls of bacon (3 strips stacked together, rolled up and frozen flat), cubes of chipotles in adobo sauce, cubes of tomato paste, left-over Parmesan rinds (to add to soups) and left-over wine for deglazing pans (which never completely freezes, so you can spoon out the slushy stuff as needed).

-I always use Mason jars to freeze liquids like soups and stocks. Whenever I have left-over stock (homemade or out of the can) I put it directly in a jar and into the freezer. The soups I put in half-pint jars for lunches remembering to leave an inch or so of headroom because the water they contain expands when frozen. Note- It's important to make sure to use freezer safe jars because the expanding liquid can easily crack the glass otherwise.

-They're great for storage, both cold and at room temperature. I keep dry goods that tend to go rancid (like brown rice, nuts and shredded coconut) in mason jars in the top shelf of my fridge.

And I have several shelves in my kitchen with things like beans and lentils and grains.

I also use the tiny mason jars to store the extra whole spices (that aren't on the door) in the cupboard.

Seeing all of these beautiful ingredients can sometimes get me going when I’m in a cooking funk.