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Showing posts with label DIY. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DIY. Show all posts

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Winter Birdseed Cakes


I hope I don't need to state that this is not intended for human consumption. All that being said, I can't stop you, if you are so tempted. Live your life, right?

The holidays are coming and a lot of people are joining the "Support Small Businesses" movement! While this is incredible, it's still going to be a difficult holiday season for many humans on this planet. Not only have many lost loved ones, have come down with a chronic illness, are isolated from what we all used to view as a normal life...and let's not forget the financial hardship that has kissed all of us full on the lips this year. I'd love to tell you to buck up, to hold on, to stay optimistic...but I won't. I'll just tell you that I'm with you, I understand, and that it's okay to do a handmade holiday this year. 

Although I am an incredibly social person, I have enjoyed the last few holidays with only my husband and myself. Thanksgiving, especially, was lovely, as we got to enjoy all the stuff we wanted without a large family, screaming children, drunk uncles, and pants. (Yes, pants. And bras, for that matter, which I frankly don't see having a comeback after 2020.) The point is that, although this year has been exceedingly and extremely difficult for me and my family, it has been oddly freeing. So, no, I have no problem sending out handmade cards and gifts this year for the holidays! I don't think you should either...

This birdseed cake project is frugal gift-giving at its finest. I do this whenever I have something like fried chicken or doughnuts and I have to clean out my pot of oil and fat. I usually dispose of the fat in the garbage pail, but don't scrape it clean...because I'm using it to make these cakes.

And, hey, all you really need is a fancy ribbon for it to be #PinterestWorthy.

Winter Birdseed Cakes
yield 1 doz muffin-sized cakes

  • The remains of a greasy oil-filled pot, usually 6 or 7 Tbsp of fat
  • 1 c steel-cut oats
  • 1 c whole dried corn*
    • I owe my friends at KC Farm School at Gibb's Road for this particular corn, that's been dried in my pantry!
    • I'm using corn in my recipe because I have a lot of jays in my area, but please feel free to substitute this for dried fruits, depending on the kinds of birds you have in your area.
  • 1 2/3 c birdseed mix
  • 1/4 c flour
  • 4 Tbsp sugar or honey
  • 2 Tbsp unflavored gelatin bloomed in about 6 Tbsp cold water
  • String or ribbon, as you like
  • **A wooden skewer or a chopstick, as well as a muffin tin
Bloom your gelatin and grease the muffin tins with oil. Heat your oil leftover from your last deep-frying adventure (which will probably have some goodies in the bottom of the pan) and add the oats, corn, and birdseed mix. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula to ensure you get absolutely everything off the bottom of the pan. This is a great way to also get rid of bacon grease or schmaltz from the bottom of a pan, even if you aren't deep-frying anything. A little fat is good for the birds, because birds are carnivores, and they eat bugs...which do have some fat on them! 

Add in your oats, corn, and bird seed mix, and stir gently. The idea of this step is to make sure that your granules are coated with your fat. Sprinkle in your flour and add the sugar or honey, and continue to cook on medium-low heat for about 3 minutes. Make sure you're scraping the bottom and the corners well with your spatula!

Add your gelatin and turn off the heat. Stir well to make sure that the gelatin melts and everything is incorporated. Next comes the fun part that also takes the longest!

Portion the birdseed mix in the greased muffin tins and pack down well to ensure that everything is as dense as possible. You can do this with a spatula, of course, or you can wet your hands and press it down tight with your fingers. As little air as possible could be in this seed cake! Remember, it has to stand up to being outside in the wind and rain, and being knocked about by birds, squirrels, and other woodland creatures that would like a nibble.

Use an oiled wooden skewer or a metal chopstick to poke holes near where the top would be for each cake. This is essential to do now, before it sets, so you can hang the seed cake outside on string later. Set these in the fridge or on the counter, in a cool place, for at least two hours. While we wait, I'd like to talk a little about how birdwatching has nurtured my soul in this troubled and uncertain time.

I was certainly never what one would call a bird watcher, or bird enthusiast. Backyard birding seemed to be the hobby of someone's great aunt that you talk to every so often, that has books about it and sits in the park every weekday and feeds the birds. Being stuck inside for 8 months, however, helps you explore your inner old auntie and set her free with all the wild abandon you would imagine that person to have. Looking back on my first spring indoors, I was quite grateful when my husband's late grandmother gifted us her two encyclopedias on backyard birding when the pandemic hit. I was safe at home and able to watch from my huge windows and cozy couch. 

My cat appreciated all of the snuggles, too.

Sitting at my window, watching the birds, and sipping my coffee was a meditative act that I could easily do when I was feeling restless and anxious. I told myself that when I started there may not always be birds, but - to my surprise - there were a lot more birds than I expected. I'm fortunate enough to live near a forest and to have four mature trees on my property, so there is plenty of nature to be had. From my couch, I've watched puffy red cardinals fluff themselves up to keep warm, and small groups of starlings glitter in the morning light. I've laughed over Blue Jays and how much they scream and fight with each other. I've even had the pleasure of seeing baby rabbits wander across my yard in the early morning. If you've ever had the opportunity of gazing into the eyes of a wild animal, you'll know how oddly exhilarating and humbling it is. 

The birds have been integral to my backyard permaculture endeavors, as well, with my victory garden. I'm aware that birds are usually considered a pest when it comes to gardening, but I have appreciated their presence when it came to insect and pest control. Jays are aggressive, so they keep stray cats away from my garden. The finches, sparrows, and coal tits have been wonderful to watch from my office window, as they perch on my Giant Sunflowers and eat the seeds, which is a worthwhile investment for entertainment alone. When the seeds were gone, they turned to the nasty beetles and grasshoppers when they noticed I had a reliable food source. Did they eat the odd strawberry or tomato? Certainly. But did I have considerably less pests this year, now that I'd taken an uber-organic approach to the garden instead of spraying everything with neem oil and calling it a day? Yes, absolutely!

I know this is getting preachy, but believe me when I say that the birdfeeders I now have hanging from my roof have brought me peace in a way I didn't believe they would have. I live in the Midwest of America, so that means I get to see cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, golden orioles, starlings, sparrows, mourning doves, falcons, and more. Giving myself permission to sit lazily and watch these animals go about their day has given me a strange sense of peace and connection to nature. I hope this will encourage you to at least try hanging up a birdfeeder near your window, just to see what will happen. 

To remove, all one has to do is give them a rather strong knock when you turn the tin upside-down, but you may use a spatula to get the cakes out of their hiding places. String them on ribbon or twine and double-knot a square knot at the top to get your loop to be tight. I like to let these air-cure on a cooling rack for at least a day at room temperature before I set them outside, but this step isn't absolutely necessary if you're living in a dry climate. 

And there you have it! A thoughtful, attractive gift for the bird-lover in your life. These thrifty things are excellent stocking-stuffers, or the perfect "Just Because" gift. They can be made any time you deep-fry something and happen to want to clean out the bottom of your pan in an economical way, and they store for ages so you can keep them in your cellar or pantry for a quick gift on the fly. I know that my birds appreciate it, especially in winter when their diets have to change. Remember, not all birds migrate, so if you play your cards right, you're going to have some wonderful winter entertainment if you invest your time in making these. 

Please be safe this holiday season.

Thanks so much! Happy cooking, happy eating, and happy gifting!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Gardening: Building A Rain Barrel

Spring has fully sprung here in the Midwest and I feel fantastic about it. Not only am I in possession of a beautiful home, but with that home comes a beautiful tiny piece of the earth which sustains us. It is upon this earth that I grow a garden with which to sustain me, my family, and my soul(of course).

I truly love gardening; it's like therapy, only you get potatoes, and usually lots of them. I grew a potato tower last year, and though it was a rather short one, I still got over 50 lbs of potatoes in one crop. I also grow corn, squash, melons, spinach, and cabbage. Melons and squash are thirsty little babies that require a lot of water and sun, so anything to make it a little more sustainable to grow, I'm all for.

I grew up in Tucson, AZ, where a rain barrel is absolutely essential if you want to have any sort of garden other than caci, and even those need a little something here and there if you want them to thrive. I remember the two rain barrels in my backyard, always full of mosquitos, and getting eaten alive. In spite of that, I remember liking them. I remember being barely tall enough to see the top of it, and pretending that the reflection in that black barrel's waters was a portal into another world. I used to think I was a princess that was from a hidden mountain kingdom, trapped in the desert, and that my only way back was by looking into my magic black mirror, which was the water in the barrel. I think I made up this whole fairy tale about myself, and how the spirits of the mountain streams were trying to tell me how to get home, and sending messages in far-travelling rain clouds, collected by the rain barrel. I'd spend longer than I care to admit, just wishing to hear the voices of my people again, staring into the black waters of that rain barrel.

In reality, I was a bored child with an overactive imagination that was likely suffering from some form of heat stroke from staring at a rain barrel in the Arizona heat, possibly hallucinating. Oh well. Maybe I'll write that novel someday. Who knows? In the meantime, here's a few fun facts about rain barrels and using them:
  • Rainwater is better for your plants and soil
    • Highly oxygenated and free of softeners, flourides, etc., that might be in the water you get from the city.
  • Rain barrels help control the moisture level in the foundation of your home, which is a very good thing if you have a basement!
  • Rainwater is thifty! 
    • In Kansas City, water is roughly $0.49/gallon. My rain barrel holds 50 gallons of water, and that means, per barrel, I save $24.50. It's not much, but if it were to save me $24.50 per month, then that's a spare $294 per year.
  • Rainwater is the eco-friendly alternative to keeping compost moist
    • Tapwater isn't always the best for the sustainability practice of composting, in practice or in ideology
  • You can paint a rain barrel! 
    • Good luck painting your water bill...

On April 13th, I attended a rain barrel workshop, hosted by my neighborhood association. It was a lot of fun, and I even convinced B to get out of the house and attend with me. I came, took notes, took pictures, and we went home with our very own rain barrel. The barrel itself was a 50 gallon drum that - I can only assume - once housed chilies, considering the smell. For $30, we got the supplies, and were able to assemble the entire thing in about 20 minutes using a drill, a saw, and some glue. Here's what we used:

  • A 50 gallon drum
  • Female adaptor(to go into the barrel wall)
  • Male adaptor
  • Stubby bit of PVC pipe
  • Another Male adaptor
  • A threaded ball valve
  • Metal adaptor for the hose
 These parts were pretty darn inexpensive, and the paint, brushes, and sandpaper we used to decorate the barrel weren't much more, either. I think I spent $20 on the paint and brushes, but I already had the pans, paint remover/mineral oil, and every other bit of stuff I needed.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this is a perfect project for those that are already set up to do some handiwork of their own. B has a workshop in our garage, so tools are no problem for him. I don't know if I could have done this as easily as I did without him. Basically, I'm a strong, independent woman until I'm not.  I just figured I'd throw that in there, just in case my lifestyle blogging is giving you that false sense of ease.  I don't like to make any bones about how easy or how difficult something is. It just feels dishonest, you know? So maybe do this one with a friend, if you - like me - aren't handy.

You know what's not dishonest? Dat ass. (Don't objectify men. They probably don't like it.)
Once the supplies were gathered, we drilled a hole about an inch off the ground from the bottom, into the side of the barrel. The female adaptor went on the inside, and then we screwed the male adaptor in. (That's what B was doing in that photo.) Next, sand the inside of the other two male adaptors and the outside of the pvc pipe, then glue them in. Connect everything normally and boom! You've got yourself a spigot! All that's left now is to figure out the placement...but while you're thinking on that, you may as well decorate it.

Even though cerulean is my favorite color, I didn't think B would like a big, blue, industrial-looking barrel outside of our nice house. (I don't think I would, either, as it is a little industrial-looking.) We decided to paint it, together, and boy was it fun! It only took us a single afternoon to do, so here's how we did it.

To your left is the base coat. We lined the floor of our garage with an old tarp that we had lying around and left the door open to let any fumes out. The base paint we chose was a nice cool gray, and the accent color was called "toasted almond", but it was a creamy white color. I won't mention the brand, but it was an oil-based exterior paint that had primer in it already. Here are the supplies I used to paint the barrel:

  • 3" fan brush(the kind used for oil-based paint)
  • 4" plain paint brushes(also the kind used for oil paint)
  • 80 grid sandpaper
  • Exterior oil-based paint-primer in cool gray
  • Exterior oil-based paint-primer in warm white(almond)
  • Cloth paint tarp
  • Buckets
  • Odorless mineral spirits
  • Scrap rags for cleanup
Even though the mineral spirits(which are used to removing the paint) are odorless, they still smell. The paint smells, too, so be sure to work in a well-ventilated area. I actually love the smell of paint - I associate it with creation and renewal - but I don't want to die from paint fume inhalation. I'm certain you'd like to not die from paint inhalation, as well.

 We sanded the outside of the barrel and painted two coats of the base color for a nice matte finish. The can said to let the paint dry completely, which should take 6-8 hours, but ours dried to a relatively dry finish within a mere one hour. We also didn't care too much if it was perfect-looking, so we fudged it a little. I think we waited about an hour and a half between the two base coats, and then about 20 minutes for the next step, which was to add the trees.

I spent a good portion of my childhood watching "Painting with Bob Ross" on PBS along with my granny. She was a wonderful artist and favored pastels over paints, but I was addicted to everything he did with acrylics and oils. One of the things he said with many of his episodes was to paint on a wet surface. As the paint colors raced in yellow text along the bottom of the television screen, he would mention that he'd already coated the canvas with a liquid white in preparation...thus my reasoning for rushing through the job! The paint on the barrel wasn't necessarily wet, but it was tacky, so it took the accent coating nicely! 

Let's paint some happy little trees!
I used the fan brush to make trees using Bob Ross's technique!

I started the video at 17:03, where the particular piece of technique he uses came in handy for my own work. See, my own happy little trees?

I know they're not perfect. I don't mind so much; after all, we don't make mistakes - we just have happy accidents! My own happy little trees remind me of a picturesque scene of winter against that cool gray. I just love the birds that B painted on, and the clouds were a nice fun touch, as well.

I hope this has inspired you to do your own wonderful version of a painted rain barrel in your own home. I personally think that it's a better thing to spend an evening with your partner making something than simply just going out to dinner. Having something tangible, something that you made, some proof that you were there...well, hey, there's just something special about that, isn't there?

Happy crafting and happy gardening!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

DIY Canvas Leaf Print Chair

Today, I made these beautiful chairs for my new home. I didn't build them from wood, granted, but I did make prints of these gorgeous and natural leaves, found from trees that are all in my yard, all on the canvas chair covers that we bought from IKEA.

Now that B and I are living together, we've found, finally, the thing we fight about: decor.

It's not that we have entirely conflicting tastes on how a home should look or anything. Actually, we do. We have totally conflicting tastes on how a home should look! That being said, if it's been over a year since we have started dating, and this is our first fight, I feel good about our relationship. It's usually at the six month mark for me that the rose-colored glasses come off and I start to see the other person's pimples. Fortunately for B, his skin is crystal clear; or if it isn't in certain places, they're things that I can easily live with. If he had it his way, we'd be living in a minimalist white-on-white-on-white everything, with clean corners and chrome and bar stools.

Homie don't play that.

We finally settled on high, barstool type chairs with high backs and cloth cushions so my tush could feel plush after a long day in the kitchen. I chose the raw-linen-looking canvas color because I think it looks natural, but still with a very clean design. I had to have something nature-driven and one-of-a-kind in my new kitchen if I'm to make it my sacred space...so I decided on leaf prints.

And why on earth should I go to the local craft store and spend a ridiculous amount of money on stamps when I have an absolute Eden's worth of gorgeous trees all around me?

He sits beneath the Silver Maple, just one of the three trees on the property,
and one of the seven that hang over my yard and house...
Exactly, I shouldn't.

We have several types of trees in the new yard, and the house is completely nestled in this sanctuary of green. I gently harvested the leaves from each of the trees, using pruning shears, but I'm sure scissors will work just fine, if that's all you have. I did have several bushes and shrubs, but I decided to go for trees, as I wanted to stick to a common theme.

I took cuttings from:

The Silver Maple Tree, which had sprouted its own little hybrid something-or-other off the side...

The elm tree, which had this gorgeous little branch that was just barely within my reach...

And the Sycamore tree, a most-sacred American tree, which has leaves bigger than my head.

All three of these trees have wonderful and powerful properties associated with them. Maple trees, for example, are very happy trees, that symbolize attraction and longevity. Elm trees are dark and brooding, very powerful for keeping those unwanted spirits away. Sycamores are considered to be Holy trees among certain Native American tribes, and symbolize growth, persistence, and endurance. Not only are these trees powerful and symbolic, but also have gorgeous leaves, and by using them, I could have a one-of-a-kind product at the end, completely unique to my home and area.

I chose leaves that were mostly intact, and that were new and fresh enough that they were pliable. This meant cutting them directly from the tree. If you find a really pretty leaf on the ground, though, I suggest soaking it in some water to soften it before using it as a stamp. This way, it'll be soft enough to not crunch in your hands while you apply paint.

I used black fabric paint and blue dye; any brand will do. The kind of paint I used was actually dimensional paint, thinned out a tiny bit with blue dye, and applied with a small, soft paint brush. My friend JJ, of whom you've heard before, provided me with said dye when she thought it was black paint. Not to be discouraged, I attempted to use the blue dye to stamp my leaves.

I set the dye in a small glass bowl(metal will do, too, just not plastic) and brought out some sheets of paper. I tested the dredging/soaking method on the papers, saw it worked fine, and tried it on the fabric. Before I did that, though, I put a book underneath my fabric to allow a firm and level surface that I could feel out before deciding where to place my stamp. I pressed the leaf firmly down, using another scrap of paper on top to not only soak up excess, but to allow me to give a firm and even pressure. The result was quite a bit lighter than what I had hoped, but I still really liked the subtlety of the print!

Those are the leaves of the Silver Maple, all pressed down the back of the chair. I kept the design minimal, so as to keep B happy with no busy patterns, and continued on with other leaves, pressing on two more of the seat covers.

Since I had six chairs to cover, I figured two varying prints of each leaf would be sufficient, and leave enough of a pattern. When my friend E arrived at my house, with black paint in tow, we had some real fun with the paint brushes.

When I asked about the dimensional paint, she said she had used it before, just thinned out with water. Since I already had the blue dye out, I suggested using that instead. We set out the plastic packaging in which the seat covers had come as our palettes. We set out scrap paper as sort of 'easels' to paint our leaves on, and to be able to paint over the edges of the leaves without damaging my wood floor.

The paint and blue dye worked really well. As you can see, the paint was globbed on a bit unevenly on the underside of the leaf, which made for really interesting textures when finally printed. The paint stayed and made an extremely crisp and clean print, and the places in which the paint had been thinned with the dye actually ended up drying to a super-dark blue, adding dimension.

I painted the underside of the leaf, as that was the place that naturally had the textures and veins. I really wanted those lines defined, so I made sure to paint the stems, too. The silver maple turned out beautifully in this print, and you can really see where I went thicker and thinner with the paint.

The elm leaves were smaller, as were some of the maple leaves. I kept those attached to their original branches, and E and I had fun painting the tiny stems. A few of the loose leaves were used to print 'trails' across the seats, to give a more natural look, as if they had just fallen onto a path.

The sycamore leaf was the one that I was the most-excited about. Sheer size alone aside, the veins became more and more apparent the more and more I painted it. I wish I had a larger brush for this particular leaf, just so it wouldn't have taken me so long, but it truly was worth it.

This leaf took up the entire back of the chair. See that spot of blue near the top? That's where I had thinned out the paint a little with the dye. Had I used a larger brush and painted the leaf's underside more quickly, it wouldn't have dried as much. To be honest, though, I'm pretty much in love with this particular print. I used the smaller sycamore leaf print on the actual seat of the cover, right in the bottom corner, so as to offer a little variety.

The paint on this one dried fairly quickly, as well, so I globbed it on thick, especially around the edges to form that nice clean line. Remember, even pressure is going to be your friend on this, as well as a smooth and even surface...like that of a paperback book!

When I saw the blue versus the black, I decided to re-stamp the blue dyed leaves with a much lighter layer of the black, much more thinned-out. This way, I could have the color and the nice clean lines. I kept the globbing uneven, and a few of the prints offset just a hair to the left... The result was spectacular.

I mean, honestly, look at that.

Isn't that gorgeous?

This one just blows my mind... It looks like some gorgeous watercolor masterpiece!

The minimalist and sparse printing plays on the negative space, which allows it to feel cleaner and more precise...yet still natural. I suggest keeping it simple and not cluttering your piece with too many prints.

This entire project took a little more than half an hour with a friend, and was very inexpensive. If you already have the canvas/cushion/fabric, all you'll pay is the cost of the paint, dye, and brushes, which can be under $10, easily. Gather your leaves from outside, from near your house...although make sure you know that the plants aren't poisonous before gathering.

The absolute best part about this project is how fast it is. The paint is such a thin layer that it dries in five minutes or less. It took my friend and I less than 1 hour to complete six chair covers, so imagine what you can do with this technique and a tshirt, pillow case, etc. Imagine all of the different color combinations you could experiment with, as well as different leaves. With this technique, you really can let your imagination run as wild as the nature you got the leaves from.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Camping Hack! (Perfect for outdoor cooking)

Camping this weekend?

Are you camping, EVER??

Try this for a great outdoor DIY campstove.

Sure, it helps to have a chainsaw, but you can do a simpler, rougher version with a hand-axe. So long as you can fit some kindling down into the split/cracks, it should be good.

And, of course, BE SAFE!!! Please don't chop your fingers off!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Busy Life(Gingerbread Ornaments)

So much has happened.

Which is why I haven't blogged. At all.

I have a pocket of mixed feelings about blogging, lately. Work is so busy and I feel so fulfilled. But when it's not, and I blog, I feel fulfilled. Blogging fills the empty space, but when I make a committment to blog daily, and I don't, I feel empty. But if I don't blog, it's because I've just spent myself a 10-hour day at work and all I want to do is curl up with my dog and watch episodes of "Switched at Birth" on Netflix.

It's a good show. If you haven't seen it, it's really good.

I want to write about everything that's been going on in my life. I really do. But I have work in half an hour. So here's a quick holiday tip:

Take the gingerbread dough you have leftover from building gingerbread houses and use them to make Christmas ornaments. They smell great, the oven heats up your house, and you get to have a lot of fun with making them.
I had a snowflake cookie cutter that worked great

Use royal icing to pipe anything!

Then tie with dental floss for a minty smell!

Happy holidays, everyone! And don't be a dick and say "No, it's Merry Christmas." When we say "Happy Holidays" its to acknowledge that there are literally 4-times as many holidays as Christmas this time of year. It's not a "war on Christmas," you pricks. It's a "Hey, I'm trying to be aware that you might celebrate something else." It's a "Hey, I'm not ignoring the entire Jewish/Islamic-Arab/African/Wiccan-Pagan/Atheist population" blanket greeting.

Hey, it wouldn't be a blog post if I didn't have a tiny grievance to share. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

DIY Autumn Lantern Centerpieces

Happy November 6th!

It is 21 days until Thanksgiving, and what a beautiful Thursday morning it is! I love Thursdays. It's garbage day on my block, and there's just something so oddly therapeutic about taking out the garbage in your house. It's almost like it's readying you for the week, you know? You get a fresh start. You take all of the trash cans out of your bathrooms, kitchen, basement, and then pile them neatly on the curb. Then some wonderful truck with some wonderful men(or women) come and take away all that you no longer need/want/use. They take out your trash. They ready your home for the new week. Am I reaching? I feel like I'm reaching...

Anyway, it's too early to really plan out Thanksgiving in a huge way(i.e., do any cooking), but you can get ready by planning who will be there, what activities to do, and how you'll decorate. You might even come up with some wonderful new Thanksgiving tradition!

Thanksgiving in your 20s is interesting. I haven't been home for the last couple of years, and this year will be no different. Sometimes spending it with the families of lovers or friends is a way to do it, but why not throw your own "Orphan's Thanksgiving" at your apartment? It can be a pot luck. But since you're hosting, take it upon yourself to do the main course. Everyone else can bring a side, the drinks, the napkins, etc. It can be big or small. But a Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete without those in your life you are thankful for.

The first Thanksgiving in the New England colonies most-likely had game birds, eel, oysters, beer, roasted nuts, venison, etc. You can take a nod to them by adding those things to your menu, but most will associate turkeys with the holiday. Plan your menu around your entree, and have fun with it. But today's blog post won't just be about planning; let's have some fun!

I found this DIY project on my Tumblr. I have an abundance of brightly colored leaves in both my front and bac yard, as well as on my walks with Howl. The leaves at Liberty Memorial are my favorite, since the colors just can't be beat...and it's less than a five minute drive from my house. When doing DIY projects, you shouldn't have to spend a ton of money. You can spend the money on fake leaves if you want to, but I choose to use what's natural. So here's an easy centerpiece/decoration idea for your Thanksgiving table, via CraftRiver.com.

DIY Leaf Lanterns
What you need:

  • Leaves of varying colors(real or fake)
  • Mason jars, vases, anything that can hold a candle
  • Mod Podge(you can pick this up at any arts & crafts store)
  • Sponge brush/paint brush**(this is optional, but it makes it easier)
Choose colorful leaves, the bigger and brighter, the better. That is, of course, unless you're doing smaller glass objects. If your mason jars are little, use little leaves. But try to find leaves that are whole and intact if at all possible. You can buy leaves, of course, at the local arts & crafts store, but I find it to be more fun to find your own. Think of it as a fun little scavenger hunt, especially if you have kids for the afternoon! Nothing beats the after-school blues like getting outside in the crisp autumn air, playing around in crunchy leaves! Kansas City has no shortage of foliage, so why not take advantage of it? Rosedale Park also has some great ones, and you can even find a few perfect specimens in the Briarcliff Park, right off of Mulberry Drive in the Northland. The point is to look around and pay attention, really enjoy the autumnal season and be a part of it. Even if you're not an outdoorsy person, you can have fun with this. You can't say a few hours spent outside would hurt someone. Unless they have photosensitivity or lived next door to a pit of rattlesnakes or something. But you don't see a lot of those in Kansas City. 

Make sure you're working with clean jars/vases/whatever. Glue sticks to clean, dry surfaces, and mod podge is no different. Also, it might not hurt to cover your work area with old newspaper, especially if you're working with small children. If you don't want to go out and get mod podge, you can use Elmer's glue, too, but it won't last as long. Either way, prepare your work space.

Using a sparing amount of the chosen adhesive, paint your leaves on. Be random with it. Overlap them. But be sure to leave a little negative space, for the light to go through. This works beautifully on colored glass, if you find a vase at a garage sale that you really like. A green glass or brown glass vase which could use a little revival would be a wonderful vessel for this project. You can even use this technique on the bottoms of glass serving trays or cutting boards, anything that you don't have a problem with. Just make sure it's not going to go on a surface that you'll be eating off of, since, you know, it's actually leaves and glue.

I've noticed that it takes about an hour or so to dry, so just leave them alone to dry before using. You can finish with ribbon, pieces of straw(as pictured) or maybe some rustic-looking straw/string/twine. This can be a great idea for a centerpiece or for place settings. Maybe tiny mason jars with candles in them, with your guests's names tied on with a nametag? Little things like this that only take an afternoon really put a special touch on your evening. Your guests will walk in and say "Holy Pinterest!" 

My friend JJ works at Yankee Candle Company, and suggest spicy cinnamon candles for the insides! Something about cinnamon is homey, and it is considered to be the spice of making friends in India. It also livens up the party instead of relaxes, so it makes it not as easy to go into a food coma afterwords. 

If you give this a try, please don't hesitate to send in your photos! I will reblog them with great pleasure! And make sure to check out Pinterest and CraftRiver.com for more fun DIY projects!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Ring of Pure and Endless Cake (Lemon Cherry Yogurt Cake)


I'm trying to blog every day. It's working, now that I have Google Fiber and a great little computer. Sure, it runs on Windows XP(#hipsteroffice) but it was free! You can't complain about free, can you? And my office is beautiful, with a lot of potential. I'm thinking of starting some fun DIY projects to really beautify my work space. I have a little room in the back of my house that overlooks the backyard, which overlooks the river. It's kind of a catch-all room right now, but once I clean it up and get rid of the big orange chair, it'll be a functioning office that I can do other things in like scan in images and recipes from my favorite books. Or drawings and doodles that I do on napkins when I'm drunk. You know, whatever.

If anybody wants that orange chair, comment below.
SamJack is not for sale
When I have time off, I like to keep busy. I currently volunteer with a group called Young Women on the Move, which pretty much consists of just hanging out with these awesome young ladies and instilling self-actualization while having fun. I basically take a few hours out of my day to show these girls that you can do anything you want, and need nobody's permission to do so. Know what I'm doing now? I'm blogging. Because I'm an adult. I have my own house. My own office. My career. I have those things. An American woman has to work hard to get those things, but it can be achieved. We're planning a big Garage/Bake Sale around the 7th of November, so mark that calendar! I'll definitely keep you posted on the details, because I know you'll want to help support these girls.

Anyway, when I'm not doing that, I'm usually hanging out with friends, but if I have work in the afternoon/evening, I'll have a lot of time in the morning to do things, such as run errands, or bake cakes. I've taken to a lot of experimentation with substitutions(i.e. subbing oil for butter or subbing sour cream for milk in a baked good recipe) lately, and it's really been a lot of fun. Plus, my neighbors totally love me for bringing over all of these cakes and muffins and cookies! I think people should bake more. I think it makes you happy, and it makes the people who receive them happy.

Anyway, I was craving lemon cake but I didn't have enough butter nor did I have enough milk. So I took my favorite recipe and had some fun with it. Fortunately, I had some cherry yogurt in my fridge, so that made it interesting...

Lemon Cherry Yogurt Cake

  • 7 fl oz canola/grapeseed oil(any neutral-flavored oil will do)
  • 2 scant cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 fat pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3 cups AP flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup cherry flavored yogurt(I had Belfonte, but you can use whatever brand you prefer)
Preheat your oven to 350. Remember that these substitutions of oil vs butter and yogurt + milk versus all milk will affect your final cake's outcome. Oil results in a moist cake with a nice crumb, but when creaming butter and sugar together, you create air bubbles which will act as a leavener for the cake. Since you can't quite create the same air bubbles with oil and sugar, I added a little more baking soda, a chemical leavener. I also made it 7 oz oil versus 8 oz butter because I knew that there was plenty of fat in my yogurt, and too much fat in a cake can result in a not-so-great thing. 

Combine the sugar and oil together. I used a paddle attachment and beat it together for 2 minutes on medium speed, so to combine/dissolve the sugar. Adding one egg at a time, scrape the bowl down after each addition to ensure even spread. The mixture will start to get a lovely color.

Add the lemon zest, almond extract, lemon juice, and salt. Beat together for 1 minute on medium-high, and then sift in 1 cup of the flour plus your baking soda, followed by your milk. Mix to combine. Add the second cup of flour, mix, then the yogurt. Finish with the final amount of the flour and mix until combined. Scrape the bowl down and give a final turn with your paddle before popping your batter into the pans of your choice.

This will yeild two 9" round cakes, or(in my case, since I wanted a ring cake) 1 savarin mould plus 1 6" round cake. Bake at 350 until done, about 30 minutes. My savarin cake was done in about 20, though, so just set your timer for 20 and check.
It's a good idea to trim the brown stuff off of your cakes
before you frost them/cut them for layers. Use a serrated
knife and long gentle strokes!
 I didn't need the extra 6" cake, so I messily trimmed and layered the cake with some of the mulberry jam I'd made from the berries I had picked from my neighbor's yard. I ended up giving the cake to the neighbors. It was a nice day out, and my neighbor is also my mechanic. He fixed my brakes for me when I was in a tight spot, so I like to do nice things in return. As for the ring cake/savarin, I don't like frosting all of the time, so I did something else.

Cherry Yogurt Glaze

  • 1/3 cup cherry yogurt
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tsp water + more as needed
Combine all using a spoon or spatula. Taste for salt and glaze half of your icing over the cake while still warm. When cooled, glaze over the remaining icing. Dust with powdered sugar to serve.
It's a tiny slice so you don't feel bad about eating five of them.
Baking is chemistry; it's science. Science is something that can be tested and explained. So if you're short on milk but have some yogurt and sour cream, just substitute it! See what happens! I mean, really, what's the worst thing that can happen? (#FamousLastWords)

Happy Eating! And if you're in the Kansas City Area, check out LookyLocalKC! I write lists and tips and recipes on there, too, so look and see what Kansas City has to offer! Or just sit and drool and the pictures. Up to you.