Monday, November 4, 2013

Celebration Shout Out: NaNoWriMo FTW!

Flyer courtesy of NaNoWriMo

You think writing blogs is fun? Try writing a novel. Like, seriously, try writing a novel! It is National Novel Writing Month after all.

If you haven't heard of it before, the goal of National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo) is to sit down and finally finish that novel that's been swimming around in your head for years. Or alternatively, to start a new idea and chase it to the end. The challenge itself: write 50,000 words in one month, which is approximately 1667 words a day. Difficult? Yes. Ridiculous? Sometimes. Worth it? Um, YES!

Writers, start your engines!

It's true, 50,000 words in a month is quite the challenge, and the first two times I attempted NaNoWriMo, I barely made it halfway through. Still, I was 20-30K more words along than I would have been in an average month of writing. And, like they say, third time's the charm.

Since I like to start NaNoWriMo with no plan at all (as I get to discover a whole new story that way), I asked my roommates at the time what I should include in my novel. Their answers? A chef, sickle cell anemia, Cloud Strife and a very large monster with pointy teeth. And so, in the midst of my busiest college semester, I finally threw together my first ever, completed novel: Leviathan

Thomas Hobbes would be proud!

Now of course it's not the great American novel, but it wasn't meant to be. It was a fun writing adventure that opened up a story I didn't even know I had in me. I was so pleased with my accomplishment that I even had it professionally bound, complete with two of my roommates on the cover along with my touch pad masterpiece of a sea monster. Good times all around! 

A bunch of my friends and family read it, and enjoyed it I might add, but my great uncle Dan (my senior by exactly 63 years) told me after a stern but pleasant enough review, that I should do a western next time. Sounded good to me!

A copy in Germany counts as world renowned.

The next year for NaNoWriMo I pounded out over 50,000 words of dime western boot-scootery. I had never read a real western for myself at that point, so I purposely threw in every stereotype I could think of - black and white hats and everything! Surprisingly, it turned out pretty well, and I even gave Fiddlesticks a solid plot/typo edit post-November before sending it to press. My third roommate graced the cover of this epic masterpiece, and my friends once again provided some of the classiest back-of-book quotes a girl could ask for.

Time to ride off into the sunset!

And while I swore I would write a novel every November from here on into eternity, life happened and I admit I missed a few. But, with a fresh start and a new name (LydMc, nee Wincawuu, if anyone wants to be my writing buddy!) - I am raring to go once again, and on to another new and exciting adventure.

But enough writing about it, I think it's about time to get back to my novel. And for all you folk who are interested in joining me, it's never too late! If some people can write a novel in a weekend, three more weeks should be plenty. 

8-bit Nerdiness courtesy of NaNoWriMo

Happy novelling, everyone! Write on!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Painting for Peanuts: A Harvest Festival Cut-Out Board

Happy Halloween!

Nothing makes a party quite like a character cutout board. Sticking your head through a wooden mural to become someone else is especially advantageous for Halloween - instant costume! My friend Erin had the brilliant idea of making a Peanuts themed one of these for the harvest festival her church was hosting this year, but she needed a little help pulling it off. Hmm, did I hear someone say project? I'm in!

Tabula Rasa

From the very start, our materials for this project came together quite nicely. For instance, our canvas was actually the back of an 8' x 4' wooden board used previously by the church for a sign. For our purposes, we simply flipped it over and got to work sketching out our ideas on the back.

You're a good reference, Charlie Brown.

As for the art, we chose to paint the famed cast of Peanuts by Charles Schulz chilling in a pumpkin patch. Specifically, we had Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Sally and Linus (complete with blanket), as they were all recognizable and big in "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." We made reference of some Peanuts art so we could mimic the style for our large-scale reproduction.

(The little sweeper was used to dust off all the footprints. Apparently our canvas also doubled as someone's floor mat at some point.)

Out of line!

Once we were confident enough in our pencil sketches, we went over our lines again with felt tip marker so we could better stay within the lines while painting. At this point, we also drew lighter ovals outlining where the cutouts for people's faces would go.

Who knew Linus had plastic surgery? Or wooden surgery, that is.

Time to bust out the big guns, a.k.a. the power tools! Erin's dad, Mark, helped out in a big way when it came to the woodworking aspect of this project. After drilling starter holes in each oval (which looked eerily like alien eyes...), he sawed out space for faces in no time.

Holy cutout board, Charlie Brown!

With the holes done, we took to reinforcing the structural integrity of the board. A few supplementary boards attached as a framework to the backside helped to keep the board from warping in any direction. 

Feet!

Next up was making the board stand up on its own. Up until now, we'd been either leaning it up against a car or propping it up ourselves. With the addition of these handy dandy feet, we were able to paint freely!

Color me grateful!

Our acquisition of the paint was a wonderful case of serendipity. We already had some basic colors like black and white from Erin's crafty mom, Delinda (thanks, Delinda!), but still needed some more colorful colors. 

Just after we started the project, though, I heard my neighbor discussing how she had a surplus of old paint she wanted to get rid of. How handy, thought I, we need paint! And so it was that my wonderful neighbor donated over a dozen cans to our cause. Thank you, Candi!

Paint by Numbers - Supersized!

To start the painting, we made sure to get the lightest colors down first. In this case it was the white of Snoopy's fur and Charlie Brown, Sally and Linus' skin tones. We also used white as a base coat for the lighter colors to come. No need for the dirt to show through!

Quick Tip: Even though we were painting outdoors, we still lay down some old shower curtains to spare the driveway further abuse. It worked great and was a good show of recycling!

Painting in Progress

The array of paint colors we got from my neighbor could not have been better. With the exception of the navy blue we concocted for the night sky using cerulean and slate, every other shade was spot on right out of the can. Amazing!

The painters are in!

A great thing about having such a big project as this, was that we almost never had to wait for something to dry. Even with two painters going at it, by the time we were done with coat #1 across the board, the paint where we had started was already dry and ready for coat #2. The fact that we were painting outdoors helped with that, and kept the paint fumes to a minimum. Huzzah for ventilation!

Almost there!

It's always exciting when a project starts to come together, and you can see a glimpse of its future glory. This was about the moment for this one. Excitement kept us going strong!

Snoopy says, "Hug me!"

Once all the basic painting was done, it was time to add the black outlines typical of the Peanuts comic strip/cartoons. An added bonus for this style of art is that it's supposed to look hand drawn, so imperfections and all, freehanding it worked great! 

Time to smooth out those fine lines.

Unfortunately, we got so excited to paint that we accidentally skipped a step that would have been helpful earlier on: sanding down the face holes. We didn't want kids and folk to get splinters in their chins or anything, so we figured better late than never. In the spirit of teamwork, Ben even came by to help out as our resident sandman!

Done... for now!

This project couldn't have been a success without all the wonderful teamwork that went into it. Thank you, Candi and Delinda, for your (paint) coats of many colors! Thank you, Ben and Mark, for your painting skills and craftsmanship! And of course a huge thanks to Erin for the brilliant idea, instigation, supplies, sustenance, painting, woodworking, and pretty much everything else! 

Now I wonder what we can paint on the other side...!

For more festive autumnal time blogs, check out the Foxy Jack-o-Lantern & Sweet Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, the recipe for Pumpkindoodles, more than a decade's worth of Halloween Costume Art and the latest installment, Halloween 2016: Costume pARTy!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sweet Roasted Pumpkin Seeds & One Foxy Pumpkin

Ring ding ding ding ding ding ding!

October is a special time of year for many reasons - autumn colors, pumpkin-flavored everything and, of course, jack-o-lanterns! Carving your very own pumpkin is a fun and creative task in and of itself, but it doesn't have to end there. Indeed, what about the pumpkin's insides? No need to throw those delicious seeds out, try roasting them for a tasty and healthy snack! Or even better... try making a tasty and slightly less healthy twist on the classic - kettle seeds! 

The Great Pumpkin

First things first, to make an epic jack-o-lantern and your delicious roasted pumpkin seeds, you need a pumpkin. I chose this 18 pound beauty seen above. After selecting your prize pumpkin, it's time to gather your tools and prepare for battle. I like a classic bluntly serrated pumpkin knife for general carving, a sharper knife for detail work and a pencil for sketching my design. The toothpicks are for later.

The pumpkin's maw.

A neat and useful trick at this point, is to carve the initial hole out of the back of the pumpkin instead of the top. While you don't have that stem as a handle, you also don't have to worry about burning your hand when it comes time to put the candle in the jack-o-lantern. Surprisingly, the lack of handle makes almost no difference. Once you have the piece carved it slides in and out of place easily.

A pumpkin fit for a princess.

Now it's time for the gutting. That may sound a bit gross, but if ever there's a time for it, it's Halloween. I won't lie to you, this part is messy, but it smells so fresh and good that the slime is rather fun once you get used to it! 

Foxy!

For my jack-o-lantern design, I was inspired by the recent internet craze, involving forest raves and a mysterious red-furred woodland creature. I know, I couldn't help myself. 

Mysterious as the dark side of the pumpkin.

Since I chopped the back out of the pumpkin already, I was able to use this piece to cut out ears, a snout and a tail for my pumpkin fox, all of which I applied by toothpick. I carved some eyes and whiskers for the candlelight to show through and scraped off some pumpkin skin to show the white rind beneath for the fox's front whiskers and eyebrows. All that's missing is a soundtrack... 

As for those pumpkin seeds!

Seems a bit seedy to me...

It's easiest to separate most of the innards from the seeds while you're in the process of pulling them out. I had one bag just for pumpkin guts, while another bowl was just for the seeds and whatever little bits of orange goop stuck to them. After most of it's been removed, rinse the remaining dregs of goop off in a colander. Clean seeds are the best! 

Fun fact: the seeds float until they're saturated!

After the seeds are clean, set them in a pot to simmer for about 20 minutes in salted water. This helps in the cleaning process and imbues them with some tasty flavor. Once they're done with their salt water bath, set the seeds on paper towels to dry. Some people let this stage take all night, but I'm not one to wait for roasted pumpkin seeds. 

Sweet deal!

Once the seeds are reasonably dry, toss in a tablespoon or so of vegetable or olive oil and around a teaspoon of salt. (Amounts will vary depending on how many seeds your pumpkin yields. Feel free to eyeball it and taste-test until you find the ratio you like best.) To make the elusive KETTLE SEEDS, add about a tablespoon of sugar in the mix!

I admit that name Kettle Seeds is quite misleading because the pumpkin seeds never went near a kettle, but it's more in reference to their sweet snack cousin, kettle corn, so whatever.

Toasty!

Once all the seeds are coated (either in oil and salt or with additional sugar) dump them onto a foil coated cookie sheet (thus avoiding future dish washing) and spread them out to avoid overlap wherever possible. I separated my pan in two parts with a strip of foil as I was making roasted seeds and kettle seeds in the same batch.

Roasted pumpkin seeds and their caramelized kin, kettle seeds.

Bake the pumpkin seeds at 325° for about 10 minutes, stir the seeds around and return to the oven for about 10 more minutes. Once the seeds are just barely showing a hint of golden brownness, they should be done and ready for you and your Fox-o-lantern to enjoy! 

What does the fox say?
Yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum!

For more festive autumnal time blogs, check out the recipe for Pumpkindoodles, the Peanuts themed Harvest Festival Cut-Out Board, more than a decade's worth of Halloween Costume Art and the latest installment, Halloween 2016: Costume pARTy!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Wedding Cake Toppers - Personalized with Love!

Mawwage is what bwings us togevver today...
There are few occasions more exciting than a wedding. Not only do two people in love pledge to keep loving and caring for each other forever, but it's also a great time for family and friends to gather, meet and eventually return home with even more family and friends than before.

The source of this ponderance? This very weekend, my brother Joey married my beautiful, wonderful new sister-in-law Melinda! YAY! :D

Wood you marry me?

To help personalize the celebration, Melinda asked me to paint some crafty wooden cake toppers for the wedding. Apparently the concept is not new, as she got the idea and the wooden bride and groom dolls from Etsy. You can get them personalized and pre-painted, too, but this way they were extra meaningful.

Dress up time

The general plan for these wedding cake toppers was to make simplistic representations of both the bride and groom. You can see from my sketch in the background, they're more cute than realistic, which works well for the little wooden dolls. 

As for the painting, I got started with white on both, since lighter colors are the easiest to paint over and the hardest to get to show up over darker ones. Even just on the wood, the white took about three coats for total coverage. Luckily, I never had to wait on drying time since I could switch between cake toppers. Two dowels are better than one!

Color me in love!

Next up, black and tan! Well, black and flesh-toned that is. To get this basic Caucasian skin color I mixed some red, a little yellow and a whole lot of white. Even though I tried to make enough to last the whole project, I ended up running short and having to remix more later. With a bit of artistic savvy and serendipitous paint mixology, the hues ended up matching perfectly. Phew! 

Hair we are!

Next up, coiffures! Since the bride and groom have similar hair colors, I mixed up the groom's, then added some extra tints for the bride's when I was done. Since my brown paint was hardly being helpful, I found the right hues by mixing yellow, orange, red and just a bit of black.

Armed and dangerous!

Now we're getting some detail. Based on cues from the couple about their wardrobe choices, I added arms and cap sleeves for the bride, and hands and a white tie for the groom (don't worry, the tie gets better on the second pass). Since the plain black tux was just so plain, I also added some dark gray outlines for sleeves, hems and the collar. Thanks to the magic of acrylic paint, it was easy enough to refine these lines with a second pass of the appropriate color. 

A wedding! A wedding! We're going to have a wedding!

For the faces of the cake toppers, the bride and groom requested cute, simple eyes like I made for the Rice Children: Bean Bags with Character blog. I went ahead and added the personalized bridal bouquet of bright Gerbera daisies and tiny white gold rings for both for some extra special touches.

We're going to the chapel, and we're going to get married!

And with the final details - a little shine in the eyes, centers for the flowers and an extra sparkle on the bride's diamond ring (courtesy of crystal puff paint!) - at last the bride and groom wedding cake toppers are ready for their cake debut. But wait, there's more!

Family Portrait!

Also joining this wonderful new family is my super awesome nephew James! Since I didn't want him to feel left out, I made him a tuxedo Rice Child version of himself to play with at the wedding, and he totally did. The thing was such a hit, I may have to make the bride and groom rice children too, so they can juggle! 

In conclusion, CONGRATULATIONS JOEY AND MELINDA! Enjoy the cake toppers! :D

Time to ride off into the sunset!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Spice Up Your Snickerdoodles - Try Pumpkindoodles!

Pumpkin Spice Snickerdoodles
It's officially fall now, and we all know what that means. Cozy socks, long sleeves, rainy days and of course, pumpkin-flavored everything. From pancakes to lattes, M&Ms to marshmallows, 'tis the season for pumpkin spice. 

With that in mind, I decided it was time to spice up one of my favorites, too. If snickerdoodles are already so yummy, why not try... pumpkindoodles?! But, before getting crazy with the pumpkin, let's start with the basic Snickerdoodle recipe. 

Melt-in-your-mouth snickerdoodles... teehee!

The recipe I use already has a slight twist on run-of-the-mill snickerdoodle since most recipes call for shortening, but I steadfastly choose butter. As I mentioned in the π r Delicious: Pi Pies blog, I'm not a fan of hydrogenation and instead find ways to substitute more natural ingredients. If I'm going to eat junk food, it's going to be natural junk food! 

                                                          SNICKERDOODLES
                                                        1 C. butter, softened
                                                        1 1/2 C. sugar
                                                        2 eggs
                                                        2 3/4 C. flour
                                                        2 tsp cream of tartar
                                                        1 tsp baking soda
                                                        1/4 tsp salt
                                                        2 Tbsp sugar
                                                        2 tsp cinnamon

Note: The final two ingredients (sugar and cinnamon) are used for the snickerdoodle coating, so keep them separate!

Short the shortening; butter is better!

In a large mixing bowl, cream the softened butter, sugar and eggs together until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Then combine both the wet and the dry mixtures and refrigerate the resulting dough for 30 minutes.

Taking a dip in the cinnamon sugar
Next up, combine the sugar and cinnamon for the tasty cookie coating. Form the chilled dough into little spheres (about a tablespoon each) and roll each one in the cinnamon sugar until fully coated. 

Snickerdoodles need their space.

Place coated dough balls on a greased cookie sheet about 2" apart and bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes (or in the case of my crazy oven, 7-8 minutes at 355°). Once the cookies are golden brown, remove from the oven and cool on a rack. 

Golden brown and delicious!

A good tip for streamlining the cookie process: try rolling all the dough balls first and then dousing them in the sweet stuff assembly line style. It makes for cleaner hands and much less of a mess!

Oodles of doodles!

And now, what you've all been waiting for: PUMPKINDOODLES! The recipe for pumpkin snickerdoodle cookies is essentially the same as the above recipe with a few minor tweaks:
  • Instead of 1 cup of butter, use 1 cup of pumpkin puree. 

Orange you glad we're not done yet?

  • Since the pumpkin dough is much gooier than the normal snickerdoodle dough, nix the fridge and instead try chilling it in the freezer for easier handling.

Not as spherical, but just as good!

  • To complete the Pumpkin Spice transformation, add a dash of nutmeg to the cinnamon sugar dip. Yum!

Pumpkin puffs!

And there you have it: Pumpkindoodle cookies just in time for autumn. While they still have some snickerdoodle bite, pumpkindoodles come out a little cakier, puffier and fuller of the pumpkin deliciousness you crave. Plus, since there's no butter OR shortening, they're a guilt-free, low-fat snack!

Just add latte

If you like the pumpkin substitution trick, try swapping in applesauce for oil in your next baking adventures! To see an example, visit the Firefly Shindig: Jayne Hat Bundt Cake blog. And as always, happy baking!

For more festive autumnal time blogs, check out the Foxy Jack-o-Lantern & Sweet Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, the Peanuts themed Harvest Festival Cut-Out Board, more than a decade's worth of Halloween Costume Art and the latest installment, Halloween 2016: Costume pARTy!