Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Best Chocolate-Free Dessert I Can Make

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Interstitial Cystitis. It means that the lining of my bladder is damaged, and it's very, very painful. When it flares up, I'm supposed to watch my diet. Shortly after my diagnosis, a very pretty clinician handed me a six-page, double-sided, single-spaced document.

"Here's the recommended diet," she said, a little too cheerfully.

"I can do this," I said, as I scanned the packet and noticed that it contained most of the foods I usually eat.

"Oh, no." She laughed at what was probably a common misunderstanding. "Those are the foods you're supposed to avoid." She handed me a much smaller, two-page packet. "These are the foods you can eat."

Naturally, chocolate is on the list of foods to avoid. I've struggled with this. For me, dessert isn't worth eating if it doesn't contain chocolate. I'm a sucker for any restaurant that offers a "death by chocolate" dessert. I see that as a challenge. You think you can kill me with chocolate? I'd like to see you try.

But, I'm sans chocolate for the next couple of weeks, and I'm trying to make do with white chocolate.

Normally, white chocolate doesn't cut it. It's not even chocolate. It's made with cocoa butter, but not cocoa powder, so it has the texture of chocolate, but none of the flavor. The trick is coming up with a recipe that makes use of the ooey, gooey texture without relying on the taste.

I think I've found that perfect mix in these bar cookies. They melt in your mouth, but they're heavy on butterscotch, nuts, and coconut. Restaurants normally don't try to kill you with white chocolate. But, if they did, they'd do it with this dessert.
Here's what you need:
  • One stick of melted butter
  • One cup of graham cracker crumbs
  • One cup of flaked coconut (I usually make a trip to Sprouts for unsweetened coconut, but the sweetened kind is good, too)
  • One cup of white chocolate chips
  • One cup of butterscotch chips
  • One 14-oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
  • One cup of chopped, roasted, salted cashews
Preheat the oven to 350. Pour the melted butter evenly over the bottom of a 9-inch square baking pan (If you're using a glass pan, you can melt the butter in microwave right in the pan). Spread the crumbs over the butter, making sure they soak up all of the liquid. Top with coconut and both kinds of chips. Drizzle evenly with the sweetened condensed milk and sprinkle with the cashews. Bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned.

These are very sweet, so a little bit goes a long way. They're also very good over ice cream.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to fix a doll

A few years ago, Amelia started asking why she didn't have any dolls that looked like her. This was a tough question. There are caucasian dolls and there are African-American dolls, but there are very, very few light-skinned African-American dolls with very light hair and blue-green eyes. In fact, the only company making such dolls was Bratz, and Amelia was scared of the Bratz' big heads and bug eyes.

Then, we found My Twinn, a company that will make a doll that looks like your child. And, for her fourth birthday, Amelia received her very own My Twinn doll, customized to look just like her. She christened it Baby Sister, and a great love story began.

Baby Sister goes with us everywhere. She's been to the Peditrician's office, the first day of school, and Disney World. She sits with us at dinner and, if I'm making cookies, I have to make a little cookie just for her. Amelia brushes Baby Sister's teeth every night and, when she uses the potty, she makes sure Baby Sister goes, too.

Then, last week, a great tragedy occured. Baby Sister's arm came loose.
I suggested sending Baby Sister to the doll hospital, but Amelia couldn't bear to be parted from her best friend for one night, let alone the three weeks it would take to ship Baby Sister to the doll hospital and wait for her to come back. Something had to be done immediately.

Fortunately, I used to collect dolls and, through collecting, learned a few things about repairing them, too. So, the first thing I did was let Amelia and Baby Sister have some ice cream. It calmed them down enough that we could all make a trip to the hardware story for Devcon Plastic Welder.
After Amelia was in bed, I very carefully removed Baby Sister's arm. It had been stitched on to her body, so I used my seam ripper, taking care not to damage her body. Once, I removed her arm, I found that the entire joint had been shattered, so I mixed up the plastic welder. This stuff is STRONG, and it smells horrible. You have to activate it by mixing the glue and the resin and, once they're mixed, you have to work fast.

Then, I filled the arm cavity with the plastic welder and shoved her arm back on her body. (I'm sorry I don't have photos of this, but I was juggling baby sister in one hand, and the plastic welder in the other). I held it in place until it started to set. You can tell it's working because it gets hot!

Once the doll cooled down, I glued her "skin" back in place. I couldn't sew through the plastic welder, so I had to use a few drops of E-6000.
I used the glue very sparingly, and it formed a good, tight seal.

By morning, Baby Sister was back in her little bed next to Amelia's bed. It was a very happy reunion:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How To Make A Lightsaber

At Disneyland, they have a store where you can build your own lightsaber for $20. I'm sure that it's a truly awesome, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and that's why Amelia was begging for two. Why did she need two lightsabers? Because it's no fun having a lightsaber duel with just one. Duh.

Unfortunately, $40 is a little steep, even for the signature weapon of the Jedi order. Still, I can't deny my daughter anything, so I started searching for ways we could make our own lightsabers at home for less. Most of the online instructions that I found sounded really cool, but were expensive in their own right. They also involved use of a drill, hacksaw, and vibrating motor, none of which I'm letting my five-year-old destruction machine touch for many, many years.

Then, I discovered Krylon Glowz paint at Michael's.
For $7 a can, you can add a colorless, glow-in-the-dark coating to any surface. And the lightsaber workshop was on! Here's what you need:
  • 1 can of Krylon Glowz
  • A Few jars of poster paint
  • Empty wrapping paper tubes
  • Newspaper
  • Flour
  • Water
  • Silver Duct Tape
  • Inspirational Music (I suggest the original Star Wars Soundtrack or "Yoda" by Weird Al Yancovic)
We made a paper mache mix of one part flour to two parts water. (I also threw in a couple of tablespoons of cinammon, so our lightsabers wouldn't smell like newspaper). Then, we ripped the newspaper into strips, and paper-mached the wrapping paper tubes. We didn't paper-mache over the top of the tubes. That way, they made a cool "whoosh" sound when we swung them around later. While we waited for them to dry, I asked Amelia what color she wanted her lightsaber to be. She said she wanted a pretty pink lightsaber, just like Darth Vader's:
I tried explaining the difference between pink and red but, honestly, I could see her point.

When the lightsabers were dry, we painted them with poster paint and coated them with the Krylon Glowz. They dried in about an hour. By then, it was getting pretty dark outside and they really started to glow. We gave them quick handles with silver duct tape and dueled until bedtime.  

If you wanted to make a whole bunch of these for a Star Wars party, you could skip the paper-mache step and just paint the wrapping paper tubes, but they'd fall apart a little faster. Of course, at less than $1 per saber, you can always make more.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Star Wars Buttons!

This week, I rode the new Star Tours ride at Disneyland for the first time. While I’m a little nostalgic for the old ride, I loved the update. And it put me in the mood for some Star Wars crafts. First up: Star Wars fabric covered buttons!
One of my favorite things to do with 1” circular bottlecap images is to make fabric-covered buttons. They’re the perfect size for button-making, and the designs coordinate well with so many types of fabric. Today, I’m using my Star Wars images, which are available here, but you can use any images. Here’s what you’ll need:

One sheet of circular images
One sheet of iron-on transfer paper
A scrap of white- or light-colored fabric
A good iron
A pillowcase
A hard surface
5/8” or 7/8” buttons and a button-covering mold. I get mine from Cover Button City. Just a note: Choose your button size based on your designs. A one-inch image will run slightly off the sides of a 5/8” button. The same image will sit squarely in the center of a 7/8” button, with just a little extra fabric around the edges.
First, you’ll need to print out your images on the iron-on transfer paper. Your paper might be smaller or larger than standard 8.5x11” paper, so make sure to turn off the scaling options on your printer. This will ensure that your images are exactly 1.” Also, if your image contains text, you’ll want to flip the image in your photo-editing software since the finished button will show the reverse of your original image!

Next, choose the images you want and cut them out. I’ve decided to go old school Star Wars with my buttons, so I’ve cut out Luke, Leia, Darth Vader, and Han Solo. You don’t need to cut them out perfectly. Only the circular image will show on your final button.

Lay your pillowcase down on your hard surface. Top it with your fabric and, finally, with your images. The image side should be down. You'll want to do this on a table or countertop. Don’t use an ironing board.
Turn your iron to its hottest setting. Then, press it down on each image for 8-10 seconds. The image should adhere to the fabric.

Peel the paper backing off of each image. The image should have transferred onto the fabric.

Your buttons might have come with a button-covering template. If they didn’t, don’t worry. Take your cardstock and cut a 2” circle. Place it over your transfer, with the image squarely in the center. Trace and cut. (I don’t recommend using a sharpie for this, but it shows up better in pictures, so I’m using one here).

Place your image in the center of the button mold. Make sure the image is centered.

Place the button on top of your image, and push the excess fabric over the back of the button.

Cover it with the button back and push the entire thing together with the blue pusher.

Repeat these steps with the rest of your images. When you’re done, you should have a handful of buttons that are perfect for dressing up a shirt or a jacket. I'm putting mine on a dress for my daughter. It should look great the next time I put her hair in Princess Leia buns.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Best Pattern Ever

My favorite pattern in the whole, wide world is McCall's 4186. A quick glance at the cover of this pattern doesn't do it justice. It's an incredibly simple pattern that makes a wonderful doll. For about six hour's worth of work, you'll end up with a soft, cuddly doll that will fit any of the popular 18" doll clothes. If you cut out several dolls at once, you can make them via assembly line, which is great news for someone with a daughter and five nieces. It doesn't get any easier than that.
The first time I made this doll was for my daughter, in 2009. This was before I had an embroidery machine, so I hand-painted the face. One of my only complaints about this pattern is that the iron-on transfer face that comes with it is a bit bland and devoid of personality. Here, I swapped it out for a doll face I found in a dollmaker magazine in the 1980s. 

The second time I made this pattern, I enlarged it by 126 percent, so it would be the same size as the My Twinn dolls. My daughter wanted a Hermione Granger doll that she could cuddle at bedtime, so I tried my hand at copying Hermione's face. This doll has been well-loved, and has played a lot of quidditch with my daughter. She's probably ready for a new wig. I always assume that doll wigs will eventually need to be washed or replaced, so I glue them on with hot glue and secure them with a couple of tacking stitches. They stand up to heavy brushing, but they're easy to remove when the time comes.
Recently, I've been making dolls for my nieces. I haven't taken pictures of all of my finished dolls, but my daughter caught a snapshot of this one before we wrapped it and sent it to her cousin. As you can see, I've had a lot of fun digitizing doll faces and stitching them on my embroidery machine. I've been using cut-away, iron-on stabilizer when I embroider the faces. It makes them feel a bit sturdier. I was recently thrilled to discover that Floriani makes a peachy-colored stabilizer that blends quite well with both light and dark flesh-colored fabrics.
The only other complaint I have with this pattern is that it tells you to hand-gather the neck edges after you've stuffed the head, but it doesn't specify how to do that. You need to use two strands of embroidery floss when you're gathering, because regular thread will break. Other than that, this is a wonderful pattern. In fact, I have three more of them cut out and ready to go!