Friday, November 4, 2011


Something snapped in the overburdened monstrosity of a template I have been using on this blog for a long time, so MEH. I intend to redesign the whole thing this weekend.

...and then post new stuff.

Don't be afraid of any weird errors you see here for the next however many days, thanks. m(-_-;)m

Thursday, October 27, 2011



...GAH! WHA! WHA?!


Translation: I am both lazy AND I have been sick, and I really need to update. Sorry. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

What the Felt (or, good places to buy wool felt online)

I'm shopping for felt. This is what I do to relax after utterly failing to make chicken stir-fry (apparently).

Also, I find it soothing to write reports comparing the online retailers of products for which I shop after utterly failing to make chicken stir-fry.


I rated these on a less-than-scientific system, mind you; most of these players sell a wide variety of sizes and blends, but I make small stuff and I don't need 100% virgin unicorn wool. Ergo, the target is for the smallest piece for sale with one dimension of at least 12", with a blend of minimum 20% wool.

The Felted Ewe
Colors: 26
Wool percentage: 20% ~ 35% wool to rayon
  Thickness: unknown
  Size: 12" by 18"
  Price: $1.35 each
     Per square inch: $0.0063
Shipping: $7.00 US, more international
Commonwealth Felt
Colors: 60+
Wool percentage: 20% ~ 35% to rayon, 100% wool and bamboo/rayon available
  Thickness: unknown
  Size: 12" by 18" (and 36" by 36")
  Price: $1.79 for 20%, $1.89 for 35% ($9.39 for square yard of either)
     Per square inch: $0.0083 for 20%, $0.0088 for 35%
Shipping: $8.15 and up
Weir Crafts
Colors: 15
Wool Percentage: 70% to rayon, 100% wool and 50% bamboo/rayon available
  Thickness: 1/16"
  Size: 9" by 12" (larger sizes available)
  Price: $1.75 each
     Per square inch: $0.0162
Shipping: $4.99 and up
Colors: ~90
Wool Percentage: 20%, 35%, and 70% to rayon, 100% wool on same page
  Thickness: 1/16" for rayon blends, 7/64" for 100%
  Size: 9" by 12" (larger sizes available)

  Price: ranges from $1.05 to $1.50 based on color and blend, $2.15 for 100%
Shipping: ~$3.00+, varies widely depending upon size of order
Wool Felt Central
Colors: 98
Wool Percentage: 20% ~ 35% to rayon
  Thickness: 1/16" for rayon blends, 7/64" for 100%

  Size: 12" by 18" or by the yard (continuous)

  Price: $1.75 each, $8.50 per yard for 20%, $9.50 per yard for 35%
Shipping: $5.99+
Other Places to Find Felt
I didn't do the math for these: they were either too jumbled up, too expensive (but still pretty to look at), obvious places to look, or temporarily closed (Felt-o-rama will re-open in January 2012).
Colonial Crafts
A Child's Dream
Create for Less

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Experiment: A Mess (Poured Fondant)

My sister needed to bake up some cookies to send to a friend, so I suggested a method of decorating that I'd wanted to try for some time now: poured fondant. It is, in essence, the same thing as glace icing, but instead of adding more liquid, you heat it up juuust a little to get the sugar to a liquid state, then beat the mixture briefly to force the recrystallization of the sugar to remain fine and even. This supposedly allows you to simply pour it over whatever baked good you're trying to decorate for a solid, even layer. It sets quickly by cooling, then locks into a matte sugar shell within 24 hours.

The recipe is fantastically simple:
6 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup water
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
1~2 teaspoons extract flavoring as desired
food coloring as desired

Mix everything in a pot over low heat to 92~100 degrees F, pour over something edible.

Here's the mixing...

 ...and, uh... the aftermath of the pouring.  

Disclaimer: Those cookies with clean-cut edges in the back of the image were achieved by literally carving them out of a sheet of hardened fondant sludge.

In brief, this is a hard process to control. Even with twice the water called for in the recipe and increasing the temperature all the way to 105 degrees F, the fondant was never thin enough to really pour over the cookies. It was more like laying down sugary tarp that kinda draped over the sides of each cookie and made indistinct sugary lumps of all of them. I'm not quite sure why this happened, but I suspect either the distinct lack of humidity in the desert or the cheap confectioner's sugar I picked up at Walmart is to blame.

One more try, dipping the cookies into the fondant while keeping it over steady low heat. They do this with cupcakes, the Internet tells me.

what the Internet tells me

real life*

...dipping 0.25" thick cookies into hot sugar sludge = not the most fun thing ever. SIGH.

Maybe I'll make petit fours someday, but I won't revisit poured fondant until then.

This will be my last attempt at decorated cookies for a while as I get back to posting patterns I have neglected for a long time.

* I really wanted to photoshop David DeVore into that image, but alas, I have neither the time nor the skills.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Experiment: Stamped Impression Cookies

Short one. To decorate cookies with a full coat of icing, you usually do it in two steps. First, piping, where you go around the edges with a line of icing that is thick enough to not flow off the edge of the cookie, then let it set up before step two, flooding, where you fill the outlined area(s) with an icing that is slightly thinner.

example of piped icing on cookies, before the flooding step (hands and creativity provided by my sister)
Piping exists entirely as a series of dams to keep the flood icing from overflowing the sides of the cookie. There are, conceivably, many other ways of setting up these dams. For example, what happens if you press foam stamp shapes into soft cookie dough, bake it, then fill the impressions with glace icing? Do the walls of the indentations work as well as piped borders to hold the shape of the icing?

Conclusion: Yes. Yes they do.

Additionally, chocolate sugar cookie dough offers many creative avenues worth perusal. :D

Yes, it is a poo cookie. No, I am not ten years old.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Experiment: Glace Icing (and a Lecture)

Not satisfied in the least with the outcome of the last experiment, I have been puttering around on the Internet in search of an alternative method of decorating cookies with hard icing... and wouldn't you know it, there IS one. Lads and ladies, glace icing:

The Crafty Penguin
Drakegore on Flickr
Drakegore on Flickr
Glace icing is similar to royal icing in that it hardens atop cookies, so it's good for fine decorating and making treats that have to survive transit. Unlike royal icing, it does not require egg whites or meringue powder, so it doesn't taste like you were baking in the forge at a tin mill. Which is nice.

this is nasty stuff


I made some more cookies, same recipe as before. Then I got a recipe for glace icing from here, with alterations. There seems to be several variations among professional bakers as to which are the correct alchemical elements in this concoction. There's a general consensus on the confectioner's sugar, corn syrup, and your choice of clear flavored extract. Then, a division: milk or water? And, if milk: whole or skim?


I can't think of why you'd want to use whole milk in any recipe that doesn't specifically rely on the fat content, and as far as making a sugar-based icing that you intend to set hard, fats and oils of any kind would likely sabotage the effort.

Water offers a unique benefit. The other three ingredients in glace icing are all shelf-stable, meaning they can be left at room temperature in closed containers and will not rot. Using water as the final ingredient maintains this property, rendering an icing that can essentially go in the pantry for weeks (perhaps even months?) in a sealed bottle and be used as needed.

I chose skim milk for this first try, for reasons explained further down the page. There is another decision to be made; how to color the icing?


...actually, it's not that hard. The liquid food coloring that you buy at the supermarket is the cheapest and most widely-available food dye out there, and it's likely something you've worked with before at kindergarten or in your mom's kitchen. You can also find more concentrated food dyes at specialty shops (and most craft stores, nowdays, since boutique baking has exploded into a billion dollar industry with TV shows and designer brands of icing and tools and competitions with celebrity judges and... wait, am I still in the parentheses?)

Eh-hem. Concentrated food dyes come in two types: gel and paste. There are several brands available, including Wilton, Ateco, and AmeriColor. Both are generally more expensive than liquid dyes. 

Now, the sneaky insight part of this post, AKA why I went to college: knowing the nature of your available mediums can help you cheat at achieving bright color.

Every coloring medium falls somewhere on a spectrum of transparency. At one end, you have translucence; inks and dyes that add their color on top of any colors already present. This is like adding a wash of blue watercolor to black text on a white page -- the white takes on the blue hue, while the black text remains fully visible and unaffected. No matter how many times you wash the page with blue, the black test isn't going to be covered -- you will only supersaturate the page with blue until it reaches the maximum available hue of the ink.

On the other end of the spectrum is opacity. Opaque inks and other mediums have the additional property of coverage. When applied to a page, a completely opaque medium will blot out any colors underneath and fill the area with its own exact color. If you applied an opaque coat of blue paint to the white page of black text mentioned above, you would simply end up with a blue sheet of paper -- both the text and the white background would be gone. No matter how many coats of blue opaque paint you used, however, the hue will not increase in saturation, as it would with a translucent dye; you would be unable to change the value of the one blue shade your paint produced with the first coat.

Applied to coloring foodstuffs, here's the trick: liquid and gel food dyes fall on the translucent end of the spectrum, but pastes fall on the opaque side. (Skim milk (remember?) is also highly opaque.) Glace icing itself is semi-translucent and will not provide an opaque "ground" for brighter colors to "stand" on. If you use add some white food coloring paste to your icing, you are infusing the icing with this necessary ground, which means you can get away with using the cheaper translucent liquid food dyes to achieve your full spectrum of color. Using skim milk (rather than water) in the composition of the icing further enhances this opaque white ground quality.
Holy crap, that was verbose. o.o' Sorry.

Short version: 
To get bright colors with minimal investment in specialty food dyes, use about 10~20 drops of white paste food dye when you mix up a batch of icing, then divide and color it with regular liquid dyes from the supermarket. (You can always invest in a full spectrum of pastes and gels later if you decide colored icing is your calling in life.)
SO THAT IS WHAT I DID, with American "bright white" paste found at the Hobby Lobby* up in Phoenix.

Woot, b*tches!
Glace icing tastes GOOD. Not as good as buttercream icing (frosting), that soft stuff on cakes that I could eat by the spoonful (and have, on occasion), but glace is dramatically better than royal icing. If I could fault it for anything, it'd be that it's on the upper edge of tolerable sweetness... but paired with a crisp buttery cookie, this works to the sum benefit of both.

Glace icing is easy to make. Four ingredients, none of them exotic, no need for an appliance beater or special paddles, no time limits. Also can be made to last weeks without refrigeration if you use water in place of milk and keep it in sealed containers. You can't beat that.

Glace icing hardens exactly well enough. It takes a drying time of 24 hours (or more, for thick icing on big cookies), but glace does reach a point of stability beyond which it can be stacked, packaged, and mailed (by parcel post, even). It does NOT become crystalline-hard, like royal icing. One thing you need to be careful about is letting the piped outline set up before flooding the interior...and glace icing tends to form lower barriers, so don't overfill:

...but also, don't underfill, because glace icing sinks as it dries. This didn't seem to be as much of a problem the first time I made it with skim milk, but subsequent batches made with water seem to sink down in the middle. I'm still hoping to figure out if the water is really the culprit, or if it has something to do with the dry atmosphere to be found in any kitchen in the Arizona desert (4% relative humidity, woah).
Glace icing tends to blur a little at the edges between colors. Both milk and water recipes showed this effect... it's like a 2-pixel feathering, if you're familiar with photo editing software. Again, this might be caused by my own inexperience at the technique, the weather conditions in Arizona, alignment of the planets, or butterflies flapping their wings in Africa. Or it could just be intrinsic to glace icing.

High-gloss only. The corn syrup, an integral ingredient for stability of the icing as it is applied to the cookies, gives glace an inherently shiny finish. This is the exact opposite of the flat, solid look of royal icing. Not too much of a price to pay for the improvement in flavor and ease of production, but it means that desirable hard shell of matte candy color remains out of my reach... for now.
Aaaand that's the end of that particular experiment, thought I am still making cookies and glace icing. Like I mentioned up there somewhere, these iced cookies ship well, and I can't think of anyone in my book of addresses who could not use some cookies right about now. (Honestly; can you?)

*Hey Hobby Lobby: please build a freakin' store in Tucson already.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Still Alive

(...and still channeling Gladys after a weekend of Portal 2 jokes with my sister.)

That Which Has Been Going On:
* post coming soon

Friday, April 22, 2011

Experiment: Royal Icing

Damn you, cookies. Damn your delicious siren song. Curse your versatility, an appropriate snack for all ages and all venues, from after-school munch to high tea presentables. Most of all, your glorious presentation under coats of delicate icing; your transformation from flat crunchy biscuit to a perfectly appointed treat for the eyes as well as the tongue, sweet and tempting...

Damn it all, I gotta try this.

Between my sweet tooth and the books at the library, the call of the decorated cookie has been too much for me to ignore this spring. I usually make cookies from the "drop" family; that is, drop spoonfuls of dough on the cookies sheet, bake, cool, eat. Chocolate chip cookies are the most famous member of this family; so are snickerdoodles, most cookies involving peanut butter, or any chunky cookies full of nuts, candy, dried berries, oats, etc.

But I digress.

To make the sugar-shelled glory of finely decorated cookies, you need to start with a flat, clean canvas of rolled-and-cut cookies, and develop your decorations around the medium of royal icing; that mysterious sugary paste that requires unfamiliar powdered egg ingredients. Beyond the gingerbread cookie recipe I inherited from my mother, I have very little experience with rolled cookies. I have exactly ZERO experience with royal icing. However THIS:

O.O !!!

"now with more sparkles!"

Dood. Ornithology and sugar? I'm in. inspiration far more powerful than I can resist. So I got me a book and a canister of meringue powder and READY SET GO.

This book (above right), which was available at the library, is actually the Xmas special edition of the other book (above left), which was not, but will be shortly, because I requested it through interlibrary loan and the Empress of Librarians was all "hey, that's a cool book" and she ordered some copies for Pima county yaaay. :D

I'm not going to detail the recipe and making of the cookies in the book, because it's not my recipe and pretty much a moot point. You can make any cookie as a base for decorating so long as it possesses two particular qualities: flat and stiff. Crunchy butter cookies or hard gingerbread; that sort of thing. The book has recipes for butter sugar cookies, butter chocolate cookies, and gingerbread. I made the butter sugar cookies.


Royal Icing

The unique chemical nature of this stuff made me apprehensive about it's creation, but if you measure carefully and follow directions, it seems to come out more or less as it should be on the first try. One thing I have learned regarding the use of royal icing on cookies is that it needs to be made in two formats; piping and flood.

Piping is the stiffer stuff that keeps more of its shape and dries harder. It can be used in several ways, but for this elementary experiment, it's basically what you use to draw outlines of different areas you want to color. It is the "pen" of cookie illustration.

Flood icing has the same components as piping icing, but a higher ratio of water. Ergo, it flows a little more freely. Once you've drawn all the outlines you want with piping icing, you fill in the spaces with flood icing. It hits the piped borders and stops, giving an effect like cloisonne work. You can also add flood icing of different colors on top of a flooded background; it will sink in to the same blob, you can swirl the colors together for cool effects (called "feathering", I think).

ancient enameling technique compared to modern cookie (yep)

The other thing I have learned about royal icing is that its key ingredient is egg albumen, and that this can be supplied in one of at least three ways: liquid pasteurized egg whites, powdered egg whites, and meringue powder. A fourth way (zeroith way?) is just using egg whites that you separate from regular ol' whole eggs you get from a chicken or the store, but this carries a risk of salmonella, so don't do it and then blame me when you get sick.

I couldn't find powdered egg whites anywhere in town, and I didn't want to measure out liquid egg whites, so for convenience, I chose to use meringue powder. Maybe a bad choice on my part, since it makes things taste tinny and kinda bitter.

(I will not use this again.)

Now I am going to put down the recipe for royal icing -- using meringue power -- as provided in the book, specifically because THERE IS AN ERROR IN IT. A quick look around the Internet establishes that several bakers have identified a typo whereby "teaspoons" was accidentally replaced by "tablespoons" in the measurement of meringue powder. The publisher has acknowledged the mistake and will supposedly correct it in future reprints. In the meantime:

Here is the correct recipe for royal icing, adapted from the book Cookie Craft Christmas:

For Piping
2 cups confectioners' sugar (1/2 pound)
4 teaspoons meringue powder
3 tablespoons of warm water*
1 tablespoon lemon juice OR 1/2 to 1 teaspoon flavored extract

For Flooding
2 cups confectioners' sugar (1/2 pound)
4 teaspoons meringue powder
6 tablespoons of warm water*
1 tablespoon lemon juice OR 1/2 to 1 teaspoon flavored extract

*Notice that the amount of water is the only difference between piping and flooding icing.
"Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat on high speed with an electric mixer, 5 to 10 minutes or until icing reaches desired consistency. Store in airtight containers when not in use."

I put the piping icing, which I left white, in a quart Ziploc bag (thick freezer type) and cut a tiny hole in one tip to make a ghetto decorating bag. The flood icing went into three sammich bags along with some 5 to 15 drops of standard cheapo grocery store food coloring in each, which I then squished around in the sealed bags to color the stuff three ways: yellow, pink, and light green. I later added a darker green to the originally light green icing bag, making a darker green fourth color.



I cannot pipe royal icing worth a crap. In hindsight, this is because I made the rookie mistake of putting the tip of the icing bag against the cookie when squeezing out the icing. The correct way, apparently, is to "drape" the icing, holding the tip of the bag an inch or two above the cookie and allowing the string of icing to hang down, directing where it falls to make your shapes. So... yeah. Learning process. -_-; (You are supposed to put the tip of the bag against the cookie when adding flood icing, however.)

Meringue powder tastes bad. After the icing dried on the cookies, they actually tasted rather decent and lemony. The frosting alone, however, is bleh. Even though they contained the same ratio of sugar and meringue powder to flavoring, the piping icing was considerably less offensive than the flood icing. I can only assume the addition of more water in the flood icing causes a different reaction with the meringue powder. If I ever try royal icing again, I will use pasteurized egg whites.

Liquid food coloring is for pastel colors only. If you want strong colors, get paste colors in the little jars. It simply takes too much liquid coloring to get any considerable color at all, and you'll end up changing the consistency of the frosting with all those little drops.

Ziploc baggies are not equivalent to decorator bags. The quart bag worked admirably, but my control over the flow of the icing was poor compared to the control I could have gotten with a coupler and a few decorating tips. One of the sammich bags had a blow-out, taking out a few cookies with a sudden flood of squishy icing. Decorating bags are not expensive, but the cheapskate in me wants to try this technique before I spring for a pack of plastic cones. It's apparently a tried-and-true pro technique to fold baking parchment to make one's own disposable paper cones for frosting, and heaven knows I'm a nerd for folding paper. :D

Extra piping icing (and to a lesser extent, flood icing) can be used to make fancy tea sugars. Run out of cookies, but still have icing? It can last a while in the fridge in sealed containers, but it'll start to separate after a few days. You can use leftover icing to practice your decorating technique on wax paper or bakers' parchment, leave the sugary scribbles to dry overnight, and then use them like large, misshapen sugar cubes in your tea or coffee. As a bonus, the meringue flavor pretty much vanishes when dissolved in coffee or stronger tea.

Tea sugars! Fancy ones!

And that's the end of that experiment... but not of my lust for cookies. I can imagine I'll be back on this track someday. In the meantime, anybody want a tin of meringue powder? <:P

Monday, April 18, 2011


The tsunami in Miyagi prefecture, as viewed from Shidzukawa high school. Public schools are commonly built atop hills in Japan, especially in the Tohoku region, specifically to become safe zones in the case of tsunami. The public is instructed from childhood to gather at schools in case of any disaster or emergency.

In 5 minutes and 29 seconds, the entire town of Minamisanriku is destroyed.

This is the last post I'll make for a while regarding the tragedies in Japan, but please don't forget that the suffering continues every day, in millions of ways great and small. Your generosity can make all the difference. If you haven't already, please consider making a donation of your time or resources to help Japan. 

Besides the American Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee and CARE are two highly-rated charities currently working to provide relief and aid in Japan. There are many others. Check with your favorite charity.

Thank you very much; a million hearts rely upon your kindness.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Did someone say "Postcard Project"? O,O

I am (still) on the AJET-Chicago Consulate mailing list. Every so often, a former JET or two gets in contact with the group to rally us all to certain projects. One Jennifer Bohn, now stationed with the Peace Corps at a high school in Tonga, is asking for postcards from as many places around the world as she can spread the word. Maybe you have some cool postcards and colorful stamps you're just itching to use. Well, here's your invitation:
Malo e lelei,

Greetings from the Kingdom of Tonga! My name is Jennifer Bohn and I am a Peace Corps volunteer here. My students at 'Eua High School and I are working on a project and we need your assistance. We are asking everyone outside of Tonga to please send us a postcard of your hometown/city.

We are trying to collect as many postcards as possible. This project will help enhance the student's understanding of other places and cultures in the U.S. and around the world. Postcards will be posted in the library, next to the new student-created world map. It doesn't matter if the postcard is from Green Bay,  Buenos Aires, Istanbul: we will take them all! Please send postcards to:

c/o U.S. Peace Corps
P.O. Box 24
'Ohonua, 'Eua

I will keep a running list of all the postcards received with their origin on the EHS Website. Everyone is encouraged to check to see if their postcard successfully makes it to EHS and to learn more about the school.

The project offers a great chance cultural exchange for everyone involved. The project begins now and will continue until the end of my Peace Corps service in December 2011. Please help out if you can and tell everyone you know! Feel free to forward this information to anyone and everyone.

If you have any questions/comments or want to know more information about my work in Tonga, please do not hesitate to contact me via my blog. Thank you very much or, as we say here in Tonga, malo 'aupito!

Personally, I am in an itchy-sendy state all the damn time, and it just takes the words "postcard project" for me to send the philately flying. Honestly, have you seen the new forever stamps at the USPS? Let's get those babies posted! XD

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Happy Lunar Perigee.

 Supermoon over the Catalina Mountains, Tucson, Arizona.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Don't Panic."

Happy St. Patrick's Day to you all; hopefully you have some corned beef and beer (or at least beer) to get you through the evening.

If you or anyone close to you happens to be contemplating the purchase of potassium iodine in the near future, may I strongly recommend that you do not add to the uneducated, panic-driven run on such capsules unless you are living in the eastern half of Japan or intend to join the relief effort there within the next six weeks. No, there is no nuclear cloud coming to California. Hawaii is absolutely safe (watch out for that Kilauea, though).

This crap: exactly that; crap. A lulzy hoax born on 4chan. So many idiots have been trolled by these images and other hype that now there is a shortage of potassium iodine for the people who actually need it in Japan.

There are several hundred technicians and engineers being cycled in and out of the nuclear plant in Fukushima right now, 24 hours a day, working tirelessly to stop the reactors from going into full meltdown. They are the only ones in the world thus far exposed to any levels of radiation that could be deemed dangerous by modern medicine. Many of these men and women have lost their homes and their families to the quake and subsequent tsunami, but they are still volunteering to go into harm's way to avert a third disaster, doing all that they can to save their fellow citizens. The least we can do is not buy up all the pills they need to protect themselves from thyroid cancer.

Please spread the word. Tell people to cut this crap out. If you have iodine pills, contact your local branch of the Red Cross for a way to donate them. Thank you very, very much.

Monday, March 14, 2011

3.14 - Pi Day

It's Pi Day again; hope you've all had your slice today. The radiation situation is getting pretty serious in Fukushima. What kind of wicked misfortune is it that the only nation in the world to have been struck with nuclear weapons is now facing what could be the simultaneous meltdown of three nuclear reactors? Honestly. これがまんできなさそう。

Even though Japan is a modern, first-world country with some of the best disaster preparation possible, the scope of the damage done is truly epic. Please consider making a donation to your favorite international charity to ease the suffering of the displaced and wounded in this immediate aftermath. Please by donating now to the Red Cross.

NHK World channel, live in English:

Friday, March 11, 2011


Remember this little girl?

She lives here:

This is Kamaishi, at the end of the trainline I rode into town every weekend.

This is Kamaishi now:

Live feed of Japanese news:



Saturday, January 22, 2011


(That's a face up there.)

Okay, just for the few family members who read this blog:

1) Dad, Liz, and I are alive.
2) We had nothing to do with shooting or getting shot at the local Safeway.
3) Tucson is still a nice place to live, although our representation in D.C. will be short one congresswoman for a while.

Why the everloving hell do we need civilian access to extended-capacity clips?

And I have a crap-ton of things to post, but laundry and spring cleaning are eating my hours.
(Also, hummingbirds in the yaaarrrd~!)