VisibleBlue

DIY Googly (Cookie Monster) Eyes October 17, 2012

Filed under: DIY,Kids — VisibleBlue @ 4:41 pm
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As I’ve said before, my son is a little obsessed with Cookie Monster. Naturally, this was his choice for a Halloween costume. I could spend $45 and buy one, or I could try to make one myself! (Though I’m halfway through the project now, and thinking buying was the smarter option.) I’ll blog the rest of the project another day, but I wanted to hurry and get these eyes out there in case someone else needs to make them before Halloween.

*Part 2 of the project is available here now.*

These are super simple to make, and only a few items are needed:

  • Compass (the kind you use to draw circles)
  • Three white ping-pong balls (an extra or two if you want, in case of mistakes)
  • Craft knife
  • Black paint/paintbrush
  • Two tiny screws and appropriate screwdriver

Handy to have: sandpaper or a nail file and a vice to hold the ping pong ball as you are cutting, though I made do without.

Draw the circle

How did I keep my ping pong ball still? A jar opener and the container the balls came in!

Using the compass, draw a circle the size you want the pupil to be on one of the balls. The balls I used had graphics, but they were easy to avoid.

CAREFULLY cut around the circle with the craft knife. I shouldn’t need to say this, but

Cut out the circle.

For some reason the inside of the ping pong balls smelled awful, like mothballs!

obviously you’re using a very sharp instrument with a small and smooth object, so it’s really easy to slip. I suggest using something non-living to hold the ball firmly in place. After you remove the circle (this is now the pupil), you can sand the edges to make them smoother. I used a nail file.

Punch a hole OFF CENTER in the pupil. If your hole is dead center, the pupil won’t appear to move. The closer you get to the edge, the wilder the movement will be, but don’t put it so close that it’s structurally unsound. You’ll likely need to widen the hole so the pupil swings freely on the screw. You will also need to punch a hole in a fresh ping pong ball. I used the sharp end of my compass. If your balls have logos like mine did, make sure that the part you will attach to the costume (or whatever) will hide the logos, and place the pupil appropriately.

Attach the pupil

These tiny screws were left over from a computer build or something, but I imagine you could use the kind found in glasses.

Insert the screw into the hole you made in the pupil, and make sure it doesn’t stick when you shake it around. Then screw the pupil into the eyeball, stopping before you tighten it all the way (or the pupil won’t swing.) Shake it around again to make sure you’re happy with the movement. You may need to trim some from the pupil if it gets caught.

After the pupil moves like you want it to, unscrew it and paint it with black paint (I used acrylic Paint the pupilscraft paint.) Make sure not to paint the hole closed. You may need two coats. After it’s all dry, put the eyeball back together. You may want to paint the end of the screw to match the pupil.

That’s it! Attach the eyes however you want. I haven’t done it yet, but I plan on putting two holes in the bottom and sewing them on, or if I’m feeling particularly lazy, maybe I’ll just hot glue them.

Finished project

The more I look at this picture, the more creeped out I get.

 

 

Square Foot Gardening – a Revelation August 1, 2012

During the dead of winter I was at the library with my son, in the kid’s section. I spotted a book on the reshelving pile called Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholemew. Intrigued by the picture on the front, I picked it up and glanced through. I was impressed and curious about what I saw inside. I took it home with me and waited impatiently for the growing season to begin.

Square foot gardening is a re-engineered version of the traditional home garden. It has a few major tenets:

  • Gardens are built in raised boxes with a grid divided into one square foot sections
  • A special soil mix fills the boxes – you don’t use existing soil, which means you can put your garden anywhere you like, with minimal digging/weeding/etc.
  • The garden is located in an often-used part of your yard
  • You plant only the seeds you need, and store the rest for following years
  • Plants are grown in groups of 1, 4, 9, or 16 within the square divisions, not rows

Some of the major benefits of square foot gardening are space conservation (plants grow in 20% of the space required in a traditional bed garden), water conservation (only water the roots of your plant instead of the entire garden), easy upkeep (weeding takes very little time, and doesn’t need to be done often, since you’re using brand new soil), and natural crop rotation (when one square’s crop is done, replant with something else!)

I live in a fairly urban area, so my backyard is about the size of Buckingham Palace’s bathrooms. In past years, I tried to garden on the side of the house, but you know what they say – out of sight, out of mind – and by midseason, my garden would invariably be a tangle of weeds and crowded, sickly plants. Last year I attempted to do all my gardening in containers on the deck, but that failed even more miserably as I wasn’t able to keep them watered properly. I assumed gardening just wasn’t for me and that I would never grow more than a few tomato plants.

SFG Garden

Sorry for the cell phone picture!

When I decided to try SFG, I opted to put the boxes on a patch of weeds and bone-dry dirt between my neighbor’s fence and the path to our garage. Nothing would grow there anyway, and it was heavily trafficked, so it seemed like an ideal location. The area was almost exactly 3 feet deep, so I built two 3′ by 4′ boxes. The cost? Nothing, I just used some lumber we had sitting around in our garage. I’m no carpenter, but I was able to build the boxes in an afternoon mostly by myself (I needed a hand cutting the lumber to size.)

The soil, Mel’s Mix, is a blend of 1/3 each of vermiculite, peat moss, and compost. The vermiculite and peat moss I was able to buy at our local nursery, and we’ve been composting kitchen scraps for years, so I had no shortage of compost. You fill the boxes and affix some sort of grid to the top. I stapled mini-blind slats to the boxes to create my grid – each box held 12 1′ squares.

In addition, I built trellises for each box for vertical gardening. I made these out of electrical conduit, cut to size, and attached at the corners with some plastic plumbing parts. Each trellis was slid over rebar hammered into the ground, which both keeps them vertical and gives you the option to put the trellis away when it’s not in use. Finally, I tied nylon trellis net (available at garden centers) to the top and sides to form the trellis itself. These fixtures are extremely strong, and have held up in 70 mph+ winds. Here is a great video tutorial on building your trellis.

Now, we’re mid-summer, and here is a list of things I have successfully grown in just 24 square feet of previously unused yard space: kale (2 plants), basil, cilantro, peas (16 plants), carrots (2 squares), onions (2 squares), tomatoes (4 plants), nasturtium (2 plants), microgreens, green beans (3 squares), lettuce (3 squares), squash – but I’m not sure what kind yet, they were volunteers – pumpkin, maybe?, Serrano peppers, and spinach. The kale, tomatoes, and squash have done particularly well – my tomato plants are over 12′ tall, and just LOVE the trellis. I’m harvesting at least 20 cherry tomatoes a day off a single plant. The squash has sort of taken over – it covers the entire trellis and has moved on to the rest of the yard and is trying to annex my neighbor’s yard as well, so I have to keep it in check. At the moment I have about 6 empty squares just waiting for fall’s crops to go in.

If you’re interested, the best place to get started is Mel’s book, but there are lots of resources available online to help you, too. One excellent reference for plant spacing and other information specific to SFG is My Square Foot Garden. So, what I’m trying to say is that I can’t believe this gardening technique isn’t more popular. I haven’t even listed half the benefits – it’s amazing what a little fresh thinking has done to revolutionize what is a centuries-old process.

 

Jam Math, and a Recipe (Cherry-Berry Ginger Jam) July 31, 2012

Filed under: Food — VisibleBlue @ 1:28 pm
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A year or so ago, my mother-in-law gave me a bunch of canning jars and a canner that someone was trying to get rid of.  I found a new home for them on an empty shelf in my basement, and they’ve been there ever since. After all, I have a freezer, right? Can’t I just store everything in there?

Well, after a nasty weekend-plus-long power outage and a summer full of tasty berries from my CSA, I see the value in canning. I bought a few lids and gave myself a crash course in canning by cobbling together little tips I found all over the internet. One thing I noticed over and over again was the warning not to alter a jam recipe, or it won’t set. But that’s not my style! If I can’t personalize and experiment with my cooking, I’m just not interested.

Homemade Zesty Dill PicklesFeeling daunted, I started small with this Zesty Dill Pickle recipe I found. Technically, it doesn’t involve canning at all, but I did get to use the jars and lids. I haven’t tried them yet as they take a few weeks to pickle, but the brine smelled fantastic. (As fantastic as something that’s half vinegar can smell, anyway.) I did one batch of cucumbers and peppers and another of green beans.

After that, I decided to go ahead with the jam. Worst case scenario – a learning experience and lots of runny ice cream topping, that doesn’t sound so bad! I didn’t have a recipe to go off of specific to the fruit I had on hand, so I tried using a little math to find the sugar to fruit ratios myself.

First on the list of fruit that had to go – blueberries. After crushing them, I had about 2 cups of fruit, which was about 40% of the fruit required for the blueberry jam chart in the pectin box. 40% of the sugar in that recipe was 1.6c, so I wrote that number down and went on. I also had about 2 cups of crushed blackberries and raspberries, a little over 30% of the fruit called for in the raspberry jam chart. 30% of the sugar was 1.38c. At this point, I had 70% of the fruit accounted for, so I filled the last 30% with sweet cherries. 30% was 1.5c of cherries and .9c of sugar. Adding the sugar totals together produced about 3.88c of sugar, so I just rounded it to 4 cups even. I used grated fresh ginger as well as ground ginger to add a little more depth to the flavor, and a bit of lemon juice and zest.

At this point, I followed the directions in the box of pectin. (You can find those here if you need more detailed directions.) The process wasn’t difficult, just time consuming. The jam turned out great, but maybe a little sweet. It had a fairly firm set so I’m sure you could reduce the sugar by at least 1/4c, if not more, or use sour cherries instead. The ginger adds a nice bite to counteract some of the sweetness. This recipe made about 7.5 cups, so there’s a half-jar in my fridge that we’ve been enjoying!

Recipe:

  • 1 pint blackberriesCherry-Berry Ginger Jam
  • 1 pint raspberries (crush with blackberries to make 2 cups total)
  • 1 quart blueberries (crush to make 2 cups)
  • 2.5 cups sweet cherries (chopped in food processor to make 1.5c)
  • 4 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 box less/no sugar needed pectin
  • 1 inch grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • half a small lemon, zested, plus a generous squeeze of juice

Combine crushed fruit, 1/4 cup sugar, and pectin in a large saucepot. Bring to a full boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in remaining sugar, return to a full rolling boil, and boil exactly one minute. Remove from heat and skim foam if desired. Fill prepared jars to within 1/8 inch of the top, wipe the rims, and cover with two piece lids. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes (at sea level.) Let stand 24 hours at room temperature.

I’m thrilled that the experiment worked out – here is the formula I used to arrive at this recipe, in a little clearer format than the rambling words above. The reason I needed to use the formula was because I wanted to make a full batch of jam with the whole box of pectin, but I didn’t have enough of any one fruit. This method requires that each original recipe uses the same amount and type of pectin (if any) as they are not interchangeable. I can’t guarantee it’ll work for every recipe, but it seemed to do the trick in this case! Sorry if this is unclear – as you can see, math is not my strong suit. Feel free to leave a comment with any questions and I’ll do my best to explain any confusing areas!  (Example in red.)

fruit on hand (crushed) / total fruit in original recipe = percentage of fruit 
--- do this for each fruit, until the percentages add up to 100%
2 cups raspberries (crushed) / 5 cups berries in original recipe = 0.4, or 40%; 
2 cups blueberries (crushed) / 6.5 cups berries in recipe = 0.31, or about 30%;
1.5 cups cherries (chopped) / 5 cups in recipe = 0.3, or 30%

sugar in original recipe * percentage of fruit = new sugar amount 
--- again, do this for each fruit you're using
raspberries: 4 cups sugar * 0.4 = 1.6 cups sugar;
blueberries: 4.5 cups sugar * 0.3 = 1.35 cups sugar;
cherries: 3 cups sugar * 0.3 = 0.9 cups sugar;

fruit 1 new sugar amount + fruit 2 new sugar amount + ... = total sugar
1.6 c (rasp) + 1.35 c (blue) + 0.9 c (cherries) = 3.85 c sugar total (I rounded up to 4)

 
 

Easy Summer Snack – Banana “Faux-yo” May 29, 2012

Filed under: Food — VisibleBlue @ 11:09 pm
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A quick post for a quick treat – what do you do with your past-their-prime bananas in summer? It’s too hot for banana bread, so try this instead. The prep: peel your overripe bananas and wrap each banana individually in plastic wrap.  Freeze for 2-3 hours, or do what I do and store them in a bag or container in the freezer to be ready at any time.

Banana “Faux-yo”

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 6 oz. container Greek yogurt (any flavor is fine, but I like a simple vanilla)

Break the banana into 2-3 chunks and add to your blender. Spoon in the yogurt (pour extra liquid off the top if you’re not using Greek yogurt.) Blend! Look for a thick consistency like soft-serve frozen yogurt – you don’t want to turn it into a smoothie!

This recipe works better with an immersion blender – I just put everything into a cup, blend, and then I can eat it right away with a spoon. It’s great for kids, too – my son loves this as an afternoon snack. It is so similar to ice cream, you’ll feel like you’re cheating if you eat it for breakfast.

 

What’s blue, googly-eyed, and in my downstairs fridge? April 5, 2012

Filed under: DIY,Food,Kids — VisibleBlue @ 9:55 pm
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Cookie Monster Cupcakes

I giggle every time I open the refrigerator door.

My little boy is turning two tomorrow, and loves Cookie Monster. What better way to celebrate than with Cookie Monster cupcakes? I saw these on Pinterest and I just knew I had to make them for his birthday. Wanna do it yourself? Check out tips here, here, or here.

I chose to use frosting instead of coconut (husband: “Ew.”)  for the shaggy fur effect. I used a Wilton grass/hair tip (#233 I think?) and this totally delicious buttercream frosting recipe with a healthy dose of bright blue paste food coloring. I halved the recipe and it frosted a dozen normal size cupcakes with just a little left over. Clearly, I’m not a pro at piping, but I’m happy with the results anyway.

For the eyes, I used vanilla melts and chocolate chips. While I planned on attaching the pupils with a dab of icing, my husband came up with the great idea of just melting the two together, so I just pressed the flat side of the chocolate chip on a warm pan and stuck it to the melts. After sitting overnight in the fridge, they were firmly adhered.

Now all I need is a good blue-frosting-stain-remover for the party aftermath!

 

Turn your child’s art into wearable jewelry February 29, 2012

Filed under: DIY,Jewelry,Kids — VisibleBlue @ 1:40 pm
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Before and After

Hey, at least it's not made of macaroni.

I don’t know about you, but I always feel bad getting rid of my son’s art. Sure, I could just scan it all and save it digitally (no paper clutter!), but why not turn it into something I can wear and look at all the time? He’s not even two yet, so his art projects are still very…abstract. In other words, perfect for turning into jewelry.

Cut triangles

An assortment of cut triangles

His latest masterpiece was a fingerpainting we made on the paper that forms a tube inside cheap wrapping paper rolls. It’s really thick, so it didn’t bleed through, and I just love finding another use for something we would otherwise just recycle. After it was thoroughly dried, I cut it into little triangles with a craft knife. The triangles were about 3 inches long, but you don’t need to be too perfect when you cut them. I just eyeballed them all – some have thicker bases, some are longer or shorter, some are a little slanted. The width of the base will determine the width of your bead, so just cut them about as wide as you’d like your beads to be. I think it actually looks better when they’re all different, but feel free to cut them all the same for a uniform look.

Roll the bead

Step three - go get a manicure before posting pictures of your hands on the internet

The next step is to roll up the paper triangles, starting at the widest point, around a skewer or other thin object. Roll it very tightly, and use a dot of glue (I used superglue because it dries so quickly) to affix the point. Paint on some Mod Podge gloss for a nice, shiny finish. Let them dry on a hard surface. Voila! At this point, you can string your beads however you like and make a pretty nice bracelet or necklace. In the above example, I linked mine together with some simple silver wire and a few spacer beads. I wrapped about a third of the paper beads in 26 gauge silver wire.

Finished Beads

So shiny and candy-like....mmmm...

This would make a great mother’s day (or grandmother’s day) gift idea. Don’t have any art to work with? This method works with all kinds of paper – used calendars, wrapping paper, and torn pages from books or magazines, just to name a few. You could even upcycle extra wedding programs or invites for a special piece of jewelry!

 

Out of meatless Friday dinner ideas? Look here! February 22, 2012

Filed under: Food — VisibleBlue @ 2:02 pm
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I used to dread meatless Fridays during Lent – now I  love them as a great excuse to try out some new vegetarian recipes. I’m not Catholic, but my family is, so I try to make things we’ll all enjoy. Sick of fish and chips every week? Try one of these great recipes:

Black bean burgers – Forget the expensive store-bought kind! These are easy to make and delicious – plus, you can customize them however you like. I add corn and a chopped tomato when I make them. Bake, grill, or fry.

Quinoa and sweet potato cakes – I haven’t tried these yet, but I’m making them tonight.

Fish tacos – Use whatever kind of fish you want – I like to use a beer batter, or for a shortcut, you can use frozen fish. Serve with avocado yogurt sauce (clove of garlic, pinch of salt, plain yogurt, and an avocado – blend them all together) and tomatoes on soft corn tortillas. It’s also great with seared cabbage and red onions with a squeeze of lime juice.

Tofu parmigiana – If you’re scared of tofu, don’t be. You won’t miss the chicken at all! I like to make this with tofu that has been frozen for a meatier texture – just drain and wrap the tofu in paper towels, squeezing out all the moisture, and then wrap in plastic to freeze.

Baingan Bharta (eggplant curry) – A very mild curry, even my 2 year old likes it. (But he’ll eat just about anything.) Eat this with garlic naan.

Falafel – Make the cucumber sauce with Greek yogurt (or strained regular yogurt), and leave out the mayo.

Vegan split pea soup – This recipe makes a TON of super hearty, thick soup. I make this on a regular basis, and sometimes I’ll make it with chicken broth or ham chunks. Serve it with a nice crusty bread.

Spinach roll-ups – These are great to freeze ahead. This recipe is missing some garlic though! (I add garlic to everything.)

Pesto Frittata – I whipped up a batch of this when trying to get rid of some leftovers the other day, and will definitely be rotating it into regular meals. In a bowl, beat several eggs with pepper, diced onion, diced tomato, a little milk, and some prepared pesto (I used a homemade garlic scape pesto – yum!) Heat a skillet with a little olive oil and toss in some cooked spaghetti (sorry, I don’t really do measurements in my kitchen when I’m not baking. If you need a recipe, a quick Google search will net you plenty.)  When the spaghetti is warm, pour your egg mixture on top. After several minutes, flip the frittata with the help of a large plate and cook until the egg is set. A few minutes under the broiler will get you a crispy browned top, if you like.

 

 

Select Necklaces on Sale February 7, 2012

Filed under: Jewelry — VisibleBlue @ 2:05 pm
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Select necklaces and pendants are 25% off in my Etsy shop!

 

New items in the shop, and some Pinterest love! February 1, 2012

Filed under: Jewelry,Net Neighbors — VisibleBlue @ 12:28 am
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Delicate Vine Necklace

Silver wire and glass beads

A bracelet, some new earrings, and my absolute favorite thing I’ve made, this vine necklace! Go ahead and check out the shop if it’s been awhile! http://visibleblue.etsy.com

Also, on a totally related note, can I just say how much I love Pinterest? It took me some time to get into it – two months after I received my invite I finally created an account. Now I’m kicking myself for not having done this earlier – it’s a great inspiration mill and a pretty good advertising tool as well. (We won’t mention the fact that it’s a dangerous time vacuum!)

 

DIY Fun: Solid Perfume January 22, 2012

Filed under: DIY — VisibleBlue @ 11:01 pm
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I am not afraid to say this: sometimes I am a very sweaty girl. I am afraid, however, of smelling like one. When I first read about solid perfumes, the concept blew my mind. While not new by any stretch of the mind (I’m told the ancient Egyptians used them), somehow this slipped by me. It seems so obvious! The last thing I want rolling around in my purse (or more likely these days – diaper bag) is a fragile glass grenade full of noxious, room-clearing eau de toillette. Unfortunately, finding one in person, not to mention one in my price range, proved to be a fool’s errand. Like most things in this category, I asked myself, “Can’t I make this at home?” As it turns out, yes! Not only is it potentially very cost effective (depending on your choice of ingredients), but it’s fun! I felt like an alchemist in my kitchen this afternoon, and any project that gets me out of stay-at-home-mama-mode and into magical-ancient-mad-scientist-mode is a definite win in my book.

One ounce blocks of beeswax

One ounce blocks of beeswax

What do you need? Basically, three ingredients: beeswax, a carrier oil, and a scent. A few common kitchen items. Something to put the finished product in. This is the bare minimum – you could get pretty elaborate with your recipe and setup, but that is nowhere near my area of expertise and far outside the scope of this post.

For my ingredients, I used beeswax purchased at my local farmer’s market, coconut oil that I had on hand (almond oil works well as a carrier oil), and a perfume oil I wear occasionally. After my first batch, I wanted to try to turn an existing perfume into a solid, so I also used some of that (more on that later.)

The process: I don’t have a double boiler, so I set a glass bowl atop a pot with an inch of boiling water. I combined one heaping teaspoon of shaved beeswax and one teaspoon of coconut oil in the bowl, stirring with a wooden skewer until they were completely melted. At that point, I just added about 15 drops of my perfume oil and stirred. You could use any combination of essential oils or perfume oils you wanted, but I’m no expert at creating scents, so I can’t really comment any more on that. There are tons of resources available to those who are interested in perfumery!

Finished solid perfume

Containers can be cute, practical, or both!

I wiped the water off the bottom of the bowl and poured the liquid into my containers. I used an old, empty compact and a tin that once held mints. You can use any small pots or tins you might have lying around, as long as they are airtight and won’t melt when you pour the liquid in. You can even use empty lip balm containers for a super convenient twist-up stick! These containers are all available new, and often in bulk, at many online retailers – just do a quick search. The perfume will set pretty quickly and will be ready to go in less than an hour.

Despite the plethora of existing tutorials on creating solid perfumes, I couldn’t find much about using existing perfumes to get them into solid form, so I decided to just try it for myself. Since perfumes contain alcohol, I wasn’t sure if the oils would react strangely. I am happy to say that it seems to work just fine. I sprayed about 6 or so spritzes into the bowl (duh, make sure it’s away from the stove, especially if you use gas!) and stirred it in. It really stunk up the kitchen for awhile (maybe I should have used a perfume my husband likes?) and I suspect the finished product will be less intense than the original, but that’s fine by me since I find most perfumes to be overwhelming! I don’t know how it’ll last in the long run, but it was definitely worth trying. Even if I have to make it again in a year, the process is so quick and painless that it’s really worth it.