Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Card Crafting

Christmas Card

I'm not very good at ever managing to get christmas cards out, but this year I made some. Here's what I did:

Christmas Card

I cut out snowflakes of different sizes from paper, then I traced the shapes onto thick craft foam. I carved the craft foam with a wood burner, just like I did for my circlet at Halloween, but with no three dimensional shapes. In this way, I turned the craft foam into a stamp.

Christmas Card

I experimented with my stamps and the message I wanted in several different fonts to narrow down to my final choice.

Christmas Card

I printed these on pre-perforated cardstock from Avery, then separated them into individual cards before stamping.

Christmas Card

A registration mark at the corner of where I placed the card helped me keep the cards fairly similar from one to the next, once I had figured out how I wanted them to look.

Christmas Card

Christmas Card

Once the outside of the card was done, it was time for the final stamp on the inside.

Christmas Card

Fold it up, and it's done!

The next step was to print everyone's names on the envelopes. I entered all of the names and addresses into the computer, and went to print them all, and they became inaccessible. I guess I'll be writing them by hand instead. That's one way to keep myself occupied on the way to my parents' house.

Cocktail Wednesdays: Hot Buttered Rum

Hot Buttered Rum

This week's drink was Hot Buttered Rum, which I chose because I was interested in the recent 12 Bottle Bar post on the subject. Years ago, a friend made her father's recipe for a party. That recipe was made in huge batches and used a batter similar to the syrup I made for the Butterbeer. This new simpler, more raw recipe was much easier to make in single servings.

Hot Buttered Rum

2 oz Good, Dark Jamaican-style Rum
1 tsp Raw Sugar
3+ oz Boiling Water

Rinse an earthenware mug with boiling water
Add sugar
Pour in an ounce or so of boiling water and stir to dissolve sugar
Add rum, another 2 oz of boiling water, and a hazelnut-sized knob of butter
Sprinkle nutmeg over the top

Hot Buttered Rum

The verdict: This is basically a rum-based-toddy. It's a drink for when it's cold out, but on the whole, it's watered down. The butter does add to the experience by giving it a richer mouth feel, but it's not as rich and full as the other kind of hot buttered rum.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Milk Punch

Milk Punch

As we enter the holiday season, it's about time for me to get over my fear of adding milk to cocktails. You won't be seeing any possets or syllabubs here, because curdled milk scares me. On the other hand, as Irish cream shows, not all dairy drinks have that issue.

Last night's choice was milk punch. I first encountered this drink on Smitten Kitchen, where Deb was feeling pretty obsessed with it last winter. For some reason, I remembered it as being something I had read about on Four Pounds Flour, so I had a bit of trouble finding the recipe post I had originally read. Ok, I say "for some reason", but I know exactly why. Four Pounds Flour is a cooking blog where Sarah Lohman documents her historical gastronomy research and experiments she conducts in her tiny New York apartment, or at the museums where she demonstrates, such as the Lower East Side (Jewish) Tenement Museum. Deb of Smitten Kitchen also makes all of the dishes she writes about in her tiny New York kitchen, and she often posts Jewish dishes from her family; additionally, she linked to Ben Franklin's milk punch recipe and talked about it a little in her post, so it's no wonder my memory was fuzzy. I thought about history and a New York cook, so my mind immediately had me searching Sarah's blog. Recently, 12 Bottle Bar posted a recipe for milk punch, which helped bring it to the forefront of my list of drinks to try during cold weather. During my search, I also found 12 Bottle Bar's brandy milk punch recipe, and a recipe on Cocktail Hacker. Ultimately, I decided to go with the recipe that involved only milk, no half-and-half, because we don't keep half-and-half on hand.

Milk Punch

1 oz Brandy
0.5 oz Dark Rum
0.5 oz Simple Syrup
2 dashes (1/4 tsp) Vanilla Extract
4 oz Whole Milk

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Shake with ice and strain into a rocks glass filled with shaved or crushed ice
Garnish with a grated nutmeg

The verdict: This was a nice wintery tipple to drink in front of the fire. It's a bit like eggnogg, but not so dense, with a frothy top. I really liked the way the vanilla extract and the vanilla qualities in the rum played with the milk. I was a accidentally bit heavy handed with the nutmeg on my glass, and I must agree with Sarah Lohman that large quantities of nutmeg is a bit of a 19th century flavor, but somehow wintery weather by the hearth with a fire made it seem just right to have a bit of Victorian flavor.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Knitting Projects

Random Stripe Knee Socks

I haven't posted about my knitting for a while, largely because I hadn't finished anything in a long time. After running out of yarn on two large projects, I started work on a pair of knee socks with random stripes generated by die rolls.

Random Stripe Knee Socks

Finally, I finished the socks at the beginning of November.

Random Stripe Knee Socks

I knit the socks from the toe up and used a four-sided die to select the color and a twelve-sided die to select the number of rows.

Hand-knitted dishcloths

Next, I needed some fast projects. I was tired of not finishing things, and I was way behind on my goal of at least twelve finished objects for the year, so I started knitting dishcloths. It was fortunate timing, because this was a difficult few weeks, and a bit of mind-less knitting was in order.

Ruby Red Rosehip Socks

When I had used up the last of my cotton left-overs, I started another pair of socks. I finished this pair on Tuesday, then on Wednesday morning I went for the first time to the yarn store in Wyandotte, Riverside Yarn Gallery, where I purchased more yarn to complete my scandinavian stranded colorwork cardigan. If I can complete it before the end of December, which I think I will, it will make the twelfth completed project for the year.

Ruby Red Rosehip Socks

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Chocolate Cake and Decorating

Chocolate cake -- First decorative icing

Yesterday, I baked a chocolate cake. On Scott's sister's Christmas list were tools to use to decorate cakes because she wants to learn how. So, of course, when I was in the cake decorating aisle, I got excited about doing some myself, and since I know Scott loves cake, I knew he'd be happy for me to make more. The last time I baked a cake, it was so huge that it was ridiculous for the two of us, so I bought a couple of 6" cake pans, so I can make lots more cakes.

This was my first time piping boarders, which were a mess, and my first time making roses, which I think turned out well.

I baked this chocolate cake recipe from Whisk-Kid:

Super Chocolate Cake

3/4 c (177ml) heavy cream
1 c (160 g) dark chocolate chips (I used 52%)
2 c (250 g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3/4 c (177 g)butter, cubed and at room temp
1 c (142 g)firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs + 2 yolks, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350F (175C) then grease and line two 6 inch pans.

Heat cream until steaming, then pour over chocolate. Allow to set for 5 minutes, then whisk gently to combine. Allow to cool to room temp (put it in the fridge/freezer for a bit, if you like).

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then add both yolks plus the vanilla. Then, alternating between wet and dry (beginning with wet), add the flour and cream mixtures in 2 additions each. Be sure to scrape down the bowl!

Divide batter into the two prepared pans and bake 35-40 min.

The batter was stiff like icing, so it was tricky to divide, but it baked up beautifully, light and airy. I may have baked it a tad too long or left it out to cool uncovered too long while I went to buy more butter for the icing, because it was a little dry, but I don't think that was the recipe's fault.

Then I made a Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting based on Whisk-Kid's tutorial. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out well. The meringue was beautiful -- the best I've ever made, and I can't wait to try the technique for Pavlova -- but the butter didn't blend in correctly. I think that perhaps it was too cold. In the end, this may have been because our thermostat was set a little low, and "room temperature" wasn't in the right range. Anyway, after making several efforts to get it to thicken up and get the bits of butter to blend out, I roasted some hazelnuts, crushed them and added them to the frosting, to use as filling. Then I made Julia Child's chocolate buttercream frosting. Unfortunately, this came out a bit too thick -- probably because the room was a bit cold -- and I had difficulty spreading it cleanly when trying to frost the cake. Finally, I made buttercream icing from this video for the decorative elements. It was simply 2:1 confectioner's sugar to room-temperature butter. Because I made this after the point when I realized that the butter needed to be a little warmer than room temperature, it came cout beautifully, and I was able to pipe with it pretty well.

This video was the best one I watched to learn how to pipe my roses. I also liked Little Lady Cakes's drop flower tutorial, though I think I didn't have quite the right tip to try to make them.

Hopefully, I can use TLC's tutorial next time to make better boarders.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: The Scofflaw

The Scofflaw

In honor of this past Monday's anniversary of Prohibition repeal, this week's cocktail is The Scofflaw.

To quote The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess:

It was in 1923, when Delcevare King, a member of the Anti-Saloon League, posed a contest to create a new word in order to combat the continued drinking which was going on during American Prohibition. The new word was to be one "which best expresses the idea of a lawless drinker, menace, scoffer, bad citizen, or whatnot, with the biting power of 'scab' or 'slacker.'" The $200 prize elicited a huge response. On January 16th, 1924, the Boston Herald announced the winning word as "scofflaw", with the winnings shared by the two Boston area residents, Henry Irving Dale and Kate L. Butler, who both submitted it. This was not the end of the story however, in just a little over a week, a salvo was launched from Harry's New York Bar in Paris, where they created a new drink and christened it the "Scofflaw".

Those of us Americans who enjoy an old-style cocktail have something to thank those scofflaws for, and the drink is a good one to celebrate the repeal of prohibition. I find it interesting to note that the word has come to mean "A person who flouts the law, esp. by failing to comply with a law that is difficult to enforce effectively." as per the Google dictionary. What strikes me about this current definition is that the word is now a critique of the law as well as the law-breaker. World Wide Words defines it as "A person who flouts a law, especially an unsustainable one," and says "it often refers to persistent offenders against parking laws and other minor regulations." Not all dictionaries make this distinction between the meaning of scofflaw and criminal wherein the law in question is criticized, however I find the distinction to be a marked critique of Prohibition and of other current laws that they would be equating to Prohibition.

After looking at a number of recipes, I chose to use the one Kenn posted on Cocktailia, which follows what appears to me to be the most typical ratio of rye to dry vermouth, most typical amounts of lemon juice and grenadine and also includes orange bitters, which is always included in the recipes with slightly different ratios. I also included a lemon twist, which frequently appears in the recipes.

The Scofflaw

1 1/2 oz Rye whiskey
1 oz Dry vermouth
3/4 oz Lemon juice
3/4 oz Grenadine
2 dashes Orange bitters
1 Lemon twist (garnish)

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

I chose to use Canadian whiskey, rather than American rye because I was reading that this was likely what was used during Prohibition when this drink was invented. Canadian whiskey is historically referred to as rye whiskey, though unlike American rye, it has no legal definition of rye percentage. Per Wikipedia "Historically, in Canada, whisky that had some rye grain added to the mash bill to give it more flavour came to be called “rye”. Although many Canadian whiskies are still labelled as “rye”, the modern mash bill for a Canadian “rye” whisky often contains little or no rye grain, and their flavour is derived in other ways (such as flavour development from the aging process, blending with stronger-tasting Canadian whiskies, and the addition of flavourings)." On the other hand, American rye "is, by law, made from a mash of at least 51 percent rye." Under Canadian law, "rye whiskey" and "Canadian whiskey" are synonymous, so a drink made during prohibition was most likely made with Canadian whiskey.

Canadian Club seemed particularly appropriate given its popularity here in Detroit, where many scofflaws ventured across the Detroit River in rowboats or over the winter ice pack in cars to bring it back from Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor, Ontario. The same laws and the same geographical situation that led Hiram to move from Detroit to Windsor to establish his distillery ironically led to the prominence of The Purple Gang, and the national dominance of Detroit as a liquor-smuggling port. This dominance was supported by the burgeoning auto industry and the suped-up cars that savvy Detroit gangsters were able to have built for their rum running. Anyway, back to it.

The verdict: I think I may have been a bit heavy-handed with the orange bitters. I think the orange overtook, with the red fruit of the grenadine close behind. It seemed a bit like a boozy version of those pea-sized powdered-sugar-dusted hard candies that came in round white tins when I was a kid. I don't remember what they're called, but that's what it made me think of. I can think of a number of people who would like it just as-is, but as for myself, I would try it with a more pungent American rye or dial back on the lemon juice, grenadine and orange bitters. Of course, part of this may be that my grenadine is rich simple syrup, rather than 1:1, which I am starting to suspect is more common.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I think it was the week before Thanksgiving that we were called upon to host the meal this year. There has been so much going on in the family that no one had even thought of Thanksgiving until we asked what the plan was, and Scott's aunt was quite grateful that we could take the pressure off of her by taking it over for the year.

After making pumpkin pie

This year, I found that Thanksgiving is at least as much about cleaning up as it is about cooking. Here's the aftermath of roasting two pumpkins and baking two pies. We got Scott's grandmother's recipe for pumpkin pie with homemade graham cracker crust, and I made two huge ones in the lovely new pans my parents sent me. Unfortunately, the pans were much bigger than the ones the recipe called for, so I was really thrown off on the baking time. I was worried about the charred edges, but everyone enjoyed the result.

After making pickled beets

Here's the result of making pickled beets, which Scott's Polish family traditionally has at the Thanksgiving table. Unfortunately, I accidentally left them in the refrigerator!

Next up was a pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust which also really needed a smaller spring-form pan to make a nice high cheesecake, and which I stupidly cracked thanks to forgetting to do a water bath, and which I made look worse thanks to an attempt to be fancy on the decorating front.

Then there was a turkey that pretended to be done, with juices running clear, but was pink down near the drumsticks. Scott took over and cooked it more, cutting deeply into the turkey every time he took it out of the oven, so that by the time it came out of the oven, it was already carved. Fortunately, it was still juicy and tasty.

The end result was hectic, but everyone was pleased with how tasty everything was. And of course, the other result was piles of pots and dishes to wash. And that's not even mentioning the six hours I spent shampooing the carpet, or the rest of the house cleaning. Plus, I was trying to finish as much of the basement as possible beforehand, because I knew that the whole family would want to see our progress.

Despite the hectic preparation, I'm grateful that we could host the meal for the family. Everyone had a good time hanging out together, and I think it was ultimately a success.

Fall into winter

It's been raining and snowing day after day this week, and we need to get the yard cleared out before winter really comes, before the snow stops melting during the day, the ground freezes, and the snow sticks permanently. If we're going to excavate the basement wall before this happens, step one is to clear out the leaves, since we haven't gotten a chance to rake the back yet. But before I can rake the back, I needed to finish up raking the front. You see, I have raked the front several times, but never managed to finish and get the sides of the yard.


Our lawn isn't big, but we have several large trees, including the biggest maple on the block. The most difficult problem is that our big sycamore trees in the front drop leaves the size of my head. Just bagging up the sycamore leaves on the sides of our house took me a couple of hours and eight lawn bags. Six of those bags were just from the side in the picture above. I also ended up with a bin full of sticks and picked up a large branch that broke and fell from one of the sycamores. I may have been dealing with wet leaves, but at least it's progress.

Flooding: Update 8 - One step forward, two steps back

Basement painting

This week, we finished the new walls in our basement and I finished painting the walls.

Above, you can see the new entrance to our storage room, which will have double bi-fold doors.

Basement painting

This is the new linen closet located where the old door to the storage area used to be. I've painted it the same dark color as the lower part of the wall, and I think it will be lovely once we put the white shelves in. Of course, it will get a door, too.

Basement painting

I finished the paint all around both main the room and the hallways. We thought that meant that all we have left is staining the bar, installing the floor, the moldings, and the doors.

The first problem arose when we went to double-check that no flood water seeped into the bar. We planned to pull the back off and deal with it from there, but what we found made that impossible.

Bar demolition

It was impossible to simply pull the oak veneer plywood off the back of the bar. We found that the bar had been constructed by liquid-nailing the oak plywood to particle board. We couldn't simply remove it without destroying it. Additionally, the particle board had soaked up the water, and on the back side, the particle board had been applied over a layer of drywall, which had also been soaked.

Bar demolition

That meant we have to rip our the entire thing, including the cabinets and back wall.

Bar demolition

The only thing we might be able to salvage is the upper counter.

The second bad news had no photo associated with it, but it may be more dire. On Wednesday, I found small puddle on the floor of the storage room. We believe that the rain seeped through the cinderblock exterior wall. That may mean that we need to excavate and waterproof from the outside. Certainly, some water has been getting in without our knowledge, since the bottom shelf of our new shelving unit in that corner was already mildewy, after only a few months of owning it.

Get 'er done

I've been planning to post about a lot of things and not getting anything up besides the weekly drinks, but I want that to change. My new motto for the blog is "Just Do It." So, I'm trying not to take too long writing or worry about the order I'm putting these out in, just get that content out that I want to share with you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Diablerie


Tonight's cocktail was Diablerie, which was cocktail contest entry by Kent Wang. It is a riff on the El Diablo, a tequila-based cocktail. I picked this one because we have all of the ingredients, and I really thought it was about time we did a cocktail without Maraschino. Additionally, this is a cocktail containing cassis (black currant), which is an ingredient in two drinks that are standbys for me: the classic French Kir, and hard cider with cassis. This is a New Orleans sour, since it contains lime juice and is sweetened by orange liqueur, but also to a certain extent it is sweetened by the cassis as well.

I served it in some glasses that I cleared out of the bar in the basement. I was crossing my fingers that the glasses would be large enough, and they barely were. You may be seeing some more of these in the rotation in the future.


1 1⁄2 oz Light rum
1⁄2 oz Orange liqueur
1⁄2 oz Cassis
1⁄2 oz Lime juice

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass.

The verdict: The cassis provides a sophisticated fruitiness. It is a fruity rum drink, but it's not a stereotypical tropical rum drink. I have a bit of difficulty figuring out what the best setting or season would be for this drink. Scott thinks it has "a good taste, but it is a medicinal taste." He said that although he liked it tonight, he doesn't think he would normally have drunk all of it. I like it, but then I do like black currant anyway.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Martinez

Martinez Cocktail

For this week's cocktail, I chose the Martinez. I've been coming across references to this drink fairly frequently. Often other drinks are considered to be twists on the Martinez. Even the classic Martini is considered by many to be a descendant of the Martinez. In some ways, this is pretty surprising, since the Martini is a simpler cocktail than the Martinez. On the other hand, there is a recorded recipe for the Martinez from as early as 1887.

I found this video on Epicurious of the drink being mixed:

Thanks to the technique shown on this video, I finally was able to make a decent twist, which I am quite proud of.

Martinez Cocktail

There are a number of thoughts about the recipie for the Martinez, many of which can be found here. Mainly, the differences are in the heaviness of the vermouth. Ultimately, I chose to try the original gin to vermouth ratio, rather than a more modern version that would have been lighter on the vermouth. Also, after seeing recipes with orange bitters and others with Angostura, or even other brands, I chose a dash of each orange and Angostura, rather than two dashes of one type of bitters.


1 oz Gin
2 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 tsp (scant) Maraschino Liqueur
1 ds Orange Bitters
1 ds Angostura Bitters
1 lemon twist (garnish)

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

The verdict: Interestingly, this is the first drink with Maraschino where I didn't find the Maraschino to be the dominant note. For me, the vermouth and the gin come first, and the other flavors are behind that, discernable but nicely balanced. Scott thought it was "a perfect combination of the gin and maraschino, and the vermouth was not overpowering." He even said that before I let him know that I picked the most vermouth-heavy of the recipes, so that's a good sign. I think this is a nice fall drink.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Chinese Cocktail

The Chinese Cocktail

This week's choice was the Chinese Cocktail, a drink actually goes back to the Savoy cocktail book, but in that recipe there is no lime. The recipe I used called for Mount Gay Rum, which we don't have, and we thought the Añejo would be the closest thing on our shelf. Now, I'm seeing some recipes using dark rum, which would probably have allowed the rum a stronger presence.

The Chinese Cocktail

1 1/2 oz Rum
1/4 oz Orange Liqueur
1 tsp Maraschino Liqueur
1/4 oz Grenadine
1/2 oz Lime juice
3 ds Angostura bitters

Shake over ice and strain into cocktail glass.

The verdict: A pleasant drink, though not one that Scott would pick over his favorites with Maraschino. The Maraschino is in the forefront, taste wise, though there is less of it than some other drinks. Next came the lime, angustura and the sweetness and fruitiness of the grenadine. The rum had little presence for me. Despite this, I think the flavors are pretty balanced. It's a bit tangy, though I'm not really sure it has anything to do with a Chinese flavor. Then again, at the time of the Savoy Cocktail book, Chinese food was the subject of much stereotype and not much knowledge in the western world.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Bengal

Bengal Cocktial

The drink I selected this week was the Bengal cocktail. According to my source, it was from the 1937 U.K. Bartender's Guild manual. After making it, I found another source from 1897 with essentially the same recipe; however, one recipe I found was totally different, and other recipes used pineapple juice rather than pineapple syrup.


2 oz Brandy
1 oz Pineapple syrup
1⁄2 oz Orange Liqueur
1⁄2 oz Maraschino Liqueur
6 ds Angostura bitters
1 Lemon peel (garnish)

Shake over ice, strain, and serve garnished with a lemon peel
(We had no lemons on hand, so no garnish)

The verdict: This is another one we like a lot. I felt that it was very Maraschino-forward, with the next most dominant taste being the bitters. I felt that I could barely taste the pineapple on the back of my tongue, but Scott didn't think he could taste it at all. On the other hand, he thought it tasted lemony. Some recipes called for less bitters, which makes me wonder if we could taste the pineapple better in that case. It was rater sweet, but not cloying, because the sweetness came from several different elements. Still, with the pineapple syrup, orange liqueur, and Maraschino all adding some degree of sweetness, it was too much.

I should mention that I made my own pineapple syrup. I used half of a pineapple to make pork and pineapple satay, and with the other half, I made a half-batch of the following:

Pineapple syrup

1 ripe pineapple, peeled and cut into chunks
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water

To make pineapple syrup, cut up one whole, ripe pineapple into chunks and place into a large glass bowl. Add 1 cup of white sugar, stir to coat, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, make a 2:1 simple syrup with 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water and set aside. In a blender, add the pineapple and all the liquid that has formed in the bottom of the bowl. Pulse to combine and to break down the pineapple. Add the warm simple syrup to the blender, blend briefly to combine, and pour into a clean bottle through a strainer lined with cheesecloth, pressing on the solids to extract all the liquid. Preserve with a few ounces of vodka or white rum, and store in the refrigerator.

Makes about 1 liter of pineapple syrup

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Halloween Costume 2011 - Greecian Caryatid

The theme for our Halloween party this year was "B.C.", and I decided to go as a woman from ancient greece. I'm not entirely sure why, other than perhaps my affinity for architecture, but I particularly had in mind not a goddess, but a caryatid, like these on the Porch of the Erechtheion at the Acropolis in Athens.

caryatids, Porch of the Erechtheion at the Acropolis in Athens

I researched traditional greek clothing, and decided to wear a chiton, as pictured here:

I found information on about how to correctly size, make and fasten a chiton.

Thanks to Take Back Halloween, I found out that a full size flat sheet would be about the size I needed, and I went looking for a sheet set in one of the colors that mentioned as common in ancient greece. I picked green, and I decided to create the embellishment by sewing several ribbons near the edges. I used a greek key ribbon, and gold ribbons on either side. I tried to get something I could use later, so I ended up buying a queen set that would be able to go on our bed when I was done with it. I thought, "Another 8" or so isn't that much. I can just hide it in the fold at the waist." Actually, when it comes to clothing, the extra fabric was a lot. It was the difference between something that might have been easy to put on and something that took 1/2 hour of struggling and still didn't lay right. It's also one reason why I haven't taken another, better picture of my costume for this post. Maybe I'll do it after I wash it, though.

Anyway, I also made two brooches like this iron spectacle brooch from the Geometric period, c.8th - 7th Century BC, to pin it up with.

Last, I made a "golden" tiara sort of headpiece to replicate one of these styles seen on Fashion Era.

You can see in this (rather poor, sorry) photo that it was quite successful.

Halloween 2011 - greecian

Here is how I made the tiara:

I started with thick white craft foam, and I cut an arc shape, fitting it to my head. Using a wood burner, I carved an egg-and-dart pattern into the foam, after experimenting with the scraps and drawing the pattern on in pencil first, using an oval template for consistency.

first layer painting

Once I had carved (or melted, I suppose) it to my satisfaction, next came the faux gold painting. I started with a base layer of black acrylic.

Second and third layer

Next, I mixed a couple of browns for a mottled under-tone. Then, I dry-brushed the whole thing with gold modeling paint.

Painted gold

Finally, I picked out highlights with a little thicker application of the gold. I tied it with a little extra gold ribbon, and wrapped my hair up into a sort of bun or roll over the ribbon, as you see here:

Halloween 2011

Both the costure and the party were pretty successful, even though we didn't finish the basement in time and had to host the party at a friend' house.

Halloween 2011

(Scott went as the K-T Extinction Event -- otherwise known as the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: The Manhattan

The Manhattan

Tonight, we chose to have Manhattans, since we had bought a bottle of rye whiskey, and were trying it for the first time. On Friday, before our annual Halloween party (well, it's only my second year being involved, but it's Scott's seventh), we went to the store and stocked up on alcohol for the party and were lucky enough to be able to get a couple of bottles just for Wednesday night as well. Since I hadn't really been thinking a lot about it and I didn't know if we'd even be getting rye, I didn't look up recommendations before we headed out. We just took the recommendation of the folks at Merchant's, which we trust since they are quite knowledgeable and have the best selection in the area. The Russell's Reserve Rye that we came home with turned out to be a good choice.

Russell's Reserve Rye is named after Jimmy Russell, master distiller at Wild Turkey, and is produced by the same company, the Austin, Nichols division of Pernod Ricard. It is a six-year-old small batch production. Trying the rye itself, it is definitely not sweet like a bourbon, which we have used in the past in Manhattans. It's spicy and smooth, with a bit of a bite and a hint of leather.

The Manhattan

2.5 oz Rye
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 Maraschino cherry

Add rye, vermouth and bitters to a mixing glass. Stir over ice and strain into a rocks glass. Add a few more cubes of ice to the glass and garnish with the cherry.

The verdict: The Manhattan is not a new drink to us, but we both think this is one of the best Manhattans we have ever had. We used the Maraschino cherries we made, and I can taste the hint of Maraschino in the cocktail. In our experience, including the bitters in a Manhattan makes a huge difference from what is often served at many bars. If you have never had a Manhattan, it's a wonderful drink for fall. The sweet vermouth adds a warmth and spiciness to the flavor, and I think that the sweet aspect is balanced nicely by the rye.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: El Presidente

El Presidente

This week's cocktail is El Presidente. This drink was a Cuban staple during Prohibition in America, when Cuba was a destination for forlorn drink lovers. Some sources say that it was offered by the president of Cuba to Calvin Coolidge in Havana, and he declined. It's more likely that it was named for a president of Cuba, probably Gerardo Machado, who ruled Cuba from 1925 to 1933.

El Presidente

1 1/2 oz Añejo rum
3/4 oz Dry vermouth
3/4 oz Orange liqueur
1/2 tsp Grenadine
Orange peel (as garnish)

Stir with cracked ice, strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with an orange peel.

Añejo (aged) rum is aged in oak casks. Though there aren't really any legal requirements for this type of rum, but it has generally spent at least a few years in a barrel. This rum has a more full bodied flavor. This was our first time trying it.

The verdict: Both Scott and I felt that this drink reminded us of something that we couldn't quite pin down. I agree with The Cocktail Chronicles that the Añejo rum lends a butteryness to the drink. Scott and I both felt that the orange liqueur was the primary flavor in the drink, and this is really my criticism of it. I am interested in trying a variation advocated by Rundood which contains only 1/4 oz orange liqueur, or perhaps Esquire's version, which uses 1/2 oz. I foresee that either of these would be more balanced. The Cocktail Database recipe uses smaller quantities of both orange liqueur and vermouth, but I already felt that the vermouth wasn't really present. On the other hand, I definitely tasted the grenadine, lending not only sweetness, but also the flavor of dark red fruit.

One of the reasons that I chose this drink was that it contains grenadine, so I was glad that I could taste the grenadine in it. I was also glad that the grenadine was a pleasant addition, not overwhelming, as in the Marvel Cocktail. The reason for this is that earlier this week, I made grenadine from scratch, and I wanted to try it out. In my pursuit of a better quality of cocktail, and given that I had used up all of the grenadine we already had, when I hit on a recipe over at 12 Bottle Bar, making up a batch seemed like a good idea.

Home made Grenadine


2 cups Pure Pomegranate Juice (POM or other brand)
4 cups Sugar
1/4 tsp Orange Flower Water
1/4 tsp Rose Water

1. Heat the juice over a very low flame and mix in the sugar in batches until it is completely dissolved and the syrup is clear.
2. Remove 3/4 of syrup from the stove, and heat the remaining 1/4 over a medium flame until it is reduced by 1/4. When this is done, add the rest of the syrup back to the pot.
3. Add approximately 1/4 tsp each of orange flower water and rose water — just enough to accent the syrup without becoming prominent notes.

I actually reduced the syrup only by about 1/4 rather than the 1/2 called for by the original recipe because it was so thick it was probably at ribbon stage in candy making, so I stopped. Also, the orignial recipe called for 6 drops of each type of water, but because my bottles were open mouthed, so I estimated that 1/4 tsp was an approximate equivalent.

After making the grenadine, I really understood why it is used as a sweetening agent. It is basically a rich syrup made with juice instead of water. I chose to use R.W. Knudson juice from the natural foods section of my supermarket because it was the only one that was simply pomegranate juice without other additives (though, admittedly, I couldn't find POM there). I picked up the rose water and the orange blossom water at my local Arabic market. (I say my local market because it's really the only one I have been to. There are many in the area.) Each of these small bottles of intense flavor were less than $1.50. The grenadine turned out very well, much better flavor than Roses brand, and also much darker and much thicker. I put it in an empty Bushmills Irish Whiskey bottle, because I had it on hand. It was a fitting container, and the color is a beautiful deep red like the seed of a pomegranate when the light shines through it. I look forward to trying it in more drinks, and to trying the rose water and orange flower water, as well.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Flooding: Update 8

Now that we've gotten back to working on the basement rater than Dragon*Con costumes, we've made a considerable amount of progress that I want to share with you.

Basement Progress: New wall framing

Scott has framed out the new opening to the storage room. We are relocating the door, and the new space will have a pair of bifold doors that will allow us to get things in and out easily. In the hallway where the door used to be, we will be adding a wall and closing off part of the hallway as a linen closet.

Basement progress: mudding drywall

Meanwhile, I have taped and mudded the new drywall.

Basement Progress: All primed

I also primed the whole space, including the gyp board ceiling. Although the ceiling was already white, there were many cracks and nicks that I had to repair, so I just primed the whole thing. Additionally, I'm pretty sure it was never painted originally, and there was even overspray on the soffit above the fireplace from when they painted the brick.

Basement Progress: Color selection

Here, you can see the samples I brought home in the process of narrowing down the paint color selection. We chose the scheme on the left. It's a bit dark, but not terribly so, and I think that the ultimate result will be similar in feel to this inspiration photo:

Image on Frog Hill Designs, found via Pinterest.

Here's another inspiration photo showing a bit of the two-tone effect:

Image from amazing bespoke cabinetry company Plain English Designs.

At least for now, you can see a number of things I was thinking about color-wise on a Pinterest board I created for the purpose.

Basement Progress: Painting - 1st coat of upper color

Today, I painted the first coat of the lighter color over almost all of the finished walls. You can see it starting to come together.

What I don't understand is how working for much longer and getting much more painting done was nowhere near as exhausting as yesterday's ceiling painting. Holding things over my head is just not my strong suit.