Weekend Costume Workshop

I spent two full days this weekend holed up with five friends in my basement trying desperately to help them get their Sunday ComicCon costumes finished. I don’t know how I ended up being the “experienced one” in this group, since I’m definitely no pro, but at least I had finished making the same costumes they had to make at least once already. While I coached my friends along, I did managed to get the dress for my Saturday costume sewn — but it still has lots of weathering to go before I consider it finished.

I dug out my face paints and makeup to do a few makeup trials. I’m decent at face-painting, but makeup is a totally different skill and I needed the practice.

It’s not horrible, but I think I can do better. My biggest lesson here is that I need some better eye shadows to create the look I’m going for, something with a lot more pigment. I’m going to have to go shopping this week.

Over the course of the days we had four sewing machines, a serger, a cutting table, an ironing board, and a painting table all in use, often all at the same time.

In the end, I think my friends got their costumes mostly done, or at least to a point where they could figure out most of the rest on their own. Some of my friends are returning tonight to complete their work, and others may be coming back next weekend.

Only 11 days to go…

(Oh, and I didn’t cook a single thing all weekend.)

Na na na na na na na na Bat Pie!

Tonight I’m off to another friend’s birthday celebration, and I think it’s safe for me to write about his gift since so far as I can tell he doesn’t read my blog. At least, he seemed genuinely surprised when I asked him if he’d like a pie for his birthday and, if so, what kind is his favourite. He did say that fruit pies, especially strawberry-raspberry-blueberry or strawberry-rhubarb were his top-ranked. However, rhubarb is almost impossible to get this time of year (although knowing this now, I’ll freeze some in advance next year when it comes in season). And red fruits just didn’t seem dark enough for what I had in mind.

You see, my friend is a huge Batman fan, and I wanted to make him something appropriate to his fandom. After all, as LEGO Batman says, Batman “only works in black, and sometimes very, very dark grey” — although I’d go so far as to say that Adam West’s cowl was a deep purple or blue, depending on the lighting. Since I didn’t want to add food colouring to the filling, so I went with blackberry-blueberry. As usual, I used the Purity Pastry recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001). As my father and his mother before him taught me, I made the crust using lard instead of vegetable shortening, which I’ve always been told makes the crust flakier. The filling was 3 1/2 cups of blackberries, 2 1/2 cups of blueberries, 1 cup of sugar, 3 Tbsp corn starch, and 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice.

At first I thought I might make the top crust with a large cutout so that it looked like the Bat Signal, but a friend had linked to a recipe for Rustic Cast Iron Skillet Peach Pie on social media, and I really liked how they’d made their top crust. I thought that cookie-cutter cutouts would look a bit like a cloud of bats against a night sky, which is an image used repeatedly in Batman media. Of course, the fruit filling isn’t totally flat and the bats warped a bit during baking, so they look their most bat-like from directly above. It’s a really simple technique and can be achieved using any shape of cookie cutter, although I have a feeling that the simpler the shape, the more recognizable it will be when cooked. I do have a feeling that I’ll be using this technique in the future to customize my pies. If you don’t like making crust from scratch, I see no reason why it wouldn’t work equally well with store-bought dough.

A Piece of Pie

Recently, my husband and I were playing Borderlands 2 online with another couple who are good friends of ours. At one point I had to take a brief AFK break to take a pie out of the oven, causing our friends to jokingly lament that they didn’t have pie too. At that time, their birthdays were swiftly approaching, so I promised them that I’d make them pies for their birthday. Well, their joint birthday celebration (their birthdays are only a couple of days apart) was this past Friday, so on Thursday night I had to make their pies.

I decided to make two totally different kinds of pies, and I started with a lemon meringue. I used the crust recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001), the filling from page 687 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition), and Soft Meringue Topping #1 on page 798 of the Joy of Cooking. I’ll confess right now that I had never made lemon meringue pie before, even though I quite like it. I’d only tried a meringue once before and that failed spectacularly. I don’t know what I did, but no matter how hard I whipped it, the meringue never formed peaks at all, it just stayed runny. I was really worried that it wouldn’t turn out right.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

In the end, I’m quite proud of my first lemon meringue pie, even though I singed the topping a bit. I have got to remember that my oven heats unevenly and that I need to check on my baked goods more often. I mean, I set a timer for the minimum time recommended and then checked it with five minutes to go, and it was still a rather dark brown (I was aiming for a toasted gold). If I’d left it in five minutes longer, it would have been burnt. Luckily, the colour was only on the surface, and my friends said it tasted just fine. They served it up to their gaming group when playing D&D on Sunday night, and everyone liked it, even one person who generally doesn’t like lemon meringue. I’m wondering if that’s because I used fresh lemons and lemon zest when I made the filling from scratch, instead of using canned filling.

For the second pie I went with a fruit-filled pie, which something I’ve done successfully a million times before, just in case. I mean, given the disaster with the bitter pumpkin pie at Christmas, experience doesn’t always mean mistake-free. But I’m fairly confident that it will taste fine (especially since you can honestly completely omit sugar in most fruit pies and it’ll still be palatable). For kicks, I rolled the top crust using a laser-engraved rolling pin that I received as a gift a while back. It features the hazard symbols for poison, ionizing radiation, high voltage, and biological hazards. Something tickles me about using this on food.

What with a fruit pie crust never baking flat, it’s hard to see the design, but it is there. I also vented the crust using a 8-Piece Pie Divider for the first time, which was a gift from another friend. It is honestly the weirdest-looking gadget in my kitchen, but it works quite well. The recipe for apple-strawberry pie that I used can actually be found on the back of its packaging box — although I did use the same Purity Pastry crust for both pies, since it’s just easier to whip up one big batch instead of multiple small ones. I used leftovers of that crust, along with some extra fruit from the fridge, to make the fruit tarts that night as well.

Honestly, I’m kind of hoping that this baking-as-a-birthday-gift idea becomes a regular thing. As my friends and I get older, I find it harder to shop for presents, since I know the things that they really want is way out of my budget, and we all have more clutter than we really need. But food is a necessity of life. And just maybe on our birthdays we deserve to be able to elevate a basic need to something a little more special.

Christmas Gifts

I received some absolutely lovely Christmas gifts this year from friends, family, and Santa Claus. Some of the gifts would likely be of interest to other crafty- and foodie-types. My brother gave me one of those fantastic crocheted knight helmet hats and the previously-mentioned Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients Quick & Easy Food cookbook (Jamie Oliver, 2017). My husband gave me a copy of How to Cook Indian by Sanjeev Kapoor (2011). Santa brought me some lovely worsted-weight variegated yarn, which I am currently turning into a hat. My parents bought me a funny (and very accurate) Procrasti-knitter T-shirt from White Owl Crochet.

But I do have a weakness for handmade items that combine practicality with beauty, and this year my parents picked out some absolutely lovely pieces for me. The first is a pair of wine tumbler/tea bowls from Greig Pottery. The one on the right is patterned with lupins, which is a flower that I first fell in love with on a trip to Newfoundland with my mom about eight years back. In shape and size, these vessels remind me of Japanese teacups, although they are intended for both hot and cold beverages (so far as I know, you’d never have a cold beverage in this kind of cup in Japan). They fit comfortably in my hand and the little indents — one on either side — are perfectly placed for my thumb and forefinger. As a bonus, they’re both microwave and dishwasher safe. I can’t wait to use them, possibly for some rum and eggnog before the season is over.

Mom and Dad also gave me this gorgeous two-tone rosewood & mango wood yarn bowl from Knitpicks. They actually gave me two hand-potted yarn bowls (in different sizes, for different-sized balls of yarn) last year for Christmas, but my kids managed to smash both of them on the same day. Needless to say, I was not amused, as the bowls sat on the table in the living room where the kids aren’t supposed to be playing in the first place. I was very vocal (possibly too vocal) about how much I missed the old bowls, so Mom actually hopped onto the Internet and ordered me a new one — one that, it should be noted, should be much more difficult to smash. Touch wood. I love the glassy-smooth finish of the wood; when I got the bowl, I couldn’t stop running my hands over it. I was especially proud of my mother for ordering it for me, since she had never before shopped online on her own, usually getting my brother or I to order things for her. I don’t see an Amazon Prime account in her future, but I like that Mom is now able to put aside her worries about online shopping, at least for items that she can’t get in town.

I want to take this opportunity to say a sincere thank-you for all of my gifts this holiday season. Although, as Garfield points out in the Christmas special that we watch every year, it’s not the giving, it’s not the getting, it’s the loving.

Cat-Proof Tree

A friend of mine, who owns three very mischievous cats, posted a link to a Facebook post about Genius People Who Found A Way To Protect Their Christmas Trees From Asshole Cats And Dogs back in November, and it gave me some ideas. Specifically, the picture of the little tree in the gigantic lantern.

You see, I’d salvaged this 3.5-foot-or-so decorative lantern a while back and, although I’d filled it with orange lights as a Halloween decoration, I didn’t have any real idea what I wanted to do with it once the holiday was over. I’d thought I might spray paint silhouettes on the inside and turn it into a permanent addition to my Halloween decoration collection, but I didn’t have any concrete plans. However, I thought that my friends might like a tree that their cats couldn’t destroy, so I started working on the lantern.

The lantern had been discarded for a reason; it needed repair. It required a good cleaning, some glue in spots and a couple of coats of paint, not to mention some new hardware. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find matching replacement hardware, so the rusty stuff was just going to have to do. I also had to find a short enough tree and some small embellishments (which I kept to a neutral white and silver motif to hopefully go with the decor on any floor of their house, and any decorations they would want to add).

I was quite happy with the final product, which looked nice in a lit room…

…but really was at its best in low to no light.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

My friends seem to be quite happy with their Christmas gift. Although the cats were quite interested at first, the fact that they couldn’t reach the branches, lights, or ornaments meant that they lost interest pretty quickly — which was perfect. The tree in the lantern is pretty heavy, so the cats can’t knock it over. And as a bonus, the tree doesn’t even have to be taken down after the Christmas season is over unless my friends want to use the lantern for something else. A plastic garbage bag over the top would keep the whole thing dust-free in storage until they want to use it next year.

I really liked how my Christmas tree in a lantern turned out. A bit of Googling has made me realize that lanterns are great for protecting all kinds of decorations from pets and young children. I’ve seen them filled with glass balls, tiny dioramas, seasonal knickknacks, paper or painted silhouettes (usually with frosted glass), greenery arrangements, and live plants. I have so many ideas now that I think I’ll be keeping my eye out for more lanterns to salvage and decorate.

Gifts of Food

I love to give food as gifts. I figure that everyone has to eat. Even those people it’s really hard to buy/make gifts for, those people who seem to have everything they need or want (or have expensive tastes way out of my budget), food is something that they constantly need to purchase. It is, after all, a consumable.

So I give food as gifts for birthdays, Christmas, and other special occasions. I try to keep the recipients’ tastes and food sensitivities/allergies in mind, of course, although sometimes I know I don’t quite get it right (but that can happen with any kind of gift, really). I always label all of my homemade food with every ingredient I’ve used, just in case I’ve missed or forgotten something. I like giving hard-to-find items that may require a trip to a specialty store, or foods sold as part of fundraisers. When it comes to home cooking, casseroles and baked goods are traditional. Additionally, I especially like giving home-canned goods, because I can do large batches when the food is in season and dole it out over the rest of the year. Canned goods are especially good when I don’t know when the recipient will want to actually eat the food, since shelf-stable canned goods last a year or more. There’s always a lot of food involved in holidays anyway, so I can’t always assume that a gift will be consumed immediately; to this end, foods that freeze well are also a great option.


A recent gift of food: Mikado milk chocolate biscuit sticks, Maple and Oatmeal Loaf (Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002), page 95), and Girl Guide cookies (chocolate/vanilla mix). Not packaged very prettily, I know, but it had to survive a ride on the back of my bike.

I also like to give food to people I care about who are going through a rough time. A new baby in the home (a joyous occasion, but a time-consuming and stressful time as well), a death of a loved one, illness, marital troubles… In this case it’s less of a matter of celebration, and more a matter of trying to help out. When you’re in the middle of personal difficulties, the last thing on your mind is eating properly. You have neither time nor inclination to cook, so you rely on whatever is cheapest and easiest, which isn’t sustainable in the long run. I want to help out, but in so many cases there’s not much I can really do to fix the problem. I feel helpless, and I hate to see someone I care about hurting, so I fall back on making food — something I know I can help with. I want to show that I care, but I don’t want to intrude, and popping by to drop off a casserole or a loaf of bread only takes a few minutes.

Where did this mindset come from? Is it regional? Familial? Personal? I’m not sure. I’m from Maritime stock, and I’m told this is very common on the East Coast (also the Southern USA, but I don’t have any ties there). I grew up around potluck gatherings of every kind, that’s for sure. I’m pretty sure my paternal grandmother was of the traditional “bring food around” mindset; possibly it’s part of the whole “hostess gift” tradition? Whatever the reason, what I’m trying to do with a gift of food is show that I care, and that I want to make your life easier, if only for one meal. And hey, if I end up giving you a dish that you absolutely despise, I was trying, okay?