Thursday, April 28, 2011

Make Your Own Moisturizing Sugar Scrub

Make your own sugar scrub using ingredients you have at home.  You control the ingredients and can customize it based on your own preferences and/or available materials.  Not only does it exfoliate but it leaves the skin silky soft.  Never pay high prices for commercially produced sugar scrubs again.

You Need:
1/4 cup olive oil*
1/2 cup granulated or brown sugar
essential oils for scent (optional)
herbs (optional)**

*Optional Oils:
sweet almond oil -- replace olive oil entirely or use in place of part of the olive oil
coconut oil -- replace olive oil entirely or use in place of part of the olive oil
jojoba oil -- replace about 1 teas to 1 Tbsp of the olive oil
vitamin E oil -- replace about 1 teas of the olive oil

**Optional Herbs --You can use whatever herbs you'd like or none at all.  Suggestions include:
mint, lavender, chamomile, thyme, rosemary

I suggest making a small batch of plain olive oil sugar scrub and trying it to see what kind of results you get before tinkering with added ingredients.  I find that plain sugar and olive oil works well for me and that the lack of additional scents or herbs makes this scrub usable by the whole family.  It's a fantastic product to use on the hands and arms when getting done working in the garden, shop, or art studio.

In a small bowl, combine oil(s) and sugar.  If using essential oils, add a few drops.  If using herbs, add about 1 teas or so.  Using a spoon, stir together sugar, oils, and optional ingredients.  Place in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid.

If you find a layer of oil on the top of your scrub, just give the jar a shake to mix it in before opening.

To use on Face or Hands
After washing your face or hands, scoop out a marble-sized amount and rub the scrub onto the hands or face.  Massage the scrub into the skin gently.  If applying to face, be careful to avoid your eyes.  Don't rub too vigorously.  Allow the oil to sit for a minute or so and rinse off with warm water.  If you find your skin seems oily after use, wash lightly with soap and water.  If desired, follow-up with your favorite moisturizer for extra softness.

Body Scrub
While showering, scoop a gumball-sized amount out of the jar and gently massage into skin.  Rinse well and use a moisturizing body wash to cleanse the skin.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Peeps Apocalypse Brownies

I decided to make brownies to go with our lemon pound cake for Easter dessert.  As I mixed the batter, I started to think of how to make the brownies more festive.  I have various kinds of sprinkles and was about to root through my baking things to decide which to use when my thoughts turned to those sugar-sprinkled staples of the American Easter basket: Peeps. I thought they would go well in the brownies.

I considered cutting the Peeps with kitchen shears and pushing pieces into the batter.  I asked my kids if they would donate their Peeps to the cause and my youngest suggested that I shove entire peeps into the batter.  What follows looks like the results of some kind of Peeps Apocalypse.

I used my brownie pan with dividers to great effect.  I mixed the batter and poured it in, as usual.  One Peep went into each section.  Then I submersed the Peeps and popped the brownies into the oven.

The Peeps were doing well after 8 minutes.  Some puffing began to happen.

At 13 minutes, the Peeps continued to swell and were beginning to get a little brown.

After 28 minutes, a few of the Peeps had already reached critical puffing point and had collapsed.

More of the Peeps had collapsed after 32 minutes. Interestingly enough, the brownies in which each deflated Peep had resided appeared done using the toothpick test and the brownie sections in which the Peeps were still puffed were not done.

The pan was removed from the oven at 35 minutes when the center brownies were done and their Peeps had collapsed.

The reviews were that these were really good!  The tops of the Peeps browned just a little bit giving them a slightly toasted taste.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Aged Paper Labels for Potion Bottles, Alchemy Labs, etc.

I enjoy making potion bottles, especially ones that look ancient.  However, an old-looking bottle requires a similarly aged label.  To create the effect of an aged label, I used a simple graphics program (in this case, MSPaint but you can use GIMP, Photoshop, etc.) to generate the label, then print and age it.  Because I want the printed elements of the label to look distressed (and because it's difficult to run anything but smooth sheets of paper through my printer), I aged the paper after the design was printed.

Some printer ink can’t stand up to this process.  The ink should be fairly color-fast.  Factory filled cartridges or those refilled with pigment-based ink tend to work well.  To check if your ink is colorfast, simply print something (or use paper you’ve already printed) and brush or splash water onto the printed page.  If the ink does not bleed, chances are your ink should work fine.  Try both black ink and color ink; you might find a difference.  If it does bleed, one way of dealing with this is to use a light table (or window in bright light) to trace your printing with pigment-based markers onto your paper (again, if unsure, test for colorfastness).


You can create an image for your label using a border or interesting clipart found online or in your own clipart collection.  On the left label for Syrup of Hellebore, I used a piece of scrollwork as the basis for the art.  On the right label for Powdered Root of Asphodel, I used and reoriented a single piece of scrollwork four times to create a stylized border.

In step one, I selected the scroll and turned it in the direction I wanted.

In step two, on the Hellebore label, I copied the scroll, pasted it and flipped it horizontally.  Then I made an oval and placed the mirror-image scrolls on either side of it.  In the second step of the Asphodel label, I copied the scroll, pasted it, flipped it, and repeated this for four sections to create the entire border.

Finally, I added the text part of the label and printed it.  I have, in the past. used a good brush-tip pen with colorfast ink to go over the printed lines and give a hand-quilled look.  This is another way to individualize your labels.

The same label cut six different ways.
I suggest printing up several of the same label and subjecting them to variances in the aging and distressing process.  It’s hard to know exactly how these will turn out and this will give you a variety of choices for the final application.

Print the labels onto sturdy paper.  I used just plain white printer paper here and they turned out fine.  Before making them look old or distressed, decide how to cut them out.  It is important to give the paper label its final shape before aging it or the edges won’t seem as natural.  Cut it out or carefully tear it out.  Cutting can be done using standard scissors, fancy edge scissors, or other shape cutting tools.  You can either carefully trim it according to shape or give it another shape altogether.  See the picture for some different ideas about how to shape one single label.

To age your labels, lay them on a glass or ceramic plate.  Brew yourself some coffee or tea.  Drink your hot beverage but don’t discard the bag or grounds.  Instead, heap up the wet tea leaves or coffee grounds onto the labels.  Make a nice thin layer and extend it out past the edges of the label.  I tried several different teas and each gave a different effect.  

You can also mix up your leaves and grounds, laying them onto the label in different areas to give a really nice varied effect.  You can allow your labels to dry naturally like this.  This will give a light layer of color.  To deepen and intensify the colors you can put the plate in the microwave and heat for 15-30 seconds, depending on the size of label.

Starting from the upper left and going clockwise: coffee, black tea, mix of teas and coffee, green tea.

Allow the plate and contents to cool and then carefully remove the leaves or grounds.  You can either let the labels dry before moving on or you can begin augmenting your aged paper with distressed effects now.

Distressing, when done while the paper is still wet, will give a less defined edge to the drips and splatters you’ll be adding.  If the paper is dry, it will cause the first layer of coloring to bleed and create a darkened edge where the bleed ends.  Both are nice effects.

You can use brown vanilla extract, liquid food coloring, or watered-down tempera paints.  There are probably many water-based substances you can use as well to make the label appear as though it has been subjected to lots of abuse.  I tend to do most of my distressing with vanilla and yellow food coloring, and then add little bits of other colors spattered here and there.

If you don’t have a dropper for adding spots of color, use a small drinking straw (I like the narrow ones used as coffee stirrers).  Dip the straw in your liquid and then put your finger on the other end and you’ll be able to drip individual drops by loosening your finger pressure and letting air in this end.  For very small splatter marks, dip the end of a toothpick into the coloring liquid and dab the color on the paper deliberately.  

Tip your plate with the label on it to coax liquids to drip down the label, as it might if it were on the bottle at the time.

It’s also nice to dip the very top edge of the label directly into your liquid distressing medium where it will give a crisper color to the top edge making it appear as though liquid had accumulated here.

Allow all of this coloring to dry completely.

One way a label may have been inadvertently distressed over time is for the bottle it covered to have been hit with small sparks that burned it slightly.  Of course, some kinds of bottles may not have been exposed to fire so you might skip this step altogether.  For potion bottles, it's a nice little touch.  Burns could be in the form of small holes created when hot ash landed on the label and smoldered briefly.  Maybe the edge of the label caught fire in a ghastly potion-brewing explosion and burned a bit of it away.  Because some of these labels are very small, I decided against actually burning them as even a controlled burn might char more of it than it leaves behind.  Instead, I artfully cut the labels and used a permanent ink marker to “char” along the cut edges.

Roll, trim, reveal, "char."

To create a charred hole, you can fold or roll the paper around the point at which the hole appears.  Trim off the tip of this point.  Unroll the label and dab a brown marker along the edges.  Let the ink bleed into the paper a bit.  Finally, dab black marker along this edge but don’t allow it to bleed in as much as the brown.

These are some aged, distressed, and burnt labels.  They represent probably the most ancient and abused-looking results of this process and are a bit over-the-top.
The label can be sealed with an acrylic varnish (but this is best done once it’s been applied to the surface of the bottle.  Use shiny or matte finish varnish depending on the look you are going for.

Another way of sealing the surfaced that I tend to prefer is to rub the surface with candle wax.  This gives a very uneven shine to the surface of the label which can be nice.  I have some old white candles that were once stored with a variety of other candles.  The other wax colors tainted the surface of the candles, making them grungy and perfect for sealing these distressed labels.  Just rub the side of the candle on the outer surface of the label.

The label can be applied with Modge Podge, craft glue, or spray adhesive.  Just apply a very thin layer to the back and stick in place.  Consider not applying the glue to one edge or corner.  Then, once it’s dry, curl the loose section, possibly tearing it a bit or making the edges ragged for a final flourish.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Syrup of Hellebore Bottle

This potion bottle project was created using eggshells and glue to cover a bottle.  The surface was then detail painted.  The process of using eggshells to create a cracked ceramic-looking surface is fairly time-consuming.  However, the effect is pretty good and the project goes much better when the bottle is covered a little at a time and allowed to dry between sections.

Step-by-step instructions for this bottle are available here: Eggshell-Covered Potion Bottle.

You can read about how I make these labels here: Aged Paper Labels

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How It Should Have Ended

If you haven't seen the web series, How It Should Have Ended, you should.  What geek hasn't tried to reason their way out of overly complex situations.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Fake-Out Cupcakes

For April Fool's Day, I made these herb bacon savory muffins and topped them with whipped cream cheese.  To create the effect of a chocolate cupcake, I colored the batter with a liberal amount of brown food coloring and tinted the cream cheese to create a two-tone pastel effect.  To prevent green flakes which might show through even the brown coloring, I infused the milk with the herbs and strained them out before preparing the batter.

Next time I will allow the cream cheese to come to room temperature before frosting because it was very hard to get the cold cream cheese to come out of the pastry bag smoothly, resulting in gaps and unevenness.  For color effect on the frosting use a pastry bag equipped with a star trip.  When filling the bag, put yellow cream cheese toward side and pink cream cheese toward the other.  Then when the pastry bag is squeezed, you'll get a swirled efffect.

Fake-Out Cupcakes (makes 12-15)

2 cups all purpose flour1/2 teas dried rosemary
1 Tbsp baking powder1/2 teas dried thyme
1/2 teas salt1 egg
1 teas sugar1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teas onion powder1 cup milk
1/2 teas garlic powder1/4 cup bacon bits
8oz whipped cream cheese

Optional Step:  Combine 1 cup milk with 1/2 teas rosemary and 1/2 teas thyme.  Cover and place in refrigerator several hours before you are ready to make the batter.  Then you can strain out the herbage, allowing you to have their flavor without seeing the pesky green herbs which can still show through the "chocolate cake."

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a dozen muffin tins with cupcake paper.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, onion powder, and garlic powder.  Make a well in the center.

If you have added herbs to the milk, strain the herbs at this time.  Otherwise, add the herbs now.  In a small container combine egg, oil, and milk.  Add a liberal amount of brown food coloring to the liquids.  I added about 2 teas. of gel.  You may need more or less.  Stir the liquids and coloring.  Adjust the coloring until it is a few shades darker than the desired "chocolate" color.

Pour the liquids into the center of the flour mixture and beat until combined.  Stir in the bacon bits.

Fill muffin tins to about half full and bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean.

Cool completely and frost with whipped cream cheese.