Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Better than Dharma brand peanut butter cups

Every Wednesday night Dave and I watch Lost at his brother's apartment, and it has become somewhat of a ritual to come up with exciting dinner and/or dessert ideas each week. This time Dave had the inspired idea to make peanut butter cups. We found a pretty simple recipe online, bought a few supplies we were missing, and then...

I'm not linking to the original recipe as the measurements seemed slightly amiss (hint: I ran out of chocolate after one layer). Here's what I ended up going with:

1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup* + 3 tbsp creamy peanut butter
paper cupcake liners
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
pinch fine sea salt
*actually, I don't really know the measurements as I just finished off the jar I had but I know it's a little more than 1/2 a cup

Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave. I put mine in for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each interval, till they were nice and melted. Stir in the 3 tbsp peanut butter, then set aside a few minutes to cool off. Spread 1/2 tsp of the melted chocolate into the bottom and sides of the paper liners. Put them in the fridge.

Meanwhile, combine the rest of the peanut butter with the powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt. Once the chocolate in the fridge has hardened a bit, add the peanut butter mixture, evenly distributing over all 12 of the cups. Carefully press the peanut butter down with the back of a spoon. Add 1 tsp of melted chocolate to the tops of each cup, spreading it around so that none of the peanut butter is showing. Put back in the fridge until solid enough to eat. The freezer would probably be even better.

It ends up looking kind of like a peanut butter and chocolate sandwich, which is okay with me. I think if I tried this again I might like to add some graham cracker crumbs to the peanut butter to vary the texture of the filling from the chocolate. But no complaints here on the current result.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Embroidery inspiration

One craft I've never done but have been meaning to try is embroidery. It seems like an art that you can really customize and take in many different and interesting directions, from the intricate tapestries of Jenny Hart to simple embellishments like this pillowcase sampler project from the Purl Bee. Lately I've come across a variety of inspiring designs that have made me want to try it even more.

For instance, these constellations from MiniatureRhino. A simple enough idea, but I love the result, and they're not what you'd typically expect to find in an embroidery hoop.

In addition to traditional vintage patterns, TreeFox sells these embroidered badges, which is an accessory I would not have previously thought of as stitchable--so many things I don't know about this craft. I kind of want to buy a lot of random letters (like this fellow is wearing).

Here is a simple but lovely specimen from Enhabiten. If I could one day do this I would be more than pleased.

I'm not totally in love with most of the designs available from Sublime Stitching, but I was highly amused by one of their latest artist series, images inspired by one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Daniel Johnston. I don't think I'll actually go out and buy the set but I love that people are out there stitching Jeremiah the Innocent and Casper the Friendly Ghost and his other host of characters.

Well, I guess I'll be off to the craft store one of these days...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Desk organization: cork-covered cup

My desk at work is always a cluttered mess, so I've decided that I need to come up with a few new organization methods. And they might as well look cool too.

The first idea is this cork-covered cup for pencils, scissors, etc. I already have a pencil cup, but this one also serves as a place for notes, phone numbers, and reminders to myself. I'm a pretty obsessive list and note taker and my desk is always cluttered with them. It remains to be seen whether this will be the solution, but it's worth a try.

And anyway, it was really simple to do. I just rinsed out an empty aluminum can, making sure any jagged points were smoothed down with a hammer, cut down a piece of cork (I had some leftover from the map project) the size of the can, and attached it with two pieces of double-sided tape (one for each edge). And that's it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

House tour: bathroom

Since we're renters, we don't have much of a choice about most of the bathroom features. We can't change the tile, the fixtures, the cabinets, the mirror (well, I guess we could change the mirror and put the old one back upon moving out, but we haven't). Thus, most of the room isn't show-off-worthy, but there are still a few small personal touches worth noting.

I made the shower curtain last year and was pretty happy with how it turned out. In hindsight I wish I had waited to find the perfect fabric (I like this one but I could have found one I loved if I hadn't just bought something at the first store I went to) but it was so easy to do that I'm fine with just making another one at some point down the road when I feel like giving the bathroom a makeover. (Considering how small the room is, a new shower curtain does make for quite a transformation.)

After making the curtain I decided a new bathmat was in order so I bought some cotton yarn that more or less matched the curtain and knitted myself a nice striped rug. It works pretty well and washes easily, although it doesn't dry very quickly (hence the wet spots leftover from someone's morning shower).

I can't leave the beach without picking up a few shells or rocks. I've placed a few of them in the windowsill, though I'm not sure if that's too old ladyish.

An arty picture taken using the mirror.

I love our rubber animals--especially the fish, who lights up and starts flashing different colors when he gets wet. It makes bathtime feel like a rave. (Not that I've ever been to a rave.)

I bought this Polyester poster about nine years ago and have been hanging it above toilets for nearly that whole time. It's become a bit of a tradition for me.

I bought this photograph at a thrift store in Austin, and have also been hanging it in my bathroom ever since. It's hard to pick a favorite, but I think mine is the one all the way to the left. I've been trying to figure out her name from her bowling shirt but it's a bit hard to read--I'm guessing Marie, although it could also say Nonie.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A well stocked kitchen

For me, this weekend has so far been all about two things: being outside and enjoying this great weather, and buying new/upgraded items for my kitchen. Yesterday I took a walk to Crate and Barrel on my lunch break with my co-worker and bought a few things, and today while strolling through the town of Katonah after checking out a Lichtenstein exhibit at the Katonah Museum of Art, we happened upon an 85-year old department store that had a great kitchen supply section.

Above is a sampling of some of the items I am most excited about. Not pictured are a new and improved muffin pan, square baking pan, grapefruit spoons (we've been eating a lot of grapefruit lately and these serrated spoons will make things much easier), and a new vegetable peeler. Not that they're not also exciting. But...

The wire rack is going to be quite useful for properly cooling various baked goods. According to the girl who worked at the department store, Chicago Bakeware is excellent. (Maybe it was the braces, but this girl looked about 14. I guess teenagers from Katonah, which is kind of a bourgie town, enjoy the finer things in life. Like comparing bakeware.)

More importantly...I didn't really need another slatted spoon, but this has to be the greatest one I have ever seen. It makes me laugh every time I look at it. And the teaspoon measurers will be quite useful for future baking projects.

We'd been buying the Costco-brand salt and pepper mills, but you can't refill them and it always seems like such a waste to throw them away. So buying this one seems much more economically and environmentally sound.

Plus, it's really fun to use--if you twist the top left you get salt, and right you get pepper. (Between this and the spoon, I could be amused all day. I'm pretty easily amused.)

Let's get another look at that spoon.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Medium Is the Massage

Last week I was walking past the outdoor book vendors in front of NYU, and I happened to quickly glance at a table, only to see a copy of Marshall McLuhan's The Medium Is the Massage staring back at me. I'd been wanting to get a copy of this book for awhile, and the $4 price tag made it even better. It would have been cooler to find the original Penguin UK cover (mine's an old Bantam edition) but I'm nonetheless pretty happy that I decided to give the tables a passing glance when I did. What most interests me in the book is its collage-style design, with strikingly juxtaposed black and white graphics and text. Some pages are printed backwards--I guess they're meant to be seen in a mirror but I was reading the book on a train, and let me tell you, while it's possible to do, the process is so slow that I had no comprehension of what I was actually reading on those particular pages. The book was written in 1967, yet many of the statements in the book seem to predict the Internet--for instance, "The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village." In fact, in that sentence he probably coined the phrase "global village." Don't mind my hands being in every picture, by the way. I couldn't get the book to lie flat otherwise. And anyway, it almost seems appropriate considering the number of pages in the book containing images of hands and fingers. Legend has it that the book was supposed to be titled The Medium Is the Message, but it came back from the typesetter with a typo on the cover. But when McLuhan saw it, "he exclaimed, 'Leave it alone! It's great, and right on target!' Now there are four possible readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: 'Message' and 'Mess Age,' 'Massage' and 'Mass Age.'" (from Penguin By Design)
A picture of a live performance by the inimitable Velvet Underground. The book is filled with great quotations, such as this page of lines by John Cage--"Theatre takes place all the time, wherever one is. And art simply facilitates persuading one this is the case."
I love the numbered blank faced people on this page.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Summer's not so far off

This weekend was finally beginning to feel like spring (although today has been dreary, cold, and rainy--one of my co-workers actually referred to the weather as "bullshit"), and summer doesn't feel so far off. And one of my favorite things about summer is the picnic/barbecue food. Which is kind of funny since I'm vegetarian, but I love the sides--corn on the cob, potato salad, etc. Not to mention the grilled veggie burgers and veggie dogs.

Another great part of the summer picnic is the refreshing beverages. I've been enjoying this lime fizz (or so it is called by the book where I found the recipe) the past two days. It's pretty simple to make. Just boil one cup of water with one cup of sugar. Scrub and zest two limes, and add the zest to the boiling mixture. Lower the heat and simmer for two minutes. That makes your lime syrup. Once the syrup is cool, combine two tablespoons of that, two tablespoons of fresh lime juice, and a glass of cold seltzer.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Knitting progress

Right now I'm about halfway through a knitted purse I've been working on.

I wanted to make something with a pattern that looked like scribbles, so I found an image online and uploaded it to Knitpro, a site that allows you to turn a jpeg into a knitting pattern. It's been a pretty slow and tedious process that involves a lot of counting, but it's coming out pretty well and I'm happy to report that there hasn't been that much cursing and restarting. I was initially planning on felting it but I like the look of the individual stitches so I think I'll just make a fabric lining when it's all done.

For the handles I'm thinking of getting these great handmade wooden ones from Little Odd Forest.

I'm quite looking forward to this project being done because the handles on the purse I've been using on a daily basis are held together by black electrical tape. I had hoped it wouldn't be noticeable but I think it is.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

House tour: computer/record room

I wasn't really sure what to call this room: the record room or the computer room? While yes, it is the room in which our non-portable computer (that is, our least favorite since you can't use it while lying on the couch) is housed, it is also the room where we store our many thousands of records. So it's both, really.

It might be one of the narrowest rooms I've ever seen, so I think we've done a pretty good job of making the most of the space. The round rugs were the perfect solution to the irregularly shaped area we wanted to cover.

The corner desk is also a good space-saving solution.

Two of our coolest posters, right next to each other--an original silkscreened Screamers flyer with the iconic Gary Panter graphic, and reel to reel print from the Post Family.

When I saw this metal TV tray at a junk shop in Salt Lake City, I immediately thought of this project for a magnetic bulletin board, which I'd come across on some blog or another not too long before. It worked perfectly.

I was pretty excited when I found out about the Charles and Ray Eames postage stamps that came out last year, so I made Dave pick up a sheet of them at the post office (apparently he was given weird looks). It looks great next to our robot, purchased at the inimitable Toy Joy.

I have a bit of a weakness for robots. This one kindly sharpens your pencils for you, which then winds him up and sends him on an awkward walk across the desk.

The narrowness of the room prevents me from getting a good shot of the whole record shelf, but nearly all of the spaces in this guy are filled up (mine just take up the bottom shelf), with the rest occupied by various toy record players and the Dave's favorite green Bisley cabinet (perfect for storing flyers and other bits of ephemera).

More records.

One of my favorite sections of the room. The tentacle was another great find in Salt Lake, at the store Frosty Darling. It can be purchased online here. I've got all of my movie-themed paperbacks in the awesome spring-coiled bookend (it uncoils further as you load more books in) that I got on eBay.

An incredible poster for one of my favorite movies.

The old library card catalog was a great flea market find, which Dave has used to store his cassette tapes. I spruced it up a bit with different colored labels.

And finally, another lightswitch plate that I made using an image from one of my other favorite movies. 'Cause who doesn't love Little Edie?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Reusable lunch bag...foul tip?

A couple months ago I attempted to make a reusable lunch bag by fusing together the many plastic grocery bags I've accumulated, and then sewing the pieces together. I had seen this tutorial and thought it seemed like the perfect way to make more permanent use of what otherwise would be thrown away. And while the project technically worked out okay, it was a little too small, and not the most aesthetically pleasing. In fact, it kind of looked like a diaper.

Over the weekend I made a second attempt.

Much better, I think! However, it still is not perfect.

For one thing, while it is now large enough to actually fit a lunch (including tupperware), it is not quite the right shape. It would be more effective if it had a larger, flat bottom so that the containers can sit level, something that had not occurred to me before. (As Dave has said, it's fine unless he wants to bring some soup...that would definitely leak if turned on its side.)

More importantly though, I had covered the colorful plastic with a layer of clear plastic for fear of the inks running all over the place, and I found that the clear stuff really didn't work that well. It was difficult to fuse and when it finally did it melted quite a bit and tore when I tried to remove the piece of paper that I had placed between the plastic and the iron. (See next to the man's head.) This tearing makes it a little less sturdy, but also looks kind of crappy.

So with all that I have learned, I think--hope--that the next attempt will be a winner. But this one certainly works for now.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My strange preoccupation with napkins

Long ago, I bought some pretty napkins at Ikea. Because I liked them so much I refused to actually open the package for quite awhile, and even when I finally did I used them sparingly. When I got down to the last two I set them aside (seems a little silly maybe, but I really liked these napkins!), determined to find some way to preserve them...

...which I did the other day in the form of this bowl.

I first got the idea after seeing a tutorial on making a lace bowl in the ReadyMade book, and then was again reminded of it more recently after seeing this project on DesignSponge. I went out and bought fabric stiffener, wondering if it would work on napkins.

And then I realized that I could use papier mache. (I'll try out the fabric stiffener on actual fabric next time.) I otherwise followed the DesignSponge tutorial pretty closely. You can find a good flour/water glue recipe here, although I recommend planning a few projects as it makes far more glue than you need for just one little bowl.

I had been seeking the perfect vessel for displaying these skeleton keys, and I think this bowl is the answer.