Monday, December 30, 2013

4 Days Without Power in an Ice Storm

On Saturday December 21st, according to the web around 400,000 people (including Mark and me) lost power in Michigan. As a beautiful ice storm raged around us, our power lines froze and snapped as branches crashed down around and on them. Not to mention all the transformers that blew out. 
Luckily we had recently spent a few grand taking down huge dead trees in our yard, so we had minimal damage.
Now I am not really 'hip' to all this electricity lingo. As far as I can tell it's all just science magic and I like it that way. I am not one to care why something works, as long as it does. Now this mentality is really not helpful when things stop working. Thankfully, Mark is of the opposite mentality (even though I tease him and call him a bore for it). This was our saving grace.
Mark knew exactly what to do. He woke up early Sunday morning and started a beautifully warm fire in our fireplace and got everything ready for us to hunker in for the long haul. We were some of the lucky few that had gas heated water and a fireplace, so it wasn't as bad as it could be.
We considered fleeing (like many other did) to a friend or relatives house. However, my ark of animals put a hamper on that. It's hard to ask someone to take in 8 animals for an indefinitely number of days. Thus, Mark and I decided to go out and buy a generator. However, apparently we were not quick enough to that thought, as they were all sold out in the area. We ordered one from Amazon Prime and hoped the fireplace would keep us warm until it came. 
We kept seeing power go back on all around us and continued to feel the cold creep into our house. Consumers website said it would be a week until power was back on and I was starting to get a bit stressed. As beautiful as the ice and snow was, it was also damn cold. I kept myself amused by pretending to b a photographer.
Finally on day 4 the generator arrived! It could only run for 4-6 hours on a tank and had to be watched, to some degree, the entire time. Too many house fires to risk us leaving it alone. However, it did allow us time to heat up the house, turn it off, and spend a few hours away celebrating Christmas with our families. 
The best, and most ironic part, was when we returned from celebrating, the power was back on! So many people worked around the clock, came in from other states, and gave up their holidays to help get us back our power. I am so grateful that they were willing to do this (and sincerely hope they got a lot of pay for it).
I know that even now (on day 9) that several thousands of people are still with out power and that people are working hard to fix that. I really hope they get their power back soon, I can't image how awful it has been for them. 4 days was too long for me. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How to Make a Chain Chomp Knit Hat

This year I made a lot of my Christmas gifts. One of the really fun ones was the Chain Chomp knit hat I made for my sister's boyfriend. In case you are unaware of whom 'Chain Chomp' is, he is one of the enemies in 'Super Mario Bros' video games. Mark came across this idea on the inter-webs and suggested we make it for Jake. 
Chain Chomp
I started by looking at other's designs and a picture of Chain Chomp. I wanted the hat to be functional but still obviously a Chain Chomp. 
After picking up a black knit hat, I had Mark wear it while I chalked on my design layout and then cut out the felt pieces.
Chain Chomp Hat DIY
Chain Chomp Hat DIY
I made sure that everything was still lining up correctly before I glued (just the outline) on the felt pieces with 'Quick Grip' (the best felt glue EVA!) and then sewed them in place. Mark was brave enough to let me glue/sew everything on while he was wearing the hat, in order to make sure it was stretched correctly.
Chain Chomp Hat DIY
Once that was done I did some finishing touches to make sure all of the chalk was gone and everything looked correct.
Lastly, I created a felt chain link for the back of the hat. I saw several people place this at the top/back of the scull, but I thought it looked better at the bottom of the hat in back.
Chain Chomp Hat DIY
Chain Chomp Hat DIY
Chain Chomp Hat DIY
That's it! All that was left was wrapping and giving it to Jake! 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2 sisters, 10 hours, and $200 later...

This year I thought I would try my hand at baking Christmas gifts (again) and I decided to get my sister, Leah, to help me (as last time I sucked it up and she is a great baker).
I started by scouring the Internet for easy and highly reviewed recipes (provided with additional tips below). After selecting a mere 6 and deciding to double each batch (I mean I was just sending cookies to several people, so I should send a lot!), I made a shopping list and headed out to buy it all. I had nothing on hand (did I mention I don't do much baking/cooking?), so I had to buy even the most basic materials. Still, I had budgeted for around $100 (I mean the whole point was that cookies were a great, easy, yummy, ship-able, inexpensive gift). I was obviously Looney Tunes when I came up with that budget, as I spent $200 and ended up using everything I bought.
I am a firm believer that when you do something at home, you should do it as comfortably as possible. So a full day of baking definitely screamed 'Nick & Nora' footie pajamas, no make-up, and hair back. I was VERY excited that Leah consented to wearing one of my onesies as well! Not sure why this was so fabulous to me, but it was.
We decided to start with the Molasses Ginger cookies as the dough needed fridge time.
  • 3/4 cup margarine, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy.
Stir in the molasses.
Mix in the water and baking soda and stir.
Sift together the flour, salt, and dry spices; add gradually to the sugar-margarine mixture.
Gradually stir the sifted ingredients, along with the ginger and raisins, into the molasses mixture.
(The dough may be too soft to handle at this point- I suggest either adding a bit of flour, or refrigerating for 20 minutes [or even overnight])
Shape dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.
Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten slightly.
Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes.

These were my favorite cookies from that day. I loved how they turned out...even though I forgot to buy fresh ginger (so I added more ground ginger, obviously!). The dough looked questionable, but it sure tasted great!
Next we started on the Peanut Butter Toffee Bars. These are insanely delicious and really pretty easy to make! The hardest part was finding toffee...which I didn't. So I used crushed up Heath bars instead!
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups dark or semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup toffee baking pieces

Heat the oven to 350°. Line a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with foil so that the ends extend over the edges of the pan by at least 2 inches In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, peanut butter, sugar, and egg yolk on medium-high speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary Add the flour, oats, and salt and beat the mixture on low until the ingredients are just blended, about 30 seconds

Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust until it is golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes (be careful not to over bake)

Remove the pan from the oven and scatter the chocolate chips evenly over the crust. Return the pan to the oven for 1 minute. Remove the pan again and, using a small offset spatula, spread the chocolate evenly over the crust

Sprinkle the toffee pieces over the chocolate, gently pressing them into place
Set the pan on a wire rack to cool until the chocolate has set, about 2 hours
Using the edges of the foil, lift the dessert from the pan, then cut it into rectangles
For maximum freshness, store the bars in the refrigerator.

Leah made 'sandcastles in the sky' baking art during this batch:
You really need to be careful with these, as they are extremely addictive.
Next we decided to make the Snicker-doodles, as they also required fridge time.
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Mix butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar and eggs thoroughly in a large bowl.
Combine flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl.
Blend dry ingredients into butter mixture.
Chill dough and an ungreased cookie sheet for about 10-15 minutes in the fridge
Mix 3 tablespoons sugar, and 3 teaspoons cinnamon in a small bowl
Scoop 1 inch globs of dough into the sugar/ cinnamon mixture
Coat by gently rolling balls of dough in the sugar mixture
Place on chilled ungreased cookie sheet, and bake 10 minutes
Remove from pan immediately (if you aren't prepared to seriously remove IMMEDIATELY, I would grease the pan or use parchment paper)

Here is the thing about this recipe, this dough is EXTREMELY sticky. Not joking around here.
I really wish we had greased our pans or used parchment paper. I also don't really understand the whole refrigerating the cookie sheets thing, but we did it anyway. However, as you can see, these suckers RISE and STICK!
They did taste good in the end (the ones that survived).
Leah and I made the mistake of trying to multi-task to the extreme (as we were like 6 hours in and getting tired, with several recipes to go. WE WERE COMMITTED!), which led to the discovery that chocolate chips do not re-melt. We started the Peppermint Bark before we had the peppermint crushed (which I had to use discs instead of canes....as I couldn't find any 'peppermint' candy canes!) and then had to do something with the snicker-doodles and ended up letting the chocolate solidify instead of chancing it burning on the stove. I personally thought this was the way to go, until it would not remelt! Luckily we couldn't melt the double batch at once, so we ended up with only one kinda crumby batch (which we all found slap-happy hysterical).
  • 2 lbs white chocolate
  • 12 candy canes, crushed into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
Melt white chocolate either in a double boiler or in a bowl over a pot of boiling water (chocolate will only melt once!)
Stir in crushed candy cane and peppermint flavoring into melted white chocolate
Line a 11x17 baking pan with wax paper
Pour and spread chocolate mixture onto wax paper
Chill until firm and break into pieces. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

The next batch went perfectly and tasted AMAZING!
Honestly at this point we were starting to regret taking this all on in one day. But like the phenomenal team we are, we forged on.
The Fudge Crinkles were fun to make...for reasons seen here:
Here is the thing, I did not see confectioners' sugar listed when I copied down this recipe (I added it below), so ours were done with white sugar.
  • 1 Betty Crocker Moist devil's food cake mix
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
Preheat oven to 350°
Stir dry cake mix, oil and eggs in a large bowl until dough forms
Dust hands with confectioners' sugar and shape dough into 1" balls and let them "dry" for a few minutes
Then roll them in confectioners' sugar and place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until center is JUST SET
Remove from pans after a minute or so and cool on wire racks

Even with the sugar mix-up, they still turned out great!
The final recipe that I planned for was Soft Chocolate Chip cookies. I was intrigued by the use of pudding.
  • 2 1/4 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup butter (softened)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 (4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (12 ounce) package chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375°
Mix flour with baking soda in a bowl and set aside
In a large bowl, combine butter, sugars and pudding mix
Beat until smooth and creamy
Beat in eggs and vanilla; gradually add flour mixture
Stir in chips
Roll into balls and flatten slightly or drop by teaspoon full on a non greased cookie sheet
Bake at 375° for 8-10 minutes

I don't know why, but I love that we made an egg lake while making these.


All in all, these were easy to make and tasted pretty good. My only note would be to let they sit out and cool for a while as they are very soft if you don't.

On a personal note, I like my families recipe for Chocolate Chip cookies (using oatmeal) better than these. These were just off somehow (but still good).


Mark needed cookies for a cookie exchange at work, so we made one last double batch! However, I don't have the actual recipe for the Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate cookies. Leah and I were really starting to drag at this point (hour 8ish).

Luckily, a little sugar picked me up for the final stretch!
But then we gave up and made Mark drizzle the damn caramel on them (I salted!).
They looked really good when they were done and tasted OK.
Leah and I were completely wiped out by the time we were done.
What I have learned:
  1. Cookies are not cheap
  2. Baking is hard work
  3. Do not double everything without looking at how many cookies you actually need
  4. Read recipes completely BEFORE you start making them
  5. Do not bake for more than 4-5 hrs at a time (maybe more like 3 tops!)
  6. Sisters are AMAZING
  7. You cannot ship things that need to be refrigerated without proper considerations
  8. Left over cookies will make you eat nothing but cookies for a week

Sunday, December 8, 2013

How to Make Awesome Knuckle Tattoo Gloves

I have been feeling a bit crafty recently and decided to try on something new. I saw a DIY for embroidery knuckle tattoo gloves and decided to give it a go. 
DIY embroidery knuckle tattoo gloves
I bought some really cute tech knit gloves (the ones that let you use your smart phone while you are wearing them) and set to embroidering on cute/fun knuckle tattoos. I spent an entire evening trying to make this work and became quite frustrated. I used chalk to outline the letters, so I didn't have to wear them while I was embroidering. However, I had a hard time sewing the embroidery in to begin with, as the knots needed to be on the inside and it is hard to sew on the fingers and still see what you are doing on the outside. Then the damn knots kept pulling through the knit. I am sure there is a way to make this work better, but I think I picked the wrong glove type (the knit was too loose). 
However, I was unwilling to give up (I had bought like 10 pairs of those damn gloves). So I decided puffy paint was the answer! I grabbed some of my paint and went to work.
I didn't bother chalking the letters this time (but you could), as I would be wearing them as I put the lettering on and was confident I could get it right.
DIY knuckle tattoo gloves
It took some careful line work and few times of using a toothpick to straighten the paint or make the holes in letters bigger. Occasionally I had to quickly/carefully wipe the paint off and start over. 
The next step was carefully taking the gloves off without messing up the paint. I sucked this up a few times, but was always able to fix it. The real tip here it to go slow, pull from the finger tips, and try not to let anything touch anything else.
DIY knuckle tattoo gloves
Once the gloves were off, I made sure to look at the lettering. Could I still read it easily? If not, I touched it up right then. I occasionally had to put the gloves back on to do this, but that was always a last resort. 
After I was happy with the way they looked, it was just a matter of letting them dry and then they were done!
DIY knuckle tattoo gloves
Honestly, the absolute hardest part was coming up with what I wanted to put on the gloves. I had certain people in mind for them, so I wanted them to capture something special about that person. I spent a lot of time online looking up knuckle tattoo ideas.
DIY knuckle tattoo gloves
Overall, I really like how these turned out and I am excited to give them out for Christmas!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Perm!

Leah and I got our hair permed this weekend. Now some may say, "Cristen, why would you perm your hair? It's already very curly". Well, my response would be, "My hair has been very dry from styling, diffusing, and swimming recently. It needs a break. A perm will allow my hair to still look curly when it just air dries (with some product in it). This will let my hair repair itself".
We got our hair permed at the East Lansing Douglas J Institute. I have been going here for all my hair needs since I arrived for school in 2002. I love that I meet someone new and interesting every time, get massages, and always have a good time.
The perming process took hours and hours. Between the curling rods, rinsing, chemicals, and general chit-chat, we were there from like noon to 5pm. Don't get me wrong, I had a blast. I just didn't anticipate it taking SO LONG.
Leah decided to go with a larger curl and a variety of smaller curls.
Leah Perming
I decided to go with curls that were as similar as possible to my natural look. I was surprised how long my hair has gotten. Always a shock, since I am used to it curled up.
Cristen Perming
In general, we were pretty pleased with the outcome. I of course, forgot to take a picture of that most important part. Sorry!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Youmacon

This year Mark and I went with Leah and Jake to Youmacon. It was a great experience! 
Leah and I spent weeks creating her costume from scratch and she got several compliments on it.
Steampunk Cosplay
Steampunk Cosplay
I wore the Star Trek TOS costume I made the year before and someone actually asked to take a picture with me!
Steampunk and Star Trek Cosplay
There was a ton of phenomenal cosplay and accessories (worn and for sale). Here are some pics I found of the cosplay being worn this year:
youmacon
youmacon
youmacon
youmacon
youmacon
youmacon
I truly believe that Mark and I could make weapons, acessories, and cosplay outfits that were just as good as what we saw for sale there. Definitely something to think about.