November 29, 2009

Holiday Crafting

The holiday season is upon us. Although I've been working to start and finish hand-knit items for my family and friends, I've also been experimenting with my felt creations. I'm quite proud of my latest work.

Last year I bought a giant rawhide bone for my mom's dog and made a catnip pouch for our cat, Oscar. I'm pretty sure that it was the first time that he had encountered catnip, and he couldn't quite decide whether or not he liked it. He had a curious and somewhat distressed, but interested, look on his face when he took his first whiff of the green stuff. He even played with the pouch a little bit, but never got so excited as to pursue it when it fell out of reach.

But I've kept on making catnip toys (mostly because I still have catnip left over), but also because I enjoy the process. I'm also driven by a little economical incentive: I just know that there are others out there who--like me--give their pets a little gift for Christmas. I hope to help fill a niche with these holiday catnip buddies:

The Gingerbread Man Catnip Buddy

(I just put him up for sale on Etsy)

And in trying to be fair and equal opportunistic, I also made a catnip buddy for those who celebrate Hanukkah:

Star of David Catnip Pouch

(on Etsy as well)

I've also been busy experimenting with combining embroidered felt pillows with magnets. The holidays have presented me with a perfect opportunity to play with shapes, colors and themes. So far I've made two sets:

(on Etsy soon)

Each set presented its own minor roadblocks. I wanted to maintain a balance of color and variety of motifs in both. But I have to admit that the Hanukkah set was the most difficult. I had a hard time thinking of more than 3 motifs that would be both representation of the holiday and aesthetically pleasing. I'm happy with what I came up with.

Right now I'm working on making Christmas stockings for the apartment (finished product pics of those to come!). I'm also toying with the idea of making Christmas felt tree ornaments--one of which I already have nearly complete. Lots of projects. Lots of projects...

November 17, 2009

Triple the Flavors, Triple the Fun

I can't believe that it has been nearly a month since my last post! I've been meaning to post about my crafting and cooking, but preparations for the holidays have taken over: I'm experimenting with felting--something I've never done before--and trying to manage my time so that I can make Christmas gifts at a leisurely, relatively stress-free pace. Over the past few weeks I've also been trying to make some new items for my etsy shop (updates on these new items to come) and, until this morning, preparing for a holiday craft faire. But now with that out of the way, I have a few moments to share my latest batch of cupcakes...which I made for the faire.

I began with a batch of chocolate cupcakes. I usually use the recipe for basic chocolate cupcakes from Hello Cupcake!, but I didn't have any buttermilk. I thought about substituting lemon juice spiked regular milk, but decided that I didn't want to risk possibly compromising the overall texture of the final product. Instead I turned to the chocolate cupcake recipe in my Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes cookbook, which calls for milk instead of buttermilk.

The mixing process went quite well; the Field Guide recipe was actually a bit easier than the Hello Cupcake recipe in that I didn't have to melt and cool baker's chocolate or run to the store for buttermilk. And the cupcakes turned out moist and chocolately--just as the description promised. I only hit a slight snag when in a moment of impatience turned to a older, less-than-ideal cupcake tin that produced somewhat sub-par results.

For the first dozen I used a dark, heavy cupcake tray that cooked evenly and produced beautifully domed cupcakes:

The other, lighter tin required nearly five more minutes of baking time and procured these:

sad, flat topped and slightly blistered cakes.

Lesson learned, I suppose: always, always resist the urge to cut corners and use sub-par baking tins. The good news, however, is that the cakes tasted the same regardless. But when it comes to aesthetics (even in cupcakes that will be covered in frosting) I prefer the dome to the flat top.

For the icing, I decided to make a variety of flavors partly because I figured that I could please more people (and therefore make more sales) with more flavor options, but mostly for fun. I chose my tried and true whipped cream frosting, which I decorated with some pink sprinkles:

For the second frosting batch I mixed in a heaping spoonful of boysenberry jam--an improvisation that I had tried a few months ago when the thought of using plain whipped cream frosting pained me. (If you like berry pie, then you'll love this boysenberry jam frosting!)

And for the last group of cupcakes I whipped up a peanut butter frosting that Ina provided. I had to improvise a little because I had to cut the portion by 1/3 but it turned out soft and velvety: the perfect compliment for the chocolate cake.

The cupcakes turned out great. I enjoyed decorating them and they sold really well. People seemed especially enthralled by the boysenberry frosting...I think I might try blackberry next time.