Gluten-Free Roasted Beet Gnocchi

Today, we announced that preordering is open for Beyond Flour 2, so what better way to mark the occasion, than to share a great gluten-free recipe?

This recipe almost made it into the book. We had this one and an amazing sweet potato gnocchi. Loved them both, but the photos for the sweet potato ones looked more book-worthy!

While potatoes are obviously traditional for gnocchi, don’t overlook using other root veggies – they pack a ton of great flavour. Also, by roasting these beets, we avoid one of the big problem areas of making traditional gnocchi – boiling potatoes. Being roasted, rather than boiled prevents the beets from being waterlogged – so heavy, doughy, waterlogged dumplings aren’t likely to happen!

As with traditional gnocchi though, you’ll want to handle every stage of mixing with a light hand – keep it as fluffy and loose as possible up to the point of rolling. Handling everything gently will ensure that you’ll end up with soft, pillowy gnocchi.The texture on these is great – actual gnocchi. No gumminess or sandyness, they were easy to work with and held together well.

We love the rich, earthy flavour of the beets… and that is complimented perfectly by the tartness of the goat cheese, and bright flavour of the basil and a little lemon juice.

As pictured, we doubled the recipe, making one batch out of red beets, and another batch out of golden beets. Fussy, yes – but pretty!

Gluten-free Roasted Beet Gnocchi with Goat Cheese and Basil

Makes about 4 servings

2 1/2-3 lbs beets (Red or golden)
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup potato starch
1/2 cup Sweet rice flour
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
2 Large eggs, beaten
Potato starch for rolling
Salt
1 cup Butter
1/4 cup Fresh basil leaves, packed
2 tsp Fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
Goat cheese

Wash beets, pat dry. Place beets on a large piece of aluminum foil, folding edges up to create a pouch around the them. Roast at 375 for about 1 hour, or until beets are quite tender.

Allow to cool slightly, then rub the skins off the beets with some paper towels (or your bare hands – expect some staining!).

In a food processor, blitz roasted beets until smooth. Measure 2 cups of puree into a large bowl, reserving the rest for a future use (can be frozen.) Allow to cool to room temperature before proceeding.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flours, starch, salt, and xanthan gum to combine well. Add flour mixture to cooled beet puree, gently fold to combine. Add eggs, once again gently folding to combine. Cover tightly with plastic film, Chill for 1 hour.

Generously dust your work surface with potato starch. Dump gnocchi dough out, knead gently to bring together into a soft ball. If the dough is sticky, add a little potato starch until it’s workable.

Divide dough into 8-10 roughly equal pieces. One at a time, roll each out into long “snakes”, each about the thickness of a thumb. Cut each roll into bite-sized pieces, about 3/4″- 1″ long.

If you’re feeling lazy, you can cook these up as-is. Otherwise, you can roll them over a fork to produce the traditional ridged gnocchi shape. There are many possible ways to do this, and you may want to play with it a bit until you find your own groove. For me, I gently (but firmly!) roll each gnocchi over the back of the fork, aiming towards the pointed ends of the tines. As I roll, the gnocchi will curl over itself into a slight “c” shape. Practice, experiment, and if necessary – Youtube has great tutorials for a variety of methods.

Start a pot of boiling water, and salt it well. Bring it to a gentle, not rolling boil, and cook your gnocchi in batches. As they float to the top, allow them to cook another minute or so before using a slotted spoon to remove them, transferring to a clean bowl or plate.

In a large nonstick pan, melt butter. Chop basil leaves, add to pan along with lemon juice, stir well. Cook for a few minutes, until butter starts to brown. Add cooked gnocchi to the pan, toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Serve hot, sprinkled with crumbled goat cheese

Interested in Gluten-free cooking and baking? You’ll LOVE Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

How many times have you come across a gluten-free recipe claiming to be “just as good as the normal version!”, only to wind up with weird textures, aftertastes, etc? Most gluten-free recipes are developed by taking a “normal” recipe, and swapping in a simulated “all purpose” gluten-free flour… whether store bought, or a homemade version. “Beyond Flour” takes a different approach: developing the recipe from scratch. Rather than swapping out the flour for an “all purpose” mix, I use various alternative flours as individual ingredients – skillfully blending flavours, textures, and other properties unique to each flour. Supporting ingredients and different techniques are also utilized to achieve the perfect end goal … not just a “reasonable facsimile”. Order your copy here.

Looking for even MORE fantastic gluten-free recipes? Beyond Flour now has a sequel: Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

Imagine gluten-free foods that are as good – or better! – than their traditional, gluten-filled counterparts. Imagine no longer settling for foods with bizarre after-tastes, gummy consistency, and/or cardboard texture. Imagine graham crackers that taste just like the real thing. Crisp, flaky crackers…without the sandy texture. Hybrid tortillas that: look and act like flour tortillas, with the taste of fresh roasted corn! Imagine chewy, delicious cookies that *everyone* will want to eat! Imagine BAGELS. If you’ve cooked from “Beyond Flour”, you already know that these fantasies can be reality – it’s all in the development of the recipes. Order your copy here.

Gluten-Free Bacon Poutine Pizza

I’m a stickler for tradition with poutine. In order for it to be poutine, it HAS to have:

1. Fries
2. Proper sauce
3. Actual, fresh, NOT DEEP FRIED cheese curds.

I’m ok with the addition of most items (I like to add bacon and green onion slices to mine), so long as it has the basics, and doesn’t go OVERBOARD with the additions. Toppings shouldn’t eclipse the base ingredients, just accent them!

The other day, my friend Karine Charlebois posted about “Poutizza” (in THIS mini comic), and I knew I’d have to make some. Not only is actual poutine NOT available in Minneapolis, but hey – I’m gluten-free on top of it.

I did have to make some tweaks to my go-to poutine recipe, though. I decided on oven fries, as baking deep fried fries would give them a gross texture. Also, not a ton of sense going to all the extra effort and fat of deep frying, when they’re going to end up baked on a pizza anyway.

Also, I played with the viscosity of my sauce, so it would act as both poutine sauce, AND “pizza sauce”. The mozzarella cheese is considered part of the pizza, and not part of the poutine… because if you put shredded cheese on “poutine”, you don’t deserve poutine anyway 🙂

Told you I was a stickler 🙂

The crust on this pizza is great – not dry, crumbly, or gummy at all, just a great, doughy pizza. My not-gluten-free husband loved it, and insists that no one would know it was gf – it really has a great taste and texture!

He would also like to add: “I like the gravy as pizza sauce, it has that nice seasoned saltiness you expect from a pizza sauce but yet it’s completely different. It’s fun and different, and really good!”

Anyway.

Before I get to the recipe, one final thought: today is launch day for my Beyond Flour 2 Kickstarter!

I’m so excited for this book to come out – I’m already over 2/3 the way through developing it, and there are some amazing recipes in there. I’ve perfected a gluten-free samosa that even tastes great as leftovers, AND there are flaky, tasty, easy to make cracker recipes – that don’t cost a fortune – among all kinds of other delicious things.

So, if you love great gluten-free recipes, be sure to check it out and back it ASAP! (please and thank you!) The first day of a campaign is critical to its success – having a popular campaign right off the bat brings all kinds of perks from Kickstarter, and definitely increases the chances that it will successfully fund! 🙂

Backers will receive their copies at least a month before the general release, AND will get them for about 20% off the cover price!

Now, on to the pizza … enjoy!

Gluten-Free Poutine Pizza

Makes a 13-14″ pizza

Crust:

1 1/2 cups Warm water
2 tbsp Liquid honey
2 tsp Salt
1 Tbsp Active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups Light buckwheat flour
3/4 cup Brown rice flour
3/4 cup Sorghum flour
1/2 cup Potato starch (plus extra for rolling)
1 Tbsp Tapioca starch
2 tsp Xanthan gum
1/4 cup Olive oil

Poutine Sauce:

1/4 cup Butter
1/3 cup Brown Rice Flour
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 cups beef broth
1 cup chicken broth
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp+ ground black pepper
salt to taste

Toppings:

1/2 of a 26 oz bag Crispy oven fries
1/2 lb Bacon
1-2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 pack FRESH cheese curds (~12 oz)
Green onions, sliced

Add honey and salt to warm water, stir till well blended. Add yeast and stir again. Allow to sit (somewhere warm!) for 10 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flours, starches, and xanthan gum. Add olive oil, mixing until evenly distributed. Add yeast mixture, mix well. Dough should ball up a bit, but be a bit sticky. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, allow to rise in a warm area for 1 hour.

Preheat oven for the fries, make the sauce:

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add rice flour, stir well until fully incorporated. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until flour mixture becomes the color of peanut butter. This is called a roux, and cooking it to this level will impart a nice, somewhat nutty flavor to the sauce.

Once roux has obtained the right color, whisk in cornstarch, until smooth. Once cornstarch is incorporated, slowly add broth. It will steam like CRAZY, so be careful. Stir as you go, until sauce is smooth. Taste, season with salt and pepper. Allow to simmer on medium heat for a few minutes, until slightly thickened. This is not supposed to be a super thick gravy! Once the sauce is a good consistency, remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare oven fries according to directions on package. Set aside.

Chop bacon into small pieces, fry until crisp. Set aside, reserving the drippings.

Preheat oven to 450F, if it’s not already at temperature from the fries. Line large pizza pan with parchment paper, if it’s not nonstick. Brush lightly with liquid bacon drippings.

Generously dust work surface with potato starch. Roll each dough into a large 13″ round. Transfer to pizza pan.

Using a pastry brush, spread a very thin coat of liquid bacon drippings over the entire top side of crust. Bake for 15 minutes.

Remove crust from the oven. Spread some poutine sauce over prepared pizza crust. Scatter Mozzarella across the pizza, followed by fries, curds, and more sauce*. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until mozzarella is bubbly and starting to brown. Remove from oven, top with green onions, serve hot.

* For more authentic poutine involvement, scatter mozzarella on pizza, bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, top with fries, curds, and hot gravy, and serve immediately. This will prevent the curds from melting all over the pizza!

With 2017 being Canada’s 150th birthday, it’s about time I wrote the Canadian cookbook I’ve been planning for YEARS.

“More than Poutine” will be a Canadian cookbook like no other – written by a Canadian living away, it includes both traditional homecooking recipes, as well as homemade versions of many of the snacks, sauces, convenience foods, and other food items that are hard to come by outside of Canada!

High quality gluten-free versions of most recipes will be included.

The Kickstarter for “More Than Poutine is live, here. Please consider backing, and sharing the campaign with your friends!

Interested in Gluten-free cooking and baking? You’ll LOVE Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

How many times have you come across a gluten-free recipe claiming to be “just as good as the normal version!”, only to wind up with weird textures, aftertastes, etc? Most gluten-free recipes are developed by taking a “normal” recipe, and swapping in a simulated “all purpose” gluten-free flour… whether store bought, or a homemade version. “Beyond Flour” takes a different approach: developing the recipe from scratch. Rather than swapping out the flour for an “all purpose” mix, I use various alternative flours as individual ingredients – skillfully blending flavours, textures, and other properties unique to each flour. Supporting ingredients and different techniques are also utilized to achieve the perfect end goal … not just a “reasonable facsimile”. Order your copy here.

Looking for even MORE fantastic gluten-free recipes? Beyond Flour now has a sequel: Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

Imagine gluten-free foods that are as good – or better! – than their traditional, gluten-filled counterparts. Imagine no longer settling for foods with bizarre after-tastes, gummy consistency, and/or cardboard texture. Imagine graham crackers that taste just like the real thing. Crisp, flaky crackers…without the sandy texture. Hybrid tortillas that: look and act like flour tortillas, with the taste of fresh roasted corn! Imagine chewy, delicious cookies that *everyone* will want to eat! Imagine BAGELS. If you’ve cooked from “Beyond Flour”, you already know that these fantasies can be reality – it’s all in the development of the recipes. Order your copy here.

Tornado Recovery Update: Iron River Construction Review

Last night I received a disturbing, unprofessional email from the construction company we hired after the tornado. I’m still not sure if the fact that yesterday was exactly 4 years and six months from the day of the tornado makes the ordeal we’ve been going through even more sad, or if I should laugh about the timing of the email.

Back when I wrote Twisted: A Minneapolis Tornado Memoir, I raced to get it released for the 1st anniversary of the tornado. I thought we’d be done everything, and that anything left would be minor. Little did I know that 4.5 years after the tornado – to the day – I’d find myself looking up what all agencies I have to report the construction company to.

It’s been a long and sordid tale, much of which never made it into the book. So, allow me to update… you might want some popcorn for this, as it’s pretty ridiculous. I actually have no idea how to lay it all out here, either… I think I’ll just post in chronological order, going on a series of Yelp reviews I posted as this happened:

*****

September 9, 2015 : My First Review of Iron River Construction

We hired Iron River for major repairs after a tornado destroyed our house in 2011. It’s now 2015, they’re not finished, and … this review is going to be a really mixed bag.

A friend recommended Iron River to us, and they were really happy with work they’d had done. We met with the owner, Tracy, and really liked what she had to say. She was down to earth, nice, and we could tell she wasn’t one of those con artist types that had been SO prevalent in the area after the tornado. We hired her.

Things started out wonderfully. They were fast, efficient, very patient and understanding. Pete (I don’t believe he’s with them anymore) was particularly amazing. At one point during the tornado repairs, he even offered to go get some chicken soup for me when I was sick. I didn’t take him up on it, but still appreciate the offer. Tracy offered up the use of her roofing crew – directly, not through Iron River – to move a large tree log out of our backyard and into a truck for me to bring to a mill., and that saved us a ton of stress. I appreciated it!

When a problem came up (the roofers damaged the skylight), Iron River replaced it with NO fuss or charge to us. We were very happy with their service, and I enthusiastically recommended them to several friends as a result.

Once the roof was replaced and we started work on the kitchen, the problems started. We were now dealing with Rick as a the project manager, and it was terrible. He was rude, condescending, and kept giving us dates that he would then slack off on – despite having them written in a contract! – when something “bigger” came up. He flat out told us on more than one occasion that a more important job had bumped our kitchen. Well, great. I was less than thrilled about some mansion in Stillwater getting a fancy remodel, when I didn’t have a usable kitchen (ie: after a tree had come through the roof, it was GUTTED. Electrical, plumbing, everything had to be redone.). We asked for a different foreman – ideally Pete – and Tracy agreed, but that never happened. At one point, the gutted kitchen sat untouched for over a week, as we were constantly bumped for other jobs.

The communication with Rick was beyond terrible; there were all sorts of issues. At one point we had a plumber thinking that he was handling our bathroom remodel – that had never even been a consideration. Rick expected me to drop what I was doing to call the plumber up and tell him that no, this wasn’t the case. I had to take time to deal with HIS poor communication.

At another point, Rick gave us two hours notice that there would be a window inspection happening, with a three hour window of when that would happen… and the inspector never showed up. Completely wasted our day, scrambling to make sure we’d be there for it with NO notice.. For nothing.

When the kitchen work was finally complete, we were very happy with the quality of work – just very unhappy with how it had been handled. We had enough stress on our plate from the tornado, and the tons of other things we had to deal with surrounding that . You hire a contractor to deal with a big repair and get all of the individual stresses OFF your plate. We really feel that Rick added far more stress than hiring Iron River for the kitchen actually mitigated, in the end.

Things got extremely awkward for us when they had some interoffice drama. One of their construction guys who’d been working on our house – Steve – apparently had an affair with their receptionist, who was married to one of their other contractors… the guy who would be doing the wrapped trim on our windows, as well as the gutters and everything. It was all kinds of drama that we did NOT need to be exposed to, and got really weird and uncomfortable when the receptionist would invite herself over to hang out with him while he worked, at one point bringing her kid with her. I don’t believe either of them are still with the company, though.

After inspection, we were told that the new windows Iron River installed were not up to code by both the front door AND the back door. They sent someone by to install window film on the back, but he neglected to put the stickers on to indicate that they’d been treated with the film to bring them up to code. This was in 2011.

Since 2011, I’ve been calling and emailing Iron River every few months, trying to either get the information for the installer, or to get them to send him back out with the stickers, and to deal with the front window. At first I was told that Tracy would have to look it up and get back to me, then the calls and emails just went completely unreturned.

*****

September 29, 2015 : My Second (Updated) Review of Iron River Construction.
Had to post as a second review a bit later, as the first was WAY too long, Yelp cut it off and made me wait!

In May of 2015, we were hit with a crazy hail storm, and the insurance company wrote off both new roofs – house and garage. As we were 100% happy with the roofing portion of our dealing with Iron River, we thought that this could be a good opportunity to finally get the windows finished also. We called them in on this set of repairs. We heard back from them on May 13, 2015.The claims adjuster came on May 21, and Iron River sent their new Sales Manager to meet with him / us.

Mark, the new sales manager was VERY understanding and apologetic about the 4 years of nagging with no results. I told him that before we would get the roof done, they would need to bring our windows up to code, per the original contract. He agreed, and was very reasonable about it. He talked about how important customer satisfaction was to him, etc. We believed him.

May 29 the installer sent the stickers to them for the kitchen windows. June 5th, they came by with the stickers. June 25th, they received the window film to treat our front windows, and told me I’d be contacted shortly for install .On Jun 29th, They installed the film on the front windows… and found that the windows hadn’t even been installed properly.

June 30th, we woke up to see that the film was bubbling and peeling horribly. From the street, our front windows looked like they’d been smashed! We immediately got a hold of Iron River, who told us that there must have been sap on the windows to prevent adhesion. … even though there are no trees anywhere nearby, as we lost them all in the tornado. He said that they would go ahead and order tempered glass window sashes, as they should have in the first place.

Then we didn’t hear anything for a month.

July 27th, we were told that the window had been ordered, and should be in that same week, or early the following week. I asked if they were still interested in quoting for roof damage, did not get a reply on that.

August 3rd, Mark emailed to say that they were expecting the windows that week and we’d be contacted shortly.

August 6th he emailed to say that the windows had arrived, and we’d be contacted shortly.

August 14th he emailed to ask if we’d heard from the installers yet. This annoyed me, because it came off like the left hand didn’t know what the right was doing. No, we had not heard from them.

August 17th, we finally heard from Greg, one of the installer, who said he’d be calling us that week. At this point, our front windows have looked smashed for over a month and a half. Very trashy and embarrassing.

August 24th, they brought and finally installed the window sashes

As I post this, it is September 9th. The roofing company we settled on when this all started going south is currently up fixing the roof, and Mark from Iron River JUST emailed to ask me if we still want them to do the roof.

Going more than 4 years with repair permits taped to our kitchen door- that could not be closed out without the windows being brought up to code – really wears on a person. The first 6 months-1 year after the tornado was incredibly hard. We got almost everything done in that time, just a few cosmetic things yet to do. We just wanted to move on from the tornado, and not have that reminder there every day, telling us that it STILL wasn’t over. 4 YEARS! For just stickers and film on the front windows.

I guess they had bigger jobs to focus on… but I’m really unhappy to have been left hanging like that, for so long. Tracy knew the toll the tornado had been taking on us. They did SO much work, so well, and had been so good through most of the process (with the glaring exception of Rick). It really sucks to be left with such a negative final review on them, over 4 stinking windows.

Window

The window, the day after film installation. The photo doesn’t do justice to how awful it looked – the neighbour across the street stopped me to ask if we’d been vandalized!

*****

At this point, I thought things were done. We had the windows, I had left a very fair review. Over a month later, I was shocked to receive a notification that my review had a reply from Tracy, the owner of Iron River – she had not emailed me about ANY of this, the whole time.

IronRiver1

*****

October 20, 2015 : My Third (Updated) Review of Iron River Construction.

Addressing Tracy’s response:

That’s an interesting interpretation. Where to start?

Maybe with the personal attack, as I was nothing but fair to you in this review. I’m blown away that you would blantantly lie about me in response.

For one, we decided not to contract with the first person who we signed with, as the owner of the company decided that his son had under quoted, and wanted to jack the price way up AFTER we paid the deposit on our agreed pricing. He was rude, so we did not hire him. That’s it – no one was “thrown off” anyone’s property. I’m not sure where a second contractor came in?

I’ll address the “very high maintenance, difficult and demanding person” in a minute..

You guys went the extra mile at first (aside from the kitchen problems), while there was still a lot of work to be done. That is why I recomended you guys to friends 4 years ago, and why I gave positive reviews back then.

When it came to the very last bit – bringing your window install up to code – I could not even get a returned call from you, for several years.

It took 4 years of nagging you for your window guy to bring the stickers to get ANY response on that. How difficult would it have been to have him bring the stickers for the back window, and schedule the film to be installed on the front windows? That was 4 years of us not being able to clear out our permits. I don’t think it’s “demanding and difficult” to expect you to bring that up to code faster than *four years*!

The only reason we called you about the roof was because you HAD done a good job with that, and we were hoping you’d see it as incentive to *finally* bring the windows up to code. Even that took a ton of nagging, with a lot of dropped communication. We’re thankful it was finally done.

Calling for that one new project after 4 years is not “called again and again for multiple projects over the years”, by the way. You did the tornado repairs. We didn’t call to hire for anything over 4 years . We called for the hail damage this year.

I have, however, called many times in the past four years to ask you to bring your window job up to code.

Very disappointed in this response.

*****

November 15, 2015 : My Fourth (Updated) Review of Iron River Construction.

And we have another update in this ongoing saga of the not-up-to-code window.

On November 4th, I was sitting at my desk when I heard a noise up front. Went to investigate, found that the entire sheet of film on the lower front window sash (the indoor one) had just fallen off, right onto the floor.

I emailed Mark at Iron River immediately, letting him know what happened, and asked if there was something wrong something wrong with that batch of film, for the outdoor one to bubble and peel up, and this one to just fall off. They had tried to blame tree sap (despite no trees around) for the failure of the outdoor film installation, I had NO idea what would explain the indoor one just falling off.

… it’s now November 15, a full week and a half later, and Iron River has yet to reply to my email. This is *beyond* ridiculous.

*****

Window2

Window film doesn’t do a lot of good when it’s sitting on the ground

*****

November 22, 2015 : My Fifth (Updated) Review of Iron River Construction.

Two and a half weeks after letting Iron River know that their interior window film installation (which was their way of “fixing” the fact that they didn’t order tempered glass windows in the first place) FELL OFF, Mark from Iron River finally replied with

“Marie, obviously nothing Iron River does seems to please you, we have gone out of our way to try and make things right and have received nothing other than negative reviews and grief for it. At this point, we are done trying to help as there are no open permits for the windows and they have passed inspection. Mark.”

So there you go. As long as their fix works long enough to pass an inspection that’s good enough for them. Never mind that the window is no longer up to code.

I have no words for how disgusted I am with this whole ordeal. It’s a freaking window. I don’t understand why it’s so hard to get it up to code.

Expecting a job that you paid for in full to be up to code and finished sooner than 4.5 years after the fact isn’t being overly picky.

To have the “guarantee” held hostage over a bad review – that only came after several YEARS of nagging them to bring it up to code – is extortion at best.

*****

… and that’s where we are now.

Personally, I’m amused at the fact that I’m the bad guy in all this, for giving a fair (but leaning negative) review after 4 YEARS of having to nag over a job that never had been done to code.

I love that I’m “high maintenance” or whatever, because I bothered them with it when their quick fix (film, rather than installing the tempered glass they were supposed to!) failed immediately.

So now, I get to deal with going after them through the legal system, like I haven’t invested enough time in chasing after this as it is. I’d always heard the stories of how contractors would screw the tornado victims over in our area, and we ALMOST ended up with such a con artist off the bat. I just never saw this coming with Iron River Construction. “Disappointed” doesn’t even come close to describing it.

I think back to the day of the tornado, when people hadn’t even begun to process what happened, as the “vultures” descended on the area. We were SO mad to see pickup trucks full of people with lawn signs advertising construction companies pull up into the extremely narrow intersections – trees and roofs just laying in the road as it was! – blocking all traffic just so they could get there and advertise first. That our tragedy was such a OPPORTUNITY to them, that they were mobilized immediately on that Sunday afternoon.

IMG_6388

I couldn’t wrap my head around how anyone could work to take advantage of natural disaster victims in that way, at the time… and I still can’t.

On the afternoon of May 22, 2011, North Minneapolis was devastated by a tornado. Twisted recounts the Porters’ first 11 months, post disaster. Rebuilding their house, working around the challenges presented by inadequate insurance coverage. Frustration at repeated bouts of incompetence and greed from their city officials. Dealing with issues such as loss of control, logistics, change, and over-stimulation, as an Aspergian woman.

Subjects covered include: Opportunistic “Vultures”, gawkers, new friendships, a bizarre gingerbread house, unique decisions made with the rebuild – including an internet-famous kitchen backsplash, “Tornado Claus”, contractor drama, water balloons, DIY design and work, music, sensory overload, and details on how to cook jambalaya for almost 300 people, in the parking lot of a funeral home… should you ever find yourself in the position to do so. Order your hard copy here, or digital edition here.

Dalek Cake for a Doctor!

So… I’m about 3 months late posting this, but better late than never, right?

Back at the end of May, I had the opportunity to not only make the electronics-enhanced Dalek cake I’d been wanting to do some day… but to make it for a Doctor! Console Room had invited Colin Baker to be a Guest of Honour. Of COURSE he needed a special cake! I came out of my “Never going to ever make another cake again, EVER!” retirement, just for the occasion!

As was the case in my (now-retired-from) cake days, and as is the case with our costuming, I designed it and had my husband do the electronics for it.

The cake itself is fairly basic: a stacked tower of cake layers, a food safe tube running up the middle to house the wires, and a head (and one layer in the middle) made from Rice Krispie Treat, to securely hold the electronics and accessory parts in place. The wiring up the center and into the head allowed for lights – the two on top of the head, as well as the.. forehead mini plunger thing. (So technical, I know!). It was about 2′ tall, decorated in marshmallow fondant, and accented with edible metallic-airbrushed chocolate domes.

The cake stand had electronics of its own – a speaker, a sound modulator, and the switches to control the lights and sound. When activated, the sound modulator played Dalek sound clips – it was a lot of fun! Click here for video of the sound modulator in action. I STILL lose it at “Would you care for some tea?”!

Now, I’ve served many, MANY cakes. I’ve assisted in many, MANY first cuts of a cake… but this one is definitely my favourite cake cutting experience of all time. Colin Baker was *amazing* – so much fun, and really got into it. Check it out:

So, yes. I got to teach a Doctor how to destroy a Dalek. I feel like I achieved a crazy bucket list item that I didn’t know I had!

Click here to see more photos from that evening!

So.. You Want to Audition for MasterChef…

Every year, I receive a batch of emails right around this time – people who are considering, or who have already signed up to audition for MasterChef. Very excited people, full of big dreams, just looking for whatever tips I may have.

The TL;DR? Don’t.

Let me elaborate, but first a bit of disclaimer / pertinent info:

1. It’s been just over 3 years since I auditioned for MasterChef, and just over 2 and a half since I was out there. My PERSONAL experience is not super recent. In fact, after our season they made big changes to format, etc.

2. I am Canadian, but I was on MasterChef USA, so my direct experiences with the process are from the American version. I hear MasterChef Canada was a bit better, not as sadistic, and had some of the process differ a bit, so your mileage may vary based on country.

3. In going through the process, if selected, you will sign something in the neighbourhood of 80 pages of contract… This is not an exaggeration. Much of that contract has to do with confidentiality, and that is why not many people publicly speak about their experience. On the surface, it’s a “scary” contract, especially to those who only skimmed it.

Being the stickler for details that I am, I read it several times, and had a thorough understanding of it. This came in handy when they accidentally(?) nullified my contract while I was in LA. Their counsel is not only aware of the fact that I am not held under a contract, but they are aware of the fact that *I* am aware of this. This appears to be why I’m the only one not getting threats of lawsuits for speaking out, or, hey, using the word “MasterChef” on social media. (They’re currently trying to get past contestants to remove all references to having been on MasterChef from all personal social media accounts.) So, if you’re wondering why I’m speaking out, or why others aren’t… it’s just that I have a lot more freedom than everyone else.

I have SO so many thoughts on this subject, I should apologize in advance for this blog being disjointed. I’m sure it will be all over the place, by the time I’m done.

First of all, I have written a LOT about the experience. I would first recommend going back through the MasterChef tag on my blog, here

In particular, I’d like to draw your attention to these entries:

This one and This one

Additionally, see THIS post on Facebook for some VERY important information on the experience.

Now that we’re all caught up on issues like sexual harassment, physical assault, psychological torture, abuse of mental illness, etc, let’s talk about auditioning for this.

People go on MasterChef for one of three reasons:

1. Because they want to chase their dreams of cooking for a living.

2. Because they want to be famous, and not necessarily for cooking. Serial reality show auditions, etc.

3. Just for the hell of it / adventure.

#1 are THE MOST NAIVE, going in. We think MasterChef will put us in front of people who will hire, who will buy cookbooks. People who are as passionate about food and cooking as we are, and who can help us launch a career.

#2 is more aware of the fact that this show isn’t really about cooking, and is basically just another stupid reality show for people who watch *reality TV* to turn off their brains over for an hour a week. People who buy into manufactured drama, manufactured villains, manufactured sob stories, etc. People who watch and cheer for who they’re told to, hate on the people their told to, and then forget about when the season is over… on to another stupid manufactured show.

#3 … if you’re able to check your empathy at the door, it COULD be an interesting life experience. Sociologically, it’s a fascinating experience – especially watching what people are willing to do to other humans. Whether for forced “competition”, or as a career (the producers, etc)… fascinating.

As one of the type #1s, I tend to think that the people who come to me looking for audition advice are also of that type, so they are who I’m addressing with this entry. #2s are probably already loaded down with advice, and #3s… well, I wasn’t able to check my own empathy at the door, so I guess I’d be recommending looking for other life experiences. Hell, even other reality shows! I have friends who have been on other reality shows who were treated FAR better.

So, my fellow #1s…

If accepted to be on the show, you will give up many months of your life for it, for what could end up being 2 seconds – or NO time on screen.

As an aside, my timeline went as follows: I auditioned in October, went through many rounds of waiting, got the mostly final word late December, was still signing more paperwork early January, got the wardrobe requirements on January 18th (which caused an emergency shopping trip, as I had NOTHING that fit the requirements!), and flew out a couple days later. I was there for about a week, and was not allowed to even admit I was on the show until May. We weren’t even allowed to say a word about it when the commercials came out, and CLEARLY showed us on it, with many people being very identifiable.

Even from the first audition, as you progress, you will sit and wait and stress and hope that you’re accepted, with a big portion of your life on hold through the process. You will spend a fortune, cancel plans, and sit and wait.. and then sneak around, have to lie to people, put your life on even more strict hold and go out there, and hope you’re part of the storyline they’ve planned.

This is all while being subjected to cult indoctrination techniques to mold you into the emotional dramabombs they’re looking for.

Then, for people who are unlucky enough to not be cut right away, you get to hope they don’t edit you in an awful way. You know you’re there as a puppet for whatever story they’re trying to tell, but have no idea what part you’re going to play.

THEN you get to go home and keep your mouth shut for several months, life still on hold, while the producers decide what sentences they’ll edit together for maximum drama / “character”.

THEN the show airs, and the dutiful viewers heap their vitriol all over the internet, really driving home the point that we are THE most disgusting species on the whole planet. I’m not kidding, watching the comments on the show, the way people talked about my friends… it’s incredibly jarring.

It’s not fun to read pages and pages of disgusting comments and actual physical threats and wishes of harm on people you know… especially when you know that the “hatred” is based on a highly edited creation of a person, and not ACTUALLY your friend. Complete strangers online telling people that they wish that their house would burn down with them and their kid in it (yes, actually specified “and your kid”), over watchign a reality show. It’s sick.

… and then most of the #1s decide not to pursue a career in food. Literally every season.

…. and even years later, you get to see how the damage ripples its way through the friends you met while out there. You get to watch how long it takes the destroyed self esteem to even START to come back, the longstanding effects of intentionally exacerbated mental health issues, etc. You get to see lives ruined.

You get to hear about people who went through the same thing KILLING THEMSELVES as a result of the psychological torture they went through. The second place contestant the year before my season killed himself during a highly publicized drawn out breakdown, in which he invoked Gordon Ramsey’s name. From what I saw of how those with mental illness were treated out there, there is NO room for doubt in my mind – Josh’s blood is on the hands of those producers.

Take a moment and think about that. A young, bright, talented man with a bright future and many people who loved him is no longer here. No more future… All because America wants bigger, uglier breakdowns, and the producers are more than happy to do whatever it takes to provide them. It’s beyond disgusting.

RIP, Josh. 🙁

I digress.

If, even knowing all of that, you’re thinking to yourself “I’m different! I know this stuff now, and I can deal with it. It’s worth it for the OPPORTUNITY!”…

Congrats, you’re in the exact same mindset I was when I went in there. I knew 99% of what I’d be facing, at least on paper. Knowing it and experiencing it are VASTLY different things, however.

I was willing to put up with whatever it took. It was a relatively short amount of time, I told myself. If I could just get to the 16th position and make use of the social media tools that position would give me, I’d be able to sell more books, and pay down my tornado loan.

I knew enough to know I didn’t want to win – I didn’t even want to come very close to it, as the closer you come, the deeper they have their hooks into you. For the winners, they basically own you. (This could be a whole separate post – there are 80 pages of contract for a reason!)

The thing is, my idea of the “opportunity” was based on erroneous information. As I hadn’t even heard of the show prior to being asked to audition (well after the previous season had ended), I hadn’t watched how the audience reacted to the show. I didn’t have a good feel for that whole aspect of it… and these were the people I would be relying on for those potential book sales. These are the people that #1s rely on for a lot of this dream food career, whether book sales, or establishing themselves as a public food personality, or whatever.

Here’s the deal, though: By and large, MasterChef viewers aren’t necessarily the people who buy cookbooks. They’re not people that will follow your career and support you as you progress, they’re reality show fans. They tune in, get their drama fix, and move on to the next show once it’s over. There are exceptions, sure… but not enough to make the sacrifices worth it.

For a show that has millions and millions of viewers, it didn’t even result in that many followers for anyone – a thousand or two at most, and that’s for the higher up finalists. I’d check my numbers, but all their Twitter accounts from my season have been suspended – it’s not even a following that you’re really able to capitalize on, after the fact.

For those looking to become a food personality, a celebrity chef, have their own show, etc… not only is the audience not right to support this in any great numbers, but it’s a REALLY bad investment of not only your time, but your brand. Even your potential for a brand. Even if you look past all of the months where you’re in limbo, there’s the matter of having NO control over how you’re edited. For those chosen to be the villain, it can be a VERY long road to make it past that.

When you’re looking to make something of yourself, you really don’t need that kind of baggage to clean up after.

If you manage to get far in the show, you will need to ask their permission to do ANYTHING – post a blog entry, make a youtube video. If you do an interview with the media, they will have one of their representatives on the phone with you, monitoring what you can and can’t say. If you want to compete on another show, or if another network, through some miracle, wants to give you a show, they need the permission of MasterChef / Shine America – for years after the fact. This makes it difficult to build something for yourself.

If you WIN, you may be thinking things are different – you get money and a book, after all. Well… not so fast. From what I’m told, the money is all you get FOR the book. I’ve heard from more than a couple reliable sources that you do NOT earn royalties on the prize book, should you win. After taxes, you’re left with far less prize money… and you’re expected to cover all the cost of not only developing that book, but promoting it. Travel. Food for TV appearances – it eats the prize money away FAST. It’s not the big win that you go in thinking it is.

MasterChef owns any recipe you make on the show. MasterChef owns a chunk of earnings on any creative endevour you take on after the show. Write a book? 15% of your income goes to them. Open a restaurant? Same deal. It’s why not many past contestants have done much – the food industry has very tight margins as it is.

Going on MasterChef isn’t even a great way to gain employment. Actual chefs, restaurant owners, etc – they realize it’s reality TV, and says absolutely nothing about anyone’s actual ability to cook. They know about things like the “the judges are not required to actually taste your food in order to critique/judge it” clauses in the contracts. They know about the culinary team on the show being able to swap out dishes when the person chosen to proceed botches something. They KNOW.

There is a huge shortage of cooks out there right now anyway. You’re far better offing to stage for pretty much any restaurant. You’ll probably get further that way, than “You should hire me, because I was on a reality show!”. By and large, competing on a reality show isn’t seen as impressive to anyone but reality show fans… There’s a reason that my time on MasterChef isn’t even mentioned on my Kickstarter campaigns. It just really doesn’t have the clout with the food industry, that the show would like you to believe.

There are two benefits to MasterChef:

1. The friends you’ll make.

Because of the conditions you’re subjected to, you’ll likely forge really tight bonds with people. Most of us did – it’s just psychology.

2. Life Changes.

For a lot of people that go on the show, it’s this big leap. They’ve had this dream of cooking, and getting accepted to the show has them ready to make that change in life. There’s this realization you come to – consciously or not – that for you to have done something THAT out-there, you’re ready for a change. That something in your life needs to change.

This has manifested in all kinds of ways, over the seasons. Some people got divorced, others made other changes in their family. Some people quit a job that had been dragging them down. Some made BIG moves across the country. Some started businesses – even totally unrelated to food. A few went to culinary school.

It IS a life changing experience.

The thing is.. . you don’t ACTUALLY need to go on a crummy reality show as some sort of modern day spirit walk to figure yourself out. If you’re reading this, if you’re here because you want to audition… there’s a good chance that you’re at that place in your life now. A place where you need to make changes.

It is FAR healthier for you to acknowledge that fact for what it is NOW, than to have it as a consolation prize “a ha!” moment after going through that experience.

Want a cookbook? Start developing recipes. Start writing. Start building your social media following, start engaging people.

Want to be a food personality? Start making Youtube videos. Put out quality, entertaining content. Build a following, engage people… on your own terms.

Either way, be YOU.

Look at it this way:

Hypothetically, you audition. You spend the next few months preparing, then some time away in LA, then more tight-lipped time when you get back. You spend the season of the show doing MC related stuff, and MAYBE you free up some time to work on your own stuff when it’s over… assuming you have permission to. It’s August 21 now, it’ll be almost a year from now when the show ends.

…. That’s a LONG time to not be working on your career, for YOU. A long time to gamble on the uncertainty surrounding how you’ll be portrayed. A long time to give up your life to be a small part (even the winners!) of a product that benefits the production company, first and foremost – and to the detriment of all others involved.

Or, you could skip the audition, and spend that same year working on your own career. You could be building a foundation for whatever you want to do, free of the encumbrances that reality tv participation will put on you. Building YOUR following, creating content… owning that content.

If you’re coming to me for advice – and remember, I was cast as the “High IQ Aspie” – I will always point out that the second option is not only more logical, it’s more efficient and rewarding.

The choice is yours, though… and I wish you all the best of luck in whatever you choose to do!

How I Made That: Maleficent’s Horns / Headpiece

Back in October, I posted a Cosplay Tutorial: Maleficent’s Staff. As Maleficent has been one of the costumes that generates the most email questions for me, seemed like a good idea!

I have been meaning to post a tutorial on how to make the headpiece, but – as it turns out – I didn’t take any photos of the earlier steps. So, here we are with a “How I Made That”, instead!

So, let me first detail what all went on before I thought to start taking photos 🙂

1 – I had a cement casting of my Maleficent model’s head. I greased it up with vaseline, and laid down some wet plaster tape in a rough shape of the base head cap. I did about 3 layers, and let it harden fully before removing it and trimming it to the right shape.

2 – I made the horns. For things like this, I like to start with a base of crunched up aluminium foil – it’s lightweight, easy to form, and holds shape well. I took the time to make two symmetrical horns.

3 – Using thin strips of plaster tape, I wet, wrapped, and smoothed a couple layers of plaster from the tip down towards the base of each horn.

4 – With the cap part centered on the head casting, I used mroe strips of plaster tape to securely affix the horns to the cap base, taking care to keep them symmetrical. Then, I let that harden completely.

5 – Using some “Fast Mache” paperclay, I filled out and smoothed over the horns. Let that dry completely.

6 – I sprayed the horns with Super 77 spray adhesive, and wrapped them with twine. Let that dry completely.

7 – Once the whole thing had dried *completely*, I coated it all with a layer of black Plasti-Dip. This would protect the plaster from outside moisture. Once that was dry, I painted it with black PAX paint, for a nicer finish.

8 – I draped a small piece of textured black fabric (stretchy) over the headpiece, trimming it and cutting holes out for the horns. Once I was satified with how it looked, I sprayed the back of it with Super 77, and glued it down to the headpiece, smoothing out all the wrinkles, etc.

9 – I draped a piece of shiny metallic black lycra over it, trimming to form the “V” trim. Once I was satisifed with the shape and fit, I glued it into place with Super 77, folding edges to the underside of the cap.

10 – Using a larger piece of black metallic lycra, I draped one side of the … I don’t know what I’d call it. Skull cap? Cowl? Sort of? Anyway, draped that on one side, pinning in place.

11 – Used another large piece of black metallic lycra to drape the other side, overlapping the first. Once I was happy with it, I hand stitched the pieces together, sewing right up to the horns to secure everything in place.

aaaaand finished!

For more photos of this stunning costume, head on over to our Facebook page. We have an album for it HERE.

Be sure to “like” my costuming page on Facebook for more progress pics, tips, and other fun stuff: Marie Porter, Cosplay Costumer.

Note: If you’re looking for a quote on custom costuming, please contact me through my costuming page, www.evilcostumeoverlord.com.

How I Made That: Dwarf Wig Part 3 – Reusable Beard

As I’d mentioned in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I like to make my Tolkien cosplay dwarf wigs from scratch for several reasons. Beyond fit, style, etc.. I like to have matching loose hair available for making beards.

The first time I went out as Thorin, I did the beard right on my face with liquid latex, layer by layer. Looks good, but took TWO HOURS. After doing this twice, I knew I’d need to come up with a better way, something reusable.

Another issue is that I find the liquid latex application doesn’t last very long, and starts peeling off my face early in the evening. Want to eat or drink anything? It’ll peel that much faster.

So, I used a heavier liquid latex to make a more reusable Thorin beard, and it took about 2 minutes to put on. I was able to use Pros-aide adhesive, which holds MUCH better than liquid latex. I’ve since used this method to create the beard for my Beast costume, for the mustache and around the bald spot of Mini Bombur, and now my Dis costume. Here is how I did it:

First off, I prepared my work space with medical exam table paper – this will make a big mess, and it’s nice to be able to just bunch up the paper and toss it when I’m done.

I cut some strips of plaster casting tape into thinnish strips, and set a container of water out. I also set out a pair of gloves, because handling plaster really grosses me out. (Too close to chalk. click here if you’re curious to read about some Aspie issues :0 )

Then I pulled all my hair off my face, greased it up with Vaseline, and built up 3 layers of plaster casting into the beard mould you see here. About 15 minutes later, I made a few faces to loosen up the mould and pulled it off.

While it can be tempting to get started right away, I recommend letting the mould air dry for at least an hour.

As a design note: You don’t need to make the beard mould as big / full as this for the style of beard I’m doing here. I purposely made it very full because the mould is reusable – who knows what kind of beard needs I may have in the near future? 😉

Once the mould has dried, I dusted it with baby powder (because of the vaseline residue) and gave the whole inside a nice coat of a thick, casting latex. I use the #269 flexible casting compound sold at a local supplier. You don’t want to use the makeup style of liquid latex for this, but flexibility is KEY. You want it to move with your face.

Once the first coat of latex has started to get a bit gummy, I set a piece of beige stretch mesh in it, smoothing so there are no folds. This gives a bit of extra strength, while still being flexible. Let it cure with the mesh in it, then add one more coat of casting latex.

Once the latex seems to be dry, gently pull it from the mould. If it sticks or you can see wet latex underneath it, let it dry a bit longer. Set it on the outside of the mould and let the outside of your new beards prosthetic cure for a bit, before trimming rough edges and using sharp craft scissors to trim until the piece is symmmetrical (I just fold it in half and cut through both layers)

Then I held the piece in place and used a marker to draw some rough lines of where I wanted to trim the beard into shape. After trimming, I tried it on again and adjusted until I was happy with the shape and size. Note: This is just the base of the beard – hair will extend down below the actual edge.

When I was happy with it, I used a couple small clamps to hold it on place on the outside of the mould.

I coated what would be the underside of the chin with some Liquid latex (Ben Nye), and started laying the hair. While the makeup stuff isn’t good for the base, it’s perfect for the glue, especially as it sets up MUCH faster than casting latex does.

I start at the front corner/edge of the chin, gluing loose lines of hair down, with the loose, cut edge of the hair facing the front of the chin. I work my way backwards towards the neck, bit by bit.

Once I’m happy with the chin hair, I trim the front edge so it lines up with the chin/jawline of the mould.

Then I continue applying hair in loose, layered rows, working up to the top edge of the beard. I used hair cut to lengths MUCH longer than I figured I wanted, because it gives me more flexibility for trimming/styling. Much easier to remove hair, than to add it!

Take note of direction when you’re placing your rows – I started out aiming them straight down, but ended up adjusting so the pointed slightly towards the center. For my Beast costume, I had the hair aiming outward. It all depends on what look you’re going for.

Take a look at your beard and make sure everything is symmetrical enough. While the latex is setting, you have a little bit of time to gently nudge hair in a different direction.

Once I was satisfied with the sides of the beard, I attached layers of much longer hair to the center front, working my way up front the chin. This is the part that I had plans to braid. If you’re not doing a long center braid, you can just cover this part while you’re doing the sides.

I used double sided tape to try the beard on.. as planned, it was WAY too long. I trimmed it a bit before trying it on with the wig, for a better idea of what it would look like. Decided it was still too full, so trimmed a bit more.

Here is a photo of where it’s at right now. That bead is a placeholder, until my Fili bead arrives from Dwarvendom on Etsy.

So, it’s ALMOST done! Still need to trim it a bit more, but I want to wait until the gown is done so I can see the whole thing together before deciding how much more to take off.

To wear it, I stick it on with Pros-aide, let that dry a bit, and then tidy up the edge with makeup and/or gluing on a small amoutn of hair to hide the edge… depending on my mood 🙂 As pictured, this is just held on with a couple strips of double sided tape for an idea of what it will look like.

Be sure to “like” my costuming page on Facebook for more progress pics, tips, and other fun stuff: Marie Porter, Cosplay Costumer.

Note: If you’re looking for a quote on custom costuming, please contact me through my costuming page, www.evilcostumeoverlord.com.

How I Made That: Dwarf Wig Part 2 – Sewing and Styling

As I’d mentioned in Part 1 of this series, Dwarf wigs for Tolkien cosplay have a unique set of challenges when it comes to obtaining them: commercially available wigs don’t have right texture, as they’re smooth and silky, not rough and with a bit of kink/frizz. Additionally, when making dwarf wigs, you need them very full, and you want extra hair available for making extra wefts, braids, beards, etc. It just makes sense to make the wig from scratch.

While a standard way of making wigs from scratch is to build on a weave cap, that doesn’t work for me – I have a LOT of hair to hide under the wig, so weave caps never fit me.

Instead of using the wig cap as-is, I decided that I would use the outer edge/border of it (which would fit, if not for the main body of the cap not being full enough), with straps of elastic sewn onto it, Arda-style (rather than a full mesh base). I’d never done anything like it before, and winged it the whole way.

It was a ton of work – and my finger tips were raw for days afterward – but now I have the best fitting wig I’ve ever owned! Here is how I did it:

First, I tried on the weaving cap that would serve as the (partial) base for this new wig, and determined how much size I was missing, and where. I needed about 3″ of extra fullness front to back, and 1.5″ from side to side.

I checked an Arda wig we had on hand to get an idea of how many front-to-back strips are usually used, and sewed a few strips of elastic in place to the front of the weave cap, situating the ends of elastic / seam on the reinforced section of the cap. I pinned them in place on the back, fussing with the lengths, until I had something symmetrical that looked like it would fit. (That is, I measured the middle elastic to be 3″ longer than the section of wig cap it would be over, then tapered down the lengths of the strips on either side to create a decent shape). O

Once I was satisfied with the size/shaping of this new base, I sewed the ends to the back of the weaving cap.

I placed the cap on a wig head. Note – This is WAY too small for any human head, so I was careful to stretch it over, pin it in place, and be mindful of the fact that I was basically *freehanding* it the whole way.

Starting at the very back of the wig, I sewed a short piece of weft to the back flap of the wave cap, and another one just under 1″ higher than that one.

I kept sewing wefts, aiming to keep them about 3/4-1″ apart at the center of the wig cap. As I began each weft, I measured across the section it would be coving, taking care to not squish down the vertical strips of elastic that they would be sewn to. The ends of each weft were sewn down very close to the previous weft ends.

As I sewed each weft, I would stitch it down to the first inch or so of weave cap, then knot it off before only sewing the weft to the vertical strips, distributing the length of weft evenly across the strips, holding the strips in place, not pulling them off to either side.

Once I got about 1/3 of the way up, I took the cap/partial wig off the wig head, pulled all of the pins out, and trimmed out the excess wig cap from under my strips. I had enough wefts sewn on to hold everything in place, so it was time to try it on.

Here is what it looked like on the inside:

I tried it on, with my hair under a wig cap, as I would when wearing the wig. As it turned out, one side was a little long, so I pinched the difference on those pieces and pinned them down in the front. I would later sew them down, as I got closer to it. (Wasn’t in the mood to sew them when I pinned them, so I procrastinated. )

I continued sewing wefts to the strips, trying to keey the curves of the wefts consistent with the shape of the remaining wig cap.

Eventually, I came to the front flap of the wig cap. Based on my design, I sewed one last weft, and cut it off there. This would be where there would be a very obvious part, which I would be covering with a braid.

I cut the elastic down on a few remaining wefts to be about 1/2 the width they started with, to remove some bulk when sewing the “bangs” in. Starting at the front edge of the wig cap, I sewed these down, much closer together than the main wefts had been.

The final bangs weft was sewn so that the edge of it touched the edge of the final weft from the main body of the wig.

Now that the wig was completely done, I gave it a quick brushing to remove any loose hairs, and got started with styling it. I wanted a combination of two strand twists, and 3 strand small braids coming from the front, which would start just under the braid across the bangs. As I braided and twisted, I was careful to not take too much hair from any location – I didn’t want wefts / cap to show from underneath, as bald spots.

Additionally, there would be a large, thick braid from the center of the wig, extending down the back. Inspiration struck, and I taught myself how to do a 4 strand braid. This was the first I’ve ever done – i didn’t even have to take it out and redo! Was very proud of that.

After braiding the larg braid and typing it off with a strip of elastic (more on that later), I started looping the mini braids around the back, and over/under each other and the main braid, sewing everything in place.

I was careful to keep both sides symmetrical to each other – brad length, size of the loop, where it laid, etc.

The fat main braid was much too short for the actual wig (as I suspected it would be), so I made a separate braid from additional braiding hair, with a clear elastic holding it together at the beginning of the braid. I love how it formed brown and black diagonal stripes. Should I say “I meant to do that”? LOL. I have no idea how it happened. That is literally the second 4 strand braid I’d ever made.

I inserted the top of this loose braid into the main body braid, right under some of the mini braid looping, and sewed it down thoughout the length of the remaining end of that original braid, if that makes sense. Aside from being slightly bigger than the original braid, you totally can’t see the transition. Kinda shocked myself!

I didn’t take progress shots of this next part, so I’ll describe.

The bangs were to be separated with a part up the center. I didn’t worry about the wefts showing / bald spot, as I intended to have a chain and large fake sapphire jewel sewn down in it.

I twisted the hair on either side of the part backwards, and out/back towards the ear. I tied each side off and sewed it back behind where the ear was, allowing the remaining ends to hang down as ponytails.

Then I braided some additional loose hair into yet ANOTHER 4 strand braid, tied the ends off with small, clear elastics, and sewed that across the bangs/main hair part, and over the tied-off sections of the bangs, behind the ears. The ends of the braid were sen down a bit behind the ears, completely hidden by the main hair.

Then, I divided those two ponytails into 3 equal sections anbd braided them. Not only wasthis a handy way to deal with that excess hair, it’s a bit of a nod to Thorin’s design – he had one such braid on each side, each pulled forward with a bead on the end.

Though not shown in this pic, I ordered 6 “Kili” beads from Dwarvendom on Etsy. (I also ordered one “Fili” bead at the same time, for the beard)

Finally, I attached the jewel to a chunky chain that I liked, and worked the ends of the chain up under the “headband” braid, and around the back, to be secured together with a jump ring under the thick main braid.

…. and done! Tomorrow, I’ll post a “How I Made That” for the beard that accompanied this.

In the meantime, be sure to “like” my costuming page on Facebook for more progress pics, tips, and other fun stuff: Marie Porter, Cosplay Costumer.

Note: If you’re looking for a quote on custom costuming, please contact me through my costuming page, www.evilcostumeoverlord.com.

How I Made That: Dwarf Wig Part 1 – Making Wefts

Dwarf wigs are a pain – none of the commercially available wigs have the right texture, and then there’s the matter of having hair available for braids, extra wefts, beard making, etc. Makes most sense to make them from scratch.

Problem: Weave caps never fit over my head/hair right! I always have my own hairline sticking out, always adjusting, they move, etc.

So this time, I decided to get creative with it. Instead of using the wig cap as-is, I would use the outer edge/border of it (which would fit, if not for the main body of the cap not being full enough), with straps of elastic sewn onto it, Arda-style (rather than a full mesh base).

I caulked my silicone-strip homemade wefts to more strips of elastic, and painstakingly hand sewed it all together, fairly freehand, on a too-small mannequin head, before cutting out the main body of the original weave cap.

Well, it was a ton of work – and my finger tips are raw – but now I have the best fitting wig I’ve ever owned!

It’s full, designed such that it’ll work perfectly for the design I have in mind, fits PERFECTLY, and the elastic/silicone are grippy enough that it stays RIGHT in place – no clips or bobby pins needed, even with ALL that hair!

Here is how I made it 🙂

Before doing anything else, I had to design it. Dís is Thorin’s sister, daughter of Thráin II, and mother to Fili and Kili. So: dwarf royalty.

On one hand, I kind of wanted to do something crazy with both the wig and beard – Thorin’s was so plain, I always had beard envy over people doing the other dwarves. While this was slightly quelled when I did Mini Bombur, but that was her wearing it – not me. I wanted a crazy beard, damnit!

On the other hand… Thorin was really basic. He had 4 braids in his hair, as far as I could tell – two larger in the back, two smaller that pulled through to the front, 1 bead on each. His beard was short and unadorned. While I didn’t want to do basically a Fem!Thorin costume, I thought it would be nice to at least reflect some Thorin type influence in the style.

Ultimately, I decided to go fairly basic, but more girly. Most of the hair down, but some braids looped up and around back. I planned for bangs, and a “headband” of a thicker braid. I wasn’t quite sure exactly how I wanted the braids to go, but I knew I’d need a lot of thickness up top to draw from Because of the thick braid up front, I wanted an obvious part where that would be, for a clear view of where I would be sewing it. The hair behind it would be sewn to aim back over the head, the hair in front of it would aim down to the front, as bangs.

All of this would determine how I’d be sewing the wefts on.

WEFTS.

I prefer to make dwarf wigs with the silicone caulking method of making wefts. I’d done it on my sewing machine, and I hate it. Some people prefer sewing machine – do whatever you like. I like making nice, thick wefts for dwarves.

First, I cut a couple dozen pieces of parchment paper, about 4″ wide. Pretty sure wax paper would also work, but I never have any. (I only back with parchment!). For this, I’m aiming for about 24 wefts, so I cut 25 strips – you’ll want 1 more strip than you have wefts.

I also cover my table with medical exam table paper. I buy the stuff by the case not only for stuff like this, but for pattern making. I use a 6′ long banquet table, and can do all my wefts for a wig in one shot.

Then, the hair. I like to order jumbo braid hair from Doctored Locks. Tons of colours, cheap, easy to work with, and they ship FAST. Perfect! This stuff has a bit of a kick to it (perfect for dwarves), but can be ironed out to flat and smooth.

For this wig, I used 6 packages of hair, 2 each of three different colours. I find that mixing colours looks more natural and interesting than 1 colour.

Open the packages for one each of the three colours, and cut each in half at the elastic. Set the side with elastic still attached for later, work with the loose pieces.

Lining up the freshly cut edges, stack the three colours and spread / mash around a bit to mix slightly.

Lay 1 strip of parchment across your work surface – perpendicular to you – at a far end of the table. Tape the ends down to secure slightly (tape doesn’t stick to the parchment very well).

Take a small amount of hair from the pile, and spread out along the length of the parchment. You want it fairly solidly covered, but not SUPER thick. Aim to keep the cut edges fairly even, about 1″ from the edge of the parchment (ie allowing the hair to cover ~3 of paper).

Using 1″ wide masking tape (which I did not have, only 2″ on hand and was feeling too lazy to go to Menards!), lay a strip of tape across the very edge of the hair, extending on to the paper work surface to hold it in place.

Lay another strip of parchment across the hair. I usually leave about 1″ of hair showing, between the top edge of the new parchment, and the bottom edge of the tape I just placed. Tape edges down, being sure to not catch hair under the tape.

Lay out hair and tape down, like in the previous steps.

Continue doing that, all the way down the table. I find that I’ll average about 4 wefts per package of hair, so you’ll get about 6 wefts from that first set of 3 halves. When you run out of hair, use the other half from those first set of braids, then proceed on to the next set of three when you run out of those. The less hair you have laying around as you work, the better – it can get messy, FAST.

Eventually, you’ll have a table full of wefts laid out, like this:

Next, you’ll need a tube of CLEAR silicone caulking, like this. Usually about $3-4. One tube usually does at LEAST 1 full wig worth of wefts, for me – but buy 2, just in case.

Carefully pipe a line of caulking on each weft, JUST against the tape line It doesn’t need to touch the tape, but should be close.

Have a bowl of water on hand. Dip your finger in water, and smooth the caulking down and INTO the hair. I’ll mash it in, and extend slightly up onto the tape, the full way across. Take your time, be careful not to catch hair on the tip of the caulking tube, etc.

When you have all the wefts done, leave it alone for a few hours, until the caulking has dried clear. (It has NOT dried, in this pic!)

Once everything has dried clear, carefully cut the tape at each weft, so that the parchment/wefts can move freely. Remove the last 3 or so wefts you made, and set aside for now.

The new “last” weft you made, flip over so that the tape side is down, and near the edge of the table. Arrange a strip of parchment under it.

Tape the hair down, using the previous long strip of tape as a guide. You want to have this new strip of tape almost exactly on top of the first strip. Repeat the flipping / taping for all wefts. At the end, do the same with the “last” few wefts that you’d set aside. BE SURE TO PUT PARCHMENT UNDER EACH STRIP YOU FLIP.

Here’s a close view of what it looks like as you flip each piece:

Pipe a new strip of caulking along each weft, aiming to be right on top of the first strip of caulk. Wet the finger, mash it down in once again. Allow to dry fully.

Once everything is fully dried, cut every strip of tape to free the wefts from the table. Use the edge of the tape as a guide, cut the tape right off, leaving a straight edge of wefted hair/caulking. Cut off any extra globs of caulking at the edge of each weft, and you’re good to go!

Part 2 has been posted: Making the wig cap, sewing it together, and styling.

In the meantime, be sure to “like” my costuming page on Facebook for more progress pics, tips, and other fun stuff: Marie Porter, Cosplay Costumer.

Note: If you’re looking for a quote on custom costuming, please contact me through my costuming page, www.evilcostumeoverlord.com.

Basil, Roasted Red Pepper, and Asiago Bread Braid

Late last week, the forecast for the weekend was looking great, so we decided to drop everything and catch up on some photo shoots. I had a few costume commissions I hadn’t had pro shots of yet, so we picked two locations and contacted everyone who had costumes suitable to them: one superheroes set, and one wintery location. It was a bunch of work to organize people, logistics, model releases, etc.. but the results were fantastic – I have some preview pics up on my Facebook page, here.

ANYWAY.

I have a “family discount” with my fabulously talented husband when it comes to his photography. This time, he asked to be paid in homemade bread. Bread that I can’t have, due to my gluten issues… so he’s been deprived of it for a while.

I decided to create a very special bread recipe just for him, utilizing a few of his favourite flavours… all done up in a visually stunning way. I made three different batches of dough, rolled, braided, and coiled them.. and it was a HUGE hit. The technique used for rolling the dough before braiding it results in almost a “pull apart bread”, and the garlic butter adds a great, complimentary flavour to all three doughs.

It’s a bit of effort and makes a ton of bread – 4 decent sized loaves! – but trust me when I say that it’s not hard to find some friends who are excited to take a loaf off your hands! This is totally worth the effort. This makes a soft, flavourful, and gorgeous bread… and with the red, white, and green colouring, it would be a pretty addition to any holiday table!

Excuse the crappy in-progress photography. I had to take cell phone pics, as my photographer was busy building my kitchen 🙂

Basil, Roasted Red Pepper, and Asiago Bread Braid
Makes 4 loaves

Asiago Dough

1 1/3 cup Warm water
2 Tbsp Honey
2 Tbsp Yeast
4 cups Flour
1 cup finely shredded Asiago cheese
1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp Olive oil

Add honey to warm water, stir till well blended. Add yeast and stir again. Allow to sit (somewhere warm!) for 10 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine flour, cheese, 1/3 cup olive oil, and foamy yeast mixture. Mix on low speed till well blended, then turn speed up a bit and let it “lazy knead” for 5 minutes or so. Dough should ball easily – if it’s too wet, add a bit of flour. If it’s too dry, add a bit more water.

Put 1 tbsp olive oil into a large bowl, add dough, flip over to coat. cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for one hour.

Basil Dough

1 1/4 cup Warm water
2 Tbsp Honey
1/2 tsp Salt
2 Tbsp Yeast
1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
4 cups Flour

Add honey and salt to warm water, stir till well blended. Add yeast and stir again. Allow to sit (somewhere warm!) for 10 minutes.

While yeast is hydrating, combine 1/3 cup olive oil and the basil leaves in a food processor or blended, blitz until smooth.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine flour, basil olive oil, and foamy yeast mixture. Mix on low speed till well blended, then turn speed up a bit and let it “lazy knead” for 5 minutes or so. Dough should ball easily – if it’s too wet, add a bit of flour. If it’s too dry, add a bit more water.

Put 1 tbsp olive oil into a large bowl, add dough, flip over to coat. cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for one hour.

Roasted Red Pepper Dough

1 cup Warm water
2 Tbsp Honey
1/2 tsp Salt
2 Tbsp Yeast
4 cups Flour
3 Tbsp Olive Oil, divided
1/2 cup pureed roasted red peppers

Add honey and salt to warm water, stir till well blended. Add yeast and stir again. Allow to sit (somewhere warm!) for 10 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine flour, 2 Tbsp olive oil, red pepper puree, and foamy yeast mixture. Mix on low speed till well blended, then turn speed up a bit and let it “lazy knead” for 5 minutes or so. Dough should ball easily – if it’s too wet, add a bit of flour. If it’s too dry, add a bit more water.

Put 1 tbsp olive oil into a large bowl, add dough, flip over to coat. cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for one hour.

————

Assembly

1 cup butter
1 Tbsp pressed or minced garlic

Put butter and garlic in a microwave safe cup or bowl. Heat until just melted.

Gently knead each of the doughs to deflate slightly, divide each into two equal sized balls. Work with one set of 3 different doughs, while leaving the other set covered with plastic wrap.

Roll one dough ball out to about 12″ x 15″ rectangle – I like to do this on a large piece of parchment paper. Brush with melted garlic butter, leaving a 1″ border unbuttered.

Roll one long side towards the other long side, taking care to keep it tightly rolled, and not just slidding in the butter as you go. Repeat with other two doughs in the set.

Use a sharp knife to cut each long in half, lengthwise. Be careful in handling – each 1/2 log consists of concentric semi-circles of dough now, and can be prone to sliding around. Also, be careful not to stretch them out of shape.

Working with one strip of each colour, secure the three strips together at one end and carefully braid them, taking care to have the cut sides facing up the whole way. Pinch strips together at the end.

Gently coil braid into a round loaf – I like to tuck the start of the coil under itself, to elevate the middle of the loaf a bit. Tuck the end of the coil under the load to secure.

Repeat braiding with rest of cut rolls, starting on a new piece of parchment.

Repeat rolling, buttering, cutting, braiding, and coiling on second set of dough, having each loaf on its own piece of parchment paper.

VERY LOOSELY cover each with plastic wrap. Start timing 30 minutes, preheat oven to 375 F.

Transfer each sheet of parchment / loaf to its own baking sheet. Don’t remove loaves from parchment!

Melt remaining garlic butter, gently brush over each loaf.

One or two loaves at a time, bake for about 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

Enjoy!