Dragon Bodice – A Giveaway!

If you’re in the Tolkien fandom, you’ve NO DOUBT heard about The One Last Party, hosted by TheOneRing.net. It’s to be the final in their series of crowd funded parties to celebrate the LOTR and Hobbit movies.

Well, this time around, we’ve joined their fellowship, and have donated one of our Smaug shirts to the cause. For those who donate between the time they made the announcement this morning (11am GMT Thurs 8th) , and 11pm GMT Sunday 11th, each pledge made in that time will be entered in a random draw to win the second of these tops ever to exist, bypassing the wait list that’s been accumulating for when I start to produce these again! (Beyond that first prototype!)

It’s a high quality latex bodice, sculpted and hand painted by me, featuring a wired “skeleton” to allow for wearer customization of size, shape, and cup shape/coverage – it’s a highly adjustable top, and will fit anywhere between a ladies XS to Medium, and up to a DD cup size. (DDD for those in the XS size range). Includes adjustable clear bra straps.

So… let’s take a closer look at what’s up for grabs, shall we?

This shirt started off as a crazy idea. As you may know, I’m a big fan of Eurodance music. Several years ago Daisy Dee – one of my favourites – put out a song and video called “Open Sesame” (Click here to see the video). In it, she was wearing this really cool dragon top. At some points, it was animated with CG, but there did appear to be an actual, non-CG top. It’s been there, in the back of my mind for a while… some day, I wanted to make a dragon top. When I started dabbling in sculpting and casting for costuming last year, I realized that I’m finally in a position to do it! I decided to make a top inspired by not only that music video, but my favourite dragon – Smaug.

So, I asked my friend Sylus – the gorgeous model you see pictured above – if she’d be down for wearing such a thing, were I to make it. Being a huge Tolkien geek herself, she was ALL OVER the idea, so… it happened 🙂

First, I sculpted:

Then I made a mold:

Then I cast that sucker in latex:


… and finally, I painted it.

Voila!

We actually have 2 whole albums of progress AND photoshoot pics up on our Facebook Page. The direct link to the progress album is here, and the photoshoot album is here.

So, if you’d like to get your name in the draw, head on over to the The One Last Party IndieGoGo Campaign, and pledge something before Sunday night! Good luck!

If you end up missing out and would like to get on the wait list for one of these tops, contact me through my costuming page!)

How I Made That: Katniss’s “Catching Fire” Wedding Gown Wings

So, I’m going to start a new category here on the blog: “How I made that”. Not QUITE a costuming tutorial, but with enough information, photos, etc to help you on your way!

So, let’s start this off: The wings on Katniss’s wedding gown in “Catching Fire”. You all remember my adorable Mini Katniss, right? That’s her over to the right – Great kid! She rocked that costume all the way to a “Best Workmanship” win at Convergence this past summer. The wings on that gown is one of the costume elements I’ve been asked about the most, and it was actually quite easy to do!

The first thing I had to do was to gather reference images. This was easy for the front – there were some gorgeous, hi-res images online, including the magazine photo that Mini Katniss’s portrait was based on. The back was not so easy – I ended up having to put the Blu-Ray on, and pause/photograph my TV screen when it came to the perfect, clear view of the back of the gown:

From there, I opened the front and back images up in Photoshop, and sized them to a printing size that would reflect my Mini-Katniss’s actual size. That is, I used Mini Katniss’s backwaist measurement to determine the print size of the photo, by using markers on that original photo – where Jennifer Lawrence’s waist and prominent vertebra in her neck is. I tweaked it slightly to work with Mini Katniss’s shoulder measurement: She has the build of an 11 year old girl, after all: the proportions are a little different than from a grown woman!

Once I had it properly sized, I set the file to print at a lighter opacity – probably 60%? – and divided each file up into 8×10 sized sections. I printed them all out, and assembled them together with tape. This created the template for the two wings.

Using a thick black marker, I traced over all of the lines on the wing in each template. Combined with the less vibrant printing, this would allow the pattern to easily show through the parchment paper I’d use in the next step.

One wing at a time, I taped the template down to my work surface, and covered with a large piece of parchment paper. Using Instamorph (The stuff I got into more detail about in my Thranduil Crown Tutorial), I stretched hot strips of Instamorph into long “snakes”, and laid them out following the pattern I’d made. I continued this until the entire wing design was laid out, then let it cool.

Then, I went back over it with a heat gun. At every intersection of pieces, I heated the area up and gently pressed the pieces together to form a lasting bond. This is important! When laying the design out, the pieces cool too fast to bond with each other, and you really want that security.

Once everything was bonded and cooled, I had to shape it. I started with the bending at the points above the shoulder of the dress, by heating the whole area with a heat gun, and propping it up til it cooled:

As it turned out, the sizing/shaping of my dress form was pretty similar to Mini Katniss, so I covered it in foil to protect it, and used the heat gun to mold the pieces to shape:

From there, both sides of each wing were hit with grey primer:

A mirror-finish shiny metallic spray paint (that I ended up not liking):

… and, finally, with a white glitter spray that I used to tone down the obnoxious shine of the metallic silver:

At that point, the outward-facing sides of the wings were accented with crystals. Use the GOOD, Swarovski ones for maximum shine! I used E-6000 to glue them down:

At this point, the wings themselves were finished, and all that remained was attaching them to the gown. Early on, I had decided that they would need to be easily removable – we were talking about an 11 year old girl, after all. Had to keep logistics in mind!

I also knew that she intended to spend most of her time in the gown SPINNING (who could blame her?), so I knew the attachment would have to withstand that force. The solution? Ribbon ties!

I pinned the wings into place on the dress, which had been sewn and fit, but not FINISHED (feathers). I took great care to make sure everything was in place where I’d want it to be, and this would provide the guide not only for where the ribbons would be sewn on, but where the feathers would be stitched as well:

So I pinned along where the edges of the wings were, as a guide, and made note of where ribbons should go – I think I sewed 3 each on the front and back. On the front, this was up near the top of the left side of the bodice (her left), one at the right side of her waist, and one at her left hip. This held it in place well.

I machine sewed the middle of each length of ribbon right to the bodice, then pinned the ribbons up and out of the way for sewing all of those feathers down:

To wear it, she put the gown on. A wing was positioned where it was to go, and the ends of one ribbon were pulled through to the front of the wing, one end on each side of a line of wing. A bow was tied over that dividing line of wing, and the loops and ends were carefully pulled back through to be hidden and secured behind the wing. It was a beautiful thing!

The finished product:

Smaug Costume!

Going to keep this short and sweet: I’ve finished the costume that I’ve basically been keeping secret for the past month or so!

A little while ago, I decided that I wanted something really epic to wear to the premiere of Battle of the Five Armies. Something new, something DIFFERENT… I’d go as Smaug! I hadn’t seen any really good Smaug costumes, just like.. human versions. I wanted to do an actual dragon costume for it. I thought it out for a bit, and came up with a cool idea of how to do it:


… and just went from there. I am SUPER happy with the results.. just look at this face!

… and these feet!

Aside from being the most insane costume build I’ve ever done – it features a crazy mask/head, custom shoes, 14′ wing span, and 8.5′ long tail! – it’s been scary for another reason – spandex. All of my other costumes cover as much as possible, this… was something else. Spandex was the best way to do it, but I’m… uh.. not small.

… but hey, neither is Smaug! Slow and fat in his dotage, right? 🙂

I almost chickened out on actually wearing it a few times, but I’m proud to say that it made its debut at a convention this past weekend, and went over really well! Check out some of the final pics:



To see photos of the whole process, Click here to go to my Facebook page album for it!

Gluten Free Poptarts Recipe (Toaster Pastries)!

Poptarts are one of those things that satisfy some weird need for childhood comfort food every once in a while… even though they aren’t actually really that good. It’s funny how many people brought them up as one of the foods they miss most, when going gluten-free! This recipe actually prompted one of my favourite reviews for Beyond Flour:

When you find out you have celiacs you know you’re going to miss bread, but you soon find out you miss other things so much more. For me it was cinnamon PopTarts. Not that I had them all the time, but every time I had one it was a rush of happy childhood nostalgia. Flipping through the book I saw a recipe for toaster pastries and that was the first thing I made. I did it just for fun. But when I bit into it, after not having one for over a decade, I started crying. I can’t even express what a gift Marie has given me. All these things I had written off – like ravioli and biscuits and pita bread – I have it all back now. And the taste and texture and AFTER TASTE are perfect. Not pretty good or not too bad … dead on.

… this review made ME cry! Thank you, Cara!

I find these are actually BETTER than the original source material.. and far better for you. Firm but slightly chewy dough base, your choice of filling, and freshly made frosting. Garnish the top any way you want – even sprinkles – and just have fun with it.

One word of warning, though: Without the source material chemicals and stabilizers, the frosting on these ones is actually fairly heat sensitive, and will melt when toasted. So, use in a toaster oven rather than a traditional “pop up” style toaster… or turn your normal toast on it’s side, and toast them frosting-side up…Keeping an eye out for drippage!

Of course, if you love what you see here… you should consider ordering a copy of “Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking & Baking“e!

Thanks, and enjoy!

Gluten-Free Poptarts
Makes about 10

1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup gluten-free oat flour*
1/4 cup coconut flour
2 Tbsp tapioca starch
2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, separated

1 batch filling (See below for recipes)
1 batch frosting (See below for recipes)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together the dry ingredients until well combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together all wet ingredients, except for one of the two eggs. Add wet ingredients to the dry, mix until a thick dough forms. Wrap in plastic, chill for 30 minutes.

Roll dough out to about slightly thinner than 1/4″ thick, cut into 3×5″ rectangles. Gather any scraps, needs to pull together, re roll and continue cutting into rectangles until all the dough is used up.

Carefully arrange half of the rectangles on the cookie sheet, spaced evenly. Evenly spread about 2 Tbsp of filling onto each of the rectangles on the cookie sheet, stopping about 1/2″ from the edges. Top each with one of the reserved rectangles, press the edges to seal. Use a fork to press edges down.

Whisk egg together with 1 Tbsp cold water, brush over each pastry. Use a fork to prick a few small holes in the top of each pastry to allow steam to escape – this will help prevent filling from exploding out of the sides as they bake

Bake pastries for about 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Cool completely before removing from the cookie sheet.

Spread frosting of choice onto pastries, garnish with sprinkles if using. Allow frosting to dry fully, before transferring to containers or baggies. Serve hot or room temperature, use or freeze within a few days of baking.

* If even certified gluten-free oat flour is not an option for you, use 1/4 cup of additional sorghum flour instead.

Dough Flavour Variations:

Chocolate Dough: Reduce brown rice flour to 2/3 cup, add 1/4 cup cocoa powder.

Red Velvet Dough: Add 1 Tbsp cocoa powder to dry ingredients, use buttermilk instead of milk, tint dough with red food colouring.

“Gingerbread” Dough: Add 1 1/2 tsp ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, and a pinch of cloves to dry mix, and 1 Tbsp molasses to wet mix.

Fruit Filling

1 cup seedless jam of choice
1 Tbsp corn starch

Whisk jam and corn starch together until well combined.

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Filling

1 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp corn starch
1+ tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1+ tsp milk or water

Whisk together brown sugar, corn starch, cinnamon, and salt until well combined. Mix in vanilla and milk/water, adding additional small amounts of liquid if necessary – you want a thick, spreadable paste. Taste, add more cinnamon if you like, to taste.

“Pumpkin Pie” Filling

3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
pinch ground cloves
pinch salt

Whisk all ingredients together until well combined and smooth

Cream Cheese Filling

6 oz cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 tsp vanilla
Pinch salt

Whisk all ingredients together until well combined and smooth

Basic Frosting:

1 1/2 – 1 3/4 c. powdered sugar
2 Tbsp hot water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
food coloring, if desired.

Whisk powdered sugar, water, and vanilla extract together – frosting will be THICK. Microwave for 10-20 seconds to melt, stir until smooth. Tint with food colouring, if desired.

Chocolate Frosting:

1 1/4- 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 Tbsp hot water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk powdered sugar, cocoa, water, and vanilla extract together – frosting will be THICK. Microwave for 10-20 seconds to melt, stir until smooth.

Brown Sugar Frosting

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp hot water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar

Whisk together brown sugar, hot water, and vanilla until smooth. Add powdered sugar, a little at a time – frosting will be THICK. Microwave for 10-20 seconds to melt, stir until smooth.

Strawberry Frosting

1 1/2 – 1 3/4 c. powdered sugar
2 Tbsp Strawberry Powder*
2 Tbsp hot water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
food coloring, if desired.

Whisk powdered sugar, berry powder water, and vanilla extract together – frosting will be THICK. Microwave for 10-20 seconds to melt, stir until smooth. Tint with food colouring, if desired.

* I buy my strawberry powder at Nuts Online, here’s a link to the product page. It’s a fine powder made from freeze dried strawberries – and it packs HUGE flavor. They also have Blueberry, and Pomegranate powders, which also work for this recipe.

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 Fig Newtons Recipe!

This past week, I was in Chicago for a convention. It went very well – TONS of fun, loads of laughs, great time spent with friends, as always. This is a yearly event that I cater a dessert (and, more recently, some savoury apps as well!) for.

It’s always very well received, but this year I did something different – I made the entire menu gluten-free. Given that only a small number of attendees are GF, I was really nervous. GF food has such a bad rep, would they even TRY it?

Well, given the reviews that I’ve been getting for Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking & Baking, I probably shouldn’t have been worried. They whole spread went over SUPER well, with many people declaring that they would have had no idea it was GF. Three people even told me that they adored my mushroom turnovers… even though they hate mushrooms! What a compliment!

Now, time to get back to work!

So, let me share one of the most popular recipes from Beyond Flour – Fig Newtons!

This recipe takes a bit of doing – the filling needs to be made and cooled, the dough needs to be chilled – but the result is well worth the time and effort. This produces a fragrant, delicious cookie that is sure to satisfy your comfort food cravings.

Enjoy!

Gluten Free Fig Newtons

1/2 cup Butter, softened
1/4 cup Granulated sugar
1/4 cup Brown sugar, packed
1 Large egg
1 Tbsp Orange juice
1 tsp Vanilla extract
Zest of 1/2 orange
1/2 cup White rice flour
1/2 cup Sorghum flour
1/4 cup Coconut flour
1/4 cup Millet flour
1 Tbsp Tapioca starch
1 tsp Xanthan gum
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Baking powder

Filling:
12 oz Dried mission figs
1/3 cup Water
Zest of 1/2 orange
Pinch Salt

Corn starch, for rolling

In stand mixer, cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Add egg, orange juice, vanilla, and orange zest, beat until everything is fully incorporated and smooth.

In a large bowl, mix together remaining ingredients. Slowly add this dry mix to the mixer bowl, and carefully mix until well incorporated and smooth. Chill dough for 1 hour.

To make the filling:

Remove any stems from the dried figs, discard. Finely chop figs. Place into a saucepan with water, bring to a moil over medium-high heat. Once mixture starts to boil, cover and remove from heat. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, or until all of the water is absorbed by the figs.

Transfer fig mixture to food processor, along with orange zest and salt. Process until very smooth. Transfer to a clean bowl, loosely cover with plastic film, and allow to cool to room temperature.

To Assemble:

Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C), line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Divide dough into 4 equal balls. Generously sprinkle clean work surface with corn starch. Roll one dough ball into a long, thin, and narrow strip – about 4″ x 12″. Trim to square up / tidy the edges.

Stir cooled fig mixture to incorporate any condensation that has developed. Transfer about one quarter of the filling to a pastry bag, or heavyweight plastic bag with a corner cut off – either way, you’ll want about 1/2″ diameter opening.

Pipe a long, fat line of filling up the center of the rolled dough, using up all of the filling in the bag. Use a clean spoon to gently spread the filling to a width of slightly more than 1″.

Gently fold one long side of dough over the filling. Fold the other long side over that, forming a long tube of filled cookie. Gently flip over, slice into cookies (About 1.5″ long pieces), and gently transfer to prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until edges are just starting to turn golden brown. Do not over bake!

Remove cookies from baking sheet, immediately cover with plastic wrap or – as we do – a long cake pan. Allow to steam/cool like this for at least 30 minutes. While these CAN be eaten right away, it’s best to let them sit overnight to let the moisture levels of the filling / cookie balance out a bit.

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 Maple Pumpkin Pie with Maple Cream

It’s been almost exactly 1 year since I set up a Kickstarter campaign for the gluten free cookbook I’d been considering developing. It was wildly successful – almost double-funding! – and I worked really hard to product the BEST recipes for gluten-free cooking and baking.

Well, today is the day! The official release date for Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking & Baking!

To celebrate the occasion, I am sharing a ridiculously awesome recipe with you: gluten free maple pumpkin pie. The crust is a bastardization of one in the book – I decided that I wanted to do a slightly sweeter, spiced-up version for this particular pie recipe.

If you follow the Beyond Flour page on facebook, you may have seen the “teaser” pic of this recipe on a post I made this weekend, here! Just look at those glorious air bubbles!

This tastes as good as it looks, with or without the maple cream topping (which I adore!). Everything you could want in a pumpkin pie – creamy, rich, with the right amount of spice, and a flaky crust. Perfection!

Gluten-Free Maple Pumpkin Pie with Maple Cream

Dough – makes enough for 2 crusts

3/4 cup white rice flour
3/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup millet flour
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
1/4 cup corn starch
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Pinch each: ground nutmeg & ground cloves
1 (8oz) brick cream cheese
1/2 cup cold butter
1 egg
1/3 cup+ cold water

Measure flours, corn starch, brown sugar, xanthan gum, and spices into the bowl of your food processor, blitz to combine. Add cream cheese, butter, and egg, blitz a few times until mixture resembles gravel. Stream in cold water as you run the food processor, just long enough to start to bring it together as a dough – you may need to use a little more or less water. Do NOT over-process it!

Remove dough from processor, knead lightly to bring it together as a ball. Wrap in plastic film, chill for 1 hour.

Divide dough in half*, Roll your crust (s) out to about 1/4″ thick. Line a pie pan with one crust, trim the edges of the crust to only slightly longer than the edge of the pie plate. Use your fingers to crimp/ruffle the edge of the pie.

Use a fork to prick some holes on the bottom of the crust. Chill in freezer until ready to bake.

* If you are only using half of the dough, tightly wrap the second half of the dough and freeze it until the day before you want to use it. Allow it to thaw on your counter, then proceed as described above.

Filling – makes enough for 1 deep dish pie, two smaller pies, or a normal sized pie and a few tarts (use scrap dough!)

1 brick (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 eggs
2 cups pumpkin puree (fresh or canned)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 pie crust recipe, above.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a stand mixer (or in a bowl with an electric mixer), cream together cream cheese and brown sugar. Once smooth, add remaining ingredients and mix until smooth.

Take crust out of the freezer. Gently cover edge of crust with aluminum foil, bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, discard foil, fill with pumpkin mixture. Transfer to oven, bake for 45-50 minutes or so, until center is set. Remove from heat and allow to cool fully before serving. Right before serving, prepare Maple Cream:

Maple Cream

Whipped Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy cream (keep it very cold!)
2 Tbsp maple syrup
Pinch of salt

Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment or an electric hand mixer, whip cream until soft peaks form. Add maple syrup and salt, continue whipping until it reaches desired consistency. Serve immediately.

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.

Costuming & Cosplay Tutorial : Maleficent’s Staff

Remember the Maleficent Costume I made for one of my two Convergence masquerade entry this year?

It’s since become our MOST asked about costume, with an insane amount of emails about it. It was a huge project, my first collaborative masquerade entry, and – I’m SO proud to say! – is apparently the most accurate one out there!

I’ve since sold it to a lovely woman in Florida, who will be putting it to good use. However, the nightmare that shipping was for the staff, as well as the high ticket price on the costume? I don’t think I’ll be making any more of these. SO… let’s teach YOU how to make some of the pieces! (I’d write a tutorial for the whole thing, but I’m lacking photos for a lot of it, and some of it is so instinctive to me, it’d be impossible to describe!)

Just want to see more photos of the costume? Check out our Facebook Page album for it!

Today, let’s look at making the iconic staff…

How to Make Maleficent’s Staff

You will need:

Heavy paper or newspaper
Small bucket or container for water that you don’t mind ruining
Several 4″ rolls of plaster tape (Available at medical supply or craft stores)
3″ garden gazing ball. (We ordered from here
Vaseline
3/4″ – 1″ diameter wooden dowel. Length will depend on height of the person it’s for – ours was around 5′.
Acrylic paints in dark browns, blacks, and grey
Variety of paint brushes
Clear polyurethane varnish
Paper towels and/or toilet paper

Method

First, cover your work surface and the flood in front of it with heavy paper. The plaster can get EVERYWHERE. Fill your small bucket with warm water, and cut your plaster tape into manageable lengths – a foot or two, depending on how comfortable you are with it.

Generously coat your gazing ball with vaseline, set aside (but close at hand!).

Starting at what will be the bottom end of the staff, use the plaster tape to sculpt directly onto the dowel. One piece at a time, dip a strip of plaster into water, bunch it up lengthwise (to make a long, narrow piece), and apply it to the dowel. I wind pieces up almost the entire length of it, smoothing as I go – you want to get rid of the “mesh” look.

Once I’ve got the initial bunched pieces applied, I’ll go over it with un-bunched pieces, smoothing and sculpting as I go. The goal is to make it look like a gnarled tree branch.

Working quickly and carefully, make three bunched up pieces into long “fingers, attach at roughly equal distances around the top end of the staff. Secure with more un-bunched plaster, around the dowel. Position the greased up gazing ball at the top of the dowel, form the 4 “fingers” up and around the ball. Add a few smaller “fingers” to connect and create more of a branched-off design.

Allow staff to dry completely, usually overnight.

Paint the staff all over with 2 coats of a dark brown acrylic paint. Be very careful when painting up around the gazing ball, and be sure all plaster is hidden by paint. Allow to dry completely.

Using a toothpick or pointed sculpting tool, carefully scrape away any plaster spaltter on the gazing ball, and clean up the edges of the “branches” that encase it. Touch up any newly exposed plaster with more of the dark brown acrylic paint.

Once dark brown paint has dried, use a smallish paint brush and black paint to paint “shadows” in all of the ruts, etc. Take a look at movie screen caps for an idea of how much black there should be (it was a VERY dark staff!). Allow to dry fully.

Use a grey acrylic paint SPARINGLY to paint some highlights on the high points of the staff. Allow to fully dry.

Once you’re happy with the paint job on your staff, use a soft brush to coat the entire staff (plaster only, not the gazing ball) with polyurethane varnish. Allow to dry completely, paint a second coat on, and once again allow to dry completely.

Use small pieces of paper towel or toilet paper to GENTLY AND CAREFULLY polish off any remaining vaseline on the gazing ball… and, you’re done!

Gluten-Free Chewy Chocolate Salted Caramel Cookies Recipe

Only one month to go until the official release date of my latest cookbook, Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking & Baking!

The books for pre orders and my Kickstarter backers have been ordered from the printer, the files are being converted to an e-book, and I just noticed this morning that Amazon has posted their listing for it! Exciting!

This book has been the biggest book project I’ve ever taken on. It started with a HUGE premise – that gluten-free cooking doesn’t have to be about compromising on flavour or texture. Sure, it’s been said before, but the follow through attempts I’ve seen have been lacklustre – GF food still has a reputation of being pretty awful for anyone who’s not actually GF.

I took the concept a step further – why shouldn’t gf cooking be as good OR BETTER than wheat flour cooking? With the variety of alternative flours available, each with their own unique flavours and properties. All of these flours have more flavour and have more nutrition that wheat flour, anyway – why shouldn’t we all make use of them?

Once you give up on the idea of using an all-purpose flour mix, the sky really is the limit! I’m still shocked over the pitas that taste like JUST Jimmy John’s bread – the loss of JJ was one of my biggest sadness issues when I had to go GF. THAT recipe (in the book) really made me feel like a miracle worker!

The thing is, using an all purpose mix for gluten free baking is kind of like using one spice mix for seasoning everything you eat – sweet AND savoury. Can you imagine that? Sure, it’ll work on some things, but definitely won’t be suited for others. Gluten free flours are the same way – some recipes call for more structure, some need more moisture retention. Robust savoury flavours really lift some recipes… and for others it would be overkill. By using different combinations of flours, you really let the flavours and properties of those flours sing!

Personally, I can’t see ever using wheat flour to bake cookies again, even for my non-gf friends. The complex – but fairly subtle, in some cases – flavours, the amazing textures… I’m pretty sure that every cookie recipe in this book has wrecked me for the wheat versions. Today, I’d like to share one of them with you. These cookies are everything you could ever want in a cookie… chewy, fudgey, dense, and full of flavour.

Gluten-Free Chewy Chocolate Salted Caramel Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 eggs
1 Tbsp milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
3/4 cup cocoa
2 Tbsp tapioca starch
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups soft caramel pieces *
Coarse sea salt

In stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, milk, and vanilla, beat until everything is fully incorporated and smooth.

In a large bowl, mix together remaining ingredients. Slowly add this dry mix to the mixer bowl, and carefully mix until well incorporated and smooth. Chill dough for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll 1″ balls out of the cookie dough. Arrange dough balls on baking sheets leaving at least 2″ between cookies – they flatten out a fair amount. Gently press the tops of each slightly – flatten JUST enough to prevent the dough from rolling.

Bake for 11-13 minutes. Cookies will look puffy, but flatten out as they cool. Do not overbake! As soon as cookies are finished baking, lightly sprinkle tops with coarse sea salt, press lightly into top of cookies.

* We used baking caramel bits, that came as little balls… but if you don’t have those available, you can cut soft square caramels into quarters and use that.

Less into the salted caramel idea, and want to use the chocolate cookie as a base for something else? No problem, just substitute 2 cups of other “stuff” – chocolate or butterscotch chips, mint chips, dried fruit, nuts… whatever!

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.

Cosplay Photography – Some Tips Before You Shoot!

So, I’ve been noticing a lot of sketchiness when it comes to photographers and cosplayers lately, and wanted to write something about it. (Seriously, a lot of photographer-audience cosplay articles come off like pick up artist articles!) Have a lot of thoughts to organize, so apologies if this ends up being sort of disjointed.

First, a little background. I’ve run my own business for over 2 decades, and many years of that was in the fashion industry. (As a designer, I dealt with models, photographers, pro shoots, etc) While I’m not a lawyer, I’ve run the business side of my husband’s photography business for years, dealing with contracts, copyright, arranging photo shoot logistics, and more.

As a cosplayer AND business owner, I understand that having someone express interest in you and your work can be exciting… but please exercise a little caution in proceeding!

Before the Shoot:

– Before agreeing to a shoot, familiarize yourself with the photographer’s work and personality. Do their photos look professional? Do they conduct themselves – and present their photography business in a professional manner? Would you feel proud to have your image on their site, or is every second image of the exact same poorly-lit pose, across multiple photo shoots? If every shot is aimed straight at the chest, and/or down the cosplayer’s shirt – and that’s not what you’re going for – it’s probably better to find a photographer with a different .. uh.. artistic vision .

– Get references, preferably from people you know. Ask how the photographer was to work with, and how happy the model was with their photos.

– ASK QUESTIONS… ideally, in writing. Email is great!

– Have a clear idea of what is expected of the shoot. Is there a theme? Does the photographer have a clear idea of what they want, or is it a “Let’s just go out and get some pics somewhere” type thing? Will they be bringing professional lighting? A clear plan is best, obviously!

– Ask about your photographer’s experience with the planned shoot. As an example, outdoor shoots can be challenging, from a lighting perspective. Certain locations may require a photography permit – has the photographer looked into / obtained any necessary permits, or at least know how & when to?

– Be clear on what is expected in terms of payment. Are they paying you? Are you paying them? Are they “paying” for your time with images, and if so, will they be high res?

– IF A PHOTOGRAPHER IS ASKING THAT MODELS BE 18+, THERE IS PROBABLY A REASON FOR IT. Ask what that reason is. It could be that they plan to be raunchy with the photos, it could be that they have certain plans for the use of the photos (see next point!), or it could be that they’re just very inexperienced and don’t have plans for a parent to be able to sign a release for a minor.

– Get a contract. Any legit photographer will have a good contract prepared. READ IT. Pay special attention to usage rights (both yours and theirs) and compensation. Do not agree to anything you are not comfortable with. I’ve seen / heard of way too many instances of people signing away their rights, and only realizing it when they hear of their image being sold on, say, body pillows. Don’t be that person! Make sure you both keep signed copies of the contract.

– NEVER go to a photo shoot alone. Have a friend with you for the duration of the shoot. This is sound advice for any shoot, but is especially important when it comes to cosplay. Restrictive costumes, ridiculous footwear… it can make a cosplayer an easy target.

On the day of the shoot:

– If your character has any signature poses, be sure to print out some photos to help out with posing!

– Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Bring all of the makeup you need for your character, and extras of everything – tights, bobby pins, etc. If possible, bring a repair kit. DEFINITELY bring a sensible pair of shoes, if you’ll be walking between different locations, or on weird terrain. Bring bug spray and sun screen, and plan for the weather!

– Bring some snacks and water. Take breaks. Don’t let yourself get dehydrated, etc!

After the shoot:

– When the photographer provides you with a CD of digital images, make sure that you also get a signed print release with it. Without it, you may not be able to have the images professionally printed.


As a final note:

Remember, you get what you pay for. Photo shoots take a LOT of time, much of which is time you don’t see. Planning the shoot, preparing contracts, selecting and packing equipment, hauling and setting up lighting… packing it all up, hauling it back, and post production. While helping someone build a portfolio can be fun – and MAY net you a few decent photos – don’t overlook a photographer because they are actually charging for photos.

For talented professionals, time is money – and you’ll likely see a huge bang for that buck. Paying for a shoot usually means the difference between getting photos from a point and shoot camera (and/or onboard flash), and getting a professionally lit final product. The difference is night and day (sometimes literally so!)

Sweet Corn Bruschetta Recipe, from Sweet Corn Spectacular

Heads up! “Maize Craze: Spectacular Sweet Corn Recipes” is here! A complete, full-colour overhaul of my now-out-of-print “Sweet Corn Spectacular”, “Maize Craze” features additional recipes and photos for EVERY recipe! Order your copy now, here!

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Hey, remember how I wrote “Sweet Corn Spectacular” – a cookbook all about fresh sweet corn – for the Minnesota Historical Society last year?

Well, guess what? Not only is it sweet corn season once again (*Cough* you should totally buy my book *Cough*), but the book is featured in the August edition of Midwest Living! Check it ouuuuut!

CornBrushcetta3

Pretty slick, eh?

Figured I’d celebrate by sharing that same recipe with you all: Sweet Corn Bruschetta!

This recipe is simple, elegant, and easy to tinker with. It’s beautiful and delicious with the most simple of balsamic vinegars… but is *mind blowingly amazing* if you can get your hands on peach balsamic vinegar.

Sweet Corn Bruschetta

4 ears sweet corn, husks removed
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar of choice
1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into think strips
Salt
Pepper
1 baguette
~ 1/4 cup olive oil
~8 oz goat cheese

Using a sharp knife, carefully cut kernels off the ears of corn. In a large bowl, combine corn kernels, honey, sugar, and balsamic vinegar, tossing to coat. Stir in basil, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cut baguette into 1/4-1/2″ thick slices – I like to cut them at a bit of an angle. Brush both sides of each bread slice with olive oil, arrange on a broiling pan.

Broil bread slices for 3 minutes, flip them all over, and broil for another 2 minutes. Remove from oven, spread each slice with some goat cheese, top with corn mixture. Serve immediately!

Variations:

– Add in diced fresh tomato
– Try chili flakes, for a bit of a kick
– Try different fresh herbs – dill, tarragon, parsley, thyme, mint, cilantro…
– Add a pressed garlic clove
– Swap the goat cheese for mascarpone, ricotta, or cream cheese
– Add a little finely chopped onion

If you’re a fan of fresh sweet corn, you’ll LOVE Maize Craze: Spectacular Sweet Corn Recipes – A full colour overhaul of “Sweet Corn Spectacular” (out of print), now with more recipes, and photos for every recipe!

If you have ever looked at a corn farmer’s market stall and wondered what all you could do with a giant sack of fresh corn, this is the book for you! It features breakfasts, appetizers/side dishes, main dishes, desserts, condiments and beverage recipes, all utilizing fresh sweet corn as a centerpiece. You’d be surprised what all you can do with this versatile grain, and how easy it is to create unique dishes from it!

Order your copy here.