Boozy Sparkling Cider Float

Last year while at Minnesota Renaissance Festival, Porter and I tried sparkling apple cider floats for the first time. It was nice… refreshing while still being “seasonal”. The bright flavour from the sparkling cider constrasted the rich creaminess of the ice cream well.

So of course we went home and made our own. A little less G-rated, our home version was made with our Homemade Hard Apple Cider. SO good!

This year we did it again, but played with the ingredients a little. Instead of using hard apple cider, we used a complimentary liqueur. Very tasty, and a really fun take on a childhood tradition of rootbeer floats… as my husband pointed out:

“Like growing up on hamburgers, and then having an Apple Chicken Burger with Basil and Gouda… really similar base, and has that nostalgia … but wow this is cool and different. I’m trying not to say ‘it tastes like fall in a glass’, because I think I could easily overuse that phrase, and it kind of makes me want to punch myself in the face.”


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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
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


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!

How to Make Thranduil’s Elven King Crown (Costume Tutorial)

Almost a year ago, I decided to dress my husband up as Thranduil for the premiere of Desolation of Smaug. It’s definitely become one of my favourite costumes of his, and seems to be super popular with the internet – I’ve gotten more emails about this costume than all other costumes, combined. It’s also the costume in my most popular Tumblr post ever!

(It also added a whole other level to the “Let’s get Porter drunk and make him rap the lyrics to pop songs he’s never heard” thing I was doing a while back. Great fun, but not really safe for work… The Twerking Video, “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”, and “The Fox”.)


That crown took some DOING. As pictured in that blog entry and on Tumblr.. that was our second attempt. My first one was awful. The second one – also made with polymer clay – was OK, but by no means accurate. It was also heavy and uncomfortable.

I was midway through the 3rd incarnation – A really difficult, messy, 1st ever attempt at ANYTHING made from fibreglass – when one of the people I follow on Tumblr posted a pic of a white plastic twig he’d just made for HIS new crown. I was intrigued! What was this mystery material, and where could I get some?

He told me it was called Instamorph, and I promptly ordered a container from Amazon to play with. I decided that – depending on how my first few twigs felt – I’d basically do the same base idea for the crown as I’d be doing on my earlier versions, but without supporting wires through the twigs.

It worked! The first twig turned out perfectly, even with some bark texture to it, as the result of pulling a mass of “beads” out to a long stick. It was obvious that by sculpting from plastic, I’d be able to get a lighter, more durable, and FAR more accurate crown. BEHOLD THE RESULT:

Note: This site is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for the site to earn fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites. While I’ll only ever link to items that I, personally, wholeheartedly recommend, I do need to put that disclosure out there!


I’ve made a few for commissions, but recently decided that it’s getting monotonous – I don’t enjoy making the same thing over and over again. So, on my most recent order, I decided it would be the last I’d make… and that it would be a GREAT subject for a tutorial! Great timing, too, what with both Halloween AND Battle of the Five Armies coming up.

So, let’s do this. Instamorph is the best thing ever, I’ve had a lot of fun making a bunch of other things from it ever since, including the wings on my Mini Katniss Wedding Gown. Awesome stuff!

Please excuse the crappy pictures for the tutorial itself. My husband was at work when I had this spur-of-the-moment idea, so I was stuck taking cell phone pics while trying to work quickly with the other hand!

You will need

Heavy wire: I use 10 gauge copper THHN wire.
Wire cutters
Electrical tape
Lightweight copper wire
16 oz Instamorph Pellets (You won’t use it all)
Pot of boiling water
Metal Spoon
Black or dark brown spray primer (for plastic)
Acrylic paints
Glue gun or E-6000

Using the heavy wire and electrical tape, fashion a base that looks like this:

Take your time to make sure it fits well, sits where you’d like it (It does NOT have to stay up by itself, though), and that the pointed ends stop where you’d like them to at your cheek. If you have a wig, try it on WITH the wig on. The final crown will bend a bit if needed, but it’s definitely best to get the base as accurate as possible beforehand!

Cut 6 or so lengths of thin copper wire, about 3″ long each. One at a time, bend each wire over the pencil, and twist the ends to form little loops with wire ends that extend out in opposite directions, like this:

Using small strips of electrical tape, secure the thin wire loops to the crown base thusly:

Now for the fun part – the Instamorph! This is what it looks like:

Get a pot of water boiling. Yes, it’s hotter than what it actually recommends on the container, but I’m pretty sure that’s for liability reasons. You want boiling water for this, just be CAREFUL.

When the water is boiling, move it to a potholder on your work surface, and sprinkle in some of the Instamorph pellets. As they melt, they will turn from white to clear:

Once clear, scoop out a small chunk of Instamorph with a metal spoon. Pull it into a long strip, and wrap it around the crown base. You’ll want to wrap all of the wire, a bit at a time… but it doesn’t have to be pretty at this step. Just get it covered!

As the plastic cools, you’ll be left with a base that looks something like this:

Take your heat gun, and – working in small sections – melt the wrapped plastic right on the base. Once melted, use your fingers to smooth it all out. Not only will this LOOK better, it makes the whole thing stronger:

Now, to make the twigs. Take a chunk of melted plastic from the water, and stretch it out into a twig shape. I like to form dents into the lump before stretching it out, to make smaller twigs sticking out from each main twig piece:

Make a fair amount of straight twigs, pairing them off into groups of similar length ones. While the crown shouldn’t be EXACTLY symmetrical (it’s supposed to be nature, after all!), balance is a good thing! Let them all cool until hard

Decide approximately where each of these twigs will be attached to the crown. One twig at a time, heat up both the thick (bottom) end of the twig AND the spot where you’ll be attaching it on the crown base. Once both parts are clear and look sort of wet, attach the twig to the base. Smush it in and sculpt excess melted plastic so that you get a really great, coherent bond.

Hold in place until cool – running it under cold water or dunking it into a bowl of ice water speeds this up.

Continue this process with all the main twigs along the top row of the crown:

Add twigs to the bottom row of the crown, using the same technique:

At this point, your water will probably be too cool for the next step – bring it to a boil again.

One piece at a time, make more twigs.. but instead of letting them cool before use, wrap them around current attached twigs, attaching at the base of the crown. You basically want a bunch of entwined branches in the end:

You’ll notice, as they cool, that they’re not stuck on very well. Once you’re happy with what you’ve got, you’ll want to reinforce all of the connections. Working in small sections, use your head gun to melt both parts of pieces you want to attach. Once clear, smush and sculpt.

As a general rule, I make sure that I melt/sculpt each of the bottoms of this second round of twigs to either the base of the crown, or – if they’re attaching to another twig, rather than the base of the crown – the twig they’re attached to. As well, I’ll melt them together wherever one new twig initially makes contact with another twig, and usually a point or two along the curly-wrapped sections.

It should start looking something like this:

Continue adding accent pieces – not only vertically, but entwining horizonally along the bases, and even up the side of the cheek parts. If you don’t like something, you can always reheat it with the heat gun and tweak it, add to it, or remove it.

Once you’re happy with it, sit back and admire your work. (The pictures from here on in are from the first crown, not the one I made in the tutorial. I shipped it before my husband came home, AND it was just a plain white, unpainted crown commission!):

Now, paint it! I don’t actually have in-progress photos of when I painted that first one, so I’ll just describe the process.

First, give it a good all-over coat of spray primer. Spray as much as you can, let it dry fully, then flip it over and spray the rest. Make sure all the plastic is covered.

From here, I used a medium brown acrylic and a small paintbrush to MOSTLY cover the whole crown. I avoided a few places that could look like knots in trees, and deep areas that would look good with dark shadowing. Let it dry completely

Then I used a dark brown acrylic (not as dark as the primer) and a REALLY small brush to add a few extra shadows and details throughout. Let THAT dry fully.

Then I used a really light brown mixed with a small amount of gold to add sparse highlighting throughout. Let that dry.

I decided that the highlighting was too obvious, so I mixed a very small amount of the medium brown with water to make a thin wash, and sponged that over the entire crown. Wipe off any excess, and let it dry:

Finally, use a glue gun or E-6000 glue to attach your plastic leaves throughout the crown. Let it dry fully before use.

To wear, position crown on head, use bobby pins in the copper loops (I like to use 2 in each loop, facing opposite directions) to secure the crown in place.

Enjoy… and hey, if you’re interested in following more of my costuming adventures, be sure to “Like” my costuming page on Facebook, here!

Halloween Themed Shooters

Halloween is about a week away – Yay! I love this time of year … the fall weather, the changing color of the leaves, and the fun of Halloween. I love how *nuts* one can with with party planning for Halloween, as there are so many directions that one can go. Do you go for gory? Campy? Elegant goth? Each option has an entire world of possibilities for decor and food.

For our part, my husband and I recently decided to craft up some Halloween themed cocktail recipes. We decided to go fairly random on Halloween subthemes, while designing…. colors, flavors, and.. well, a couple that we were just aiming for “gross”.

As most of these ended up utilizing layering techniques, I’d suggest reading my earlier blog entry, “Shot Tectonics: The Science of Layered Shooters” before getting started. No worries, it’s really not that difficult!

Have fun with it!

To me, Black Licorice + Orange is an epic flavor combination. I grew up on it with Tiger Tail Ice Cream, and have played with it in other recipes, such as my Tiger Tail Cake Recipe.

Halloween Candy Shot

Orange Curacao

Pour Orange Curacao into a shotglass, filling it about halfway. Gently pour Anisette into the middle of the glass, filling it almost to the top.

The Anisette is “heavier” than the Curacao, and will sink to the bottom – creating a pretty gradient effect as it does.

Witches’ Stockings

I’ve got to admit – on its own, I really don’t like Creme de Violette. In this drink, though? It works! Monumentally more palatable, IMHO!

Creme de Violette
Sour Apple Pucker Liqueur
Orange Curacao

Layer liqueurs in order of mention above – First the Creme de Violette, then Apple Pucker, topping off with Orange Curacao.

Be VERY gentle as you layer these liqueurs – They’re fairly close in specific gravity, so they require a bit of extra attention to not mix them!

This one may not taste anything like Candy Corn specifically (We were going for layered colors, more than anything…), but it DOES taste like candy!

Candy Corn Shot

Creme de Banane
White Chocolate Creme Liqueur (We used Merry’s)
Orange Curacao

Layer liqueurs in order of mention above – First the Creme de Banane, then White Chocolate Creme, topping off with Orange Curacao.

I’m not going to lie, the actual shot part of this drink was a bit of an afterthought. The idea of making an edible bloody eyeball came to me in a dream, and was what inspired this whole blog entry. Then I woke up, googled, and found that I wasn’t the first to think of it. BOO.

The Bloody Eyeball

Canned Lychee
Red colored jam (We used Lingonberry)
Large blueberries
Sour Apple Pucker liqueur

Use a small spoon to carefully fill each lychee with jam. Place a large blueberry in the opening of the lychee, pressing in gently to secure the berry / cause a bit of gushing.

Fill shot glasses about 3/4 full with Sour Apple Pucker, then pour a bit of grenadine right in the middle. It’ll sink to the bottom, with a bit of swirl.

Top each glass with a lychee eyeball, using a toothpick if necessary.

This next one.. I can’t even tell you what it tastes like! We went for appearance first, looking to employ pouring and curdling techniques to create something that just looked disgusting. I can’t handle drinking curdled drinks… but my husband loved this!

We used a tall shot glass for effect, but these are usually done with normal shot glasses… whatever floats your boat will work just fine.

Zombie Brain Hemorrhage

Peach Schnapps
Creme de Menthe (Green, not clear!)
Bailey’s Irish Cream

Pour the Peach Schnapps into a shot glass, about 1/2 full. Pour a splash of Creme de Menthe in next – it’ll sink to the bottom.

Next, pour on the Bailey’s. I like to do a clean layer, you may prefer to gently pour it in for more of a mixed “brain” effect.

Just before serving, pour a splash of grenadine into the middle of the shot glass. It’ll drag some Bailey’s down, causing a curdling effect. It’s kind of mesmerizing to watch – here’s a progression:

We DID take a video of it, on the night we designed these cocktails. You’ll have to excuse us, it was at the END of the cocktail design session…

How to Carve a Halloween Pumpkin Like a Pro – Expert Guest Post!

Update: Alex will be appearing on “Good Morning America” this Halloween!

Halloween is such a fun time, and my husband and I look forward to it all year. Thing is, we look forward to it for the convention we attend – and it tends to preclude us from things like bothering to decorate our house. As a result, any potential I may (or may not!) have at pumpkin carving, Halloween crafting is largely un-realized!

In other words, Halloween seems like an awesome excuse for a guest post or two!

Remember Alex, “The Pumpkin Geek“? I’ve fangirled out about featured his amazing talents on this blog before. Check it out: Far-Flung Awesomeness of the Pumpkin Variety

It’s been a super productive ROCK STAR year and a half for Alex. He counts Jeri Ryan, LeVar Burton, Gene Simmons, Joe Mantegna, Brad Paisley, and Taylor Swift among his fans – they’re all proud owners of his work.

He’s been written up in international news, online newspapers, blogs… and has shipped his work to 9 different countries and counting.

He’ll be appearing on CBS’ “The Doctors” on Friday, Oct 28th for a segment on safe carving – so be sure to set your DVRs for that! Having only known him online, I can’t wait to see him actually working!

In the spirit of Halloween, check out some of his horror movie carves: (more…)

How to make Candy Apples

Candy Apples are a fun activity for the family, are cheap and easy to make, inspire nostalgia, and are a tasty way to use some of the bountiful apples this season. What’s not to love?

Well.. aside from sugar burns, anyway. While this is an easy recipe, I recommend keeping little hands away from the cooking sugar, and ideally away from the dipping process as well. Kids can have just as much fun picking out the apples, the flavors, etc… without the risk!


Decorated Sugar Cookies

Well, Halloween is just around the corner, so now’s a great time to post our recipe for decorated sugar cookies!

These are great to serve guests at your halloween party, or as a weekend activity for kids, or even to hand out to your favorite Treat or Treaters. Very easy to make, and can be a lot of fun!

Cookie Ingredients

2 cups butter, softened
2 1/3 cups granulated sugar
5 eggs
4 egg yolks – Reserve egg whites for icing!
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract*
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
7 cups all purpose flour

Icing Ingredients

4 egg whites
1 Tbsp lemon juice
4-6 cups powdered/confectioner’s sugar

In a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add in eggs and egg whites, a little at a time, beating well between each addition. Add vanilla extract, and mix until well incorporated and smooth.

Mix remaining 3 ingredients together, carefully stir into wet ingredients until fully incorporated.

Wrap dough in plastic film, chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F, grease cookie sheets.

On a floured counter, roll cookie dough out to about 1/4″ thick (can be up to 1/2″ thick if you prefer a thicker cookie). Use cookie cutters to cut out whatever shapes you’d like, place cookies 2″ apart on greased cookie sheets.

Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes, or until bottoms look lightly golden. Allow cookies to cool on cookie sheets for at least 5 minutes before moving. Cookies need to cool completely before decorating.

In clean stand mixer, whip egg whites until foamy. Add lemon juice, whip for another minute. Slowly add powdered sugar until cookie icing reaches desired consistency. You will want a thicker frosting for piping details and borders. If you’re wanting to “flow” the icing within piped borders, icing can be thinned with a little lemon juice or water.

* 2 tsp Anise extract can be substituted for a fun variation. I especially like using anise (black licorice flavor) for doing cookies that will be shaped/decorated like black cats or bats.