“Nerds” Wedding Favour Boxes – a Free Template!

Ever since posting about it a few years ago, this post about the wedding favours my husband and I made for our wedding has been one of THE most popular entries on this blog. Not only was it a cool idea for wedding favours, it would also work well for birthday parties, graduations, and more!

Since then, I’ve had a lot of requests for doing custom boxes for people (I’m not comfortable doing so, because of IP issues!), and some requests for the file itself.

Well, I’ve finally dug out one of my original files, and am making it available for download! The file is 4MB, click here to download it.

Please note: I am offering this as a free, standalone resource. I am unable to offer any design assistance or trouble shooting, beyond the information contained in this blog entry. Thank you for understanding.

Here is what you will want to do (more or less!)

1. Open it in Photoshop.

2. Change the background colour to one more appropriate to your own event. Delete the background copy layer (just left it in there as an idea of what looks good for texture). If you’d like a textured background, go for it. (Works best with a really small, fine texture)

3. Edit “Website or greeting here” to… well, a website or greeting. 🙂

4. Swap out the flowers for flowers more appropriate to your wedding, or – for other events – something else. Maybe a birthday cake, etc? Use a high res image for best results.

5. Change the colours of the dresses and bowties, if desired.

6. Personalize the Name(s) and date for your own use. Also, feel free to change the wording of the greeting on the back of the box.

7. Make sure everything is as you want it, save the psd file as is (just in case), then convert to JPG and save it as a different file. It should look more or less like

…. with your own design added, of course 🙂

8. Obtain a template for a large postcard from your choice of printer – we used VistaPrint, with their “Oversized Postcard” option.

9. In Photoshop, select all for your completed design, copy and paste it to the printer’s template. Center it, making sure to keep it within the safe space guidelines provided. Delete the guidelines layer (if applicable), flatten and save.

10. Order your prints. I HIGHLY recommend ordering 50% more than you think you’ll need – this will allow for cutting/assembling mistakes, accidents, last minute extras needed, and keepsakes.

11. Order your choice of filling. We were able to find a company that sold Nerds candy in bulk – so much easier than buying retail boxes and transferring the contents!

12. When your print order arrives, use a slide cutter to trim the postcards to the outer outlines of the box.

13. Use very sharp, pointed tip scissors to trim all of the little “v” cuts, etc. (We used small scrapbooking scissors)

14. Using the dull/blunt attachment for your slide cutter (you may need to purchase this separately), score all of the fold edges.

15. Fold all of the boxes.

16. Glue the boxes together at the side flap.

17. Glue all of the boxes together at the bottom flap. Allow to dry completely.

18. Fill the boxes about 2/3 full, glue the top flap closed.

… and that’s it! It’s a bit of effort, but VERY much worth it!

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!

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”.)

ANYWAY.

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:

Gorgeous.

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
Pencil
16 oz Instamorph pellets
Pot of boiling water
Metal Spoon
Black or dark brown spray primer (for plastic)
Acrylic paints
Leaves
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!

Craft – How to Sew a Cute Toiletry / Makeup Bag Travel Set

Back in the beginning of May, I posted a very long, very detailed post of the various ways that I trained and prepared to compete on MasterChef. While we all know how THAT went, I did walk out of the experience with a bunch of awesome new friends… and the super cute toiletry set I’d made mention of, near the end of that first post!

You see, I never – ever – sew for myself. I like to think of it as “I can’t afford me!”, but it’s usually more a case of a bastardized version of “The cobbler’s kids go barefoot”. Either way, I own pretty much nothing that I made for myself, save for my wedding gown.

This set was a rare thing for me. I took a bit of time out to make something pretty – albeit HIGHLY useful – for myself. The idea as inspired by a well-loved 4 piece set of a similar basic design that my friend Karen had made me for Christmas a few years ago – hers quilted from various different fabrics, embellished with ric-rac, and made from a Atkinson Designs pattern (thanks for letting me know who to reference, Karen!). They were super cute, and I loved the stand-up nature of the two little bags in the set.

For my trip, I had so much STUFF to organize, that I decided to make a big set of custom sized ones for myself. (I have a pretty OCD need for everything to match, when we’re talking things like suitcases, travel sets, etc!). The basic idea for the bags came in handy, as I was sharing a bathroom with another woman – so I made a bunch, in a bunch of different sizes. One bag for hair dye, bleach, gloves, etc… another for accessories, another for hair accessories, another for ALL my makeup, a smaller one for “day of” makeup in my purse, etc. Plus, the bright print just made me happy!

After receiving a bunch of compliments on it, I figured I should post a bit of a how-to, so you can all make them for yourselves!

So, yesterday I drafted up a few patterns – and an outline on how to make your own – and made a second set, pictured here. We documented the whole process as I went… yes, that’s a dinosaur print. I’m an adult, I can do whatever I want 🙂

So, here we go! There are three main pieces / patterns to this set – the bags, the tissue holder, and the coin purse. The bag pattern is simple to make, the the sewing procedure is the same for each, no matter what size you make. The tissue holder and coin purse use the same pattern piece, with the tissue holder requiring one other (simple!) pattern piece.

Fabrics & Notions

How much fabric you’ll need will depend on how many/ what size items you’ll be making. As an example: to make an entire set as pictured, I used 1 yard each of two different print fabrics, and one yard of very thin cotton quilt batting.

Each bag / coin purse requires a zipper that is approximately the width of the bag (more on that in the bags section!), and you’ll want thread that either matches/contrasts with the two fabrics you choose.

As for the fabric, I like to choose two prints that go well with each other, while still providing a bit of contrast in colours/ patterns. I used basic printed cotton, the kind you find in any fabric or craft store – usually with a HUGE selection to choose from!

Tissue Holder

Let’s start with the easiest piece – the tissue holder!

For this, you need:

– Three rectangles of one print fabric, 6.5″ x 4″ each
– Two squares of the other print fabric, 4″ x 4″ each
– One travel sized pack of tissues (the kind that opens on the largest surface of the pack, NOT at one small end!)
– Pins (optional

First, iron all your pieces if you so desire. I’m lazy, and usually don’t bother 🙂

Next, you’ll be folding and laying out your pieces.

Take one of your rectangles, and lay it with the right side up – this is your base. All four of the remaining pieces need to be folded in half, the long ones folded to create 6.5″ x 4″ strips.

Position one of your long strips on the base piece, lining up the two raw edges with one of the long edges of the base. Then, position one of the smaller strips overlapping it, lining up with the short edge of the base piece… like so:

Position the remaining long piece, overlapping the small piece you just put down, and lining up with the remaining long edge. Position the remaining short piece to overlap that piece, but to go UNDER the first piece you placed, lining up with the remaining short end of the base, like so:


(You can pin the corners down to make things easier, as shown!)

Stitch all the way around the edge – I like to keep the right side of my presser foot on the outer edge of fabric, as my seam allowance guide – back stitching at the beginning and edge of your seam. Trim threads, clip corners:

Finish off all sides with either a serger or a zig zag stitch, and turn everything right side out:

Slip a back of tissue in there, and you’re done! Cute, eh?

ZIPPERS!

Ok, before going any further, I should detail how I do the zippers for these – it’s the way I do them for all the bags, and the coin purses.

First, pick a zipper that is about the same length as the top edge of the bag you’re making. It can be longer, but you don’t really want it to be much shorter.

Cut a strip of fabric to either match or contrast the fabric that will be on the outside of the bag you’re making. (I prefer to match, as shown throughout this tutorial!). It should be at least 5″, by the width of the zipper you’re using (usually an inch or so). Cut that length into two roughly equal pieces:

Open the zipper a little, and place it face down on the right side of one of your fabric strip pieces. Stitch them together with a straight seam, just beyond where the actual zipper ends (immediately to the right of the metal ends, in this picture):

Flip the zipper over, and pull the fabric back so that it is resting over the very end of the zipper. Stitch it down with a straight seam, like so:

Position the other fabric strip face down on the right side of the zipper at the other end, just before the actual zipper ends. Depending on the length of the original zipper, I like to leave 1/8 – 1/4″ before the metal end doohickey, as shown.

Stitch the strip down with a straight seam, and trim the excess zipper away, including the end bit:

Flip the fabric over and stitch it down, as you did with the other side.

Center your zipper across the top of the bag that it will be sewn into, and trim the edges to fit:

Place zipper face down on the right side of the bag (see bag instructions first!), and sew a straight seam down the length of it. Repeat with the other side of the zipper, and the other bag piece:

Flip the bag over and top stitch a straight seam near the edge of where the fabric folds back, on both sides. This flattens everything out and makes it look cleaner/more finished:

Done!

Wow, this is getting to be a long entry, sorry about that!

Coin Purse

Of the bags, the coin purse is the easiest, so let’s do it first! For this, you need:

– Two rectangles of one print fabric, 6.5″ x 4″ each
– Two rectangles of the other print fabric, 6.5″ x 4″ each
– Two rectangles of thin quilt batting, 6.5″ x 4″ each
– 1 prepared zipper, as described above.

First, lay out your pieces. Place one set of fabric (both the same print!) down on your work surface, with the right sides facing down.

Place a quilt batting piece over each, and top with the remaining pieces of the other print fabric, right sides facing up. Line everything up well!

You can pin everything together and zig zag around the edge if you’d like – I usually don’t bother. I do recommend serging or zig zagging one of the long sides of each piece, though – it makes the zipper installation easier / look more finished!

Apply your zipper, as described above. OPEN YOUR ZIPPER BEFORE CONTINUING (!!!)

Fold the bag in half so that the right sides are facing each other, and stitch a straight seam around the three raw edges.

Finish edge with a serger or zig zag seam:

Turn it right side out, and you’re done!

Toiletry and Makeup Bags

Finally, the makeup and toiletry bags. These are slightly more complicated to explain, but are easy to make!

For each bag, you need:

– Two pattern pieces cut of one print fabric
– Two pattern pieces cut of the other print fabric
– Two pattern pieces cut of thin quilt batting
– 1 prepared zipper

First, you need to decide what size bag(s) you’re going to make. As an example, here’s what I use as the “final dimensions” measurements:

Large Toiletry Bag*: 12″ x 8″ x 5″

Makeup Bag: 10″ x 6″ x 4″

Sunglasses Bag: 9″ x 3.5″ x 4″

* I made a large one in the MasterChef set, but not in the set pictured throughout this tutorial. Was short one zipper, whoops!

When looking at each set of measurements, this is what they’re going to translate to, in the order mentioned above:

A = Intended length of the bag

B = Intended height of the bag

C = (One half of) the intended bottom width of the bag. Measurement above is final size, but when drafting the pattern, use half of that measurement as “C”!

Using the measurements and the letters I give above, use a ruler to draw a pattern like this:


(This pattern is made to the proportions of the makeup bag I listed above. Different sized/proportioned bags will look a little different, but still this basic shape!)

Then, draw a second set of lines around your original pattern – these will add your seam allowance. I like to add 1/4″, all the way around:

Go on and cut out the pattern pieces that you’ll need, using the outermost set of pattern lines as your final pattern.

Now, lay out your pieces. Place one set of fabric pieces (both the same print!) down on your work surface, with the right sides facing down. Place a quilt batting piece over each, and top with the remaining pieces of the other print fabric, right sides facing up. Line everything up well!

You can pin everything together and zig zag around the edge if you’d like – I usually don’t bother. I do recommend serging or zig zagging one of the long sides of each piece, though – it makes the zipper installation easier / look more finished!

Apply your zipper, as described above. OPEN YOUR ZIPPER BEFORE CONTINUING (!!!)

Fold the bag in half so that the right sides are facing each other, and stitch a straight seam around the the side and bottom edges – NOT the “C” edges, though!

Finish edges with a serger or zig zag seam:

Now, go to one of your “C” corners, and open it. Within that opening, fold it in half to line up the side seam with the bottom seam, like this:

Stitch a straight seam across the new edge, taking care to stitch through ALL layers of fabric – they’ll want to move! Trim the edge if it becomes uneven at all, and finish off with a serger or zig zag seam:

Repeat on the other “C” corner. Trim all thread ends, and turn bag right side out.

Woo hoo! You’re done! (Now go make several more bags, so you have a complete set!)

Sushi Cake – Happy Birthday to ME!

Between all of the MasterChef stuff and racing to get our Weeping Angel costumes ready for BritCon this weekend, life’s been kind of nuts. Well, not kind of… it’s been really insane.

When our bodies revolted on Sunday morning and prompted us to forgo Sunday at BritCon in favor of recovery time, the sudden clearing of 1 day’s schedule allowed us a few minutes to think… and I realized that it’s my birthday this week. WHAT? End of May already?! How did that happen?

My birthdays are usually kind of weird around here. I never really feel like doing anything social for them, and they’re so soon after my husband’s birthday. As he didn’t get birthday parties before we met, I just feel it makes more sense to pull out all the stops for him, and coast on mine.

This year, though… I had an idea. I wanted a SUSHI CAKE. Porter was so happy that I actually had an idea/plan, he had NO problem with hopping in the car to go pick up the stuff to make it. It came together quickly and easily, was fun and TASTY.

Well, my birthday may not be til Thursday – the day I planned to post this – but I made the mistake of posting some pics to Facebook, and I’ve been nagged to post the recipe NOW. So… here we go!

This is more of a general guide / “how to”, than an actual recipe. You can tweak this to suit your tastes, how many people you’ll be serving, what kind of equipment you have on hand, and what ingredients are available in your area. I decided to base this cake on one of my favorite maki rolls, Tuna, Avocado, and Mango Maki – partially because tuna is the easiest fish to find as “sashimi grade”, locally. Use whatever makes you happy!

A note on the rice:

We made this, gave it a good press, and served it immediately. If you are serving it immediately, use Sushi-seasoned rice for best flavor. HOWEVER if you plan to chill the cake before serving, just use regular “sushi” type rice, without the seasoning. Sushi-seasoned rice gets hard when chilled, not so appetizing.

Sushi Cake

Prepared sushi type rice, either seasoned (to be served immediately) or unseasoned (if cake will be chilled)
Nori
Sashimi grade fish of choice
Mayo & Sriracha, if you want to make Spicy filling
Masago and/or tobiko of choice, optional
Vegetables and/or fruit of choice (We used avocados, cucumbers, and mango)
Sesame seeds
Wasabi – ideally in powdered form
Rice Vinegar, optional

– First, prepare your ingredients. We chopped (and promptly refrigerated!) the tuna, and thinly sliced the cucumbers and mango. We chopped the avocado and tossed it with a bit of rice vinegar to prevent oxidization.

– Decide what you’ll be using as your cake mold, and line it well with plastic wrap. Be sure to leave the ends of each piece of plastic hanging over the edges. Not only will you need to fold these over the cake when pressing it, they will help you unmold the cake!

(For reference, we used a 4″ springform cheesecake pan, and it made probably 3 servings worth of sushi.)

– Have a bit of a design in mind before you start placing your items. For our part, we wanted the cucumbers to look like “swags” on a birthday cake. Because this would be an outermost part of the design, we placed them first, in a ring around the bottom of the pan (which becomes the top when the cake is inverted!). You could also place a design of vegetables, fruit, sesame seeds, or fish on the bottom of the pan.. creating a build-in design when the cake is inverted. You know, like a sushi upside down cake!

Once the cucumber border was in place, we pressed a layer of plain white sushi rice into the bottom of the pan, to be a clear, perfect cake “top”. This also helped hold the cucumbers in place.

To make the “sprinkled” side of the cake, I mixed a generous amount of masago in with some white sushi rice, and firmly pressed it evenly along the side of the pan.

Once the sides were pressed in, we started layering the ingredients. The first layer was a round I cut from a nori sheet, followed by mango slices.

At this point, we noticed that Turbo had run off with a scrap of nori, so we had to watch, photograph, and generally pay attention to her. NO idea why she became so obsessed with seaweed! She’s kind of a weird cat…

Anyway, we continued layering ingredients until the pan was almost full, pressing down firmly and evenly whenever we could. We ended with a final layer of rice, to make it easier to handle.

Once the pan is full, fold the ends of the plastic wrap in and over the cake, and press down FIRMLY and evenly to compact the cake. We happened to have a small plate that fit perfectly inside the springform pan, so we used that to press it all down.

If you’re going to chill it, chill it now.

To serve, peel back all of the plastic wrap and carefully invert the cake onto a serving plate.

Once the cake is inverted, feel free to decorate it further. We decided to mix up some wasabi to pipe “Happy Birthday” on top, and a little bead border along the bottom edge. I just used a regular pastry bag… and if we’d had more wasabi powder on hand, I would have made more wasabi, thicker, and piped a rose from it! (If you do this, freeze the rose for a few minutes after piping to make it easier to transfer to the cake)

In addition to wasabi “frosting”, there are so many ways you can decorate a sushi cake:

Sprinkles: Use sesame seeds (plain, toasted, and or black!), tobiko or masago (in various colors/flavours!), or nori as “sprinkles”. Nori can be cut into really thing slices, and then chopped to make rectangular sprinkles.

More vegetables and fruit: Slices of veggies can be cut up to look like flowers, etc (Like cucumbers or thinly sliced carrots!)

Pickled Ginger: Cut into shapes, or drape to form “roses”. Pickled ginger roses with piped wasabi leaves would be super cute!

Sashimi can also be thinly sliced and formed into roses.

Nori shapes: Nori is easily cut into shapes.. hearts, flowers, geometric shapes… have some fun with it! To adhere designs to the cake, damped one side of the nori shape slightly with water, and just stick it to the cake.

To serve, slice with a VERY clean, very sharp knife – I rinse with cold water between each slice. Serve with soy sauce, and eat with a fork and knife.

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.

Wedding Stationery Inspiration – Florida Keys

Now that “engagement season” is over, I’d like to pause the food talk to bring you a little wedding inspiration.

When our friend Lisa got married in late 2011, we were floored by her invitations. Wedding stationery can be so.. stationary. Some of the invite catalogs out there are hawking the same designs they sold in the mid-late 90s (literally), and so many invites I’ve seen during my time in the industry are just so .. blah.

To me, wedding stationery should give a bit of a hint about the event, beyond just words. When you look at a GREAT invite set, you should be able to see the couple in it. With a great invite, you can feel the love and care that went into it, and know that the couple really values your presence at the event.

When I got Lisa’s invitation in the mail… I’ve never been more excited to attend a wedding in my life. I knew that it was going to be a thoughtfully planned event, and a truly memorable wedding.

Unfortunately, post-tornado budget issues got in the way, so I had to live vicariously through the raves of mutual friends who HAD attended. The wedding had lived up to the invitations!

Let me show you the stationery that instantly won my heart:

Says Lisa:

“We wanted something different, something that no one else would have, and that worked with our literary theme. Invitations set the tone for your event, and it was a good opportunity to let people know that we wouldn’t be having a standard “wedding industry” wedding. The mad-libs style RSVP was a second clue.

We sourced all of the invitation materials from library supply houses, and I did all of the graphic design. We did our own envelope liners in several styles from a recycled encyclopedia, comics and maps, and hand stamped all the envelopes. The invites were hand stamped by my friends one afternoon (we also put stems on 300+ hand-folded paper flowers that day, but that is another story).

We loved our invitations, and we are still getting comments on them today”

Sigh! I wish we still had the envelope ours came in – it was lined with a recipe from a magazine!

So, there you have it – my favorite wedding stationery ever. What is the coolest invite YOU have ever seen?

Marie’s Favorite Things – Holiday Giveaways 2.0!

A couple years ago, we did our first “Marie’s Favorite Things” giveaway on Celebration Generation. It was a ton of fun, being able to get some of my readers hooked on some of my favorite things (Imaginative title, eh?). We had to skip last year, on account of still being busy with tornado repairs, but we’re back!

I love sharing information about the stuff I lust/obsess over as it is. Add in some awesome giveaways? I’m SO down with that. I just know of so many awesome people, businesses, and products – thought it’d be fun to compile a few of them into a blog post, to make Christmas shopping easier for my readers. Plus, it’s always good to support fellow small businesses!

First, a bit of disclosure. I chose all of these items, as things I genuinely love. I have received no compensation or free product for recommending any of these items. It’s my pleasure to introduce these products to you, and sincerely hope you’ll love them as much as I do!

For the giveaways: For each item, there are 3 ways you can enter. Twitter, Facebook, and by commenting here. You are free to enter once per entry type, per giveaway. That is to say, you are allowed to enter up to 3 times for each of the giveaways featured here. Winners are determined by randomized draw from entries, all prizes ship directly from the business offering them, to the winner. Please see each individual description for any particulars, restrictions, etc for entering. Enjoy, and good luck!


1. Dragon Chow Dice Bags

I’m a big fan of utility. With me, substance wins over style, no exceptions. I don’t care about trends, and am always comfortable in jeans, a t shirt, and runners. I think high heels were invented by a sadist, and I want no part of that business….

Sometimes, though, utility and style actually manage to cross paths. With “Geeky Lyndsay”’s help, not only do they cross paths, they hook up spectacularly and spawn some adorably functional offspring: funky dice bags!

I may not be a gamer, but these bags are genius. They’re flat on the bottom, to stand up without external aid. They have secure draw strings, and come in many colors and patterns. Jalapenos, constellations, flames, barbed wire, snowflakes, the TARDIS… and they’re reversible! It’s like getting 2 bags in one.

Some even come with a pencil strap, and are tall enough to accommodate writing implements. What more could you want? I may need to buy some up to store my lip balm collection in! Too cute! Order yours on Lyndsay’s site, www.dragonchow.com

Lyndsay has graciously offered up a single “standard” dice bag for our giveaway! To win:

On Twitter: Be sure you’re following @celebr8ngenr8n on Twitter, and tweet the following: I want to win a Dragon Chow dice bag from @celebr8ngenr8n : http://tinyurl.com/agg8tvf!

On Facebook: First, “Like” us on Facebook here, and “like” Dragon Chow here. Post this link: http://www.celebrationgeneration.com/blog/?p=4911 to your own wall, with the message “I want to win a Dragon Chow Dice Bag from Celebration Generation!” Be sure to use the “@” mention function to select both “Celebration Generation” and “Dragon Chow Dice Bags”, so we’ll know that you entered!

Here, in the comments: Simply tell me why you want to win a Dragon Chow dice bag! Be sure to use a valid email address, so I can contact you if you win!

Please: One entry per type, per giveaway item. Feel free to enter each of the 3 ways, for each giveaway, however! Deadline for entry is 12:01 am, Wednesday December 5 2012. Good luck!


2. Prairie Dawn Lip Balm

You probably don’t know this about me, but I’m a bit of a lip balm connoisseur. Actually, given that I have a collection of only slightly less than 100 tubes, pots, and mini balls of lip balm, maybe “lip balm fiend” could also be an acceptable title!

However, you may have gathered that I’m a fan of flavor by now… that more than likely plays in to my lip balm obsession. A good lip balm is a sensual experience.. Flavor, scent, the texture of it on your lips. A GREAT lip balm is a marriage of all 3 elements, and is an oddly rare find. I found my holy grail of lip balms on a trip to Niagara Falls a few years ago, and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since.

Prairie Dawn lip balms come in 4 flavors, and are 100% natural. I can’t even tell you how much I love the stuff, words fail me here. These are the smoothest, silkiest lip balms I’ve ever come across – it’s like they melt on contact with your lips. The taste/scent? Phenomenal. My favorites are Lime and Black Licorice, which are potent enough AND true to reality. I honestly can’t think of anything more I could ask for in a lip balm (aside from having a HUGE supply of them on hand!)

Prairie Dawn lip balms are made by a small company in Alberta, Canada. While I found my initial set at a Shopper’s Drug Mart in Niagara Falls, they’re not really “on the shelf” items locally. The good news is that they’re available by online order, at www.prairiedawn.ca! $4 each, $2 shipping anywhere in North America (CAD), regardless of how many you order. Seriously, stock up. They make great stocking stuffers, and you’ll have a hard time giving them away once you try them. They really are THAT awesome!

Prairie Dawn has generously offered up a pack of 4 lip balms as a giveaway to my readers. That’s one each of Sweet Orange, Lime, Peppermint, and Black Licorice! To win:

On Twitter: Be sure you’re following @celebr8ngenr8n on Twitter, and tweet the following: I want to win Prairie Dawn Lip Balm from @celebr8ngenr8n : http://tinyurl.com/agg8tvf!

On Facebook: First, “Like” us on Facebook here, and “like” Prairie Dawn here. Post this link: http://www.celebrationgeneration.com/blog/?p=4911 to your own wall, with the message “I want to win Prairie Dawn Lip Balm from Celebration Generation!” Be sure to use the “@” mention function and select “Celebration Generation” and “Prairie Dawn Natural Lip Balm”, so we’ll know that you entered!

Here, in the comments: Simply tell me why you want to win Prairie Dawn Lip Balm! Be sure to use a valid email address, so I can contact you if you win!

Please: One entry per type, per giveaway item. Valid for entrants anywhere in North America. Feel free to enter each of the 3 ways, for each giveaway, however! Deadline for entry is 12:01 am, Wednesday December 5 2012. Good luck!


3. The Pumpkin Geek

Here’s another case of a company that I’ve already blogged my love for!

I first met Alex, “The Pumpkin Geek” on Twitter. Back then, I was blown away by the photos he had of pumpkins he’d carved. You see, Alex has a unique niche – using craft foam pumpkins, he makes the most ridiculously intricate carvings of pumpkins that you can imagine… most of which feature a geeky theme. Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter.. even House. If you can think it, Alex can carve it!

For instance, you could have him carve the image of Hugh Jackman as “Wolverine”, as he did for me. *swoon*. I digress…

Pumpkins may be considered more seasonally “autumn”, than as a traditional Christmas type gift, but so what? Awesomeness like this is timeless, for ALL seasons, really. Even in the middle of a hot and nasty summer, I was able to marvel at the fine, finicky detail that my little pumpkin carve features. Oh, but I definitely did display my Wolverine Jack(man) O’Lantern proudly at Halloween, for all of the neighborhood kids (of all ages!) to oggle!

Anyway. Yes. You should totally order a custom carve of your loved one’s favorite Tv, movie, or comic book character. Maybe even of the recipient themselves… and for the slightly narcissistic gift giver, you can always have you OWN mug carved into a pumpkin! The possibilities are endless!

Alex is offering up this “Loki” medium sized carve to one lucky fan! To enter:

On Twitter: Be sure you’re following @celebr8ngenr8n on Twitter, and tweet the following: I want to win a @thepumpkingeek carve from @celebr8ngenr8n : http://tinyurl.com/agg8tvf!

On Facebook: First, “Like” us on Facebook here, and “like” The Pumpkin Geek here. Post this link: http://www.celebrationgeneration.com/blog/?p=4911 to your own wall, with the message “I want to win a Pumpkin Geek carving from Celebration Generation!” Be sure to use the “@” mention function and select both “Celebration Generation” and “The Pumpkin Geek” so we’ll know that you entered!

Here, in the comments: Simply tell me why you want to win a Pumpkin Geek carving! Be sure to use a valid email address, so I can contact you if you win!

Please: One entry per type, per giveaway item. Valid worldwide. Feel free to enter each of the 3 ways, for each giveaway, however! Deadline for entry is 12:01 am, Wednesday December 5 2012. Good luck!


4. Kitty City

My husband and I have been big fans of Kitty City since last summer.

We were displaced from our house by a tornado, living in a cheapo hotel, and separated from our cats for the first 6 weeks of repair. A kind friend of ours gave us some cash with the instructions to “take care of the cats” with it. In our shocked state, we wandered through a department and came upon Kitty City for the first time – and spent all of the “Take care of your cats” money on various modular cat structure kits.

It was therapeutic for us to assemble it, in our newly cleaned bedroom. We were still weeks away from being able to move in, and to move the cats in – but assembling that structure, and having THAT to look forward to? It helped a lot. Not only was it a great(and fun!) distraction, it was really healing to be creating something amidst all that destruction.

The cats loved it, and still do. We still add to it from time to time.. and each time we do, they act like it’s a big, brand new adventure. Also, it’s a ridiculous amount of fun for us, going through all of the bits and pieces, and deciding the new layout. Definitely an toy for adults, as well as their cats! Here is ours:


Photo by Michael Porter

Anyway! You see the structure over to the left? That is a Kitty City Starter Kit from the new “Steel Claw” line … and SportPet Designs has graciously offered it up to one lucky fan!
To enter:

On Twitter: Be sure you’re following @celebr8ngenr8n on Twitter, and tweet the following: I want to win a Kitty City starter kit from @celebr8ngenr8n : http://tinyurl.com/agg8tvf!

On Facebook: First, “Like” us on Facebook here, and “like” Kitty City here. Post this link: http://www.celebrationgeneration.com/blog/?p=4911 to your own wall, with the message “I want to win a Kitty City Starter Kit from Celebration Generation!” Be sure to use the “@” mention function and select both “Celebration Generation” and “Kitty City” so we’ll know that you entered!

Here, in the comments: Simply tell me why you want to win a Kitty City Starter Kit! Be sure to use a valid email address, so I can contact you if you win!

Please: One entry per type, per giveaway item. Valid for entrants anywhere in North America. Feel free to enter each of the 3 ways, for each giveaway, however! Deadline for entry is 12:01 am, Wednesday December 5 2012. Good luck!


5. Extreme Sandbox

My husband is such a GUY sometimes. Recently, we were set up at a trade show. He’d wandered off to see the other vendors, while I finished setting up our booth. When he came back, it was with a bounce in his step, and a BIG gleam in his eye. Apparently someone was set up with heavy equipment, promoting his business – Extreme Sandbox.


Photo by Marie Porter
Forget the Tonka toys, this business was one that allows customers of all types to fulfill their childhood fantasies of using really, REALLY big equipment to dig around in the dirt. Beyond that, for an additional cost you can WRECK STUFF. Yep. That would get him excited… so, we checked it out.

Randy, the owner, is awesome. Super easy to get along with, and he’s hilarious. His sense of humor can lead to a bit of a surreal experience, as he looks a lot like Jason Sudeikis. Yes. Anyway, the joking around definitely enhanced the whole experience, which left my husband Porter giddy for hours after the fact. Click here to see a highlights video of his experience. Also, a gallery on our Facebook page!

Porter’s not the only one enamored with the whole thing. Extreme Sandbox is the #1 rated Twin Cities attraction on Trip Advisor, based on reviews. They also have a Youtube channel full of fun videos.

Definitely an awesome way to treat someone to a once in a lifetime break from the norm – an amazing Christmas gift! Oh, and hey – they were generous enough to donate a 1 hour “Mini Sandbox Adventure” to one lucky fan!

To enter:

On Twitter: Be sure you’re following @celebr8ngenr8n on Twitter, and tweet the following: I want to win an @ExtremeSandbox Adventure from @celebr8ngenr8n : http://tinyurl.com/agg8tvf!

On Facebook: First, “Like” us on Facebook here, and “like” Extreme Sandbox here. Post this link: http://www.celebrationgeneration.com/blog/?p=4911 to your own wall, with the message “I want to win an Extreme Sandbox Adventure from Celebration Generation!” Be sure to use the “@” mention function and select both “Celebration Generation” and “Extreme Sandbox” so we’ll know that you entered!

Here, in the comments: Simply tell me why you want to win an Extreme Sandbox adventure! Be sure to use a valid email address, so I can contact you if you win!

Please: One entry per type, per giveaway item. Valid for entrants anywhere in North America, but can only be redeemed on location in Minnesota. Feel free to enter each of the 3 ways, for each giveaway, however! Deadline for entry is 12:01 am, Wednesday December 5 2012. Good luck!


Still reading? Good! I have a few final giveaways for you!

Not content to just offer up giveaways for all of these other cool companies and products, I want to join in the fun, too! Plus – I may be a little biased here – but my books really are some of my favorite things! Between my writing and my husband’s photography, they really do represent a labor of love, in more than one sense! (awww…)

So, a few book giveaways:


6. Two Cookbooks & a Tornado Memoir

First up, a gift pack of three of our most popular books: “The Spirited Baker: Intoxicating Desserts & Potent Potables”, “Evil Cake Overlord: Ridiculously Delicious Cakes”, and “Twisted, A Minneapolis Tornado Memoir”. Click here for full descriptions of each of the books.

On Twitter: Be sure you’re following @celebr8ngenr8n on Twitter, and tweet the following: I want to win 2 Cookbooks & a Tornado Memoir from @celebr8ngenr8n : http://tinyurl.com/agg8tvf!

On Facebook: First, “Like” us on Facebook here. Post this link: http://www.celebrationgeneration.com/blog/?p=4911 to your own wall, with the message “”I want to win Two Cookbooks and a Tornado Memoir from Celebration Generation!” Be sure to use the “@” mention function and select “Celebration Generation”, so we’ll know you entered!

Here, in the comments: Simply tell me why you want to win Two Cookbooks and a Tornado Memoir! Be sure to use a valid email address, so I can contact you if you win!

Please: One entry per type, per giveaway item. Feel free to enter each of the 3 ways, for each giveaway, however! Deadline for entry is 12:01 am, Wednesday December 5 2012. Good luck!


7. Spandex Simplified: Synchro Swimwear

“Synchro Swimwear” is the first in my “Spandex Simplified” series, and is all about designing and creating spectacular and durable competitive synchronized swim costumes. This book is appropriate for beginner to advanced levels of sewing ability, and is written from both a designer, and former “performance” athlete’s point of view. It will teach everything from the basics, to tricks of the trade. “Spandex Simplified : Synchro Swimwear” will prepare the reader to design and make almost any design of competitive synchro swim suit imaginable.

The entire book is written completely in laymans’ terms and carefully explained, step by step. Only basic sewing knowledge and talent is required. Learn everything from measuring, to easily creating ornate applique designs, to embellishing the finished suit in one book! For more information, visit the Spandex Simplified website here.

On Twitter: Be sure you’re following @celebr8ngenr8n on Twitter, and tweet the following: I want to “Spandex Simplified: Synchro Swimwear” from @celebr8ngenr8n : http://tinyurl.com/agg8tvf!

On Facebook: First, “Like” us on Facebook here. Post this link: http://www.celebrationgeneration.com/blog/?p=4911 to your own wall, with the message “”I want to win “Spandex Simplified: Synchro Swimwear” from Celebration Generation!” Be sure to use the “@” mention function and select “Celebration Generation”, so we’ll know you entered!

Here, in the comments: Simply tell me why you want to win “Spandex Simplified: Synchro Swimwear”! Be sure to use a valid email address, so I can contact you if you win!

Please: One entry per type, per giveaway item. Feel free to enter each of the 3 ways, for each giveaway, however! Deadline for entry is 12:01 am, Wednesday December 5 2012. Good luck!


8. Spandex Simplified: Sewing for Skaters

“Sewing for Skaters” all about designing and creating spectacular and durable figure skating dresses. The book is appropriate for beginner to advanced levels of sewing ability, and is written from both a designer, and former figure skater’s point of view. It teaches everything from the basics, to tricks of the trade. “Spandex Simplified : Sewing for Skaters” will prepare the reader to design and make almost any design of practice or competition dress imaginable.

The entire book is written completely in laymans’ terms and carefully explained, step by step. Only basic sewing knowledge and talent is required. Learn everything from measuring, to easily creating ornate applique designs, to embellishing the finished suit in one book! For more information, visit the Spandex Simplified website here.

On Twitter: Be sure you’re following @celebr8ngenr8n on Twitter, and tweet the following: I want to win “Spandex Simplified: Sewing for Skaters” from @celebr8ngenr8n : http://tinyurl.com/agg8tvf!

On Facebook: First, “Like” us on Facebook here. Post this link: http://www.celebrationgeneration.com/blog/?p=4911 to your own wall, with the message “”I want to win “Spandex Simplified: Sewing for Skaters” from Celebration Generation!” Be sure to use the “@” mention function and select “Celebration Generation”, so we’ll know you entered!

Here, in the comments: Simply tell me why you want to win “Spandex Simplified: Sewing for Skaters”! Be sure to use a valid email address, so I can contact you if you win!

Please: One entry per type, per giveaway item. Feel free to enter each of the 3 ways, for each giveaway, however! Deadline for entry is 12:01 am, Wednesday December 5 2012. Good luck!


All photos in this blog entry are courtesy of the company represented, unless otherwise noted. Winners for each giveaway will be selected by random draw of entries received.

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
Anisette

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
Grenadine

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
Grenadine

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…

The Fairy Godmother Project, Part 2

For Part 1 of this entry, click here

Thursday morning, we were all DYING to see what happened with the gown delivery. Heidi had arranged for one of her co workers to videotape the box opening, AND it happened to be a day when Abby was off school early… so we knew we were all in for a treat.

USPS had guaranteed “before 12pm”, and a large group of us were glued to our screens, waiting for any hint that the package had arrived. Well, “Waiting” may be a bit generous – I lost count of how many times “Is it THERE YET!?” was posted to the Facebook group wall!

At one point, she posted an update that Laura’s gloves had arrived. Apparently her mail comes in waves, and we weren’t supposed to freak out at all at the lack of gown news.

As noon approached – and passed – we all got more anxious. I looked up the tracking number, and was greeted with a comment that no one had been available to sign it, and a notification had been left. UGH. I just about lost it!


Abby tries on her new gloves

At 1:18 pm, Heidi posted the following update:

STATUS UPDATE: I just called the mail room AGAIN, because they are usually here before two. I don’t know what the holdup was, but they are just NOW leaving the building. I asked them how many stops they had to make before they got to me, and when they repeated the question to my particular carrier, he started laughing and said, “Tell her I’ll come to her first”. So IT SHOULD BE IN OUR HANDS WITHIN 15 MINUTES!!!! Then we will post videos & photos!

A short while later, Heidi posted a photo of a delivery guy holding a box that looked NOTHING like the one I’d shipped. I thought she was teasing us, but it turned out to simply be a really weird angle – the gown had arrived, and we all completely lost it.

It seemed like FOREVER, but Heidi finally posted a cell phone video of the event. We’d all seen photos of Abby before this point, but this was the first video of her. She seemed like such a sweetie, and TOTALLY unprepared for all of the attention. It was sort of fun to watch the Aspie kid / neurotypical mom dynamic – Heidi is SUPER touchy and affectionate, and Abby… not so much. Poor kid! She took it like a champ, though.

Again, lots of happy tears all around – across the country, and beyond! To see the video yourself, click here.


Abby, not used to this kind of attention!
Personally, I was SO ecstatic to hear the words “exact fit” several times. I was so super nervous about no fitting / Heidi not having experience with measurements, this was music to my ears!

The group just erupted. A few of the comments:

WHY CAN I ONLY LIKE THIS ONCE?????? And who is cutting onion in my office? My eyes keep tearing up . . . – Heather

I give up. Why am I even still pretending that I’m working? – Laura

I can cry–I’m in my home office. :-))) – Stacey

Oh, fuck, who has the tissues?? Poor thing looks overwhelmed by the attention, but that dress is GORGEOUS!! She is going to be STUNNING! – Shana

Total snaps to Abby for the practical concerns about sweating and not wanting to mess the dress up!!! (and my sincere thanks for letting her mom put it on her so we got a preview!!!!) – Desiree

I thought Pandora would pause when I went to play this video, but it didn’t, so “What a Wonderful World” played under the whole thing. Perfect! 😀 – Angie

That’s beautiful! The whole thing – the dress, the daughter, the mother, and the thought and talent and effort behind it all. Thank you so much for sharing this! – Katrina

Wow, I’ve got shivers. 🙂 – Karen

Darned onions here, as well….. And, Abby, we love you, too! – Pamela

Angie, that’s the song they played as the background for the powerpoint photo slideshow on the day of her preschool graduation – from a school for children with autism! – Heidi

So I live very close to a large Casino. Just as I found and starting playing the video, they started doing fireworks. So I a sitting at my dining room table, watching the video, listening to fireworks going, and the crescendo was right when she slipped the dress on. Seemed appropriate. Well done, Ladies. – Lisa

Lisa, I would have bawled if that had happened when I watched! – Me

Marie, I am sitting here with mascara dripping off my chin. Don’t kid yourself. I just felt like the universe was applauding her happiness. – Lisa

Heidi, you are going to, OK are, making me cry again. I LOVE how supportive you are of Abby and the fact that she is an Aspie. It is a totally different thing, but I would have given anything to have know when I was a kid that I a) had a learning disability b) that it was OK and didn’t make me defective exactly, it just meant I was different and had to do things differently from people around me 3) that there were other high IQ LD people out there, etc. etc. Even more would have been to have support from my parents, Dad just said I was lazy and/or stupid because I couldn’t do some things well. You Rock. So does Marie, but we already know that too 🙂 – JM

… So much love!

The photos continued into the evening, including this one of Frank – Heidi’s husband – seeing the dress for the first time. I know I wasn’t alone in sighing with happiness at the image:


The shoes!
Friday night, Heidi and Abby finished up their shopping for the event, keeping us all up to date on the proceedings. Sparkly turquoise heels were acquired!

Saturday, we were all dying to see photos. Comments weren’t contained to the Facebook group or its members, other people had been observing and getting excited, and were now expressing their own impatience for photos on Heidi’s wall, my wall… it was nuts!

Dear Heidi – we are stalking your page. Where is the dress? 🙂 – Leah

WHERE’S THE PICS!!! lol. I can’t wait to see the princess! – Melissa

We want pics, we want pics, we want pics!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! – Cindy

One of our group members is a photographer in Heidi’s area, and graciously donated her time and talents to do a portrait session with Abby, right before the dance. We were treated to a few photos as they happened, and throughout the evening. Here are a few of my favorites (Following block of photos are all courtesy Kelley Photography):


(Because I didn’t have the structural crinoline with me, I had to ship the gown with the tulle untrimmed, to be cut when the dress was being worn with crinoline and shoes. They did it the day of, after hair and makeup!)

At the end of the evening, Heidi posted the update:

Just got home. She had a WONDERFUL time. Several girls and a few boys (!) told her they liked her dress. A group of girls asked her to dance with them, so she did. A couple of boys came over and started dancing with her at different times, but she said she danced away from them. She said that at first she sat by herself and texted her middle school friends, saying, “help, I’m in a social situation and don’t know what to do!” They told her to be herself. She did not win the homecoming title, but I don’t think it mattered a whit to her. She FELT beautiful, and everyone knew who she was!

Some fun facts:

– The black tulle underskirt was made of 35 yards of fabric.

– The gown had 500 crystals individually set on it.

– There were 24 Fairy Godmothers, total

– As a result of this, Lauren made a really great business connection for her jewelry! Karma!

– I STILL honestly have no idea what Homecoming is all about, it’s not something we did back in my hometown. Who is coming home, from where? It doesn’t sound like a school reunion thing…?

– I’m still not a fan of people in general, but this DEFINITELY warmed me up a bit. I’m still blown away at what it turned into, from such a tiny beginning. I’m amazed at how many people got on board to do something nice for a kid they’d never met, and how emotionally INVESTED everyone was. This was a truly amazing experience!

A final word from the parents…

“As parents, we suffer when our children suffer. As parents of children on the autism spectrum, we would give anything to help them be understood and accepted by their peers. What Marie did, what the Fairy Godmothers gifted us, was Abby’s recognition of her own worth. For the first time in her life, she felt beautiful, and she felt liked by her peers. This is worth more than all the diamonds in the world.

… A fairy tale dress made by a magical dressmaker made possible by fairy godmothers from across the country. A special thanks to the magical dressmaker. Not only are you a maker of incredibly beautiful dresses but also the maker of one young ladies dreams.”

Want to see the TONS of photos from this whole project? Visit our Facebook Page for an album of progress photos, HERE

The Fairy Godmother Project, Part 1

I haven’t posted since September 27th, but I have a great reason for that… and I’d like to share. Something really amazing happened, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it. I’m digging through a MOUNTAIN of photos and information for this, so be forewarned – this will be a long entry. Well, two actually…

It’ll be worth it though, I swear.

On that afternoon, I was looking for something to do, to procrastinate from what I was supposed to be doing – working on my next cookbook. I just wasn’t “feeling it” that afternoon, and I really do work better when I can get away from a project for a bit.

As luck would have it, that opportunity presented itself in a timely manner. As I was messing around on Facebook, my friend Heidi posted the following to a group of Gen X Mensa Women:

“Weepy Mom Moment: My almost 15 yo Aspie, who was picked on in elementary school and used to come home crying because she had no friends, and who, according to one teacher, used to play with a tree at recess, is in the final voting round to be homecoming Princess for her grade!

The final vote was today, and all the kids in two of her classes told her that they voted for her. They find out the results at the homecoming dance on Oct. 6. She was beaming as she told me – guess I’ll be scraping up the $75 for that ticket after all… “

A few comments of congratulations and support followed, and then Heidi had this to say:

“She wanted to know if I could sew her a gown like one of her video game characters. I almost fainted. I finally convinced her that we’d have to buy one. “

My ears (eyes?) Perked up at this point. A CHALLENGE! I could HELP. She thought something was impossible, and I could prove her wrong! Sounded right up my alley, so I probed for some more details on the dress – which was a Neopets gown (Click here to view the inspiration dress, from a post on the Neopets website) – saw that it was something I was perfectly capable of making, and gave Heidi a call.

Now, Heidi and I have had a … complicated… relationship over the short time I’ve known her – and I’ve only ever known her online. We don’t see eye to eye on pretty much anything with regards to politics or religion, and that has led to things like arguments, de-friendings on Facebook … I had her blocked for a while… Yeah.

BUT I have always respected her for how she has made such efforts to understand and accommodate her daughter. Her daughter and I both have Aspergers, and I’ve got to say – having come from a really horrible upbringing… it always warms my heart to see a fellow Aspie being treated so well by a parent. It’s bittersweet, for me… makes me a bit envious, makes me a bit sad for what could have been… but also restores a bit of faith in humanity for me. (I don’t have a lot of it!)

I could do something nice for both of them!

So, I called Heidi up. Given our somewhat tumultuous history, I’m still surprised that she replied to my opening: “Heidi, how much do you trust me?” in such a positive way. When she affirmed that yes, she trusts me completely.. I told her that I could absolutely make that gown, even on the ridiculous timeline we were looking at. It was a Thursday evening, and her event was the following Saturday. In Florida…. and I had 2 days in between where I was solidly booked and had no time for sewing!

So we agreed – she would pay for the fabrics, I would make the gown as fast as I could, ship it overnight, and they would get any needed alterations on their end.

That evening, I instructed her on how to take the measurements I would need, over the phone. It was amusing to hear it all go down – us Aspies aren’t necessarily the best about being touched, and I could hear that Abby was feeling pretty awkward about the measurements.

I immediately set about my business – there was a lot to be done in a short amount of time. Also, I had not made a gown in years, AND I’d be doing it without opportunity for a fitting. Heidi had never taken measurements before, AND there was some confusion as to the accuracy of two of the measurements… oh, adventure!

As I was plotting the logistics, Heidi was overwhelmed with emotion at the whole thing.


My preliminary sketch


“Note to self: buy waterproof mascara before posting awesome kiddo moments. Let me tell you, when she was 3 1/2 and banging her head against the wall, and the doctor said, and I quote, “Your child will never be normal”, I did not know what her future would look like. All I knew was that the dreams for my beautiful daughter were crushed.”

She told us of how Abby had struggled to make friends in school, and how it had broken Heidi’s heart when, at a friend’s birthday party, Abby ran to their bedroom, threw herself down on the bed sobbing, and said, “Everybody treats me like a stray dog”.

When Heidi explained how cool people like Einstein and Mozart probably had Asperger’s, too, and it was part of why she was so smart, Abby cried “I wish I had friends instead of being smart”.

That broke MY heart. I could relate to all of it.

Oh, how on earth do I compile everything that happened into one blog entry, and in a coherent manner?

What happened – starting almost immediately after Heidi’s initial post – is something that this group of friends has come to refer to as a “LadyNerd Tsunami”.

A few people wanted to chip in to the fabric fund, asking for my Paypal. Heidi and I agreed, they’d send to me, and I’d deduct it from the total that Heidi would reimburse.

… except the entire ~$200 fabric bill was completely paid for within 24 hours.

… and then, the shipping was covered very shortly after announcing that the fabric was covered.

… and then more money was sent to Heidi, completely covering the cost for a huge crinoline, shoes, and earrings.

My friend Sarah, of Sarah Elizabeth Artistry loaned me a dressform to use, as I had long ago sold mine.

My friend Lauren, of Style in Abundance custom made a gorgeous filigree pendant for the dress, sending it along with a note that made all of us cry.

My friend Laura shipped the black satin opera gloves that she had worn to her own prom, as a gift.


Lauren’s pendant
As I’d never shipped a gown before, I called up my friend Felicia at The Chapel of Love in the Mall of America, asking for advice on boxes, packing, etc. She generously offered to box it for me, free of charge – she wouldn’t even take reimbursement for materials. THEN, she was so excited at the whole story of what was happening, she donated a gorgeous sparkly crystal headband for Abby!

All told, Abby had 24 Fairy Godmothers contributing – from as far away as Finland – and most of them were on board before I’d even purchased the fabric!

Shortly before I purchased the fabric, Heidi posted a comment that had me giggling long after the fact:

“OMG, Marie, she just came in and asked if I had sent you the email on colors yet. I said yes. She said, ‘oh, I was just going to say that if she wanted to add a small amount of sequins or something, you know, like just along the edges, just to make it look nice, she could.’ YOU ARE THE ASPERGER’S WHISPERER!! THIS IS THE FIRST SPARKLY THING SHE HAS EVER ALLOWED!!!!”

Energized by what was going on, I went and picked up the fabric – blue, green, and black, per Abby’s request. I went home, flipped on Pandora radio, and was pleasantly greeted by 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This”… what a great way to kick off drafting my first gown pattern in the better part of a decade!

I had only 4 days available to make the gown, so progress went quickly. Every time I finished a major step, I took a short break to post an update photo to Facebook. On her end, Heidi would post comments and photos about how excited her daughter Abby was.


Abby, on seeing the gown sketch for the first time

A lot of us were living vicariously through what was going on, with several commenting on how they hadn’t gone to prom, etc. We were all able to see a little bit of ourselves in Abby, and there were SO many tears of happiness along the way!


Heidi with the donated crinoline
Heidi kept updating her Facebook profile photo to reflect current updates – a new step in the dress, the photo Lauren had sent of the pendant, the arrival of the crinoline – and had set her “cover” photo to the picture of the fabric / sketch of the dress that I had sent from the fabric store. It was SO much fun to see how excited she was over the whole thing!

I kept all of the updates positive, even though I was experiencing some MAJOR drama during the making of this dress. This post will be the first that anyone hears of what was going on, hahah!

First off, there was serger drama. Our needle plate is broken, with a snapped off piece being held on by a quickie epoxy job. Any weird noise – click, crunch, whatever – had my heart stop. The replacement piece should have been here in tons of time for this, but during the course of sewing, we found that it had been discontinued. I was holding my breath the entire time, hoping that my Macguyvered machine would hold up.

Then, the timing went off on my sewing machine. Awesome. I was so dreading the possibility of having to post an emergency Facebook status, looking for a loaner machine ASAP.

In the end, though, it all held up!
While the strength/endurance of my sewing machines were questionable, the same couldn’t be said for my ego. The comments that were flying – literally, HUNDREDS – basically had me convinced that I’m the Tony Stark of fabric. So many wonderful things being said, I spent a good portion of the past week blushing like mad. Much peer pressure to get on Project Runway, even though I really hate sewing, and have NO desire to ever do so for a living – EVER! – again!

Oh, and according to one of my former cake clients, I am a “Goddess of Creation”! Sounds like a bit of an upgrade from “Evil Cake Overlord”, eh? Awesome!

I had NO idea that my little offer would turn into such a big thing, but I am seriously thankful for all of the kind words!


The Finished Gown

Felicia <3!
ANYWAY.

The gown was finished on time, Wednesday before noon. My husband came home from work to take some professional photos, and then I was off to the Mall of America to have the gown boxed.

I just want to say, I absolutely adore Felicia Glass-Wilcox of The Chapel of Love. Definitely one of my favorite people in the wedding industry – super friendly, nice, and easy to work with. I loved seeing how excited she was to get involved, and really appreciated her expertise in boxing my gown. I had a fun time!

Felicia then looked up shipping rates at UPS and FedEx, and advised me that – in her experience – USPS would be cheaper… so she looked THAT up for me, too. Yep – about half the price. Score!

The box was shipped, and dozens of us waited impatiently for the results…


(Click here for Part 2! Also, visit our Facebook Page for an album of progress photos from the whole project, HERE)