Tuesday, April 10, 2007

naturally dyed eggs

(if you like, click on each photo to get further description of the eggs picutred.)

while julie was here, i dyed eggs using natural dyes, something i'd never done before. a reasonable thing to do would be to try three or four colors, so i decided on ten.

along with the several cups of vegetables or a few tablespoons of spices, i added 1-2 T vinegar along with 1/4 tsp alum per cup of water. i'm sure the vinegar helped, and while the alum didn't always make a difference, in the cases where it helped, it was key. for example, red cabbage dyed the eggs a barely-preceptible faint pink, but after adding the alum, the water instantly turned deep bluish-purple, and the eggs took a lot of color very quickly. basically, i brought to a boil then simmered each pot for 15 minutes, then dyed and hard-boiled the eggs at the same time by simmering for 15+ minutes. if i thought the egg could use more color, i switched to the "cold" method, and let it soak in strained dye in a glass for a good long while. (i have no intention of eating the eggs, so i didn't worry that they became overcooked, took on weird flavors, or sat out of the fridge in dyes for a long time.)

yellow onion eggs

the best dye of all was onion skins -- i used yellow and red onions, and to get a good number of skins, i rifled through the bins of onions at HEB collecting skins -- while eva patiently looked on -- to go with my modest onion purchase. (this didn't phase the cashier at all, causing me to wonder what sorts of things stranger than bags of onion skins they see in a day?) yellow onion skins resulted in beautiful eggs a bright golden yellow color (almost indistinguishible from the tumeric eggs, actually). an egg directly wrapped in yellow onion skins came out yellow with rust colored patches. red onion skins created some deep olive green eggs, one left in too long was nearly black (with a white flower). one egg wrapped tightly with red onion skins came out pink and a paler shade of olive green. nice.

red cabbage eggs

onions and red cabbage were the best, but i also had success with beets (brick red, but only after soaking for several hours -- before that, a displeasing brown, alum or not), tumeric (very similar to yellow onions but less dappled and more likely to stain everything), and hibiscus tea. i expected the tea to result in purple or blue eggs, but instead got a sage green, both with and without alum, but darker with). very unexpected. i also had a few disappointments -- spinach barely colored the eggs at all -- even after i tossed in some fennel fronds for good measure, and cumin created not an orange-brown, but just plain brown -- even after i added some cinnamon just in case. coffee also did little but lightly stain the egg. however, imagine the confusing smell at this point: tumeric, cumin, cinnamon, fennel, onions, coffee, and cabbage... yum! (??)

assorted natural dyes

cloveri also tried some special techniques, with varying degrees of success. i tried layering the colors, but one tended to overwhelm the other regardless of the ordering. i put oil in some of the cold dye, resulting in some interesting brown-and-red spotted beet eggs, which seem to come from some seussian bird creature. i rubber-banded onion skins directly to eggs as mentioned above, yeilding a sort of tie-dyed effect. but by far the best technique was the resist method -- i placed leaves, flowers, etc on the eggs and held that in place with a square of sheer fabric pulled taut and rubber-banded linesat the back of the egg (hosery was suggested, but i apparently finally threw out every last pair of my 90s nylons at some point, so in a pinch i used scrap organza, which may actually be the remnant from my wedding veil but i'm not positive about that). i achieved some nice, crisp outlines of azalea blooms, clover leaves, and various tree leaves. the most unexpected result, however, came from a yellow flower i picked along the sidewalk when julie and i took eva for a walk in the wagon. the flower transfered its yellow petal color and red center color onto the blue (red cabbage dyed) egg. it looks almost like a watercolor painting of a flower... what a lovely surprise.

natural watercolor eggnext time, i'll stick to the more successful yellow and red onions, red cabbage (with alum), and maybe beet or hibiscus. i'll also try out a few items that didn't make the cut this year, like blueberries, cranberries, and maybe some spices. i'm trying to think of how to make this a more kid-friendly project -- the dyes work best when on the stove, and even at that, the results are not of the instant-gratification variety. we'll work it out, though, because i find the results far more pleasing than the super-bright PAAS dyes. i considered combining this with my ukranian egg skills (a wax resist batik method), but the natural dyes tend to rub off, so i don't think it would work. in fact, these eggs aren't so great for hiding indoors (tumeric-stained upholstry, anyone?), so eva didn't get to hunt them this year since she was sick and it was 37 degrees outside. all in all, a fun project.

flower egg

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

wii cake

i had a grand plan to make an actual-sized wii cake for larry's recent birthday. i needed sharp edges, so fondant was out... i decided to make my first attempt at sculpting with modeling chocolate (white, in this case). and everyone knows when you're doing something for the first time, be sure to make the project as complicated as humanly possible.

it started out well. without referencing a recipe, i made up some cherry filling (larry loves cherries) and it turned out really well. i adjusted the buttercream and cake to be almond to complement the filling. i sculpted a kick-ass wii remote and nunchuck out of white modeling chocolate (with a few marshmallows in the middle to reduce the amount of chocolate needed, something i won't do again -- the springy marshmallows kept trying to burst out, making little bubbles on the surface). i went a little nuts on the details, imprinting tiny letters "c" and "z" on the buttons, adding the one-two-three-four dots above the blue lights (makes sense if you've studied a wiimote), carved out the little plastic latch for the battery cover, added the crimping where the cord is attached to the nunchuck, etc. that part was fun.

mmm, wii.... then i boldly began to form the wii itself out of cake. i knew this was a bad idea, but suffer from some overconfidence in my ability to do things i've never tried before when it comes to making stuff. i sliced my little two inch wide layers, and stacked nine of them up to reach the height of the wii standing in it's base. that all went okay. i inserted wooden dowels to give it some structural support, but alas, the dowels had nothing in which to anchor. (hmm, have i hit you over the head with foreshadow yet?)

applying chocolate wii sides

i rolled out and cut and carved all my wii chocolate panels. (no problem.) i attached the pieces for the base of the wii. and painted it with luster dust to achieve the metallic-plastic finish of the real thing. (easy, lovely.) then i attached one giant side panel (hmm, okaaay...) then the other side. now working as quickly as possible so i could get the damn thing back into the fridge to harden up the chocolate, i managed to get the front panel in place. sensing disaster, i called for larry to come take a photo before things went horribly, horribly wrong. the weight of the chocolate was pulling the cake, dowels and all, over to the side. i tried propping up the edges in various ways, all to no avail. sadly, the ultimate outcome was pretty clear. (apparently there's a reason people don't routinely make 9-layer cakes that are 2 inches wide.) damn you, laws of physics!

wii tower at this point, it was nearing 3 a.m., but i was not ready to accept defeat, since i'd put about 10-12 hrs into the cake *that day* (that didn't include the earlier full day of baking the cake and making the filling, royal icing, and buttercream). in one last desperate attempt, i pulled off the chocolate panels and tried to affix them to a styrofoam-and-cardboard base i quickly mocked up. it was soon apparent that this plan could work (yes!) -- if i had about 3-4 more hours to work on it (no!). in the old days, i would have gone for it (unable to just let it go, eager to throw good money after bad, so to speak), but that's not a great plan when you're responsible for a toddler, i suppose. after much frustration and a few tears, i painted a smiley face on the side of the failed cake, stabbed it with those useless dowels, and went to bed.

all done! i'm used to biting off more than i can chew and having to redo parts of my projects, or work through some serious frustration. what i am not accustomed to is catastrophic failure. i was really bummed by both the failed cake and all the wasted hours, but my reaction was clearly colored by fatigue, because i felt more-or-less fine about it in the morning. by then it was funny (mostly).

the next morning, i pulled out the low, round turquoise cake (which was to have been the pedestal for the grand, tall wii), and contemplated "plan B". while i had been throwing spatulas and bits of chocolate the night before (just briefly :), larry had the foresight to salvage the front panel from the wii, so i used that to make a wii sort of popping out the top of the cake. turned out a bit dorky, but it was an homage to the "plan A" cake, so i'm okay with it. i attached my wiimotes up on some luster-dust painted dowels to get at least a bit of three-dimentionality out of the flat, flat cake, and used one of the big side wii panels as a palette for a wii logo. i threw all this onto a cake and called it a morning.

wii cake

wiimotes it's a shame, because the way it was shaping up, that wii was going to be awesome. after the fact, i can think of about twenty things i could have done differently to prevent or fix the problem, but you know... that's why they call it a learning experience. oh, wii cake...

wiimote but, it was tasty. eva loved it, overexcitedly calling for "more papa happy cake papa happy birthday papa cake" (with a "please mama" tacked onto the end for good measure). it makes a good story. so, all in all, it turned out okay.

(see my flickr photo set for a bit of extra commentary.)