Tea for Two … or Thirty-two

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For my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary party I decided to go with a garden party luncheon theme. It turned out to be one of the hottest days we had this summer so I made sure to have plenty of refreshments. Rather than employ hot tea on a hot day (even though the tea cups would have been super cute), I went with iced tea in the hopes that my guests wouldn’t collapse from the heat. I decided on a nice cold decaffeinated mint version (using Stash Organics Cascade Mint), a black tea with a twist (Teavana’s Mango Blank Tea with Lemon), and then the popular Earl Grey Gin cocktail (made with Tetley Vanilla Earl Grey).

And it is suprisingly difficult to make large quantities of iced tea. For one, I only had one pot large enough to hold the required amount of boiling water for each batch. So that meant I could only make one batch of tea at a time. I also only had one bowl large enough to hold that much hot liquid while it cooled. And then I didn’t have enough room in my refrigerator to cool it all down. But I did manage. It took a bit of math to figure out how many tea bags I needed for each of my batches (seeing as I usually just chuck two bags in a teapot and I’m done).

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And I had to calculate how much fluid would fit in each of my glass jars. I got these 7.5L ones from Home Sense for a reasonable price. Remember when you figure out how much water you need, you also need to consider any other displacement volume, such as whether you’re adding fruit (lemon slices) and/or ice.

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And speaking of ice, because I didn’t want to water down my tea as the day wore on, I chose to make my own giant tea ice cubes by freezing some tea in these little ziploc containers.

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All in all it was a very successful shindig, and everyone was refreshed!

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Clay Leaf Bowls

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My mother is an artist and as such has a lot of artist friends. When I was a kid, a couple of them ran various art schools and camps and to show support, my mother sent me. I have very little artistic skill, but I loved the camps, because I got to learn new techniques and work with my hands. I especially loved working with clay. I once made a beautiful pistol replica (I was a weird kid) but it blew up in the kiln so I never saw the fruits of my effort. My lack of skill hasn’t stopped me in the years since, and when I saw these beautiful dishes from Urban Comfort, I thought, “I can do that!” So I did.

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First, you need to gather yourself some leaves. Go for the fresh ones, as they’ll be the most flexible. In these sorts of projects everyone seems to go for the beautiful fig leaves and things like that. Well, figs don’t grow in this Arctic wasteland. So I went with what was available: various forms of maple (it is Canada, after all), some ornamental grapes, random roadside vegetation … What ended up working the best, however, in terms of creating easy dishes, was from my own backyard: hostas, nasturtiums, and the gorgeous morning glory that has been tumbling over my fence all summer.

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Then grab yourself some air-dry clay (this means you don’t have to shove it in a kiln, though if you have access to a kiln, you should probably use it for these as it will make them much more durable). I picked up a 5kg block of it for $17.49 at DeSerres (actually, I had a gift card, so it was FREE).

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Grab a hunk of it and roll it out to your desired thickness. I used a fondant roller to get a smooth surface. The leaves look better in clay about 2mm (~1/8″) thick, but that makes it much more fragile to handle, so you probably want to aim for around 5-7mm (~1/4″). I use this Kitchenaid silicone mat as a work surface for anything non-toxic, including pies. It’s amazing and portable and easy to clean.

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Now, I did find that if I went straight to leaf pressing and cutting from this stage, my clay was too firmly stuck to the surface to get a good result.

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Accordingly, I carefully peeled the clay sheet off the mat and flipped it onto a piece of parchment paper and went from there. It was just easier and made sure both sides of the sheet of clay were smooth.

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Then you grab your leaves and flatten them into your clay. I used the fondant roller again to get them in there nice and good.

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These ones I am not turning into dishes – I just wanted to see what effect they would create.

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It’s neat.

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Use tweezers to get tricky ones out of the clay and pick out any stray bits of debris.

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You will have some folds and wrinkles in your leaf, just because it’s hard to press something flat that isn’t naturally flat. But don’t freak out – it just adds to the texture.

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Once you’ve gotten your leaf carefully removed you end up with this lovely impression, veins and blemishes and all.

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Use the tip of a small sharp knife (Xacto, paring, whatever) to cut along the edge of the leaf and carefully peel away the excess clay.

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This was way easier to do with round leaves than with the pointy ones, as you can see, and the round ones made better dishes anyway.

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Make a little ring out of aluminum foil and pick up your clay leaf. Bend the leaf into a more natural shape (which it will want to do anyway) and set it inside the ring to dry. Feel free to play with curling the edges up and down, in the way that the leaf would do in nature. I left mine to dry overnight, then I flipped them over (with support) to dry on the bottom for another night.

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Now you’re done! It’s up to you what you do with them next. They’re pretty fragile still, so nothing hardcore. My biggest morning glory ones broke along their vein fault lines just from picking them up wrong.

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But they make pretty neat little dishes for small items, such as jewelry.

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This leaf with a stem makes a nice holder for rings.

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The larger nasturtiums make neat bowls for pocket change. In Canada we recently got rid of our penny, but with both our $1 and $2 denominations in coin, we still have plenty of change kicking around!

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And these grape leaves make a good place to keep your spectacles, if you’re the type of person who forgets where you put them.

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Because the clay is uncured, it tends to scrape off and leave a residue, so I wanted to finish them off a bit. I used an ultra-fine sandpaper to smooth off the edges of each dish. Make sure you do this outside in a well-ventilated area. Not only does the clay dust get everywhere, but you’re also likely to inhale a bunch of it if you’re not careful. Dust off each piece completely before you do anything else. Compressed air is handy for this, but make sure to do it outside.

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I then painted each piece with an outdoor satin sealer that adhered pretty well to the clay surface. I like the soft shininess of it and the fact that it didn’t sink into the porous clay and discolour it.

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Some of the finished dishes. The one on the left is my favourite, because it’s so thin and delicate. I’m betting good money that whomever I give it to will break it within a week, and it won’t even be that person’s fault.

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And some of the bigger ones. I made so many that pretty much everyone on my gift list is getting at least one. And because of that handy gift certificate, this cost me nothing but time!

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Pfft. I can do that: Ali Does It turns three!

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Can you believe it?  I’ve been Doing It Myself for THREE FREAKING YEARS now!  Well, it’s been longer than that, but today marks the third anniversary of when I started putting my foibles and failures (and too many pictures of my dog) up on the internet for you to enjoy.  And I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

How to commemorate this, though?  I’ve been doing a lot of cooking, so I didn’t really want to do that.  And because Christmas is over and we’re moving in a couple months I don’t have any real crafty/fixy projects on the horizon.  But.  I saw this back on Etsy a year or so ago and I thought, I could TOTALLY make that myself.  It won’t be as GOOD, mind you, but I could totally do it.  So I’m gonna.  Here goes.

Because I can never do anything in half measures, I decided to make THREE bowls instead of just the one, and they’re gonna be nesting bowls.

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So I needed three bowls of approximately the same shape but different sizes.  Fortunately I have three stainless steel ones that will do just fine.

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You also need a barrier between the bowl and the paste.  You can use plastic wrap but I didn’t want to deal with wrinkles so I used petroleum jelly, which is the only thing I didn’t have on hand and had to buy.

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I still have stacks and stacks of newspapers to use, and so I tore a bunch of those up into thin strips, following the grain of the paper.

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And you need paste as well, obviously.  I went with the same recipe I used for the magnificent and popular papier mâché helicopter piñata I made a few years ago, which is 2 cups flour to 3 cups water.  BAM.

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Make sure to spread newspaper or drop cloths or garbage bags on your work area so you don’t have to deal with errant splashes of dried paste later on.  This, incidentally, is a good project to do while watching movies/television on a bad-weather day.  I curled up with Supernatural, which is not a very good series, but that Jensen Ackles is pretty enough to make it worth watching, and the plot is never too heavy that I have to keep my eyes glued to the screen a hundred percent of the time.

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Start by smearing the outside of your bowl with petroleum jelly.  Try to put it on as smoothly as possible, but make sure it’s pretty thick at the same time.  If you’re using plastic wrap, try to avoid too many wrinkles, and wrap the plastic around the edges of the bowl as well.

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Then have at it, pasting up your strips of newsprint and sticking them to your bowl form.  Do a layer or two, allow it to dry completely, then do another one.  I did a layer, waited an hour, then did another layer and let that dry overnight, then repeated the process the next day.

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This project will definitely take you a couple of days, so make sure to keep your paste tightly sealed when you’re not using it.

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When the bowl is as thick as you want it to be, and it has dried all the way through, use a thin knife to carefully pry the bowl from the other bowl.

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Wipe off any excess petroleum jelly or peel away the plastic wrap. I found that a cotton tea towel did the best job at getting all the petroleum jelly off.

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Trim the edges of the bowl if you like with a sharp pair of scissors.

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I left mine to cure another day like this, after sealing the open edges with some white glue.

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I flipped the glue over and discovered that it was actually called Troll Booger Glue.  I can’t begin to tell you how delighted I was by that.

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Now, the bowls on Etsy were lined with gold leaf, but I ain’t got the time nor the money for that.  I do, however, have some copper-coloured spray paint.  So I’m going to use that (taking all the necessary precautions, of course).

I couldn’t find my breathing mask so I went with a bandana.  The Pie took one look at me and started laughing so I thought I’d share.

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If you’re using spray paint on your bowls, make sure to do the inside of the bowl first.  That way you can avoid getting the wrong colour on the wrong side of the bowl.

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Once the inside is done and dried, flip the bowls upside down and do the outside, being careful to direct your spray so it doesn’t get underneath the bowls.  I used blue, white, and black.

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It took a couple coats to make the lines of print disappear.  I thought I had some white spray paint but it turned out that I only had gesso.

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And the gesso only worked so well so I ended up spraying over it with blue.  After that was fully cured, I gave it a once-over with some spray varnish, for added sheen and protection.

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And that’s it.  Not bad, not bad at all.

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Paderno Factory Sale!

Yesterday may have been a Tuesday for you.

For us, it was Manna day.

I dragged the Pie out of bed at the crack of nine-thirty and towed him the block and a half from our apartment to the ReMax Centre, home to the St. John’s Curling Club.

We had come to take advantage of the Paderno factory sale, a rare opportunity to purchase some quality Canadian cookware.  Yes, there is a Paderno Kitchen store in the city, but without a car, it’s practically in the middle of nowhere, so we don’t go often.  Plus, we hit this shindig last year and found some RIDICU-sales, even though we came at the end of the event.  This time we got there nice and early.

For those of you in St. John’s, the event runs from May 11th to May 16th, and is open from 9 to 9 during the week, 9 to 6 on Saturday, and 9 to 5 on Sunday.

Here are some of the things we saw that we’re thinking about going back for:

I am firmly of the opinion that you can never have too many mixing bowls.  Especially nice ones.  These two sets were especially alluring due to their cheapness. 

We might come back later and get this nice medium-sized cast-iron skillet.  We are trying to use cast-iron more often these days, and now we have a wee one and a huge one and it would be nice to have a medium one.

These are fish tongs.  I’m not going to buy them.  But I thought they looked ridiculous.

My parents have one of these oil sprayers, and it works really well.  It means you never have to buy aerosol cooking spray again.  I have to say that I am rather tempted.

These tiny wooden spoons were so cute!  There’s no way the Pie will let me have even one of them.

We probably won’t come back for this, but it was interesting.  An egg-toss pan, with a little bulge on one end to help you flip your egg.  The Pie might want it.

A selection of cheap serving spoons.  We really don’t have any serving spoons at all, so this is a definite maybe.

I thought these mugs are cute.  I am, however, banned from buying mugs.  Stupid husband and his RULES.

The Pie really, really wants this pizza cutter.  Like REALLY.

Here’s what we ended up with:

This little cast-iron pan is our triumph.  We picked it up from the salesmen’s sample table (basically, the scratch & dent) for ten dollars.  It’s a little dirty but we don’t think those scratches are permanent.  The ones that aren’t scratched are selling for twenty dollars, which is 50% off their original price.  So it’s a real steal.

Also from the scratch & dent table came these two wee darling cafe latte-style bowls.  The littlest was a dollar and the larger one was two.  You can pretty much justify anything for two dollars.

Our most expensive purchase was this pan liner for $10.99.  It makes a good alternative to parchment paper and as I’m planning to make a lot more bread these days I think it will come in handy.

I had to have this silicone spoon, merely because it was turquoise.  And it was only $2.99.  The Pie mocked my choice: “do we really need another spoon?”

Of course, that is coming from the man who insisted we get these miniature tongs (red to match our larger tongs) for $1.99.  So I can’t really trust his judgments.

The Pie is also exceedingly fond of egg mcmuffin-type breakfast foods, so we picked these up for $3.99.

A small icing spatula came away for $2.75.

I also picked up two 9″ pie plates, both deep dish.  This lovely ceramic one was only $7.50, and normally this vintage-style goes for $40 or more.

This nice clear one was only $5.49.

All this loot for a grand total (including HST) of $55.03.  Can’t beat it.