Slouchy Bowl

Check out this bowl I made. It’s got a definite slouch to it.

Slouchy Bowl 5

Half-slouch.

Slouchy Bowl 6

Full slouch.

Slouchy Bowl 7

My mother had given me a wad of the squishy rope you put inside piping when you are upholstering things. It’s essentially a wad of unbleached cotton loosely held together with a bit of white thread. I didn’t know what to do with it (me? upholster? you gotta be kidding.), so I made this bowl. You could also make this out of any form of cable or rope. You just need a needle, thread, and a pair of scissors to cut the thread (or your teeth if you’re hardcore).

Slouchy Bowl 1

All I did was coil the rope around itself and start sewing it together. You can use any stitch you want, any kind of thread. I used green so you could see it but it wasn’t too flashy.

Slouchy Bowl 4

You can change the width of the bowl by sewing the rope together at different angles. It’s hard to explain but you would see what I mean if you were doing it. It just kind of comes naturally. I made this little divot to come up through the centre to provide stability for the bowl.

Slouchy Bowl 2

When you flip it right side up at the early stages you have a wee sombrero.

Slouchy Bowl 3

Then I just kept going until I was happy with it and I ran out of rope. You can store whatever you want in it, provided it’s not liquid (it’s not that kind of bowl). Y’know, if you need a place for your copper-coloured pine cones.

Slouchy Bowl 8

Or your sunglasses.  It’s up to you!

Slouchy Bowl 11

Let there be LIGHT!

Light BOX

Rule number one in food photography: ALWAYS USE NATURAL LIGHT.

You know what?  Sometimes that’s just not possible.

You know dinner/supper? Generally that is served in the evening.  And in the winter here, that means it’s dark out.

The solution to that is to use a light box, or light tent.  Many photographers use these devices when featuring a single product.  It’s a good way to get whatever it is to display without any distracting background messing up the shot.

Light BOX

It’s also a good way to diffuse the harshness of electric lighting and make your subject look a little bit more natural.

Professional light boxes or light tents, even the small ones, will run you at least a hundred bucks, easy.  And that’s without the super-bright lighting system that goes with it.  Add another minimum four hundred dollars to your total if you want to go that way.

Constructing my box cost me less than $15 and took me less than an hour.  And a homemade box will give you pretty much the same results. You do the math.

Light BOX

Here’s what you need:

A large and sturdy cardboard box.  These ones are slightly smaller than what I had originally planned, but I can always make another one when I get a bigger box.

Light BOX

Enough white cloth (muslin, linen, cotton, or fleece) to line the box.  Tape or glue for attaching things (I like me my hockey tape, as you know, and it’s designed to attach to fabric).  Double-sided tape is great if you don’t want your adhesive efforts to show.  Scissors/Box Cutter/Rotary Cutter, for cutting things.  White or coloured Bristol board, for your background.   You can also skip the board and use your cloth, but bending the board will give you a nice edge-less angle.

Light BOX

At least two, but preferably more, goose-neck or adjustable neck work lamps.  I already have two of these Tertial ones from IKEA, which cost $10 and come with a clamp base.  I plan to acquire one more to go on top of the box.  It’s important to note that these lamps support the brighter 100W (or 23W if you are using a CFL) bulbs without risk of fire.

As many bright light bulbs as you need for your lamps.  I recommend using 100W bulbs (23W in compact fluorescent terms).  I picked up these “daylight” bulbs, which produce a cooler, less yellow light than a regular incandescent, from Canadian Tire for $10.  Halogens work well in this project, because they’re freaking bright, but they also use more energy, so that’s a judgment call for you to make on your own.

Light BOX

Just make sure that the wattage on your light bulb matches the maximum wattage on the lamps you are using.  You can get cheap desk lamps from anywhere to use for the project but more often than not they will only support a 60W (13W CFL) bulb, and those in the know say that’s just not bright enough for their purposes. The lamp on the right is less bright.

Light BOX

The best part about this is you can totally half-ass the project, if you were so inclined.  You don’t even need to measure the holes you cut in the box and if you’re in a hurry, you can leave the interior of the box unlined and simply drape the fabric over the top.

Light BOX

I plan to be a bit more meticulous, however.  But only a little bit.  It’s sort of half-assed half-assery.

Now of course there are a million different DIYs for making your own light box/tent.  Most of them are by real photographers who actually know what they’re doing, but there are some by people like me.  The dabblers of the earth.  I’m going to add my own to the mix, because the world needs a bit more alidoesit flavour, don’t you think?  My three favourite ones in terms of method and supplies are down below, if you want to check them out, but the concept is always the same.  Box.  White stuff.  Light.  Done.

So you take your box.  Grenadier was extremely helpful in the construction of this light box, as the pictures show.

Light BOX

Cut off the top flaps and secure the bottom ones.  The bottom is going to be the back of the box, and the sides the floor, walls, and ceiling.

Light BOX

Cut out large holes on each of the three sides.

Light BOX

Line the box with white fabric, covering the holes completely.  Make sure that all you can see inside the box is white.  White’s a nice reflector.

Light BOX

Prop a piece of bristol board inside the box so that one end is wedged into the top corner.

Bend the board to make a curve and use a bit of tape to stick the bottom in place so it doesn’t slide out.  This will be your photographic surface.  The curve of the board means that there are no corners or edges visible in the photographs.

Light BOX

Put your lamps with their bright bulbs up to all the holes in the box (as I said, I plan to have three lamps some time soon) and turn them on.  Make sure the bulbs don’t touch the cloth.  You wouldn’t want to start a fire.  You might find it easiest to take pictures of items in your light box using a tripod, but it’s not entirely necessary to your happiness.

Tada, your very own light box!

Light BOX

Here’s some food in a shot taken, like I normally do, in my kitchen during the day.  The light is natural outdoor light through my big kitchen window at the end of the afternoon in October.  Lovely.

Light BOX

Now here is the same food in a shot taken at night, using the electric lights in my kitchen.

Light BOX

And again, in my brand new light box!  I think we can all agree there’s a difference!

Light BOX

Other Light Box/Tent Projects:

http://jyoseph.com/blog/diy-light-box-for-product-photography

http://reverb.madstatic.com/blog/2006/04/01/make-a-photo-light-box-light-tent-cheap/

http://www.digital-photography-school.com/how-to-make-a-inexpensive-light-tent

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

The Pie is kicking butt and taking names with the Memorial University Geographical Society (MUGS) this term, and he volunteered me to be the official caterer for the group.  Last week MUGS held two open houses.  For the first, I whipped up a batch of Miss Awesome’s espresso cookies (because all undergrads need a little caffeine) and a batch of margarine chocolate chip cookies (with Caramilk inside each one, à la the Rolo cookies).  For the second, I decided to create two dozen of these cupcakes.

While chocolate and vanilla actually go quite well together, most people consider them to be opposites of each other.   As this is a geographical society, why not have the chocolate and the vanilla represent both poles on our planet?  Sure, it’s a stretch, I know, but bear with me.  Both of these batter recipes contain buttermilk, which is one of my favourite baking ingredients, and they both come from Baking Bites.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two muffin tins with cupcake liners.

For the Chocolate Cupcakes:

In a large bowl, whisk together 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

In a smaller bowl, whisk together 1 egg, 6 tablespoons water, 6 tablespoons buttermilk, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Alas, I forgot the melted butter in the microwave until it was too late.  It looks so sad and neglected.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Pour your wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk like crazy until you get no more floury bits floating around.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Fill 12 of the muffin cups with chocolate-y batter. It’s easy if you use a spoon.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

For the Vanilla Cupcakes:

In a bowl, whisk together 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat 1 cup granulated sugar with 1/4 cup room temperature butter until fluffy.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Beat in 1 egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract until the mixture is smooth.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Pour in half your flour mixture and stir until almost combined.  Add in 1 cup buttermilk and mix again, then the rest of the flour mixture, and beat until all the ingredients are combined.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Fill the other 12 muffin cups with that batter.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Bake the cupcakes for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the centre cupcake comes out clean.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pans for about 10 minutes before using a fork to remove them to a cooling rack to cool completely.  I wish now that I had used large cupcake liners instead of medium ones.  Ah well, what’s done is done.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

For the Frosting:

Nothing says holy-crap-this-frosting-is-awesome like ganâche (well, at least, if you’re ME because I’m weird like that), and for me this is the easiest thing in the world to do.

Start by chopping up about 6 ounces each of dark and white chocolate.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Plop the pieces in microwave-safe bowls and pop them in the microwave.  Nuke ’em on medium power, stirring a few times in between, for about 5 minutes, or until the chocolate is smooth and liquid.  The white chocolate will likely melt long before the dark does, so keep an eye on it so as not to burn it.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Stirring the whole time, add 1 cup room temperature whipping cream into each chocolate. The warmer your cream, the less lumpy your ganâche will be, but the longer it will take to set. Keep that in mind.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Now, because I want something a little firmer than my usual ganâche, I’m going to add some icing sugar.  Start with 1 cup icing sugar and add more until you come to the consistency you like.  Chuck the frostings in the fridge for a bit to set.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

For the Writing Icing:

I was originally going to write on these cupcakes using store-bought piping gel, just because the results are easy and predictable.  It then occurred to me, however, that I’d purchased these gels to make a cake for the baby shower for a co-worker’s first child.  This was like three jobs ago, in a different province, and I think the little girl is five years old now.  It might be time to get rid of those.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Instead, I decided to make a sort of royal icing and pipe it on myself.  So I started with two small bowls filled with 1 cup icing sugar each, a few tablespoons water, and some food colouring.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Add a little bit of the water to the icing sugar and stir until you get a good consistency. Likewise, add some food colouring to the mix.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

I think this looks so weirdly neat.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Add more icing sugar or food colouring until you reach your desired colour and texture and set those aside.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Remember that this type of icing is kind of like a non-Newtonian fluid, so its physical properties might not be exactly what you expect.  AHA!  SCIENCE!  I like to sneak in a little learning on you now and then.  Sorry.

Assemblage:

Start by smearing your ganâche on your cupcakes, dark for the chocolate, and white for the vanilla.  Or the opposite.  Whatever floats your boat.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Grate a little bit of dark chocolate on the surface of the vanilla cupcakes, and a little bit of white chocolate on the chocolate cupcakes.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Looks pretty, right?  Now we’re going to de-classy it a little bit.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Spoon your coloured icing into a piping bag and start writing.

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

You probably don’t want to write MUGS on your cupcakes.  Unless you do. In which case, why?

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Store them in the fridge to keep them fresh, and enjoy them as you will.  I think they look a little like Franken-cupcakes, but the Pie likes the look of ’em, and he’s the boss.  I have no idea how they taste, either, because there weren’t any extras.  But I can only assume that they are passably tolerable, just like everything else I do!

(Polar) Opposite Cupcakes

Red Velvet Comeback Cupcakes

A couple of years ago, I started an official committee at work to help me test out cupcake recipes in advance of our wedding.  The experiment was so popular that peer pressure led me to bring it back again, though in a more cooperative fashion, early last year.  Now that I am back at work in St. John’s after my research stint in Ottawa, it is my turn to bake for the Cupcake Committee.  What better comeback cupcake than red velvet?

Now, the reason the red velvet cake is red is very interesting.  Crucial ingredients in this batter include white vinegar and buttermilk.  The acid in these ingredients reacts with the anthocyanin that is naturally found in cocoa, creating a lovely red tint (anthocyanin, by the way, is the same stuff that makes leaves turn red in the autumn). 

Modern cocoa, usually Dutch processed, is much more alkaline than its predecessors, and reacts less with the acid, so contemporary bakers generally adjust the tint of their red velvet cakes with beets or food colouring.  While beets would help to retain moisture in the cake, I have opted to use food colouring instead, because I believe beets taste like dirt, and I don’t want a cake that tastes like dirt.  If you want dirt, go eat dirt.  Or a beet.

This recipe is cobbled together from a bunch of different sources.  I hope you enjoy it.  It makes about 2 dozen large cupcakes.  Because the batter can stain, I recommend you make the kiddies wait to help until the frosting stage.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two muffin tins with cupcake cups.  I apologize in advance for the lighting in these photos.  It’s been raining for a month.

In a bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups sifted flour and 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder.

In a larger bowl, cream together 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 1 1/2 cups softened butter until fluffy. 

Crack in 2 room-temperature eggs, one at a time, and mix well.  Make sure to scrape down the bowl when needed.

To that add in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 oz red food colouring.  If you are using gel-paste, use half a teaspoon, as that stuff is concentrated.

Wow.  That is RED.

Reduce the speed of your mixture to low.  Grab 1 cup buttermilk.  Add in your flour mix in three separate additions, alternating with two additions of buttermilk.  Whisk well after each and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a small bowl, mix together 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda and 2 teaspoons white vinegar.  Stir that foamy goo into the batter for ten seconds.

Divide the batter among the lined cups, filling them about 3/4 full.  Bake, rotating halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cupcake comes out clean, which for me was around 25 minutes

Cool the cupcakes completely before removing them from the tins, because if you drop a hot cupcake, it will explode.  This happened to me.

While they are cooling, chop up 6 oz chocolate and melt that stuff in a double boiler.  We are going to fill these cupcakes with a ganache.

Whisk in 2 cups cold heavy cream (whipping cream) until smooth and glossy and chill that for a spell.

I’m sure you’re still waiting around for the cupcakes at this point, so why not cream together 1 cup softened butter with 2 cups room temperature cream cheese?  Slowly mix in 4-5 cups icing sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and there you have your cream cheese icing.

Now that your cupcakes are cool, insert a toothpick into the centre of each one, going about halfway down, and wiggle it around.  Try not to make the hole at the top too large, but wiggle the toothpick enough so you get a wee cavity in the centre of the cupcake.

Using a piping bag, fill each cavity with cooled ganache.

Now you can spread on your icing with an offset spatula, or you can pipe it on.  I chose the piping method, as you can see.

Sprinkle each cupcake with red sugar.  You can dye sugar yourself by adding a few drops of food colouring to a sealed bag of granulated sugar and shaking it around, or you can just buy it.  In this case I had some on-hand already.  Clever me.Then make sure to share them with all your friends!