Impressions Ornaments

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I saw this leaf imprint necklace at Happy Hour Projects and I thought it was neat. While I wasn’t that interested in the jewelry aspect of it, I thought that the technique would make for some great Christmas ornaments. What you need to do this is simply some oven-bake polymer clay (like Sculpey) and some leaves or other items to make impressions in the clay. Everything else, the silicone work surface, the craft paint, the bits and bobs, those are all up to you. A note on polymer clay – it is not food-safe. Whatever you use to cut or otherwise work the clay should not be used for food items.

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So. Grab your clay. I used a plain white. Work some of it between your hands to soften it and then flatten it onto your work surface. I’d aim for a thickness between 1/8″ and 1/4″.

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Then take a leaf or whatever else you’d like to impress, and place it on the clay. This leaf is about 2″ wide, to give you an idea of scale.

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Press the leaf into the surface of the clay so that it leaves a full and detailed impression. You won’t get as much detail with the small leaves on polymer clay as you would on natural clay (like with the clay leaf bowls) simply because the substance is more resilient.

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Carefully remove the leaf and then cut it out with a cookie cutter or knife. You can cut it off-centre or however you would like. I’m not grading you on these.

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Use a skewer or some other pokey object to put a hole through for stringing.

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We even got Grenadier in on the action, though he wasn’t happy about it. If you want him to step on something, suddenly his paw is a delicate flower and he can do no harm. If you don’t want him to step on something, he will immediately put his full 40lbs of weight behind it.

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So these impressions were not as deep as I would like.

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But they worked out well enough that I figured they’d do.

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Place your finished items on a sheet of parchment and bake at 275°F for 15 minutes per 1/4″ of thickness of your clay. Let them cool completely before handling.

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Done.

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Now we paint. If you want. I used some craft paint  and a small paintbrush to swipe colour over the impression.

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This one I used a dry paper towel to wipe it off, which left the colour on the majority of the ornament.

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This one I just filled in the leaf part as close as I could.

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Then I used a wet flannel cloth to wipe it gently off.

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The Gren ones took a few applications of paint.

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Then I strung them with some hemp line and some wee bells.

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These would make a great addition to your gift wrap arsenal, a cute personalized stocking stuffer, or you could give a few to a person just starting to collect their own Christmas ornaments.

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Nutella Blondies

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For the end-of-year potluck for our softball team, the Pie elected to make these ooey-gooey sticky-sweet masterpieces. If you’re in the mood for a serious sugar overload, then this one is for you. The original recipe makes one 8″ x 8″ pan of thin squares. We doubled it to create a slightly thicker version in a 9″ x 13″ baking pan, so the recipe below reflects that.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter your pan. Line it with parchment paper and butter it again. Because of course you need the extra grease in this recipe.

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Now, melt 1 cup butter (I know, that’s a lot of butter) and set it aside to cool a bit until it’s not molten.

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Pour the slightly cooled butter into a big bowl with 2 large eggs, 2 cups brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons vanilla extract. Whisk that together until smooth.

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Plop in 2 cups flour and stir until combined.

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Next add in 2 cups peanut butter chips, or half peanut butter chips and half chocolate chips (we ran out of peanut butter ones). Stir that up.

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Spread your dough/batter into your pan. It’s easiest to spread into the corners if you butter your hands and press down.

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Next, heat up 2/3 cup Nutella (or comparable chocolate hazelnut spread) and pour it in long lines on the surface of your blondie batter.

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Use a skewer or knife to drag the hazelnut spread horizontally across and through the batter to create a marbled pattern.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, and then set on a wire rack to cool completely. These will look slightly underbaked, but they’re supposed to be gooey. So when it’s cool, cut it into small squares and enjoy!

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Sweet Heart Place Markers

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On Friday we’re having a few people over for dinner.  It’s not that we really celebrate Valentine’s Day, but it’s a good excuse to have a super fancy dinner party — where all the attendees are wearing sweat pants.  And really I think that Valentine’s Day is overhyped as a generically heterosexual romantic thing when really, why can’t we use it as a time to celebrate our love for friends and family?

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Anyway, this is the idea I came up with for place markers for each diner’s plate: SALT DOUGH!  You remember salt dough, right?  I guarantee you made it at least once as a child, or made it for a child as an adult.  If not, then NOW IS YOUR CHANCE!

It’s easy peasy.  Preheat your oven to 250°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or not, your choice).  Start with a bowl, 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup fine salt, and 1/2 cup water.  I like to add in a pair of gloves because this stuff is majorly drying to the skin, and you’re gonna have to knead it.  Plus I intend to colour it with gel paste colouring, which has a tendency to stain.

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Mix the flour and salt together, then add the water in bit by bit.  Sometimes you won’t need it all.  Today, given that Ottawa is SO FREAKING dry right now (neither Gren nor the Pie will come near me because I’m a walking static shock machine), I used it all.

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Use your hands to get everything properly mixed together.

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The dough will be very dry.  If it sticks to your hands then you need more flour.

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Here’s where I added the gel paste.  You can leave that out and paint the ornaments later, or leave them as is for a nice soft white finish.

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I got bored kneading in the gel paste and ended up liking this marbled texture so I rolled with it.

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And rolled it out with a rolling pin.  Not too thick, or the dough will puff up in the oven and take too long to dry, and not too thin, or it will just break.  But it’s not rocket science, so don’t worry too much about it. You can always re-roll scraps, too. It’s not like you’re worried about it being tough — you don’t eat this stuff.

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Then I used a cookie cutter to slice out the shapes I wanted.  Decorate them however you want with other dough or whatever. I was originally going to imprint my guests names into the soft dough, but I forgot about the whole gluten-equals-springy-dough thing and it didn’t work out.  Oh well.

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I used a skewer to poke a hole so they could be hung them up if the guests wanted to.

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In the end I had fifteen 3″ hearts, with only a little scrap of dough left.

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Lay the ornaments flat on the parchment and bake for an hour, flipping them halfway through.  If your oven burns hot, put the rack on the upper portion of the oven and/or turn down the heat if possible.

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Remove the “cooked” ornaments to a rack to cool completely.

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I used a silver Sharpie to write my guest names on each ornament and strung them with coloured thread.

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The blank hearts I hung from the light fixture in the middle of the dining room, to give a bit of height to the table decoration.

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Guest Post: Renovating a TE Stick

Hooray, it’s our first guest post!  I helped the Pie re-do his MadCatz gaming stick back before Christmas and I’ve finally gotten him to agree to do a post about it.  Enjoy the geekery! – Ali

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Hakan is my favourite character from Super Street Fighter 4, and I thought it would be fun to modify the artwork on my fight stick. Here is what it looked like before:

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First you have to take it apart. I unscrewed the top and this is what the insides look like:

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You have to remove the buttons and the stick in order to replace the artwork on the top. It’s a good idea to take a (blurry) picture of the buttons or write down the colour-coding of the wiring so that you can put it all back together in the proper order.

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Blurry button removal:

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This is the old art that I have removed and will be replacing.

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I used a template, which I found on the Shoryuken Forums, to create my Hakan art. I printed it out in colour. Cutting out the circles with an exacto knife was the hard part.

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To make cutting out the negative space easier I traced it on the old art.

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All cut out. You don’t have to worry about those rough edges too much, as the button will cover those up.

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Because the old art was printed on a piece of plastic, I had to print the new art on paper and then purchase a clear plexiglass cover from Canadian Joysticks to go on top. You can see that it is held in place with the buttons and stick. If you wish to get new buttons, this would be the time to replace them all. You can get new buttons and sticks from Akihabara and/or Canadian Joysticks.

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This is where your earlier photo of where the wires go comes in handy.

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Now for the ball top.  I followed this tutorial on the Shoryuken Forums for proper technique.

The first thing you need to do is sand your ball top to rough it up. Use a fine grade sandpaper for this, because you don’t want it TOO rough, just rough enough that the paint sticks.

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I used Ali’s stale beer bread and a skewer as a prop to hold it up.

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Next, you need to prime the ball. I used two coats of Citadel Imperial Primer in Skull White.  These are acrylic paints designed to be used for painting miniatures, and hold up well to handling.

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Then I used painter’s tape to mask off the parts of the design I wanted to stay white (at least at first).

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One million coats of red paint later, and Hakan’s skin was filled in.

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Peel off the tape.

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Hakan has turquoise hair. Because he’s awesome.

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I used a permanent marker to add in eyebrows and a nose.

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Then I coated the ball top in a clear sealant and put it back on the fight stick.

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Hakan is awesome.

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Aeble-what?

I happen to own, because I am that awesome, an æbleskiver pan.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?” you ask.

Æbleskiver.  It’s a Danish treat using apple slices (it’s Danish for ‘apple slices’).  They’re like small spherical pancakes/popovers with stuff in them.  It’s a food traditionally served with glogg during Advent.  You might be reminded of the commercial knock-off, Pancake Puffs, which have recently come on the market.  ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTIONS!

I have the pan because my mother gave it to me.  She found it at a second-hand store.  Hers came from a relative.  We use ours to make the family recipe for Molasses Gems (don’t worry, I’ll give you the how-to for those later).

Anyway, I figured I might as well experiment and see if I could put the pan to its intended use.

Peel two apples and chop them into 1/2″ pieces.  I found this made me end up with quite a bit of extra apple, but better to be safe than sorry and you can always serve it on the side.

Your æbleskiver pan is cast iron, and will take a little while to heat up thoroughly.  Put it on the burner at medium high heat and leave it while you do other stuff.  Just remember that the handle will also get very hot, so be careful.  We have these handy silicone sleeves we slip onto our metal handles.  You can pick them up pretty much anywhere.

In another pan, sauté the apples in two tablespoons butter until softened but still firm.  Sprinkle them with cinnamon and set aside.

In a clean bowl, whip two egg whites until soft peaks form and set aside.  The eggs will fluff up the best if you bring them to room temperature first.  To do this I put my eggs in a bowl of warm water before separating them.

In another bowl, whisk together your two egg yolks and one tablespoon sugar until creamy.

In yet another bowl, sift together two cups flour with one teaspoon baking powder.  Slowly add this, alternating with one and one-half cups buttermilk, to the yolk mixture.

Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Test your æbleskiver pan to see if it’s hot enough.  Butter should sizzle on its surface.  Reduce the heat to medium and drop about one-eighth of a teaspoon butter into each little well to grease.  Use a pastry brush to cover all the sides of the well.

Spoon enough batter into each well to fill it halfway.  Drop in an apple piece and press it down bit. Be careful not to burn yourself.

Fill the wells to the top.

Allow to cook until the edges of æbleskiver turn brown and begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Run a metal or wooden knitting needle (traditional method), skewer, or fork around the edges to loosen the æbleskiver and flip it over inside the well. 

It takes a little bit of practice to do this without getting batter everywhere.  By the end of it, though, I had it down.  Allow to cook through until you can give it a poke and nothing comes out stuck to your skewer.

Remove the æbleskiver to a plate and sprinkle with (or roll in) icing sugar or dip in jam to serve.  Maybe try maple syrup.  Or home-made fruit sauce.  You can of course experiment as well with what goes in the æbleskiver – try other forms of fruit, like mango or strawberry or perhaps something savoury like a nice hard cheese.  Here we have it with whipped cream, lemon curd, strawberry jam, and leftover apples.

Make sure to repeat the buttering process each time you put batter into the wells of the pan.  You can keep the cooked æbleskiver warm on an oven-safe plate in the oven at 250°F while you’re making the other batches.

This recipe makes about 28 æbleskiver, which is four batches in my 7-well pan.