What's it all about then?

food, cooking, baking, making, arts & crafts and a hefty dose of vaguely amusing general chat

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Paper snowflakes

A bit late for this year's Christmas decorations, but I'm going to put this up anyway - at least then I'll remember how to do them next year!

Instructions for these paper snowflakes can be found everywhere, so this is nothing new. But they really are very easy to do, and when stuck up on the windows make everything look lovely and wintery; a really cheap but effective decoration!

You need:
  • A4 white paper (or other - you could use shiny or glittery paper, or bigger or smaller)
  • scissors
  • an iron (not absolutely necessary but you'll see why it's handy)
  • optional glue, glitter etc for decorating
Take your sheet of paper and fold it in half along the middle. The fold one corner over, so the bottom of that corner is in the middle of the folded edge.

 Fold over the other corner in exactly the same way. Cut along the top so that you are left with a perfect triangle. Fold that triangle exactle in half.

The reason for doing all that is so that you get a six-pointed snowflake. Now you're ready to do your snowflake cuts. Make sure you leave enough of the folded edge to hold the snowflake together. Experiment with various shapes and cuts to get different snowflakes.

Carefully open up the paper. Now comes the iron! Because of all the folds you've made, the paper does not really lie flat. So if you iron it gently on a medium low heat, you can get rid of the creases, plus your snowflakes will be completely flat.

If you like, you can now decorate them. I think a little glitter would look nice, or a pearly spray paint.
I just left ours plain and put them up all over the windows.

 We may have only had one day of real snow so far this winter, but that's not stopped us!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Dinosaur fossils

At the end of January, I'll be running another children's workshop, and this time the theme is Dinosaur Fossils. I've just started putting it all together, but what I really wanted to do was try out the salt dough fossils that I've seen all over the internet: here,  here, and here.
These all look great, but have one major disadvantage for us - they need to be dried in an oven for anything up to a couple of hours! We don't have that sort of time; the workshops last around 1 1/2 hours and I need something that can be completed in that time.

Henry and I had made salt dough cookie-cutter Christmas ornaments which we'd dried in the microwave. This had worked quite well, but I'd quickly realised that to stop the salt dough from bubbling up in the microwave, I'd have to weigh it down slightly with a plate on top. Perfect for flat ornaments, but not so great for fossils!

Anyway, I did find a solution for this (where there's a will....)!

First, the salt dough recipe (this was the test amount I used for Henry and me):
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 heaped tbsp coffee grinds or 1/2 cup of sand
The coffee grinds/sand aren't necessary, but they give the dough more of a "rock" look which is quite effective.
Mix together until you have a smooth, pliable dough, using more or less water as necessary.
Divide into 4 pieces, and roll out each bit into a circle or oval shape, not more than 1cm thick.
You need a collection of dino-related items to press into the dough to make your fossils and imprints. We used small plastic dinosaurs (great for footprints), a plastic dino skeleton, various plastic plants and some shells we brought back from our holiday.
Press the items firmly into the dough - you shouldn't come through the other side, but if the imprint isn't deep enough, it will disappear during the drying (unless you are air or oven drying, in which case you can probably get away with quite feint markings).

Now you can quick-dry your fossils (one at a time) in the microwave. The only problem with this, as I mentioned before, is that the water escaping the dough doesn't really have anywhere to go and will cause the dough to bubble up (ok if it's only a bit, but any more and you lose the markings).

Here's how I got around this: you need a flat microwave proof plate, with a piece of paper kitchen towel on it. Place a square of baking paper on that, sprinkle with flour, put your dough fossil on top, sprinkle that well with flour too, then another piece of kitchen towel on top. Into the microwave on 600W for 3 mins (but you'll need to experiment as this will depend on the size and thickness of the dough).

When it's done ie more or less dry, take it out and - this is the fun part - with a large paintbrush brush the flour carefully off the fossil and out of all the little dips and crevices (just like a real archeologist!).

This bit is very messy <surveys kitchen counters, sink and self covered in a film of white flour>.

And that's it! You can, if you like, let the fossils dry out completely (I'd leave them overnight on a radiator or similar) and then paint them with a very weak watered-down acrylic paint in appropriately stony/earthy colours. But I think ours looked fab just as they are.

I'm now off to put together the rest of the workshop - all the information on what fossils are, how they form and how we find them etc - but if Henry is anything to go by, making your own fossil is going to be the best bit!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Gingerbread Workshop Part 2: gingerbread men

Obviously, I couldn’t do a Gingerbread Workshop without featuring gingerbread men.
I’d baked them a few days earlier, roughly following this recipe from the BBC Good Food website. I made double the quantity, but left it at 2 egg yolks and instead added a couple of tablespoons of treacle and more golden syrup. Rolled out very thin, this made 24 large (7cm) gingerbread men.

The idea was to decorate with sweeties, baking decorations and coloured icing. These last I bought in tubes, but I needed a good strong white icing to stick the sweets down with. Royal icing was the obvious choice, but how to provide it so the kids (ages ranging from 4 to 8) could use it? While surfing around the internet, I found the excellent idea of using squeezy bottles with nozzles but couldn’t actually find any to buy anywhere, and it was too late to order any online.

I eventually hit on the idea of using kids’ ketchup bottles, which turned out to be perfect!

Royal Icing :  approx. 200g icing sugar per 1 egg white
Whisk egg whites until stiff. Continue whisking while adding sugar 1 tablespoon at a time. The result should be a thick, glossy icing that holds it shape.

You can use it with a piping bag or the squeezy bottle, which is great for small children.

I went a bit mad buying the decorations, so we had way more than we actually needed.
But it turned out that the more stuff we gave the kids, the more amazing the gingerbread men turned out to be.

The kids took their gingerbread home with them, but as we had quite a few plain ones left over, Henry and I decorated them ourselves today.

I think that they look SUPERB, and I'd highly recommend this as a pre-Christmas activity for over 3yos. Plus they tasted great too!

Gingerbread Workshop Part 1: a card gingerbread house

A couple of weeks ago, I did a Gingerbread Workshop at the library. I’d had the initial idea way back in September and had been collecting bits and pieces for it since then.
We decorated gingerbread men cookies, read some gingerbread-related stories (more on that later), and made a gingerbread house out of card which we decorated with stickers. Lots and lots of stickers.
A few days before the workshop, I started looking around for a house template that I could use. I found lots, but they all involved making a separate roof and sticking it together, which I didn’t want. I had this vague notion that it should be an all-in-one folding thing to make it as simple and mess-free as possible, and as I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I came up with my own template.

It is very simple. I used large sheets of card, in an appropriately gingerbread-brown colour, sized 50 x 70cm, out of which I got 3 houses. The template shows the original measurements, but you could also print it out on A4 card and make mini gingerbread houses.
 I scored all the folds so all the kids had to do was decorate. For that, we used lots of stickers – I’d wanted to get candy shapes, but couldn’t find any, so we went with hearts, stars, snowflakes and butterflies in a mix of 3d foam stickers and shiny, glittery ones. For the snow along the rooftop and sides, I used my fancy scissors to cut strips from white office stickers. Extra details, like door and windows, were drawn on in white pencil and crayon.  And then the whole thing was folded together and held in place with paper clips. You could also staple it, but this way it can be unfolded flat and packed away until next Christmas.

If you’re not specifically looking for something which needs no drying time (like I was), you could embellish this with lots of glitter or use a white puffy foam pen for details. I think making doors and windows to stick on would be nice too.
Here’s the original size: Click here for the template

Just what the world needs.

Just what the world needs,  yet another crafting blog.

I know, I know. But let me put forward my case because I, you see, have Special Credentials:
I cannot sew, knit or crochet; I don’t quilt, embroider or felt; given a choice, I’d always rather staple than glue; and I have a son who’s idea of drawing pictures is bringing me detailed maps showing how to get from Kindergarten to home.

You know, just in case we might get lost or something.
What can I say, he’s a practical child.

So, what can I offer? Well, despite what I’ve just written, I do actually like making stuff.  Really. On these pages, you will not, sadly, find any of those breathtakingly beautiful handcrafted items that you see on other crafting blogs and that make you green with envy.
Instead, you will notice that I have somewhat more low-brow criteria for my crafts: easy, cheap, fast and effective.

That is what you will find here. Some of it might even be quite nice ;-)