Monday, July 27, 2015

Breezeway Fence

We live on a corner with our detached garage on the side street. The breezeway entrance between the garage and house serves as our family's front door. The original fence was leaning, moldy and rickety. Kinda sad, very blah, not at all welcoming.

This weekend I fixed that. I built this 7 foot tall cedar picket fence. It adds a great deal of curb appeal. The sunray pattern on the gate's upper and lower panel add a whimsical touch. 
We now has a great looking side entrance, with privacy and a breeze. 

Now to find a new place for the 'beware of dog' sign...

Friday, January 09, 2015

2014 Fa La La PEZ apalooza

This is my Christmas display for 2014. The PEZ are making their 4th Christmas appearance while the M&Ms and The Grinch are debuting this year.

The Grinch's sled frame is a walker attached to two wheelchair motors. The Grinch and the M&Ms bodies are mainly PVC, plywood and styrofoam. The Grinch's forward motion is controlled a Sabertooth dual motor driver paired with an ArduinoHe has two wheelchair motors in the sled and four servos in his arm, foot and neck.  A pair of XBees communicate to start the Grinch's program at the proper time. 

The PEZ bodies are simply wooden boxes, with hinges or drawer slides lifting the heads. The motion is driven by air cylinders with air valves controlled by a relay controller.

The M&M's are equipped with servo motors. The guitar strings are El Wire and driven by Sparkfun's El Escudo Dos. They are supposed to react to the motion of the guitarist's strum via an accelerometer but my sketch is wonky.

 A Lynxmotion SSC-32 controls the relays for the solenoids and the servos in the M&Ms.

I programmed the movements using Brookshire's VSA. MonkeyBasic's HelmsmanPRO allows me to use a on/off button to start the entire sequence.

Mr. Grinch is performed by Mojo Nixon and the Toadliquors. The Grinch's voice was provided by my nephew, Jeff.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

2012 PEZ Dance Troupe and Choir

They're back! I made this display three years ago. Originally there were only five PEZ and they moved in unison. It was cute but I knew I could do better. Two years ago I added more PEZ and more control and the results were much improved.

We moved halfway across the country last December and the PEZ bodies survived the trip but nothing else did. My husband helped me rebuild the display for this holiday season.

I had only programmed them to perform to Elvis and Lee Ann Rimes "Here Comes Santa Claus" but a little girl asked me if I could teach them to sing Rudolf. I did and this is the result. I even added an animated reindeer doll to the show. 

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Hatchet Bench

I made this log bench from a oak tree cut down by my husband. He grew up on a Minnesota farm and chopped up trees for firewood for many years. When a neighbor needed help cutting down a tree that fell on an outbuilding on his hobby drug den out in the country, I volunteered my husband. I asked him to bring me a suitable log for this project. He did, but not before he saved a man's life.

It turns out that my neighbor had never used a chainsaw but rented one for this project. My husband used the chainsaw for most of the morning and warned my neighbor that cutting down such a large tree was tricky and dangerous. He even regaled him with story of a close call that happened to my father-in-law, who was an experienced logger. Our neighbor said that even though he had never used a chainsaw that he understood the physics involved, and picked up the chainsaw while my husband was taking a break. He revved it up and proceeded to chop the tree down. On top of himself. The felled tree folded the guy in half at the waist. My husband, who had not seen, but had only heard the tree fall, ran to find the guy pinned under the tree and the chainsaw a few feet away. He grabbed the chainsaw and cut the tree, then lifted it off the guy. He pulled his phone out his pocket and called 911 while holding the tree with one hand. The guy's son took the phone and my husband was able to move the tree enough to free our neighbor. (Neighbor Guy was lucky to have only suffered one broken vertebrae. He is walking now and will soon return to work.)

My husband stayed after the ambulance took our neighbor away and finished the job. He even remembered to cut a log for me. He used the chainsaw to cut the log in half before returning the tool to the rental shop. My hero.

To make the bench, I stripped off the bark using wood chisels. I then sanded it and used a planer to smooth out the seat. I used a skill saw to cut slits into the bottom of the log for the hatchet blades to fit in and then pounded the hatchets into the slits. At Metal Arts class I made brackets out of angle iron and securely attached them to the log with 2.5 inch lag bolts. Then I welded the hatchets to the brackets. I added the twisted rod for stability. The rod was made by torching then twisting a flat rod at precise intervals. I sealed the log with a polyurethane sealer and painted the hatchet heads and rod black.

I really like it. It looks comfortable and brutal all at the same time, just like a lumberjack.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Salted Black Licorice Ice Cream

2 years ago my brother praised the salted black licorice ice cream at Molly Moon's. I've wanted to try it ever since. I've searched here in NC for something similar, but with no luck. So I figured it was time to try to make it myself. Today was my 1st attempt. It's still setting up in the freezer right now but it tastes great-caramelly but with a strong but not overwhelming kick of licorice and a hint of salt.

The ice cream base is the recipe for Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream as found in the August/September 2011 issue of Saveur. (It is a slightly different recipe than the one found here, but very similar.)

My brother guesses that the ice cream he had was flavored with anise and I've seen recipes that call for Pernod, although ice cream made with liquor will not set quite as well as those without. The licorice addition I used was inspired by a simple passage from this article:

At home, try Jake Godby's recipe for salted licorice ice cream, which has earned a cult following at San Francisco's Humphry Slocombe: Melt Red Vines black licorice into an ice cream base, season generously with kosher salt and freeze.

I suggest chopping the licorice into small pieces so that it melts more quickly. I added a teaspoon of salt to be on the conservative side. I'll probably add more salt the next time. (The ice cream tastes great without the salt but it adds a nice touch.)

Ice Cream Base

2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Additional Ingredients

5 oz. Black Licorice Chopped --I used Haribo Licorice Wheels
1 tsp or more kosher salt (to taste)

Fill a large bowl with ice water.
In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup of the milk with the cornstarch. In another large bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth.

In a large saucepan, combine the remaining milk with the heavy cream, sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring the milk mixture to a boil and cook over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves and the licorice melts, about 4 minutes.

Off the heat, gradually whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Return to a boil and cook over moderately high heat until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.

Gradually whisk 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Pour the remaining cream mixture into the cream cheese. Whisk until smooth. Strain mixture through sieve. Whisk in the additional salt. Pour mixture into quart sized plastic bag. Place in the ice water bath and let stand, until cold, about 20 minutes.

Pour the ice cream base into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Pack the ice cream into a plastic container.Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the ice cream and close with an airtight lid. Freeze the vanilla ice cream until firm, about 4 hours.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

2 A**holes Buying a Washer

(Having to search for 5 minutes for an appliance salesperson and then, when one is found, being blown off with, "I can't help you. I have an appointment in 3 minutes." and then 10 minutes later being told by another salesperson as she whizzes by, "Just hang on, guys. I'll be back in a few minutes," contributed to this less-than-stellar moment that, in retrospect, is disturbingly similar to a certain recurring SNL sketch.)

A**Hole 1 (sitting on the washer):"We want this washer."
Sales:"This one?"
A**hole 1:"Yeah."
Sales:"Just the washer?"
A**hole 1:"Yeah. Do you have it in blue?"
Sales:"It only comes in white. Do you want it in blue?"
A**hole 1:"Yeah. In blue. Do you want it in blue, babe?"
A**hole 2:(smacking gum, not looking up from smartphone):"No"

Sales:"Do you want to purchase a pedestal?"
A**hole 2: (not looking up from smartphone):"Not for $199, we don't."
Sales, helpfully:"It's $228."
A**hole 2:"Oh, then sure, it's just the number '199' we have a problem with."
Sales:"I'll stop talking now."

A small piece of trash flies across the desk onto the lap of A**hole 2.
A**hole 2 (not looking up from smartphone):"What was that?"
Sales:"I don't know, I just moved this and ..."
A**hole 1: "A spitball. She just flung a spitball at you, babe."
A**hole 2: "A what?"

Sunday, March 06, 2011

S'mores Cake-A Novella

My boys are in Scouts. The annual Blue and Gold Dinner's theme this year was "S'more Fun" and included a cake contest. One of the categories was "I Want to Eat That". I researched S'mores cakes on the Internet and came up with this original and quite literal creation.

In addition to the multitude of ingredients listed in each section below, you'll need marshmallows, graham crackers and snack sized Hershey's bars to decorate the cake.

Yellow Cake
I used a mix but any good yellow cake recipe or mix will do. Mix according to directions for your chosen cake. Leave batter in the mixing bowl until the next step.

Graham Cracker Crust
1 1/2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup white sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375.
Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, melted butter until well blended.

Generously grease, butter or spray with cooking spray two cake pans. Do not flour. Press crumbs into the bottom of two round cake pans. Bake for 5 minutes @ 375 degrees. Let cool. Pour in cake batter. Bake as directed by your chosen recipe. (I put a cookie sheet filled with water on an oven rack directly below the cake pans to keep the Graham cracker crusts from burning. I don't know if it was necessary but it didn't hurt.)

Let cakes cool completely in pan. If your cake layers mounded as they cooked, carefully slice off the tops of the cakes so that they are pretty much flat. Run knife along the sides of your cake pans to loosen the sides.

Here's where it gets tricky. You want to flip the cake out of the pan so that the graham cracker crust stays intact and is on the top of the cake at this point. I have a giant cake-sized spatula.
Giant cake spatula.

You? I don't know, but here's how I did it: spray the spatula with cooking spray (to ease sliding the cake off the spatula) completely cover the top of the cake pan with the spatula. Holding both the cake pan and the spatula flip the entire thing over onto the spatula. Carefully slide the cake off the spatula. The graham cracker crust should be on top. If you have a giant spatula (and by this point, don’t you wish you did?) slide it under one of the cake layers. This will help you stack the cake later.

Milk Chocolate Glaze
3/4 cup milk chocolate chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup (I used agave nectar)

In a double boiler over hot, but not boiling water, combine chocolate chips, butter, and syrup. Stir until chips are melted and mixture is smooth.

OR melt chocolate chips in the microwave. Add butter and syrup. Stir until melted. You’re going to mess up a bunch of bowls anyway, why add to the mess with a double boiler? I just put that in there for the ol’ skool cooks.

Carefully pour the milk chocolate glaze on the graham cracker crusts. Cool completely.

Marshmallow Center
1 (7 ounce) jar marshmallow cream
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, or to taste
3 tablespoons shortening (Using shortening rather than butter keeps the filling white-what can I say? I’m a purist)
1/4 cup half-and-half, or as needed (I used two tablespoons at max)

Place the marshmallow cream, two-thirds of the confectioners' sugar, shortening, and one tablespoon of the half-and-half in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Alternately add remaining confectioners' sugar and half-and-half until desired level of sweetness and consistency is attained. You want this to be a bit firm, definitely NOT runny, so go easy on the ½&½.

Spread on one layer of cake—the one NOT on the cake spatula. If you have leftover filling, you can add it to the frosting later.

At this point, put the marshmallowed cake layer in the refrigerator and the chocolate covered cake layer in the freezer while you make the frosting. Trust me.

You can use any vanilla frosting you like but we really liked this not-too-sweet frosting. I made a test cake and used a buttercream frosting and we all went into a sugar coma.

Not-too-sweet Frosting
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup milk
6 heaping tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cook milk & flour until very, very thick. So thick that you think, “Surely this isn’t food any more.” Cool completely. Taste. Just kidding--it tastes like paste.

Cream butter, until very creamy Add milk & flour mixture and vanilla. Beat until thick and creamy (about 4 or 5 minutes). Taste-no, really this time. It’s delicious and not too sweet. That’s how it got its clever name.

Remove cakes from the refrigerator and freezer. Slide a knife underneath the frozen chocolate covered cake layer to loosen it from the giant spatula you went out and bought. I was able to easily flip it over and place it on the marshmallow filling. Good luck to you! Now you should have 7 layers:

   Graham cracker crust
       Milk chocolate glaze
           Marshmallow filling
       Milk Chocolate glaze
   Graham Cracker crust

I put the cake on the serving dish at this point. Frost the cake completely. Refrigerate while you toast some marshmallows.

I cut 8 marshmallows in half and placed the rounded side up on a greased up cake pan (cookie sheet will work, too). spread them out as much as possible. They will spread. Broil til browned. Watch constantly; it won’t take long and the time between ‘done’ and ‘burnt’ is seconds. Throw a bunch of whole marshmallows on a cookie sheet and broil them up, too. How many is up to you. I used 16.

Open a bunch of snack-sized Hershey’s bars and separate some graham crackers into rectangles. Stack two marshmallow halves on side of cake. Add a Hershey’s bar on each side of marshmallows. Place Graham cracker rectangles next to Hershey’s bar. See? You’ve created a S’more. Repeat until entire cake side is covered. I put a stack of marshmallows in between each S’more set for symmetry. Do it your way.

Top the cake with more Graham cracker rectangles, Hershey bars and the whole toasted marshmallows. Refrigerate while you make the chocolate ganache. Did you think you were done?

Chocolate Ganache
5 ounces Milk Chocolate
5 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate
1 cup Heavy Cream
Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small-medium bowl—bigger than a cereal bowl and smaller than a salad bowl--you’re going to be stirring chocolate and hot cream. I’m a sloppy stirrer so I used a bowl large enough to hold my slop. Heat the cream until boiling. Pour over the chocolate bits, Stir until chocolate is all melted. Let cool until it is almost room temperature.

Pour ganache over center of cake. It will spread and, if you keep pouring, drip artistically over the side of the cake. Drizzle some ganache over the toppings on the cake.

Rest. Hire a kitchen clean up crew. Eat cake.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

PEZ Dance Troupe and Chorus Ring in the New Year

Well, we couldn't let the new year start without a PEZ party! I edited Mariah Carey's version of Auld Lang Syne down to 2 and half minutes, dressed up the PEZ, added a strobe light, colored spotlights and a disco ball and reprogrammed the PEZ motion.

The circuitry works like a charm, although I overloaded the servo control board with the additional amperage. The servo controller user manual explained the limitations and when I fiddled with a few things, everything worked just like it should.

We had planned to put them outside this weekend for an encore performance but it was rainy today and supposed to rain tomorrow, so they probably done for the season.

Happy New Year

Every year on NYE I blow up between 80 and 100 balloons and tie them to the Christmas tree. 

At midnight we the kids pop them all to bring in the New Year. It's fun and the tree looks beautiful one more day.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Homemade Christmas Display

The PEZ on Earth Dance Troupe and Chorus