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. 

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, September 18, 2010

Hungry Like the Wolf

I made this wolf creature by covering a wire reindeer sculpture with fake fur. First I had to remove the Christmas lights, antlers and wire bobtail. I used hot glue to attach the fake fur to the wire and stuck a cheap wolf mask over the head of the deer. I attached some iridescent stones for eyes.

The hollow body was the perfect place to hide a cheap MP3 player and some computer speakers so that Fluffy growls constantly. This reindeer happened to have a moving head so I attached the fur around the neck separately.

One of our cats is freaked out by Fluffy. The other cat sits right by it, as if to taunt her bully co-cat.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Revenge of the Wind Ups

Once my kids discovered the magic behind stop motion video, they could not be stopped. They borrowed my camera and took thousands of pictures of Hotwheels inching their way down the hall in epic races, battles and adventures. We'd download the pictures and they'd watch as I manipulated a Picasa slideshow to simulate the "motion". Inspired, they'd rush off to film some more action. Mortified by the amount to dirt and trash on the floor, I'd try to use Picasa's limited editing tools to hide the filth in the pictures. Yes, I could have gotten up and cleaned the floors, but I'm an artist.

Eventually, they grew frustrated with the process because the Windows Movie Maker loaded on my laptop wouldn't render finished videos into any shareable format and I grew frustrated because they had all thousands of photos stored on my computer but their storylines had no beginning, middle or end, not to mention climax or denouement. And their frequent use of deus ex machina grew tiresome and predictable. I love my kids, but everyone needs some tough literary love once and a while.

Eventually we worked together to tell a story through stop motion video. We set up the scene on a table and cleaned up the background and marked the spot of the camera. We also tried to move the characters in the same distance in each shot, although we weren't too precise about that.

It didn't take much to convince the boys to use Blondie's brilliant "Attack of the Giant Ants" as the soundtrack. I migrated the project to my desktop where Movie Maker works as it should and the published work is now viewable by all. The kids have moved on to other projects but they learned a little about storytelling, preparation and minding the details of the process through this little exercise. I have learned to clean the floors more often. Or to embrace the dirt as a metaphor for my dislike of housekeeping. I am, after all, an artist.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Posted by PicasaHappy New Year

Friday, December 08, 2006

Do It Yourself Snow.