Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Goodies

The Halloween links and pictures are flying fast and furious across the interwebs today! Here are a few of my favorite finds.

Via @ThinkGeek, John DeLancie (Q from Star Trek:TNG) reads Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven":

In related news: John DeLancie rocks. He was one of the first Trek actors I ever saw in person, & I have a photo of my 16-year-old self standing awkwardly next to him to prove it. :D

Craftzine provides today's dose of adorable:

Mini Robocop!

I love this next picture:

There are lots more pics at Sweet Juniper, where Robocop's super dad explains how he made the suit from bits of junk lying around his basement. Crafty parents ftw!

And for one of the coolest costumes in the history of robots, check out this clip:

Via One Cool Thing a Day

I wish there was a slow-motion version of him when he stands up; I STILL can't wrap my brain around how it did that. Really, really cool.

Speaking of costumes, some of you expressed a little exasperation with the whole "sexy" costume phenomenon during my Stay Puft post - which I totally get, and actually tend to agree with. That said, I find it more hilarious than offensive when I see things like this:

Yes, that's a "sexy" Chewbacca costume. Really.

For nine more ridiculously horrific, "sexy" geek costumes, go here. (The "Brian" from Family Guy has got to be the worst. Am I right?)

I think the worst part of these travesties (other than the whole pornification of beloved characters thing) is that they don't even look like the characters they're supposed to be! I mean, c'mon, who would ever look at that girl and think, "Hey, a Wookiee!" [eye roll]

That said, I'm still waiting to see a "sexy" costume more ridiculous than this:

Sexy Big Bird.

In stripper heels.

Does anyone *not* feel the need for therapy after seeing this?

And to end on a fun note, have you heard about the steampunk haunted house in New York? I'm a scaredy cat to end all scaredy cats, so I could never go, but this thing sounds amazing. It relies on psychological thrills instead of blood and gore, and has a beautiful steampunked aesthetic. Photos are hard to come by, so this is the best video clip I could find:

Note: the end of the vid may be a little intense for kids or wussy wimps like me. :)

Go here for more videos reviewing the house and going behind the scenes of its creation.
Also, Kat wrote a beautiful description of her own experience touring the house here. If any of you find more photos of it, be sure to let me know!

Have any fun Halloween finds or links? Share them in the comments!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Playing With Food

Wednesday was my friend Julianne's birthday, which gave me an excellent excuse to ditch work for the afternoon and bake a cake instead.

I know, I know, I promised I'd never talk about cake here...but I hadn't made a cake in forever, and this was really fun! It's butterscotch pecan with ganache filling, homemade caramel frosting (my first time making it, and YUM. That is all.), and then another thin layer of ganache and toffee bits on the outside because the caramel frosting looked ugly as sin. Heh.

And before you go thinking I'm some kind of "baker," I should tell you I use The Cake Mix Doctor religiously, and *always* start with a box mix. Judge away. I'm lazy.

That night we had a small pumpkin carving party. Julianne and her husband Ray are the parents of Ninja Baby (remember the Ninja Nursery?), and they kept to the theme by carving these two mini pumpkins:

I'm actually getting a Ninja Turtles vibe here.

Which only makes it better, of course.

And this is their last name:

Man, why can't my last name look that cool? Maybe I can get Ray to write out Yates in Chinese...

Our friend Mary is a home decor diva, and despite the fact that she and her hubby Jordan had never carved a pumpkin in their entire lives, they still managed to make this:

Sickening. Just...sickening.

I meant to carve that cute Harry Potter design for my own pumpkin, but as I was printing it out I found something else that I knew would make John very, very happy. So instead of Harry Potter, I carved this:

Yep, it's Puss n' Boots, from Shrek. This scene where he goes all big-eyed and cute is one of John's favorites - the only thing that made him laugh harder was the hairball scene, but that would have made for a pretty gross pumpkin. :)

(You can get the Puss n' Boots stencil for free here.)

John, meanwhile, spent this time cleaning and roasting pumpkin seeds, taking embarrassing pictures of the rest of us, and mocking Ray for having such tiny pumpkins:

John [in his Ah-nold voice]: "Ok, now hold up your ridiculous pansy pumpkin and look sad. Ya."

So in other words, John was being John.

So, now all we have to do is buy more Halloween candy (and promise ourselves that this time we won't eat it all) and wait for Sunday! We'll be watching Ghostbusters here with friends while doling out candy to the neighborhood kids. How 'bout you guys?


UPDATE: By popular demand, here's the recipe for the caramel frosting:

- In a medium saucepan, melt 1 stick butter with 1/2 c of dark brown sugar & 1/2 c light brown sugar. Bring to a boil.

- add 1/4 c whole milk and return to a boil

- remove from heat

- add 1 tsp vanilla & 2 cups of confectioner's sugar

- beat with a wooden spoon until smooth, & use immediately. (If the icing hardens too quickly, you can put it back on the heat to soften it.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why I Love John (Reason #157)

John and I have recently succumbed to a slight obsession with Cracker Barrel breakfasts.

Proceed judging.

No, wait: first try their thick-cut slabs of extra crispy bacon, and *then* judge us. IF YOU DARE.

Anyhoo, being "professional" bloggers we're rarely awake during traditional breakfast hours, (I'm writing this at 3AM. What.) so we often partake in what Scrubs so delightfully termed "Brinner" - aka, breakfast for dinner.


Ok. So. The other week we mosied in to our local Cracker Barrel for a late night Brinner. After being seated by a rail-thin emo guy (is Tijuana Flats no longer hiring?) our server came over to introduce himself. I'm ashamed to say I don't recall his name, but it was something fairly common. Joe? Frank? Bill? Not sure. Let's call him Bill.

Bill had the slightly distracted air of someone with a million things to do, and not enough time to do them. When we ordered, his brow furrowed in concentration, and he repeated a few things back with great care. He wasn't overly friendly - he didn't smile - but he wasn't rude, either. I chalked it up to an off night, and thought nothing of it.

While John and I were in the midst of scarfing down way too many homestyle biscuits (apple butter, you sweet nectar of the heavens, you...) a kindly-looking elderly couple was seated directly behind me. As they sat down, they called out to Bill by name, greeting him with smiles and laughter and a sense of long familiarity. Again, our waiter did not effuse much by way of emotion, but as he talked with them, it dawned on me that his standoffishness wasn't the result of an off night; it was, in fact, the nature he was born with.

Some minutes later, a large group of diners made a mass exodus across the room. A well-dressed man broke off from the group and approached our waiter. "You did good, Bill" the man said warmly, pressing something into his hand. "You did good," he said again, clapped Bill on the shoulder, and left.

At this point John excused himself to the restroom, which is my excuse for the following chronicle of blatant eavesdropping: it was quiet, and I couldn't help overhearing. Honest. [Bambi eyes]

Anyway, what I heard went something like this:

Bill (quietly, to the elderly couple): "You guys, look at this. This man came up to me just now and he said, 'you did good, Bill,' and he shook my hand and then look, he gave me a twenty. A twenty. Can you believe it? I'm doing so good tonight." He said it with a child-like enthusiasm, in a tone of genuine surprise and gratitude.

The couple made happy noises of congratulations, but I didn't quite make them out because I needed my napkin just then to get something out of my eyes.

Bill delivered our check in the same manner he'd begun: efficiently, and with an air of distraction. Only now I think I understood him just a tiny bit better. He hadn't changed, but I'm happy to say that I had.

As we stood in line to pay the check, I told John what I'd heard. Will it show you what saps we are if I tell you that we *both* teared up when I got to the part about Bill's reaction to the tip? Yes? Well, we did. And then John sniffed, and laughed, and said, "Did he really say that? Really? Aw, well, now you know I *have* to beat that twenty."

And he did. Anonymously, and grinning like a fool.

A lovely, gorgeous fool.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Prepare To Be Dazzled... my "beadazzled" pumpkin!!


Here it is in the sunlight:

And here it is lit up inside:

Now, wanna see how I did it??

Oooof course you do.


First, I printed out my pattern and taped it to the foam pumpkin (no, it's not real. Sorry.):

Next I used a nail to poke holes through the paper to transfer the pattern. (You can also use a thumb tack or needle.)

It's hard to see, but here's the transferred pattern:

Next is the messy part: using the Dremel. Using the smallest engraving bit they sell, I carved out the lines of my pattern.

I did this in the garage, because that dust gets *everywhere* and sticks fast. Which also means you need an immediate shower afterward. Hellooo, itchy!

My main issue when carving with the Dremel was the depth: I didn't carve the lines deep enough at first, and so had to keep going back over them. I recommend keeping a flashlight on hand to check your line depth as you go.

Also, because the Dremel is incredibly high speed, it has a tendency to grab and spin out in directions you don't want it to go. My hand soon became a clawed death grip from hanging on to it: I had to take frequent breaks to shake my numb fingers out. (Usually while intoning, "Ooooo, the claaAAaaaaw!!" 'cuz I'm a geek.)

Here you can see how my bit is buried a good quarter inch into the foam while I carve. These Funkins are thick, so don't be afraid to carve your lines deep.

For the rivets on the bot's body and feet, I used a tiny bit to drill all the way through the pumpkin. (My holes are so small you can't see them very well, though; I may have to re-do them.) I also carved out larger holes for his buttons and antenna.

Once I finished the bot, I took a few days to brainstorm ways to jazz up the rest of the pumpkin. I knew I wanted to embed colored beads in it somehow, to give it an old-school Lite Brite feel. Eventually I settled on a fireworks-style spiral, and enlisted John's help in drawing the pattern for me.

I transferred John's pinwheel pattern using a nail to mark only the spots I wanted to drill through. Then, using a drill bit the exact size of the beads, John bored through the first few tricky spots where the holes were especially close together:

Once he finished the center holes, I used a cordless drill to finish the rest. (You could do them all by hand with the drill bit, but it would take a while.) This was also tricky: our big drill is heavy, and holding it and the pumpkin steady was hard work. John could have done it perfectly in no time, of course, but I'm stubborn and wanted to do it myself.

Not perfect by a long shot, but dang it, I did 'em myself!

And finally, the fun part: sticking the beads in!

If you make your holes exactly the right size, then your beads should fit snugly, no glue needed. Each of my fireworks uses three colors: light blue, blue, and green, and yellow, orange, red. The mid tones don't show up well in this photo, but they look bright and beautiful in person:

Here's a better shot of the red spiral lit up:

I also inserted beads in the bot's buttons, antennae, and eyes, to make them sparkle:

The eye beads are clear tri-head beads, inserted sideways.

And finally, here's our first test pumpkin:

Which actually looks better in the light, I think:

The eyes are blue glass gems inserted sideways, and the antenna is another gem glued to the inside. Don't they look great against the orange?

If you'd like to try any of this yourself, here are the beads and gems I used:

The beads (in the glass jar) are plastic 6mm ones from JoAnn's. That bag of nearly 500 cost less than $2. The gems are the glass drops usually used to fill vases for flower arrangements, which you can find almost anywhere.

I still have more beads and larger gems that I want to experiment with, plus a *real* pumpkin to carve this week, so you may be getting more pumpkin pictures soon. (My favorite idea so far? Constellations. Wouldn't it be cool to make a pumpkin planetarium?!?)

In the meantime, can you guys help me find some great Lite Brite style designs for inspiration? I'd love to do a geometric pattern or simple shapes using lots of color, but I'm at a loss for a great pattern. (Although I did see a nice Pac Man design somewhere...) If you have any ideas, please share them in the comments. If I don't get to it this week, at least I'll have some ideas lined up for next year!