July 25, 2011 § 27 Comments
Here’s another beautiful way to recycle your plastic bottles into decorative vases. Ridged rectangular juice bottles are so simplistic, they make quite some modern vases. Add a dusting of glitter and you have yourself a stunning set to add to your table or mantle.
To make your own recyclable glitter vases, you will need plastic juice bottles (I prefer ridged rectangular ones, like Ocean Spray), glue, paint, glitter, foam brush, paint brush, and X-Acto knife.
1. Using an X-Acto knife, cut off the top half of the plastic juice bottle.
2. Paint the outside of the juice bottle.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 for all juice bottles you are using. I painted each a different shade of purple.
4. Turn the bottle upside down. Apply glue to the flat bottom (currently the top) of the bottle, on the outside.
5. Spread glue using a foam brush.
6. Pour glitter over the glue.
7. Tap off glitter onto a large sheet of paper.
8. Repeat steps 4 to 7, applying glue and glitter to short segments of the bottle. It’s best to apply glue and glitter in segments to prevent glue from drying before glitter is applied.
9. Continue apply glue and glitter until the entire surface is covered.
10. Repeat steps 4 to 9 for all juice bottles you are using. I used a different shade of glitter for each bottle. Let dry upside down.
I smiled from ear to ear throughout the making of this craft yesterday, as it came into being with the help of serendipity. I knew I was going to make glitter vases out of my collection of juice bottles, but hadn’t a single idea what color it should be nor what flowers to display. I figured, I’d have the idea sorted out by the time I finished instructing a dinosaur workshop (my wonderful weekend job and the origin of many creative musings).
Along my drive, I randomly caught sight of purple lavender-like weeds on the side of the road. It was decided my vases would be gradations of purple. I made a mental note of the exact location of the weeds so I can later return for some pickings. After teaching the class, I decided to stop into a Dollarama I hadn’t ever visited (no, I haven’t visited all of their stores in the Greater Toronto Area; well, at least not yet). There, I found a trove of beautiful, fine glitter in cute jars and in an assortment of colors, none I had seen at other Dollaramas before. I also found artificial lavender stems available in exactly three shades of purple, as I envisioned. The weeds and the artificial lavender stems are so uncannily alike, it’s just so amusing how things turn out sometimes. Everything I imagined appeared before my eyes. I love those days.
July 24, 2011 § 9 Comments
Well, we all know I love me a good bean project and I love me a good recycling project, so I designed this vase out of beans and a 2-liter plastic soda pop bottle. The result is a little surprising coming from a handful of beans and a plastic bottle, isn’t it? It’s so simple and a striking way to display the flowers growing in our backyards this summer. And we have one less piece of plastic being thrown into the recycling bin (well, for now, anyway).
I decided to clip a few of the daylilies copiously consuming my backyard. Daylilies are not conventional cut flowers. I thought daylilies needed their beauty sleep at night, but truth be told (after some reading) , a daylily flower has only a single day’s worth of life. On a good note, the other buds have their turn at life the next morning. Even so, whether or not the new buds will sprout in my vase tomorrow, I had to clip them. They’re just so pretty and so vividly orange, which makes for such a great contrast to my very pale taupe vase. I had conveniently invested in a couple of cans of spray paint on clearance for $1 at Michaels at the beginning of the year. It’s amazing to pick up an irresistible bargain for later use and actually use it for a project so perfectly suited. Most times, I’m sure some of you can relate, a lot of our “Oh, what an amazing deal, I’ll buy two or three or a dozen” bargain hoards seldom find a use.
You will need:
a. 2-liter plastic soda pop bottle
b. Beans, shape and size of your choice. I chose navy beans only because I still have some left over from previous projects: bean-by-number Turkish tiles, bean-by-number Venetian mask, and gold bean banges.
c. An X-acto knife, a ruler, a marker, hot glue gun with glue sticks, and a can of spray paint.
2. Using a ruler and a marker, draw vertical lines along the length of the bottle. Use the bottom grooves of the pop bottle as points to start your lines. I alternated full-height lines with random-height lines.
3. Using a hot glue gun, affix beans one at a time, applying glue in 1-1/2″ lengths. The longer your line of glue, the quicker you will have to work before the glue quickly dries. Continue until you have all of your lines covered with beans.
4. Spray paint and let dry.
This is the lovely time of year when we have the luxury of clipping flowers from our backyards. I think it’s wonderful to be able to display our backyard flowers in our very own handcrafted vases. Even better when the vases cost so little to make. But it’s the best when making them means that some of our garbage could be repurposed into surprisingly beautiful creations.
I’m sure you’ve started to notice, I’m developing a collection of unique vases from my pile of recyclables. You’ve seen the collection start with the peek-through vases earlier this year, and the basket weave vases in the spring. Since it’s summer, I really want to add more to my assortment of recyclable vases. There will be more recyclable vase projects to come!
July 21, 2011 § 12 Comments
I have been scarce lately and eons behind on my replies to your wonderful comments and emails, but I do read all and thank you for taking the time to share your feedback, kind words, and queries. They have not gone unnoticed! I do very much value your opinions and suggestions and promise to get back to everyone this weekend. And I do thank you for allowing the bits and morsels of my life into yours.
One of the questions I am often asked is how I come up with such random ideas for this blog. Hmmm. What makes me want to turn a dim sum steamer into a circus carousel lantern or a pylon into an Easter basket or a fortune cookie batter into calla lilies? The creative process, for me, starts with a completely blank mind, oddly enough. It’s the epistemological “tabula rasa” or blank slate. I prefer to empty my mind before channeling creative thought. If the mind is full and makes its own decision to light a “no vacancy” sign, creativity does not — cannot — come knocking.
I’m sure we all go through so many challenges everyday that prevent us from clearing our head. For me, I noticed that my creativity performed a disappearing act as I got settled into my new job. I’m sure that was when you noticed my absence (sure, maybe not totally)…erratic presence? My mind has been full lately.
Having a full-time cubicle job altered the direction of my creative thought (and led it off a cliff). If you’ve followed along with my stories about how I gave up my business, I’m sure you can understand the bit of shock I experienced getting back into a corporate environment after a prolonged stint in entrepreneurship. And if you have done the same thing yourself, I am sure you can empathize. S-H-O-C-K!
At first I was shocked (actually, still am) with the amount of new, seemingly insurmountable information I need to learn at work. Even though I had my feet wet in civil engineering before pulling the I-quit-my-day-job trick out of my magic hat, I was young, had less responsibility, and the wading was shallow and brief. Now, I re-enter the field, a vivid shade of green (the green being me, not the field, though I guess that is, too). But I have given myself some reprieve that I am human and cannot know everything overnight nor over weeks, not even months. I accept that.
What shocked me more about returning to an office is the culture. I nearly forgot people have different principles and ethics and ambitions and motivations. And I was reminded that the work place is oftentimes an extension of high school. There are mean kids that quite predictably grow up to be mean adults. Or bullied kids who grow up as bully adults avenging their past anguish. And there are kids who don’t care about their grades who grow up to be adults who put the same effort in their performance at their job. There may be lots of “I didn’t do it”, “It’s not my job”, and work passed like a hot potato. How did I forget that? It happens everywhere, does it? I’m sure less in some places than others.
In the recent weeks, I allowed myself to be mired by this unconstructive energy. I went home every night feeling so utterly exhausted by the energy at work, at the sacrifice of my own sanity and creativity. I felt deflated. Defeated.
But I learned, amidst a sea of indifference, indolence, and ineffectiveness, there are the honest-to-goodness nice kids who grew up to be adult versions of their young selves. These are the inspirational busy bees. These are the high-achievers. These are the kids who go out of their way to unselfishly lend a hand. And when you seek their help and advice, they are the ones who happily encourage you, allow you the opportunity to grow, and wish you the most success (without an ounce of begrudging), however you choose to define your success.
If your creative mind experiences obstacles as I recently have, fight the temptation to fall into a stupor. After some thought and evaluation, I have resolved to do the best I can at work, for my own sake. Though it took some time for clarity, I realize that the better person I am at work, the better person I can be after work. And we must never forget, “effort” is the evaluative scale across the bar of life (that is, effort in work, in relationships, in self-improvement, and long-term achievements). You put little, you get little. So why not put lots?
The GOOD NEWS is, as I was busying myself at work, I busied myself with crafting at home (though it doesn’t seem like it here) and secured assignments to get a couple of my crafts published in print in magazines, nationally across the US and nationally across Canada in 2012. I am excited! I will say more when those times are here. For the most part, when I get an idea, I often wonder, “Blog it?” or “Pitch it?”. In the end, I know I will still reach my goal of getting the ideas to you, despite the various means.
Yes, creativity may be led off a cliff at times, but be forewarned — it has wings. It will soar when you will it to. And it doesn’t disappear for good nor die.
I believe we can will ourselves to be creative, if we can will ourselves to empty our mind. What happens when I empty my mind? I don’t suppose what will happen at work tomorrow (or assess what happened yesterday and today). I don’t consider the recent piece of gossip traversing the cubicles (as they are mostly ill-intended). I don’t mull over my upcoming wedding (When is that? Did I get the memo?). I just focus on my mind as though it were a white canvas, and allow an image to morph naturally. Most times, I focus on only a single object. And my mind tries to define the object. This is when I choose to take control of my consciousness and ask myself everything I know related to that object. I break thoughts down into very simple facets. Shape. Color. Texture. Function. Related objects and their shapes, colors, textures, and functions. Sensations, at times. Then I am surprised at what comes as a result of clearing my head and having my thoughts broken down. I often do this in the car with the radio off. Or in the shower (I understand this is the safe haven where most creative people come up with life-changing ideas).
It sounds simple But I know, it truly is difficult to empty the mind. It’s tricky when our minds are so preoccupied with the goings-on in our lives. Permit yourself to get preoccupied, but do set aside moments of free time for your mind. Your creative self will thank you. Remember, ideas only take seconds to conceive.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips on how you come up with your creative ideas! Please share! And also, I’d love to hear stories about how you juggle your life at work, after-work, and your creative pursuits! I’m sure everyone will love to read about them, too!!!
July 20, 2011 § 1 Comment
My cousin and I had a delicious dinner last night at Julie’s Cuban, capped with a sweet serving of tres leches. I was had at the mere mention of milk (“leche”), but three (“tres”)? My knees buckled. My head felt faint. I have had many a love affair with milk, but none with such gusto as with this dessert of cake soaked in three types of milk – evaporated *heart racing*, condensed *palms sweating*, and cream *moans*.
Not surprisingly, twenty-four hours later, here I am blogging about my very own twist on tres leches: milk-soaked cake donut holes topped with golden ripe mangoes.
Canadians are so loyal to our famous coffee/donut shop chain Tim Hortons that the term “Timbits” has become generic for all donut holes. If you are in the US, there are many Tim Hortons shops sprouting in the northern states, and many have started to swarm downtown New York. It is a must-try, if you find one in your neighborhood! For these tres leches, I used the simplest, least sweet donut holes: old-fashioned cake timbits.
It is the season for mangoes. They are plenty in the summer and are sweetest at this time. I recommend sweet Philippine mangoes. If you cannot find them, ataulfo mangoes are the second best thing. Make sure to pick the one that is most golden.
Here are the easy steps into turning your donut holes into tres leches. This is a recipe per portion:
3 cake donut holes (not yeast donuts)
1/4 c evaporated milk
1 tbsp condensed milk
1 tbsp heavy cream
1. Place donut holes in a cup or goblet.
2. Slice the donut holes through the middle to ensure they will absorb as much of the milk mixture as possible.
3. In a separate cup, combine all three milks.
4. Pour over donut holes.
5. Chill in the refrigerator for an hour. Every fifteen minutes, turn the donut holes in order that all sides are soaked evenly.
6. Top with chopped mangoes and whipped cream.
July 18, 2011 § 2 Comments
I dedicate my latest kitchen experimentation to fellow lovers of Whoppers, Maltesers, Horlicks, Ovaltine Malt, any unbranded chocolate malt balls and malt drinks, and well, everything made of malted milk. With all my love to you, I present this malted milk custard tart with Oreo crust! If I had a signature dessert, this may be it.
I have had an obsession with malted milk since childhood, specifically Horlicks. So much so that I wanted to call this “Horlicks custard tart”, however, I realize that not many people outside of Asia and Europe are aware that Horlicks exists, let alone what it is. Well, Horlicks is a malted milk drink, like Ovaltine Malt. I happen to be very familiar with both brands, but all my life, have favored the richness of Horlicks. I have seen Carnation Malt being sold at Target in the US, but I have yet to try it (I’m headed to California next week, I will make sure to pack one in my luggage home). Are you a malted milk lover? Which malted milk mix do you most prefer? And most importantly: Whoppers or Maltesers?
For the crust:
1 box of Oreos (30 cookies)
1/3 c butter
1. In a food processor, process Oreo cookies into crumbs.
2. Melt butter. Pour over cookie crumbs and combine.
3. Spoon crumbs into a 10″ pie pan and press on the bottom and sides. I used a 10″ fluted pie pan with removable bottom.
4. Bake in 350F for 10 minutes.
For the custard filling:
3 c milk
1-1/2 c malt powder*
1/2 c corn starch
6 egg yolks
3 tbsp sugar*
*Please note: the brand of malt powder alters the sweetness of the custard. I used Horlicks, which is not overly sweet. However, other brands such as Ovaltine contain more sugar and will not require any sugar to be added, as well as may require the malt powder to be reduced to as little as 1 c. Please remember that the lack of sweetness of the malt custard will be offset by the sweetness of the Oreo crust.
1. In a small bowl, whisk corn starch in 1 c of milk until dissolved.
2. In a large sauce pan whisk malt powder in remaining milk until malt powder is dissolved. Turn heat to medium and add corn starch mixture, egg yolks, and sugar. Whisk continuously until the mixture boils and thickens, approximately 20 minutes.
3. Let cool slightly before pouring custard into crust.
4. Let sit at room temperature until pie is cool. Garnish with your favorite chocolate malt balls.
5. Chill in refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.
July 17, 2011 § 2 Comments
I was never an advocate of homemade ice bars until last summer, after experimenting with batches of almond muhallebi for O.T. Muhallebi is a Turkish milk pudding thickened with rice flour and topped with nuts. During one of my kitchen experiments, I coarsely ground a generous portion of vanilla roasted almonds which I combined right into my homemade milk pudding, instead of as garnish. It was nuts. Like, nutty. Like, utter nutty goodness. I was inspired to freeze the almond muhallebi mixture in a popsicle mold. Since it is a milk pudding, there is none of the crystallized ice often found in popsicles (in fact, it is the crystallized ice that always had me disappointed at homemade ice milk bars). Even though no cream is used, the result is a thick and creamy ice bar (merit goes entirely to the rice flour), packed with bits of soft crunch and a wallop of nuttiness
I left my popsicle mold in California with O.T. and regret not picking up an extra set for my use here in Toronto. I have scoured so many dollar stores and home stores in Toronto in search of a bar-shaped popsicle mold, to no avail. If you are in the west coast, you can find popsicle bar molds at Daiso for $1.50. I finally found this pretty one for $2.99 at Meijer in Michigan when I visited my parents for the 4th of July weekend. And impressively, they perfectly match the milk/juice carton basket weave vases that I crafted in April.
Sadly, I have not been able to find vanilla roasted almonds since last summer. But there is a new kid in town — cocoa roast almonds. I am a vanilla type of gal, however these bad boys have won me over.
To make these creamy, nutty ice bars, you will need:
2 c milk
3 tbsp rice flour
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 c cocoa roasted almonds
1. In a food processor, process the almonds to a coarse grind.
2. In a sauce pan, whisk together milk, rice flour, and sugar over medium heat. Whisk continuously until the mixture boils and thickens, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Whisk in ground almonds.
4. Let cool for five minutes and spoon into popsicle molds. Freeze overnight.
You may substitute the rice flour with all purpose flour if you do not want the hint of rice milk flavor in your popsicles, as the rice flour will leave that. I enjoy rice milk and, like the Turks, I come from a culture that makes a majority of desserts with rice flour. All purpose flour does the trick of thickening without any added flavor. Next time, I will try it with some almond milk.
July 16, 2011 § 5 Comments
Has it really been over a week since I last crafted? Our summer in Toronto has been Tremendous and who wants to offend the sun by staying indoors?! When I started the full-time job in March, I would scramble home to make sure I could craft before sunset. I absolutely refuse to take pictures at night (I’m sure you can tell which crafts were made at night from their poor pictures) and I have yet to build a “studio” or light box of sorts where I can take pictures under artificial light. I was under the assumption that come warm weather, I would have extended hours, as late as 9 pm, to craft and take pictures with natural light pouring through the windows. Right. Of course. Well that theory is out the window! Extended hours so my crafts could see sunlight? How about me and my very vital human need for some Vitamin D? Yes, that’s where I have been — scarce and out of doors and making up the weight I lose in sweat by gorging on an equal (or greater) weight in summer treats. How has your summer been? By no way is this question an affront to those in the opposite hemisphere undergoing the opposite. It’s just that our summer has been gorgeous.
Speaking of gorging on summer treats, here’s one that is guilt-free. I’ve wanted to make these rolled paper ice creams since I rolled paper ornaments for Christmas. In fact, I’ve had planned for a long time now to make rolled paper everything. We’ll get to that later (if ever!…or at least not during these summer days). For now, rolled paper ice cream!
You will need construction paper, double-sided tape, mounting tape, and 1/8″ red ribbon.
1. Cut construction paper lengthwise (9″ long) in 1/4″ increments starting from 3″ wide down to 1″ wide (e.g. 3″, 2-3/4″, 2-1/2:, 2-1/4″ and so on until 1″). Take the widest piece (3″) and adhere mounting tape across the center. Take 8″ of ribbon, fold, and place on the mounting tape.
3. Take the second widest piece and adhere mounting tape across the center.
4. Center the strip on the previously rolled strip and roll.
5. Repeat, going from widest, until you’ve rolled the 2″ piece.
6. Adhere mounting tape on the bottom.
7. Take a brown sheet of construction paper. Cut into an 11″ circle. Cut circle into quarters.
8. Take one quarter and place double-sided tape on one of the edges.
9. Roll on top of the mounting tape to make a cone. Peel off the double-sided tape and affix.
10. Continue steps 2-5, by rolling the remaining strips (except the narrowest strip).to form the ball shape of the ice cream,
11. When you get to the narrowest strip, place the mounting tape directly on the center and cut it about 3/4″ from where you began. Place double sided tape where the seams will meet. This will ensure the final seam is flat, and not raised.
12. Roll the final piece only once around and cut at the seam.
14. Cut red construction paper into 4-1/2″ length and 3/4″, 1/2″ and 1/4″ strips. Repeat same rolling process to make a cherry.
Hang them up as fun summer party ornaments — how about some ice cream bunting?!