Monday, 15 December 2014

Tears and Tragedy and Gingerbread Disasters

Before the collapse(s)
 In past years, I have had notable and satisfying success with the manufacture of gingerbread houses. I blame last year's success for this year's failure. Last year was the first year I baked my own gingerbread to make a house. I researched meticulously, looking up different types of icing for glue and the best templates. I measured and crafted and sent the Zeds out of the room for the delicate building of the house but it all went without a hitch. It was wonderful.

Also before the collapse(s).
I used the same recipe as for our gingerbread menagerie and previous houses but only baked for 10 minutes instead of 12. I think this was my first error, apart from the lack of meticulous planning. I also broke one of the roof pieces when it came out of the oven. That should have been my first warning that all was not going to be sweet as roses in our construction project but, alas, I ignored this warning as we still had spare dough at this point to cut out another roof piece. I may even have been a little proud at the rescue of this disaster.  However, despite sending the small people from the room for the construction, things were not going to plan. Perhaps the icing, also used last year, was too stiff or my patience was too thin but the house collapsed. A bit broke. I assured Z1 that this one could be Z2's as he was mainly interested in all the candy for sticking anyway. I valiantly struggled on in the face of this adversity and succeeded in making 2 passable small houses (oh yes, I decided to do miniature ones this year so the Zeds could have one each) which were standing pre-decoration. However, not long into the decorating, they both collapsed. Z1 was distraught. She took herself upstairs in floods of tears with a soliloquy regarding the tragedy that could be heard downstairs. I fixed it as best I could and it still looked ok...until the next collapse.

We had to admit defeat. Z1 was quite brave at this point, perhaps all her tears were spent, but she did have the consolation of some cookies we had cut out from spare dough which she decorated. My plans were dashed but I did manage not to cry. It was close. We had even made extra trees and gingerbread men to stand around the magnificent dwellings we had envisaged. There are no further photos due to the trauma involved. My frustration and anger from the day turned, the next day, into a gentle melancholy for the houses that were not to be.

We will be ok. We will attempt these again some day but with more planning and care and templates.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Advent calendar 2014: toilet rolls and Junior Mints

Blueprint for Advent calendar 2013
Last year, I had such plans for an Advent calendar but the Zeds were not on board. This year, in keeping with my transformation into one of those people, I began collecting toilet rolls the moment Z1 showed any inkling of interest in making our own countdown to Christmas calendar.

We had a busy weekend, that last weekend of November which had been designated as our Christmas decorating weekend what with December beginning on Monday. Saturday involved a birthday party and a car breakdown and fireworks in Nathan Phillips Square. Sunday was to be the day of the decorations.

Toilet rolls attached, tin foil
and tape used abundantly
 Z1 was on cutting-up-toilet-rolls duty. I was rather more severe than necessary with her when she cut a couple of toilet roll segments too narrow to be able to hold sweets. I then pulled myself together and we headed off to our beloved Dollarama to buy the sweets for fillings. It was a glorious no-coat-in-November day. We used Hershey's kisses before but neither of the Zeds really seemed to like them. I don't blame them, it is not good chocolate.  This year, Z1 chose Junior Mints and Z2 got some fruit jellies.
Compartments filled with jellies

The finished product - ta da!
Z2 was not an active participant in this project. Z1 drew some little pictures in each compartment and the star on top and presents under the tree. She lovingly filled each hole with a mint and a jelly each...until disaster struck. She tried a mint and discovered she didn't like them. Thankfully, we had plenty of jellies so I ate all the mints and replaced them with jellies in the compartments.

After the Zeds were asleep in bed and the mints were eaten, I settled down with a Sharpie and the roll of tin foil to be used to cover each compartment. It was a bit tedious and I was a bit sloppy with it, truth be known but know this too: I was careful in mixing up the numbers so each day will be a hunt. This is in contrast to the fate of some of the poor, unfortunate people with Cadbury's calendars who have been using #adventcalendarproblems on Twitter over the last few days*.

*If you can't find it or don't bother clicking, people were complaining that all the numbers on their Cadbury's calendars are in order ruining the fun of having to track the day's number down each day.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Gingerbread Menagerie

This weekend marked the official start of Toronto's Christmas - lights were switched on at Yonge-Dundas, the Santa parade was on and it even snowed. There is more to come, of course as my email inbox will get fuller of increasingly frenzied messages from various companies telling me about amazing bargains and I begin to unsubscribe from the ones that make me swear the most when I see them. That's how I handle my marketing subscriptions, when I begin to swear at more emails than I open, it's time to get unsubscribing.

I had considered bringing the Zeds along to the switching on of the lights but really, an outing into the dark and cold at their bedtime is not the wisest move. This will not stop me wondering if we should go along to the impressively named Cavalcade of Lights in two weeks time although I believe Z2 has a birthday party to attend that day.

So, none of that was particularly crafty but, as you see in the photo, we were fierce productive this weekend. I took a notion, after successful baking for the school cake sale using this fragrant recipe, which I also used last year, that I should make gingerbread with the Zeds. The recipe is very satisfying, because you stir things up in a bubbly, fragrant pot and then add baking soda which makes it go all foamy. Maybe all gingerbread recipes do this, but I had not encountered the wonder of this before and felt that the Zeds would enjoy it. With plenty of being careful and lots of not touching the hot stove, the Zeds stirred and added ingredients and it was suitably delightful and cosy. We have many, many cookie cutters and using them for something edible was so much less upsetting than the crumby mess of Play-Doh that you can't even eat.

The true triumph of the day, though, was coming home after the Santa parade and whipping up a bit of icing and some leftover sweets from Hallowe'en and letting them decorate their animals before bedtime. The owl on the bottom left is Z2's, the rest are Z1's. I particularly like her use of the sweets as suckers on the octopus's tentacles. Overall, though, she was a little too delicate in her use of icing and Z2's generous application worked a bit better. I definitely want to make more to decorate myself.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

I am coming back, I think

As the nights draw in and the temperatures drop and the Christmas decorations begin to appear, I find myself drawn back here.  Also, Z1 asked about making an Advent calendar this year so last year's sad story may have a happy ending this year. In the meantime, things have been made in the Conquering Crafts household since my  last post in April. The highlights are below.

Like many a household across the world, there were many of these to be found in our house. And like many a parent across the world, some of them were made by me after the Zeds were in bed. And there may have been swearing at spillages and mistakes. Overall, a success, though.

Then, there was a cupcake decorating party and Z2 got in on the action too. He is more of a fan of icing than he is of cake.
Z2's icing efforts. This
photo refuses to be posted
horizontally. Grr.

Z1 got a lovely sewing kit for her birthday which we cracked open during the summer. She is keen to make mittens now, I am considering some simpler project that she might be able to wear. Possibly a very simple skirt that she could sew decorations onto if I do the skirt. Hmmm.

As Z2 is now a very big boy (as he will indignantly tell anyone who dares to say that he is a small boy), he left daycare in July. I was rather proud of the gift basket I made for the lovely staff there. I like dots. Oh yes I do.

For Z2's birthday party, making fruit kebabs was a nice way to pass the morning without constant "what time will the party be?" questions. I have seen amazing efforts on Pinterest that look like rainbows but I think ours look pretty good too. I also successfully persuaded him to ask for a cake that would fit with my "Make an ordinary chocolate cake" plans. I rather like him. (The cake, that is, not Z2. He's a spider. Clearly. Again, the cake. Z2 is human.)

 And before you know it, Hallowe'en was upon us again and we took to the pumpkins. Last year, Z2 made valiant efforts with the Dollarama tools while Z1 took the role of artistic director for her pumpkin. This year, I did buy better tools and amidst warnings about being very, very careful and frustration that it was still a tricky job,  we carved the beauties in the picture. Z1 was disappointed that hers didn't look better but it was all her own work (middle step). Z2 was artistic director for his (top step) and I was disappointed with the botched eyes on mine (bottom step).

Disappointingly, from the point of view of photos and family records, Z1 decided that she wanted to be a bat again this year and Z2 followed her lead. I did make fresh costumes but used the same tops as last year so that saved some hassle. I followed the instructions here and used a measuring tape and everything to tailor-make them. On the great day itself, it rained. Again (3rd year in a row). Z1 didn't care and declined to cover her costume. Z2 put on his fleece and didn't really get to show off the costume at all but still got a great haul of crap to enjoy for weeks to come.

Monday, 14 April 2014

T-shirt doodles and disappointing snails

For Z1's birthday party, we decided on an art party since she pretty much draws all day long. This also helped to cut the invitation list as she invited only those who she felt would be interested in art. However, as it turns out, when you put 14 children in a room with t-shirts and markers, only about 6 of them want to draw on t-shirts. Those who did were delighted with it but the others mostly ran around noisily. Which was fine. Really.
hedgehog, snail, child's drawings, t-shirts, crafts, fabric markers
Lovely hedgehog, not-so-great snail
This left us with some plain white t-shirts and lots of fabric markers and I got it into my head I would draw a hedgehog on one for Z1. So I did. In my jim jams before getting up one Saturday morning. Sometimes inspiration just strikes. Z1 then added some detail. I am quite happy with the hedgehog t-shirt.
However, Z2 then requested a slug. I can draw quite amiable slugs, though I say so myself and so I started but, for some reason, persuaded Z2 that it should be a snail instead and changed it into a snail. I am not so pleased with him. I can do better. Sigh. We still do have a few spare t-shirts, though so perhaps another day.

See, I can draw nice, amiable snails

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Ladybird, ladybug, coccinelle

In all its glory with apologies for not fully wiping the plate for this picture
Well, I must say that I was quite pleased with the loveliness of this ladybird cake and it was pretty delicious too. I felt the licorice legs I had planned might contaminate too much cake for those who do not like it so I left them out. Six spots for my six-year-old Z1. Hurrah. I have also included a gratuitous shot of how happy Z2 was to bash the piñata. Enjoy!
The party spread (before arrival of pizza)
A VERY happy piñata bashing boy -he had been waiting DAYS for this moment

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Sneak preview of this year's cake with a purpose

Last year, Z1 had a beetle cake. It was quite a chocolatey and wondrous thing. This year will also be chocolatey and wondrous as I mostly believe that cakes should be chocolate. We have decided upon a ladybird and I have planned as you can see in the lovely picture below. The party is on Sunday. Baking shall take place on Saturday. I am quite excited. 
On a side note, I was speaking to a friend here who had a book that talked about a ladybird. She thought it was a rather amusing typo or weird mistake. In Ireland and in England, we call them ladybirds but I do accept that the North American version - ladybug - makes more sense.
cake, ladybug, ladybird, cake decorating


Monday, 10 March 2014

A Winter Tea Party

On discovering that the winter festivals in Quebec and Ottawa were finished and we couldn't go, Z1 was rather upset and I, on the spur of the moment, proposed that we have a winter tea party. I suggested she invite two friends and that we could have cupcakes with blue sprinkles. I sent the invitation emails to the parents before I could back out of it, what with her birthday party coming up and the house never being as organised as I'd like.

baking, cake decorating, sugar, blue
Blue sugar
Glazed, cracked, beautiful
Blue sprinkles seemed hard to come by in my usual range of shops (or at least not in reasonable quantities at a reasonable price) so I Googled and found you can just add blue food dye to sugar. Hurrah. I then went on over to Pinterest and found that you can apparently make "edible glitter" by putting dyed sugar in the oven for 10 minutes. Z1 didn't seem too excited about this but I was. However, it didn't really turn much sparklier than the simple sugar + food dye combination. It did change the colour a little to a more turquoise/greenish hue and it also produced a beautiful glazed, cracked mess on my baking tray.

I baked some cupcakes and the Zeds helped by licking the beaters after I had finished (I know about raw eggs and salmonella - we had a lucky escape this time - one of many, many lucky escapes from the perils of post-cake-mixing  bowl and spoon licking). Some were chocolate, some were vanilla. I wisely decided to start icing them just when the Zeds were due to go to bed. Husband got them up to brush their teeth while I squiggled and swirled. I lovingly took photos knowing that they were to be destroyed decorated by the Zeds in the morning. All in all, it was a success  - I got to try new things like the ribbony icing tip that came in a 4 pack of icing tips and also making blue sugar. Z1 had her friends over and got to run around screaming a bit. I got to have my friend over too (one of the mums stayed  - yay!) and there were even leftover cakes to bring into work on Monday. Maybe next year we'll go to Quebec or Ottawa for the winter festivals but our Winter Tea Party was fine for this year.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Snowy snowy snowy snowy snow

Snow excavation (possibly a dragon)
This has been a winter in which I feel I am earning my Canadian stripes with snow shovelling and lots of cold temperatures and so on. I was feeling guilty at the pristine blanket of snow in our back garden - it seemed terrible not to be making footprints and snowmen and forts in it. So, on Family Day, I insisted that we rectify this. Up - breakfast - snow gear on and out to enjoy the snow or be damned.
Trailing through snow

I had been organised enough to save some washing up liquid bottles to fill with food dye to do painting on the snow. Husband had even got some scientific grade blue stain which seemed potentially unwise but turned out to wash out easily.

The snow was not very sticky so we piled it up and excavated it rather than really building but am pleased to say we disrupted the blanket sufficiently. Ten centimetres of fresh snow are forecast for tonight, though so we may have to do the same again next weekend.
Eating snow
Painting snow

Friday, 14 February 2014

When you think you're ahead of the game but it turns out your're just about hanging in there

Last year, I had hearts of rage even though I generally have a reasonable affection for Valentine's day (but must admit to never having seen the relics of the venerable saint in my town of birth).

This year, I was all prepared with ideas in my head and a saved template on my computer. However, I had the wind taken from my sails by a post on Z1's class blog with the class list and an assurance that writing out each name would be a great writing exercise for the children. My schemes had mainly avoided Z1 having to write out much as I felt it would be tedious. Also, the bookmarks I had planned, glittery hearts with her name on them stuck to a lollipop stick - ta dah - a bookmark - were not conducive to having names written on them. We overcame the latter problem by putting the bookmarks in envelopes and, as for the tediousness, it turns out I had underestimated her tolerance for writing and she completed the task as well as decorating the envelopes with each classmate's favourite colour accompanied by frequent declarations about how awesome it all was.

Z2 helped a bit with glitter painting his hearts but I did most of the work. As for the beautiful bag you see in the righthand panel of the picture, Z1 decorated it but it was chiefly my effort as bedtime was nigh by the time we got 'round to it. Sadly, I was not paying attention to detail and the other side of the bag has an upside down heart. However, on a positive note, it did not fall apart when we were carrying it to school despite the fact that I ran out of sticky tape (Z1 gets through miles of the stuff for her various projects) and had to use a glue stick to put on the ribbon handles and seal up the bottom. Furthermore, it turns out there was a book fair at Z1's school this week making the bookmarks so very appropriate and on theme. I win after all.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Return of the icy marbles

I did these last year. I loved them. I loved them so much I got a canvas of them for the wall.  I was pretty excited to do them again this year so I am not sure why or how we managed to get over halfway through January before doing so. Between this year and last year, I heard of people who found that they didn't work. Perhaps this delayed me - fear of them failing me, disappointing me as I try to find joy in below freezing temperatures.

Last year, I said that I had learned a lesson about water splooshing out after filling the balloons and removing them from the spout of the tap (the faucet, if you wish). I must admit that it turns out it was a short-term lesson and I should have revised this year to avoid the same again. Having said that, I did not need paper towels at any point this year so I have made progress.

The Zeds needed some persuading to actually come with me and place them outside. This is why they are not wearing coats, a fact which was remarked on by Husband and a neighbour. In my defence, they were only out for a few moments and it was only about -5C or so and I thought it would encourage them to come back inside once they had placed them and I didn't want to hang about out there. Also, they didn't wear coats for this last year so let's call it tradition. (It was a positively balmy 13C when we did it last year.)

Instagram, ice, winter, balloonThe big reveal happened the very next day. There was snow falling so I wanted to get to them before they were buried. Also, I am impatient. One broke when I went to check on them the evening before. Still beautiful.

So, without further ado as there has been quite enough ado so far, here they are! Oh, and note how the purple dye, in particular, seems to become encapsulated rather than remaining diffused  - it did that last year too - this is art AND science.

ice, balloons, craft, winter, colour

Friday, 17 January 2014

Life gave us mangoes (so we made not-banana bread)

baking, banana bread, mangoes, fruit, mango bread, chocolate
This cakey bread delights me for a number of reasons:
  1. When baked in a loaf tin, I consider cake to be somewhat wholesome and I put it in Z1's lunchbox with pride
  2. I have a very lovely friend who hates bananas. Really, really hates them. This means that any time I bake with bananas, I feel a little like I am betraying her. This is irrational, particularly given that she is very unlikely to pop in for a cup of tea and be repulsed by my offer of banana-based baked goods as she doesn't live on the same continent as me. For this cakey bread, I substituted mangoes for bananas in the recipe so I didn't have to betray her at all.
  3. By substituting mangoes, I was able to use up the tinned mangoes that I thought would delight the Zeds but, unfortunately, were rather tasteless and not really worth eating. Using up things like that fills me with quite a lot of happiness (see here for a previous example of this )
  4. It tasted nice and the Zeds and even Husband gobbled it up which, as I have mentioned before, doesn't always happen in my house.
You may also be interested to know:
I used a recipe for "chocolate banana cake" (but put my drained tin of mangoes in instead of the required banana) from the BBC recipe website but the page isn't loading at the moment so I can't link directly to it.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Post-Christmas present

buttons, craft, kindergarden craft, glue
My mum is one of the unfortunate people who has her birthday rather close to Christmas. For her, it means people may have run out of gift-buying stamina (and money). For me, I always feel I want to get her something very lovely, as she is my mum, but I need to get organised and inspired quickly in order to get it to her on time.
Z1 said she would like to make her a brooch so I thought that, with a bit of supervision from me, we could make something that would be mum-worthy, personal and mailable. It would also be something that could occupy Z1 for a bit while I worked from home in the lazy, post-Christmas, huddle-in-from-the-cold-and-let-the-Zeds-watch-Arthur-Christmas-again-and-again days.

saftey pin, badge, buttons, jewellery, craft, gift, kindergarden
I discovered the craft section in Walmart in preparation for the great conquering Christmas craftathon of 2012. Generally speaking, I head to Dollarama for our craft needs but I felt for a real, proper birthday present for my mum, we could splash out on quality Walmart goods. Also, Walmart is near a lovely park with an ice rink so we could do skating before or after the dratted and dreaded shopping centre (ok, ok, mall, I do think of it as a mall, my assimilation to North America is well underway). I was hoping for brooch backs of some description and Z1 was going to choose the decorations for the brooch. I was going to steer her clear of anything too gaudy in the hope that my mum might actually, really want to wear the creation.
Sadly, Walmart did not provide a brooch back for us and so I made do with a cut up cereal box and a safety pin secured with sticky tape. It did, however provide some nice colourful buttons. I did try to convince Z1 to choose the darker colours rather than pastels but she would not be swayed. I had intended on covering up the back with shiny paper or something but we couldn't get the glue to stick well so I just let it be.
Z1 took charge of the size of the brooch and was planning to just stick the central button on after a careful selection process. Not only did this leave a not-so-attractive area of naked cardboard on the brooch, it was also only going to take a mere moment to complete so I encouraged the use of more buttons. I think that the finished object is good enough to be worn with pride by my lovely mum. I am sure she will receive it gratefully, graciously and with grandmotherly affection so I will keep my eyes open to see if she wears it at all, indicating that she truly likes it, when we next see her in the summer.