April 15, 2014

make-your-own rubber stamps.


ahoy!  i've been busy lately {it being finals week and all... pretty soon it'll be 'so long UNF!'} but somehow i always manage to have time for crafting.  it's been said in countless self-help and positive psychology books, allotting yourself daily time for treasured hobbies is always time well spent.  not only does it reduce stress levels, but it makes you generally happier for the rest of the day. 

cooking and baking are mighty fine hobbies i certainly enjoy, but the clean-up is not so great and a dirty kitchen makes me even more stressed no matter how damn good those cookies smell.  that's why my no-fail hobby is creating simple crafts with minimal messiness that make the space i live in brighter and more stress-free!

which leads me, somehow, to buying stamps.  traditional craft-store stamps are extremely costly and very specifically tailored to certain cookie-cutter designs.  what if you want to stamp a hylian crest?  a tardis??  the iron throne???  let me know if you find any of these in a craft store because i would be all. over. that. junk.  but if you can't find them {hint: there is a 99.99999% chance you can't}, the next best option is to go on etsy and buy a custom made stamp, right?

wrong.  unless you're looking for something incredibly clean-cut and professional looking, like an address stamp.  but if it's a simplish design, you can totally make stamps yourself!  out of rubber erasers!!  ingenious, right?


all of the above are examples of stamps i made myself.  read ahead for the how-to and some tips and tricks for making your stamps work for you!

make-your-own rubber stamps.

make tiny designs perfect for gift tags, wrapping paper, or as a classy alternative to drawing unmentionables all over drunkenly passed-out guests during a party.

 

materials.

  • a pack of 6 rubber erasers {about $1.19 at target}
  • an x-acto knife
  • a mechanical pencil
  • a stamp dye ink pad + paper, for testing out your designs


step 1.  the first thing you want to do is decide on a design that fits within the parameters of the eraser.  here, i'm doing a long drawing that takes up a full eraser, but something small like a button or an acorn only needs about half this much rubber, so go ahead and cut that bitch in half.

step 2.  next, draw your design onto the eraser carefully {it smudges easily, and you wouldn't believe me if i told you how hard it is to erase pencil off an eraser... irony}.  here, i wanted the bee to be flying from left to right, so i drew it that way on the top eraser.  big. mistake.  the major thing you have to remember in this stage is to draw your design BACKWARDS.  remember, you're stamping downward, so you have to make it a mirror image.  so, i drew my bee again.  this hint is especially crucial when doing letters and numbers.


step 3.  decide which parts of the design you want to be black {stamped} vs. clear/white {unstamped}.  i make large dark lines for areas that don't get cut out {here, the bee's stripes and his head will be stamped, while his body and inside his wings will be cut out and, thus, unstamped}.

step 4.  go at it with the x-acto knife!  i start with straight lines that hug the sides of my drawn lines, cutting about halfway deep into the eraser.  once i've made the initial cut, i'll cut on either end of my line to the edge of the eraser, then go back through the side of the eraser {essentially connecting all cut lines and cutting to the depth i cut each other line to} and lift the piece of eraser out.  repeat this step until you have all pieces of unwanted eraser cut out.


bonus tip.  cutting curves is difficult - take your time and make sure that you don't accidentally cut into the base of your design.  you want to make sure that each raised piece is sitting on a sturdy, uncut piece of eraser {like a column}, and that you've cut away all of the extraneous parts of the eraser.  if you accidentally cut into the base, that's okay, but try to imagine the angle your knife is pointing every time you put it into the eraser.


step 5.  once you've finished cutting out your design, place the stamp on a stamp ink pad and press down like you would use it normally.  if you notice any extra ink in places there shouldn't be {like in the top right of the picture above}, simply shave that bit off a little deeper.


once you've cleaned up your stamp, you're ready to start stamping all over the place, you talented thing, you!  and the great thing is that each stamp produces minimal need for clean up.  AND they only take about 15-20 minutes each from start to finish. BOOM!

admittedly, these stamps are a bit rough around the edges.  but there's something cutesy and charming and almost artsy about a distressed, home-made feel, dontcha think?  i am in love with my little teacup.  don't be surprised if you see it pop up some places very soon... *cough, cough* ETSY SHOP RELAUNCH *cough*


what kinds of stamps do you want to make with this new-found knowledge?  let me know in the comments!!

April 8, 2014

lemon-rosemary shortbread tea cookies.


this'll be a relatively short post.  mostly because i'm hangry, which, if you're not familiar with newly-popular portmanteaus, is a combination of hungry and angry.  i've been cleaning and lesson planning all day, but i really really really want to share this with you all before my eyeballs are burned out of my head by the harsh glare of a computer screen.  plus, blogging about food that is not currently being digested by yours truly is only going to add to my hangriness.

anyway, the thing i absolutely adore about this recipe is the fact that the two main ingredients were grown in my very own garden!  springing off from my last post, i used some of my dried rosemary in this recipe and it was divine!  definitely amped it up another notch to 11.


there's something so entirely satisfying in using home-grown ingredients.  i gotta say, i feel accomplished.  look!  here's proof i even grew the lemon myself {my first and only lemon}!!




my lemon was a little more sour than i had planned, probably because i let my excitement get the better of me and i picked it too early.  damnable over-zealousness!  i even waited for what seemed like forever!!  bah!  if you want a sweeter shortbread, either add more sugar or just be patient.

gather up all your ingredients and let's get into this recipe!



lemon-rosemary shortbread tea cookies.

adapted from two peas and their pod. makes a literal buttload of cookies.

 ingredients.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ tsp. fresh lemon zest {from about 1 lemon}
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary {about 2 sprigs}
  • 1 cup {2 sticks} unsalted butter, softened to room temp.
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract OR ½ tsp. ground vanilla beans
  • 1-2 tsp. fresh lemon juice {from about ½ lemon}

 directions.

  1. in a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, lemon zest, and rosemary; set aside.
  2. in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and powdered sugar on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 mins.  beat in the vanilla and lemon juice, then slowly add in the flour mixture and mix on medium-low speed until just combined.
  3. form the dough into a disk shape {it will be very sticky, so you might want to keep some extra flour laying around} and wrap in plastic wrap.  chill the dough for at least 1 hour or until firm.
  4. when ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat and set aside.
  5. on a floured surface, roll out the dough to ¼-in. thickness; cut into the shape of your choice using a cookie or biscuit cutter.
  6. place the shortbread cookies on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 12-14 mins., turning once, until lightly browned around the edges.
  7. remove the cookies from the baking sheet and cool completely on a wire rack.
  8. the cookies will keep in an airtight container for about 1 week.


these cookies {or "tea biscuits" as the self-proclaimed anglophile and super-fancypants da cheat likes to call them} are buttery and crumbly and perfect for dipping in earl grey or english breakfast tea.  the slight twinge of sour from the lemon pairs nicely with the overall buttery richness, and the rosemary adds a depth of flavor by providing an almost floral finish.

if you make these and DON'T enjoy them with a hot cuppa, you'll be missing out hardcore.

April 6, 2014

how to dry fresh garden herbs.



i tell you what - there is nothing like gathering your own fresh home-grown herbs for culinary purposes.  there's so much love in each leaf, and you can tell the moment you bite into any savory morsel made with easy-to-grow herbs like basil, pictured above.  caprese salad - with fresh slices of mozzarella and heirloom tomato, a drizzle of balsamic reduction, and topped with those crisp, peppery basil leaves - is one of my favorite flavor profiles in the history of... well... ever.  and the main difference between a tasty caprese and an out-of-this-world caprese is unequivocally, undeniably the presence of fresh basil.

but, no matter how much you want to be a master gardener, no matter how hard you work to take care of these plants, some unlucky schmucks are born with a black thumb

i am one such unfortunate individual.  and it breaks my heart.


there is still hope.  for me, and for you.  though fresh herbs have their rightful places in so many dishes, dried home-grown herbs still blow away the store-bought kind!  black thumb be damned - you seriously cannot mess something like this up if you tried!

so, i present to my fellow gardening-challenged:  3 easy ways to dry fresh garden herbs!


the first step in any method is to thoroughly rinse the leaves.  with hardier plants like sage, a light scrubbing with the fingertips is enough.  for more fragile plants with smaller leaves {here's looking at you, thyme} this step is a little tougher.  however, if you've grown them, then you know where they've been.  they're pesticide free, and dirt free with a simple rinsing. 

before following one of the three methods below, you want to make sure the herbs are completely dry {either pat with a paper towel, or allow to air-dry}.

method #1 - oven-drying.

oven-drying your herbs is easiest when dealing with larger-leaved plants like basil and sage.  simply lay the herbs so that they don't overlap onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  preheat the oven to 300°, and allow the herbs to sit in the oven for about 5-10 minutes, checking often.  once the herbs are crispy but not burnt, remove and allow to cool. 

i like to place my oven-dried herbs in a mortar and use a pestle to grind them up into smaller bits, which i then store in a glass airtight spice container.  though they will have the consistency of airy chips, please resist the urge to chow down on one of them.  trust me on this one, guys.  it is not pleasant.

method #2 - hang-drying.

this method is a little less hands-on but a little more time-consuming in the long run.  gather a bundle of your air-dried herbs, keeping all the stems together, and tie them with a length of twine.  as you can see, this method works best with woody, long-stemmed herbs like rosemary {but it can also work with basil and sage}.

once you've tied the stems together, hang the bundle in a dry room with lots of air circulation and sunshine.  you definitely run the risk of moldiness if you keep the bundle in a moist, dark room, and nothing good ever came from the word moist.  except maybe cake... i think that might be the only time it can be used acceptably.  but even then...


it's a similar deal here, except the wait time is about 2 weeks.  you want to wait to make sure the leaves are crunchy enough that they easily break when touched.  if they have any bend to them at all, they're not ready so DON'T TOUCH THEM just have some patience for the love of gawd.  breaking up the pieces in a mortar is kind of my thing - it doesn't have to be yours - but i find it works well and keeps all the little pieces contained. 

sprinkle your newly dried rosemary on some baby red potatoes before roasting with butter and just freaking try not to allow the beckoning, intoxicating aroma to lift you off your feet as you drift toward the oven.  just try!  i'll save you the experiment - it's impossible.

lastly, and this is by far the easiest laziest method...

method #3 - letting your beloved, beloved plant die... then reaping the benefits.

in its heyday, this was a lemon verbena thyme plant.  it looked magnificent on my counter, bringing green life to the dull, windowless cave that is my kitchen.  it puffed out the most amazing scent into the air every time i walked by.  it selflessly gave its sweet leaves to me whenever i cooked chicken or potatoes or carrots or squash. 

and then it died.  

it died - because i was a horrible parent.  it died - with so much left to give.  it died - because i'm an idiot and i forgot to water it. 

it lasted a. whole. two. weeks.


i may have honestly cried over this plant.  but then i realized... for its last act, not unlike shel silverstein's famous giving tree, my lemon verbena thyme plant shriveled up.  and in doing so, it provided its life-long abuser with perfectly dried leaves, and left this world a sad sufferer of inter-species stockholm syndrome.  and all i did was benefit.  now, i have thyme whenever i need it, just sitting there, a dried-out ol' stump, forever waiting for me on my kitchen counter.  or at least until it's all used up. 
*sigh* a love story for the ages.

caring for my plants {if i can remember to water them... heh heh} gives me an indescribable sense of peace and tranquility amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life.  lengthening the lives of each plant in the form of drying their product is... redeeming somehow.  and now i think i'll show them my gratitude by making an herb-vegetable pasta for dinner.

i've loved you all along, lemon verbena thyme. 
and i miss you.
i miss you.