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Sarah

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Sarah is a graphic designer for the money, a crafter for the fun, and a writer for the therapy (she writes a lot). You can usually find Sarah and her nerdy husband in Southern Maryland, which is at least two hours away from everything, making things and practicing her skills as an amateur mama. She's also a neurotic perfectionist, but let's not get into that. Visit her blog at Looks Like Dinosaurs.

3
Dip-dyed Pine Cones

 

My mom used to decorate for every single holiday and season when I was a kid. Of course, things always got exciting when October approached. There was natural and crafted bounty galore: pumpkins, gourds, and hay bales from the farmers market, homemade scarecrows, paper bats, leaves, spider webs, and jack-o-lanterns.

It’s a tradition I’ve carried with me into adulthood, albeit in my own way. I tend to like my seasonal decorations to be subtle, at least to begin with: blending in with my existing home decor, rather than adding a layer on top of it. And natural elements are always welcome.

This is why pine cones hold a special place in my heart. They’re natural, sturdy, and free, and the orderliness of their design says both “rustic” and “sophisticated.” But while pine cones look great on their own, I think they also look great with a little color. In orange and black, it’s a quick and inexpensive way to sneak some Halloween into your home — even if it is a little early.

The look of this project is meant to mimic the dip-dyed trend that’s been happening in fashion and home decor. Despite the name, however, these pine cones aren’t actually dipped. In order to make the paint thin enough for dipping, you would have to water it down. But when pine cones get wet, the scales close. Normally, they’d open again when dry, but the paint causes the scales to stick together and stay closed. So if we were to actually dip them, we’d end up with half-closed painted pine cones.

Dip-dyed Pine Cones - Materials

MATERIALS

To make your own, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Acrylic craft paint
  • Water
  • 1-inch, flat paintbrush
  • Pine cones

BEFORE YOU BEGIN

It’s important to note that this project calls for acrylic craft paint as opposed to acrylic artist’s paint. Craft paint is thinner and less viscous and will be easier to work with for this type of project. It’s also significantly less expensive.

Acrylic paint is great for crafts like this because it’s easy to work with, easy to clean up, dries quickly, and is water resistant once it’s dry. What this also means is that if you drip or splatter it onto your favorite shirt or dining room rug, it is very difficult to remove — and basically impossible once dry. When you’re painting pine cones, paint WILL splatter. Make sure you cover your work surface and wear something that you wouldn’t mind accidentally ruining. (Likewise, you probably don’t want to keep your iPhone right next to you — unless you don’t mind giving it a festive, speckled custom paint job.) Keep some clean, cool water and a rag handy for emergency clean-ups.

Additionally, pine cones can be sharp! I’ve never actually cut myself on a pine cone but I won’t say it can’t happen, and trying to handle an especially prickly one can be kind of a drag. Please be sure to inspect the pine cones before handing them over to young children or grown-ups with delicate fingers.

Ready? Me too!

Dip-dyed Pine Cones - Steps

1. Define the painted area. Take your paintbrush and dip it in some clean water. (Don’t blot it.) Then, dip it in paint. Try to get an even coating on the bristles by pouncing the brush lightly and then tapping the flat side of the bristles against the edge of the cup (or whatever vessel you’re using to contain the paint). You want the brush to be heavily loaded with paint, but not dripping.

Decide how much of the pine cone you want to be painted, and paint the outside of the scales in the portion you choose. It’s easiest if you take the pine cone in one hand and the paintbrush in the other, and hold the paintbrush in one place while you rotate the pine cone against the flat side of the bristles.

NOTE: Because the scales are arranged in a spiral — rather than rows — from top to bottom, it can be difficult to know where to stop your top border. I tend to pick a spot and end up painting more than I intended because I think too much about creating a perfect line. If you look carefully at photos 1 and 4 above, you can see that I originally made my top border about one-third of the way from the bottom (1), but ended up painting half of the pine cone (4). Don’t be like me. Relax and remember that “approximate” is okay.

2. Paint the tops of the scales. Next, you want to paint the inner part of the pine cone — the tops and bottoms of the scales. It’s easy to paint the tops because they’re fairly flat; the bottoms are trickier because of the spike at the end of each scale. Load more paint on the brush, if necessary. Hold the flat side of the brush parallel with the tops of the scales, insert the brush between the rows and apply paint to the scales while pulling the brush back out again.

3. Paint the undersides of the scales. Turn the pine cone upside down and repeat the same technique used in step 2 to paint the undersides of the scales. To cover the back side of the spike, angle the brush a little higher and give it a wiggle from side to side. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to remember this: it doesn’t have to be perfectly perfect.

4. Dry. When you’ve finished painting, let the pine cone dry for at least 30 minutes before handling the painted area. I like to let the paint dry for several hours before doing anything else with them.

Dip-dyed Pine Cones - Finished!

These would look nice lined up on a mantle or shelf, tossed in a bowl, or tied to some twine as a garland. It’s a nice, subtle way to add a festive touch to your home.

Dip-dyed Pine Cones - Candy Corn

You’re not limited to one color, either! And you can paint the whole pine cone if you want, although it’s a bit easier to paint a portion, let it dry, and then paint the other portion so that you can hold onto it without getting paint all over your fingers.

If you’d like the pine cones to last for several years, you can seal them with an acrylic spray sealer, which you can usually find at an arts and crafts store. It’s typically available in gloss, satin, or matte finishes; choose whichever you like (I tend to go for matte for a more natural look). Spray outside on a mild day or in a very well ventilated area, away from open flame, and let the sealer dry for an hour or more before bringing the pine cones inside to avoid bringing the fumes in with them.

7
In the Woods Paper Lantern

Every year on the Saturday before Halloween, costumed revelers line up and illuminate Baltimore in the Halloween Lantern Parade. Yet, in all the years since I learned that it even existed, I’ve never managed to join in the fun myself.

But until the day when I can finally become part of the shining spectacle, I can get to work on my lantern-making skills. Today, I’m starting with a simple luminary constructed from wooden craft sticks and tissue paper. And since I won’t be going on any walks through a haunted forest either, hand drawn branches help set a Halloweeny mood.

In the Woods Paper Lantern - Materials

MATERIALS

  • Tissue paper
  • 12 craft sticks (or popsicle sticks)
  • Hot glue gun
  • White glue
  • Black permanent marker
  • Craft knife and/or scissors
  • Battery-operated tea light

In the Woods Paper Lantern

1. Cut 4 of the craft sticks in half, so that you have 8 short sticks and 8 long sticks. Arrange the sticks into four rectangles, each with two long sides and two short sides.

2. Attach one short stick to each end of a long stick using a dab of hot glue at each end. Attach the other long stick to the opposite ends of the short sticks. Make sure that the short sticks are attached on top of both long sticks (or underneath both — just make sure both ends of the short sticks are on the same side of each long stick):

In the Woods Paper Lantern - Frame Assembly

When the glue is completely cool, use a craft knife to carefully trim excess glue.

3. Fold a sheet of tissue paper into fourths. Lay one of your stick frames on top of the folded tissue paper and trace around the outer edge. Cut the rectangle out with scissors or a craft knife, cutting through all four layers so that you end up with four rectangles.

4. If you wish to paint your frames black (or any other color) now is a good time to do it. This will allow them time to dry while you complete the next part of the project!

5. Using a black permanent marker, draw branches on each of the tissue paper rectangles. Don’t fret about your drawing skills here — the more scrawly and scraggly the better, in my opinion!

(Of course, you can leave the paper plain if you prefer, or you can draw other shapes, figures, or faces.)

In the Woods Paper Lantern

6. Flip the frames so that the back sides face up (it doesn’t really matter which is front and which is back, so long as it’s the same for all four). Apply a very thin line of white glue to all four sides. Take one of the tissue paper rectangles and turn it wrong-side up. Line the paper up with the frame and gently press along the outer edge to adhere the paper to the frame, making sure to keep the paper from buckling or wrinkling. I find it’s easiest to start by lining up the top edge and working my way down. Repeat for all four frames.

7. Using a dab of hot glue at each corner, attach two frames at a 90-degree angle along the long side. Add a third frame at a 90-degree angle to one of the attached frames. Add the fourth frame to create a tall box shape (with open top and bottom). When the glue is completely cool, trim any excess with a craft knife.

8. Place a battery operated candle inside the lantern.

0

One of the main reasons why I like to make my own pumpkin puree is so that I can make my own pumpkin butter. It’s right at home on a slice of toasted homemade bread, next to a cup of apple cider or hot chocolate or a crisp autumn beer. It’s just a little bit sweet with a little bit of spice, and you can rest easy knowing that it’s more wholesome than jams, jellies, and preserves. Which naturally means you can eat more.

And it’s so incredibly, unbelievably, deliciously easy to make.

Do you have a saucepan? Yes. Can you put stuff in it? Yes. Can you stir? Yes! Can you turn on the burner? Why are we still talking?!

This recipe is based on homemade pumpkin puree, which contains more liquid than canned puree — but that doesn’t mean you have to roast your own pumpkin before you can enjoy homemade pumpkin butter. Canned pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix) will work just as well if you add a little water.

Sugar and spices can be adjusted to taste.

Pumpkin Butter
(25–30 minutes || Makes 2 cups)

  • 2 c homemade pumpkin puree*
  • 1/4 c apple cider or apple juice
  • 2 Tbsp packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves

*Substitute homemade puree with one 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree, plus 1/2 cup water.

1. Combine pumpkin puree, apple cider, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a small saucepan and stir together until evenly mixed. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.

2. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking, stirring often, until mixture has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

3. Refrigerate in a tightly covered container.

0

Jack O'Candy Jars

At this festive time of year, one of the most important decisions we all face is what to do with all the candy. You could hide it away in a drawer in a plastic bag, dust off that fancy dish, or plop it in a plastic pumpkin. Or, you can use it to turn glass jars into colorful little totes for your Halloween sweets.

Not only are they a good way to repurpose that rather large collection of empty jars that you just can’t bear to get rid of (you do that too, right?), they’d make a fun little pre-Halloween treat for somebody special. And when they’re empty? Add a tea light!

And the best part is that they’re so simple — a few twists of wire, a few strokes of the paint pen — which means you’ll be reaping the rewards (and satisfying that sweet tooth) in no time flat.

Jack O'Candy Jars - Materials

MATERIALS

  • Clear glass jar, cleaned and label removed
  • Aluminum floral wire, 12 gauge
  • Black paint pen
  • Wire cutters
  • Round pliers
  • Candy (such as candy corn, Reese’s Pieces, or M&Ms)

Jack O'Candy Jars

1. Measure the circumference of your jar just below the threaded area for the lid. Cut two pieces of wire whose length is equal to half the circumference plus 3 inches.

2. Bend both pieces of wire around the neck of the jar just below the threads, so that the ends overlap. Twist the overlapping pieces together to form a collar around the neck of the jar, leaving at least 1/2 inch untwisted.

3. Bend the twists upward.

4. Use the wire cutters to trim the excess of one end. Use the round pliers to bend the other end into a loop.

5. Cut another piece of wire that is equal to about three-quarters of the jar circumference. This will become the handle. (Make this longer or shorter as you see fit.)

6. Use the round pliers to bend each end of the handle into an open loop.

7. Bend the handle into a U shape. Use the jar to help you get an even curve.

8. Hook the loops ends of the handle into the loops on the collar. Use your fingers or pliers to close the handle loops.

9. Use the paint pen to draw a jack o’lantern face on the jar. Fill with candy!

1
Leaf Printed Linens

 

To be perfectly honest, this project is the result of one of those moments when I’m at the store looking at kitchen and table linens that I really don’t need (but I don’t have an autumnal leaf tablecloth!) and one catches my eye — the colors! the pattern! Then I see the price tag, and a case of “I can make that” inevitably sets in.

As an art major in college, I ended up with three semesters of printmaking under my belt, so I immediately started running through the list of ways that I could create my own leaf printed linens. Yet, if you’ve ever walked down a leaf-covered sidewalk after a heavy rain, you’ve probably noticed that leaves are pretty good at making beautiful prints on their own. Simplicity wins every time.

This just goes to show that you don’t really need fancy equipment or special supplies — or a small fortune — to spruce up your kitchen and dining room with seasonal linens. All I started with was an inexpensive, plain tablecloth (I’ve also used white floursack towels, too, which work great), a little paint, and some leaves gathered twenty feet from my front door. But I ended up with a stack of dinner party-worthy linens that are sturdy enough for every day use — because there’s always room for just a little more October.

Leaf Printed Linens - Materials

MATERIALS

  • Leaf (or leaves)
  • Acrylic craft paint or fabric paint
  • Foam brush
  • Linens (such as a tablecloth, tea towel, etc.)
  • Scrap paper (such as newspaper) and cardboard/paper plate

FIRST THINGS FIRST

Look for leaves that are freshly fallen — they should still have bright color. These will be sturdy enough to withstand repeated painting and printing. Leaves that are too old and dry will be too brittle; leaves that are young will be too thin and soft. If you’re out in the woods, make sure you can clearly identify what kind of plant a leaf came from before you pick it up (visually, as in “It is obvious that this leaf has fallen from that giant tree there!”). A case of poison ivy/oak/sumac might put a damper on a crafty afternoon.

Fabric paint is good if you have some; I used acrylic craft paint because I tend to have it on hand in a variety of colors. Acrylic paint is permanent once it has set into fabric (or any porous material), which makes it a good choice for painting fabric on purpose. However, make sure to cover your work surface underneath the fabric, and wear a smock or apron so that you don’t ruin your clothes. Your fingers will get a little messy!

A thin coat of paint is key to getting a good print. Dispense some paint onto a paper plate or scrap of cardboard. Using a plate will help you get the right amount of paint on your brush by spreading it around thinly, whereas dipping the brush will load it with too much paint. Practice on a scrap piece of fabric first.

(It’s also a good idea to wash and iron, if necessary, your linens before printing on them. I didn’t, and had to stretch the fabric slightly as I worked to keep creases and wrinkles from ruining my prints. Don’t be like me.)

Leaf Printed Linens - Process

1. Dip the foam brush in water and blot on a rag or paper towel. You want the brush to be more wet than damp, but less than soaking. This will thin the paint out just enough to soak into the fibers and remain flexible, but retain enough viscosity to make a clean print. Play around with the amount of water you use. You can get away with more for darker colors to create a watercolory look, but I add almost no water to lighter colors like yellow and white.

2. Use the tip of the brush to pull out a bit of paint from the blob. Evenly coat the tip of the brush with paint by spreading the paint around a small area of the plate, using short, even strokes on both sides of the brush.

3. Apply a thin, even coat of paint to the back of the leaf using short, even strokes.

4. Carefully place the leaf — painted side down — onto your fabric. Hold in place firmly, but gently, with one hand so that the leaf doesn’t slip. Use one or two fingers on your other hand to tap firmly all over the leaf from the center out to the edges, pressing the leaf downward onto the fabric. Avoid rubbing the leaf as this will create unnecessary friction, which may cause the leaf to become more brittle, and can smear paint over the edge of the leaf onto the fabric.

5. Peel the leaf straight up by the stem. Do this slowly and carefully to avoid damaging the leaf or smudging the print.

6. Repeat steps 2–5 to create the desired pattern.

Leaf Printed Linens

If you want to change colors with the same leaf, you can clean it by gently wiping off the wet paint with a damp paper towel.

Allow the paint to dry overnight.

Set the paint with a hot iron on the “cotton” setting: press the iron over a painted area (in one place; don’t slide it around) for 10–20 seconds. Repeat until you have ironed over all painted areas. You should then be able to machine wash your painted linens in cold water and dry on low heat as needed (or follow manufacturer’s instructions if gentler laundering is required).

0

Spider Mobile

Here’s a little secret I’m reluctant to share: if anyone ever wanted to give me a good Halloween fright, all it would take is a fake spider. No strategic placement needed! So this mobile, with plastic spiders cascading down from a string and hoop web, is just about the creepiest craft project I’ve ever done in my life. Although I’ve taken pains to make it as nice as possible to look at, I’ve already startled myself half a dozen times just trying to make the darn thing. It’s really a marvel that I managed to finish it at all.

(My five-month old daughter, on the other hand, can’t get enough of it.)

Creepy-crawlies aside, this is a simple project with inexpensive supplies that took me no more than two hours to complete. If you can measure and make simple knots — and if you can stand to work with artificial arachnids — then you’ve got it made.

MATERIALS

  • Wood embroidery hoop, any size (we’re only using the inner hoop)
  • White string (I used crochet thread)
  • Plastic spiders
  • Large button or wooden bead (~3/4″)
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Hot glue or adhesive dots
  • Scraps of black fabric, felt, or paper

SOME NOTES

Although this project only uses the inner hoop of an embroidery hoop, you could use the same web-making process to create a wall hanging with the outer hoop. Just glue a spider (*shudder*) right onto the web, or let it dangle on a string.

I used a wood hoop for three main reasons: (1) they’re far less expensive than plastic hoops, (2) they have greater friction than plastic, so the string will better stay in place, and (3) I prefer a more subdued, natural look. But there’s no reason why you can’t paint the hoop first, if you want some fun color (or white or black for even less color). You could also wrap it in yarn, ribbon, fabric, or washi tape.

That said, you’re also not limited to white string. If you’re feeling colorful, go colorful. I’m a big proponent of using one’s imagination.

There are many different kinds of fake spiders out there; choose whichever you like, or make your own, if you’re so inclined (I was most definitely not inclined). I used plastic spider rings and cut off the ring.

Spider Mobile - Make the Web

MAKE THE WEB

1. Cut four (three if your embroidery hoop is less than 6 inches) pieces of string at least 18 inches PLUS the diameter of the embroidery hoop. I used a 7-inch hoop, so I made my string 25 inches long. Stretch one string out underneath the hoop and center it as best you can (string A). Tie the string to the hoop across the hoop’s diameter, keeping the string fairly taut.

2. Take the next piece of string (string B) and center it under the first string. Tie string B to string A. NOTE: I tied B slightly off the center of A because I wanted an asymmetrical look. You can put this knot wherever you want, as it will determine the center of the web.

Tie the ends of string B to the hoop, spaced evenly between the ends of string A, keeping string B fairly taut.

3. Repeat step 2 with the remaining strings, but begin by tying each to string A in the same place you attached string B (the center of the web).

4. To make it easier to work, wrap the loose ends around the hoop and secure with small binder clips or tape. (You need these later to hang the mobile.)

5. Measure a new string by wrapping it around the diameter of the outer hoop five times. This will be used to make the cross-pieces of the web (string X).

6. Tie one end of string X to any of the existing strings close to the center knot. It may be easier to make your knot further away from the center and slide it into place.

7. Knot string X to the next adjacent string, slightly further from the center, keeping X fairly taut. Continue knotting X to each adjacent string, creating a spiral out from the center until you reach the hoop (or until you run out of string). Try not to become fixated on making the spiral perfectly even. I think the web has more of a naturally creepy look when it’s uneven.

8. To help keep the knots in place, apply a little glue to each knot on the web and the hoop.

Spider Mobile - Make it Mobile

MAKE IT MOBILE!

1. Gather together all of the loose ends of the strings attached to the hoop. Thread them through the hole of a wooden bead, or a large button in the event that you are unable to find the wooden beads you know you have somewhere. (My button had four holes, so I threaded two adjacent strings through each hole). Hold the loose ends above the bead/button, and let the mobile dangle. Use the bead/button to help you level the mobile, then tie the strings into a knot above the bead/button.

2. If you have enough string left above the knot to make a loop, braid or twist the extra and tie a knot to create a loop to use for hanging the mobile; otherwise, make a separate loop by measuring six 6-inch pieces of string, braid or twist them together, thread the braid between the mobile strings between the button and the knot, and tie the braid into a loop. Cover the knots with glue to keep them from unraveling.

3. Measure and cut enough strings to have one for each “branch” of the web (multiply the number of strings you started with by two; so if you started with 4 strings, you’ll need to cut 8 new ones). Make your first string 4 inches, and add 2 inches for each additional string: one each at 4 in., 6 in., 8 in., 10 in., 12 in., 14 in., 16 in., and 18 in. long.

4. Tie each string to the web at one of the knotted intersections, near the hoop. You can keep the strings in order by length as you go around to create a cascading spiral, or you can mix them up. You can also add as many as you want, placed wherever you want.

5. Glue plastic spiders to the strings either with hot glue or with adhesive dots. I used adhesive dots because they tend to be safer and they don’t tend to peel off of plastic easily. I cut tiny pieces of black scrap fabric to cover the adhesive/string; felt or paper would also work.

Spider Mobile

Hang someplace where the mobile can catch a draft — such as near a window, door, or vent. And try not to startle yourself every time you pass by.

1

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

One of the more unexpected effects of Hurricane Irene last August was a shortage of canned pumpkin puree on the local supermarket shelves. Flooding had evidently destroyed a significant portion of the commercial pumpkin crop on the East Coast, and as a result, my husband, Keith, has been deprived of pumpkin pie, pumpkin butter, pumpkin cinnamon rolls, pumpkin soup, and anything else pumpkiny for well over a year. He’s pretty sad about it.

You see — failing to recognize the hard times that had fallen upon the canned pumpkin industry — we had blown off making our own pumpkin puree. I was newly pregnant and wanted to do nothing but sleep and avoid vegetables at all costs (or vegetable-like fruits, if you want to be picky); so wrangling a giant squash seemed out of the question. Of course, it was a decision we would live to regret when Keith decided to go shopping for pumpkin pie ingredients shortly before Thanksgiving, only to return home defeated and pumpkinless.

Never again. From now on, we know that there’s no excuse to not make our own pumpkin puree. It only takes a few hours — with breaks — and one 15-pound pumpkin will yield about 20 cups of fresh puree. That’s as much pumpkin as we’ll ever need for all of our fall and winter needs, done in the space of an afternoon.

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

INGREDIENTS

  • A pumpkin (or any winter squash)

EQUIPMENT

  • Sharp knife
  • Metal spoon
  • Oven
  • Food processor

When selecting a pumpkin, look for one that is free of visible mold or soft spots, and one that has a healthy green stem that’s not too dry or loose. Give the pumpkin a gentle knock in a few different places with your knuckle; you should hear a solid “thunk.” In hopes of getting one that’s a little fleshier, I try to select one that seems heavy for its size. The best way to do this — as far as I know — is to zero in on pumpkins of a particular size and pick each one up. This may or may not involve running back and forth at the local farm stand with a wagon, picking up the same three pumpkins for ten minutes.

We used a rather large pumpkin; yours can be smaller (or bigger!). The procedure is the same no matter what size pumpkin you use, but the cooking time will vary. Always keep an eye on it while cooking, and never leave a hot oven unattended.

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Wash the pumpkin with a little mild dish soap, warm water, and a vegetable brush. This will help avoid cross-contaminating the flesh with any dirt or bacteria that may be lingering on the surface when you cut into the pumpkin.

2. Remove the stem by cutting around it with a sharp knife, like you would to carve a jack o’lantern. To be extra safe, use a very sharp knife and cut with the blade facing away from yourself. Rotate the pumpkin as you work so that the knife is always at a safe angle.

3. Cut the pumpkin in half (top to bottom).

4. Use a metal spoon to scrape out the seeds and pulp (the stringy stuff). Scrape hard, removing as much of the pulp as possible.

5. Place each pumpkin half on a foil-lined cookie sheet, cut side down, and roast in the oven until you can easily pierce the pumpkin (skin and all) with a fork.

We could only fit one half of our 15-pound pumpkin in the oven at a time. Each half took about one hour to cook. Allow the pumpkin to cool to the touch (ours took about 45 minutes).

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

6. For easier and safer handling, cut each cooked half in half (top to bottom). Then flip so that they are flesh side up.

7. Use a spoon to scrape the flesh from the skin. Alternatively, you can try to peel the skin from the flesh (in which case, don’t flip it over). Put the flesh in the bowl of a food processor, fitted with a chopping blade.

8. Puree the pumpkin in the food processor until the flesh is no longer stringy and the consistency is the same throughout. It will be about the same consistency as applesauce.

9. Store the pumpkin in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or, if you don’t plan to use 20 cups of pumpkin puree within a week, measure puree into freezer bags. One or two-cup portions work well for me. When the puree is cooled to room temperature, squeeze as much air as possible out of the bags and seal. Lay flat in the freezer to save space (storing them this way also reduces thawing time when you’re ready to use it).

3

Ghost Story Dice

“It was a dark and stormy night…”

Honestly, I’ve never been good at telling ghost stories. The best ones are too spooky for me to want to remember and anything else, well, just isn’t worth telling. But I’m always game for inventing a tale or two and for having a laugh with friends, and that’s exactly what story dice — or, in this case, ghost story dice — are good for.

Story dice are exactly that: dice, but with images printed on each of the sides to act as random visual cues for ad lib storytelling in turns by a group of people. But ghost story connoisseurs are notorious for becoming easily bored, which means that ghost story dice calls for more variety than the traditional six-sided cube could offer. This paper dodecahedron boasts twenty cues for ghost story characters, props, settings, and plot twists. With a printer, something to cut with, and a little glue, you’ll be ready to whip up dozens of spooky stories in no time.

Here’s how it works: A player rolls the dice. He or she must then continue (or start) the story, incorporating whatever image lands at the top of the dice.

The fine details are up to you, but here are a few suggestions to help get the wheels turning:

  • The player whose birthday is nearest, but not past, goes first. (Or the youngest. Or the oldest. Or the best at storytelling as determined by majority vote.)
  • You may just instinctively know when a person’s turn is over, but if you want more control, use a timer and give each player two or three minutes to tell their part of the story.
  • The same goes for ending the story. Usually, stories have a way of ending themselves but if yours refuses to lie down, set a limit to the number of rounds. Or offer the title of “winner” to the player who comes up with the killer ending. (Ha! Haha.)
  • Be flexible! The possibilities are almost limitless: the skull could be bones or a skeleton; fire could be a flame, torch, or candle; the graveyard could also be a grave or gravestone. Think about what the images represent rather than what they depict.
  • Record it! (If you dare.) You might just end up with something worth keeping.

Ghost Story Dice - Materials

MATERIALS

Ghost Story Dice - Assemble

1. Print and cut out the template. Print on regular text-weight 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper. Cut around the perimeter of the template along the solid lines using a craft knife and straight edge or scissors. If you use a craft knife and straight edge, I recommend keeping the knife toward the outside of the template; that way, if your knife slips away from the straight edge, you are less likely to slice into the actual die.

2. Fold the template. Fold along the dotted lines. (If you’re using plain printer paper, it isn’t necessary to score first with a bone folder tool, but you can if you like to make the folds crisper.) I like to start by folding in the gray tabs and then folding the rest to create the facets. By creasing the fold lines first, it will make gluing easier as the die will begin to take form and it will be more apparent which sides go together.

3. Glue the tabs. It’s easiest to start from the center of the template (the graveyard) and work outward. Draw a thin bead of glue along the tabs closest to the center and adhere to the underside of the adjacent facet. So, you’ll start by connecting the shadow to the pumpkin, the fire to the bats, and the spider to the skull. Continue working up and around.

HINT: Glue the house side last.

As you get closer to the end, you may find it more difficult to work with the tabs. I found it helpful to use one finger inside the die to help guide and press the tab from the inside, while adjusting the facets with my other hand from the outside.

When you’ve finished gluing, allow the die to dry for 30 minutes or more before use.

Mini Apple Pies with Crumb Topping

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” –Carl Sagan

I’ve long held the suspicion that apples were invented so that humans could make them into pie. I mean, if Carl Sagan thinks so, I must be on the right track, right? Luckily, the universe has already been invented, so there’s only one thing left to do.

I don’t have to tell you that fall is the perfect time for making apple pie, what with the bounty of fresh apples – their sweet-tart scent filling the brisk air. Pie is just a natural vehicle for enjoying all those Honeycrisps, Mutsus, Pink Ladies, Galas, and Granny Smiths.

But as much as a fresh apple pie is enjoyable to eat, it can be intimidating to make and even trickier to serve. My solution? Miniature pies, baked in a muffin tin.

With press-in crusts and a simple crumb topping, these cupcake-sized desserts don’t require any special rolling, weaving, or fluting skills to create impressive little treats. Sturdy and self-contained, these pies offer a satisfying (but reasonable) portion that can be held in your hand – no jars, plates, or utensils required! Which makes them the perfect thing to share with friends on a crisp autumn hike, while inhaling the sharp smell of a distant wood-burning fire, listening to the sound of leaves crunching beneath your feet — and struggling to think of anything better in the whole universe.

Mini Apple Pies with Crumb Topping
(Prep: approx. 1 hour :: Bake: 25–30 minutes || Makes 12 mini pies :: Serves 1–12)

Mini Apple Pies - Make the Crumb Topping

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp sugar (granulated or raw cane sugar)
1/4 tsp salt
10 Tbsp cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 Tbsp ice water


To make the crust:

1. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in medium bowl; blend well.

2. Add butter and cut into mixture (with two knives crisscrossed, a dough blender, a food processor with dough blade, or your fingers) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

3. Add ice water, one tablespoon at a time and tossing with a fork after each addition, until dough just begins to come together.

4. Press dough together and divide into twelve pieces.

5. Take one piece of dough, form it into a ball and flatten it between your hands until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Center the flattened dough over a muffin cup — use a nonstick pan to ensure pies will be easy to remove after baking. Gently press the dough into the bottom of the cup, spreading it up along the sides with your fingers. (Take care not to stretch the dough or make it too thin — the thickness should be somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 inch.) To make removing the pies easier, make sure the dough extends about 1/8 inch above the top of the cup. Repeat for each muffin cup.

6. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Mini Apple Pies - Make the Crumb Topping

For the crumb topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar (granulated or raw cane sugar)
1 tsp cinnamon
6 Tbsp cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 Tbsp ice water
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)


To make the crumb topping:

1. Combine flour, sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl; blend well.

2. Add butter and blend with fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal.

3. Add ice water and toss with a fork to form a crumbly mixture.

4. Add pecans and toss until evenly distributed throughout mixture.

5. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Mini Apple Pies - Make the Filling

For the filling:
5 medium apples
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup raisins (optional)
1/4 cup dried cranberries (optional)


To make the filling:

1. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt.

2. Peel and core apples. Slice thin and cut into half-inch pieces. Place in a large mixing bowl.

3. Add sugar mixture, raisins, and dried cranberries to apples. Toss until apples are evenly coated. Deflect sneaky husbands as necessary.

Mini Apple Pies - Make the Filling
To assemble the pies:

1. Spoon apple mixture into crust, filling each crust to the top.

2. Generously sprinkle crumb mixture on top of each pie.

3. Bake for 25–30 minutes, until apples are bubbly and crumb begins to brown. Cool on a wire rack.

4. To remove pies from the pan, gently twist each pie until it releases from the sides of the cup and spins freely. Carefully lift each pie out of the pan. (Alternatively, after loosening the pies, hold a tea towel-lined cookie sheet over the pan and carefully flip the pan and cookie sheet over, so that the pies fall out onto the towel-lined cookie sheet.)

1
Googly-Eyed Monster Cupcakes

 

As I write, my husband, six-month-old daughter, and I are hunkered down in our living room with an air mattress and travel crib, emergency bags packed — just in case — flashlights handy, and a wary eye on the 30-foot tree that is (still!) standing just a few feet from the front of our house: ready to face the worst of yet another hurricane.

Since work and daycare are closed until Sandy passes, and we’re still lucky enough to have power (except for about 20 minutes there a little earlier), it was a good day to whip up a last-minute Halloween treat: cupcakes! They’re the perfect dessert for a power outage: they require no refrigeration and no fussy utensils that need to be washed. Plus, with so many leaky places and trees and power lines nearby, this little legion of confectionery monsters with colorful coconut fur and candy googly-eyes helps us keep watch over every corner of our little fort. And it just goes to show that it’ll take more than a hurricane to put a total damper on our Halloween fun.

Googly-Eyed Monster Cupcakes - Ingredients

What you need:

  • Cupcakes (any flavor), baked and frosted (24 regular-sized cupcakes)
  • Coconut flakes, 1 lb.
  • Food coloring
  • Candy melts — black and white

Googly-Eyed Monster Cupcakes - Make the fur

Make the fur:

1. Mix 1 teaspoon of water with food coloring. If using more than one color, divide the coconut into separate food storage bags, depending on the number of colors you are using. Pour food coloring over coconut in bag, 1/2 teaspoon at a time. Seal the bag and shake until coconut is colored evenly. Add more food coloring to achieve desired color saturation.

2. Spread the coconut on a paper towel and let it dry for a few minutes.

3. Grab a cupcake and a large pinch of coconut flakes. Cover the top of the cupcake with coconut until it looks good and furry.

Store any leftover coconut in an airtight bag.

Googly-Eyed Monster Cupcakes - Make the eyes

Make the eyes:

1. Place about 1/4–1/2 cup of candy melts in a microwave safe bowl. (You’ll need less of the black.) Microwave at full power for one minute, then stir. Continue to microwave in 30-second increments until fully melted and smooth.

2. Lay out a sheet of wax paper. Spoon the melted candy into a squeeze bottle. Gently shake the bottle upside down to eliminate air bubbles.

3. Squeeze out white candy to make a circle with a stick — like an upside down exclamation point. Make as many as you want. Be sure to make the stick thick enough — about 1/4 inch.

You can also use the candy melt to draw other features, such as mouths, hands, or ears. Use the black to create pupils.

Googly-Eyed Monster Cupcakes - Make eyelashes

To create details such as eyelashes, pull out a little bit of the still-warm candy with a toothpick.

Allow the candy to cool and harden completely before inserting into the cupcakes. Be sure to work quickly when handling the candy eyes, as the warmth from your fingers will cause the candy to soften; if the sticks are too thin, they’ll break. (The candy melts go a long way, so I like to make more eyes than I think I’ll need.)

And as simple as that, you’ve got a sweet, happy family of googly-eyed monsters!

If you’re also in Hurricane Sandy’s path, I hope that you’re safe and well. And wherever you are, here’s to a safe and happy Halloween!

Googly-Eyed Monster Cupcakes - Happy Halloween!