Monday, November 23, 2009


This weekend we were lucky to be next to apple vendors at the farmer's market. They had so many fun, colorful varieties. And the best thing about local market apples is that they're often interestingly imperfect shapes. I particularly like how the one in the front here looks like it grew in a stiff headwind.

Apples are also a great exercise in color mixing. I love how these three apples go from a deep, cold red (back left) to a medium red (back right), to a really warm streaky red (front.) A bunch of different mini apples clustered on a bracelet or a pair of chunky, multi-apple earrings would be incredibly cute. And a great gift for a teacher to boot!

Here are some more apple photos to get you inspired!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cupcake recipe correction!

One of the things we tried hard to do with our book is make it easy to get started making tiny foods. Scale is one of the hardest things to get right when you're just starting out. How much frosting should you mix for a single cupcake? It gets easier and easier to eyeball relative amounts the more you work with clay, but it can be a bit frustrating to get the scale right when you're just beginning.

So, we wrote up our ingredients lists as a series of spheres of clay with two size references: a written one (3/8") and a visual one so that you could hold up your clay to the page and quickly see whether you had the right amount. In theory, this system works beautifully. It does rely on one crucial thing: that there are no mistakes! Unfortunately, we're not perfect, and the cupcake recipe has a mistake in the ingredients list. The written amount is correct (3/8" sphere), but the visual amount actually depicts a 5/8" sphere. Thank you to crafty goat for pointing out the mistake!

As you can see from the photo at left, there's a significant difference in size between a sphere with a 5/8" diameter and one with a 3/8" diameter. In real food terms, 5/8" is about the size of a kalamata olive or a small kumquat, while 3/8" is about the size of a fat pea. Volume-wise, the 5/8" sphere is about 4 times larger than the 3/8" sphere.

You can certainly make a much larger cupcake. However, you'll also need to scale up the frosting amounts. And you'll need to increase the baking time to about 25 minutes for a cupcake with a base made from a 5/8" sphere of clay.

If you'd like to try your hand at the cupcake recipe, it's available in full from two great online craft resources: craftster, and Women's Day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Highly untraditional avoglemono soup

When I am sick, there's nothing better than something hot and lemony to soothe my sore throat and ease general achiness. I've never been a big fan of chicken soup, but I've always loved greek egg and lemon soup. It has a little bit of everything: savory broth, soft rice, the tartness of lemon, and the creaminess (and protein) of whipped egg. It's easy to make even when you're really under the weather. Hence: the perfect soup when you're not well.

This week I've been losing the battle against some sort of unfriendly virus, and I shuffled into the kitchen yesterday to make up a big batch of traditional avoglemono. Unfortunately, I was out of two crucial ingredients: lemons, and regular long-grain rice. No problem, I thought, I'll ask a friend to bring over some lemons, and I'll sub in some lovely arborio rice instead.

Two things happened. First, the message about the lemons got a bit lost in translation, and the very kind friend brought a bag of limes instead. And the arborio rice did what it does best: absorb unbelievable amounts of liquid. So, instead of a brothy lemon-scented soup, I got a very fluffy creamy lime-scented one. And even though it was highly untraditional, it was fabulous.

Lime Egg Feel Better Soup

6 cups veggie stock
1 cup rice
4 eggs
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
couple handfuls freshly chopped spinach

1. Bring rice and veggie stock to a boil. Let simmer about 15 minutes, until rice is tender.

2. Whisk eggs with lime juice until a totally uniform color.

3. Temper the egg mixture by adding a little bit of the hot broth to the egg and whisking throughly.

4. While slowly pouring the egg mixture into the rice, whisk quickly. This will create a lovely creamy texture.

5. Put a handful of the fresh spinach in a bowl, then ladle the hot soup over top.

6. Enjoy! And feel better!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Library Love

I adore libraries. When I was a kid, our mom used to take us to the local library once a week, and set us free to pick out books. I remember spending hours reading spines and dust jackets, trying to pick out the very best books. I'd always have a heavy armful of novels and craft books, and would set them in front of the librarian at the checkout desk with a most satisfying thump.

To this day, I love the quiet and calm and vague mustiness of a library. I particularly love that libraries are free and open to everyone. Sure, there might be hundreds of online resources for learning about everything from artichokes to zucchini, but in my mind, there's nothing quite like picking up an actual cookbook and looking at the photos, or learning about color theory from a beautifully illustrated painting book.

I also love that libraries these days are much more focused on creating fun programs for their communities. When I was a kid, programs generally were limited to story time for really little kids. Nowadays, lots of libraries have these fantastic rooms set aside for all kinds of awesome programs, like mitten-making, puppet shows, and even tiny food crafting! It's fun to be in a library and chattering away exuberantly while crafting.

Librarians really made the writing of our book possible. A local librarian in Charlottesville initially asked me to teach a class on making tiny fruits as an after-school activity for teenagers. From that first class, many more followed, especially teen summer programs through the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library. Another librarian, Barbara Kreuter, from Staunton, VA strongly encouraged us to write a book based on my classes. She was also a sneaky supporter of the actual writing process (we kept it a secret until early this year), and helped set up several classes for her library so that I could test out recipes on real people. Thank you again to all you participants in my classes for helping us refine many of the recipes in the book, and for asking so many great questions.

So it's especially gratifying that a lovely youth services librarian from New York wrote a sweet review of our book on her blog, 4YA: Inspiration for Youth Advocates!

If you haven't been into a library in a while (or a long, long time), I definitely encourage you to go. This time of year (fall, sliding into winter) is particularly good for spending some quality time getting inspired in the cookbook section. Or maybe even revisiting a classic, and deciding that you too need to make a little madeline charm in honor of Rememberance of Things Past.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cookie Variation: Witches

If there wasn't already enough food out there to inspire us, holidays always give us further inspiration to find a way to make any holiday icon into a dessert. This is easiest to do with cookies, in particular, as anyone who has gone to a kitchen store recently knows - evidenced through the cookie cutter displays which now take up whole walls to accommodate every season, animal, and holiday icon in existence. My personal cookie cutter inventory includes the traditional (christmas tree) and more unique (salmon). With all of this choice, unfortunately, comes tough decisions then about what features embody certain icons.

In the case of Halloween, I have always found it tough to make the perfect witch, as there are so many variations on witches and not one standard for how a witch has to look. Many cookies are a profile of a witch on a broom, or just the witch's hat without the person underneath. Since the broom could be too fragile in miniature polymer clay, and the hat not inclusive of the witch herself, I've always gone back to making just the witch's head for the perfect cookie. But what features to focus on? The pointed nose and chin, the prominent hat, or just getting all the colors correct?

The three above variations showcase each of these, which you can add to the collection of variations already in the Gingerbread Cookie recipe in the book. Each of the above is roughly 1/2" tall and work well with the sugar cookie base, with granny smith green, orange and black each mixed with translucent for the icing.

I kept all of the witches friendly, and gave each a small red smile (or leers, should you prefer to make them more sinister). The eyes are small black glass marbles, which can typically be found in the scrapbooking aisle of a craft store.

I'd be interested to know which witch is preferred - or if there are any other favorite variations people make in the edible version (purple hats, whole witches which wouldn't be too fragile, etc).

I think my favorite is the profile witch - although not as cute, she looks like she could emit the shrill cackle needed when flying through the night air.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Burnt Umber vs. Burnt Sienna

One of the best parts about publishing a book in the 21st century is having a blog associated with said book. And the best part about a blog is the interaction with the readers. Particularly when they ask excellent questions and point out mistakes. We love having the opportunity to quickly clarify points and correct mistakes (even with two excellent editors, two authors, and a proofreader, things get through!)

A lovely reader asked for clarification on when to use two colors of brown in several of the recipes. The two browns we use most frequently in the book are Premo Burnt Umber and Premo Raw Sienna. We successfully managed to correctly name these two colors in the introduction, and in several of the recipes. Unfortunately, they're incorrectly named in several others. Which one you use does matter, so let's take a quick look at the two colors.

First up: Raw Sienna. This is the lighter brown. It should bring to mind caramels or toffee. It's the brown that will yeild a perfect caramel color when you mix it with translucent. We use it for bacon and the caramel swirl in the ice cream cone recipe. It's always correctly named in the book (yay!)

Burnt Umber is next. It's the color that looks like a rich chocolate. Think of chocolate truffles, or a juicy char-broiled burger, or a moist chocolate cupcake. We use burnt umber in a bunch of recipes: apple, coffee, cinnamon roll, burger, taco, pizza, cupcake, and the gingerbread. Unfortunately, we refer to this color in nearly all of these recipes as "burnt sienna." Burnt sienna is not, in fact, a color that Premo comes in, and we definitely mean Burnt Umber in all of these instances.

When in doubt, all of the circles in the ingredients sections are the correct color- the darker brown means Burnt Umber, while the lighter means Raw Sienna.

Hopefully that clarifies which brown to use in each recipe!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Leftover clay: What to do with ambiguous mush

Sometimes, tiny food just doesn't turn out the way you'd hoped. Or you forget to thoroughly wash your hands between the dark red and white clays and end up with pink sesame seeds. Or that color mixing experiment you tried just didn't come out the way you'd hoped. Or you finish a project and end up with some weird leftovers. The longer you work with clay, the more little random bits of "off" colors you'll generate.

When individual colors are not salvageable, we tend to squish everything together into a pile of ambiguous mush. It generally turns into a brownish, oliveish, pinkish mass that looks thoroughly unappetizing. The clay isn't bad- just not useful for making tiny food (unless perhaps you're making an MRE or those sad green beans from school cafeterias). There's no reason to throw it out. You just need to get creative in how to use it!

Our favorite way to use up ambiguous mush is to hide it inside of larger pieces. Basically, if your piece won't be sliced open (such as a pie), then there's no reason you can't cover an ugly color with a beautiful one. You'll want to use a thinnish layer to cover the mush. Make sure the covering layer is not too thin or too much lighter, otherwise the mush color will show through.

Cover the mush completely, making sure that none of the mush color is showing through the top layer. You don't need to worry too much about making the top layer a perfectly uniform thickness. The main thing is to make sure the top layer is completely covering that underneath.

Roll the whole ball completely smooth. At this point, it's best to immediately sculpt the finished piece you have in mind. Why? Because a covered ball is indistinguishable from a pure color. It's very easy to forget that you've created a covered ball, and next thing you know, you'll grab it, pinch off a bit and realize that that lovely ball of black is not indeed just black! (We speak from much experience here.)

Et voila! A finished sushi platter with a bunch of very olive-colored clay in the middle, and no one (unless they read this post!) will ever be the wiser.