Day of the Dead Sugar Skulls

12 Oct

Day of the Dead Mexican Sugar Skulls

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When we used to live in Orange County, California, my sister and I (and later Raj), would occasionally make the trek up to Olvera Street, the oldest part of downtown Los Angeles, via the train. It was an annual trip at the end of September that signaled the beginning of Halloween decorating season and an excuse to buy Day of the Dead items. If you’ve never been to Olvera Street, you need to go. It  makes a great day trip to eat authentic Mexican food and to stroll around cool and hip shops full of Day of the Dead figurines, sugar skulls, and lots more. A few years back, I tried to find a local shop or bakery in Virginia that sold sugar skulls and/or Pan de Muerto (Day of the Dead bread), but with no such luck, I’ve had to create my own.

Making your own sugar skulls is really easy, but it does take time and LOTS of granulated sugar. I only made four large skulls and two smalls ones and used  5 pounds of granulated sugar for the skulls and 2 pounds of powdered sugar for the Royal Icing, but your hard work will pay off AND they last for years!

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Sugar Skulls

Ingredients

  • 5 pounds granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup meringue powder (a must; it helps the sugar stick together)
  • 3 tablespoons of water

Directions

  1. Mix all of the ingredients into a large bowl using your hands until all of the sugar is moistened. It should feel like wet sand.
  2. Pack the plastic sugar skull molds (I purchased a small one at Sur la Table and a large one online) firmly with sugar, using a straight edge to scrape the back of the mold flat–I used a piece of cardboard for this.
  3. Tip sugar out of mold and place on a flat surface to dry overnight.

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Royal Icing

After the sugar skulls have been allowed to dry at least overnight, prepare  Royal Icing recipe to piece the two halves of the skulls together and to decorate them.

Ingredients

  • 2 pound bag  of powdered sugar (7 cups)
  • 1/2 cup meringue powder
  • 2/3 cup water

Directions

  1. Mix 2/3 cup water, 1/2 cup meringue powder and 2 pounds of powdered sugar with an electric mixer until icing peaks (about 9 minutes).
  2. Mix icing with food coloring.
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I use Ziploc bags with tips for decorating.

Making Your Skulls

  1. My molds are made of two pieces, a face and the back of the skull. With the plain white Royal Frosting, add a small amount to each half and place together, wiping away any excess that comes out of the seams.
  2. Decorate your skulls using sequins foil paper (I ordered this online as well)
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The foil that I used to fill in the eyes and to cover up mistakes I made when decorating.

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Sequins for decorating.

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Mummy Loves You

6 Oct

 

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Mummies are not generally considered cute…unless they adorn your home during Halloween season, doing yoga, riding a cast iron lamb mold, or sitting atop your mantelpiece.

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Namaste!

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Full Lotus Pumpkin Pose

Here’s an inexpensive and  quick project that you can whip up in no time. After your first one, you will probably find the need to make numerous others to accompany your pack of mummies.

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Ride ‘em Mummy

All you need is floral wire, white cloth  (or rags) torn into strips, and your imagination.

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1. Make the armature out of wire.

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2. Wrap in cloth.

3. Shape the mummy to your preference.

4. Display and smile.

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Day of the Dead/Halloween Decor Garland

28 Sep

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I have been restraining myself from decorating for Halloween until October and since we are just about there, I thought I would share my latest creation. The garland isn’t really new, more like ‘upcycled’ from when I was living in Amman  (when I was in the throes of skull making mid-March due to  Halloween withdrawals), but because I lacked access to a craft store, or basically any store that had DIY supplies, the finished product never really did much for me and so it made its way into a junk container. As I was rifling through my junk containers, I came across it and decided to give it another chance. To make this garland, here’s what you do.

Materials:

  • various shades of felt
  • embroidery floss
  • sequins
  • pillow stuffing
  • felt balls or glitter balls

Directions:

1. Create a pattern on card-stock.

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2. Outline pattern onto felt and cut out.

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3. Embroider each skull’s face–I am a beginner embroiderer so I was limited to back stitching, French knots, and chain-stitching (I think that is what it’s called), adding sequins, beads, or any other design elements.

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Close-up glam shot #1

You have to add cha-cha to the skull's

You have to add cha-cha to the skull’s

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Close-up glam shot #2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Blanket stitch the two pieces of the pattern together, leaving a little bit open to stuff with pillow stuffing, and then sew it all up.

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If you are not sure how to blanket stitch, Google ‘blanket stitch’ and you will find countless videos and tutorials that will teach you–that’s how I learned. I love this stitch–it’s so versatile.

 

 

 

5. Using a needle, add felt balls or glitter balls (I found these at Michael’s in the Halloween section in all colors) in between the skulls and hang up. It’s that easy!

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Here are a few more close-ups of the garland. Enjoy.

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Sailing to Two Harbors, Catalina, CA

3 Aug

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The Captain

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Sunrise on our departure

Growing up, my sister and I hated going  ‘to the boat.’ We liked inviting our friends down to swim on the dock, sailing in the Snark (a smaller version of a Laser and much more kid-friendly), going out in the dinghy (with the motor), and I loved fishing, but sailing, not so much. Once we were old enough, my parents would take the sailboat out, leaving us happily behind to hang out on the dock, go to the candy store (in Oceanside Harbor), and tool around  with our friends (whose parents were probably on the boat with ours).

Years have gone by and age has a way of softening the memories of seasickness and claustrophobia, which used to haunt me on our sails and overnight trips. Since Raj and I have been together, I’ve reminisced about the fun times we had growing up on the boat, going to Catalina, and spending time just hanging out on the water with my family. Raj bought into the fantasy and has been telling my parents for years now that once we got back Stateside, we would be up for a sail to Catalina on the boat.

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Looking over Two Harbors

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View from the trail into Two Harbors

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Satin Doll

We originally were going to sail first to Avalon, as we’ve done in the past, but in the interest of avoiding the crowded and kitschy scene, we chose to go straight to Two Harbors, the less crowded harbor about two hours further of a sail than Avalon.

We left very early in the AM and immediately faced gail force winds and six to eight foot swells–so much for forgetting about seasickness. Luckily, my mom was prepared with wrist bands and some type of non-drowsy, motion sickness pill, which did the trick. My strategy, since being a child, has always been to sleep it off, so in the interest of everyone, I nodded off for as much of the eight-hour trip over there, as evidenced by my horrendous sunburn.

We arrived to great weather and immediately got to work doing nothing, which was the plan. We spent two nights and three days reading, soaking up the sun, running along the coast, walking, eating at the one restaurant on shore, checking out the Banning House (the one B & B located on shore), watching ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm, and sleeping. It was a great time followed by an easy and pleasant sail home.

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Raj working hard…

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Two Harbors Yacht Club

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One room school-house

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One of the many ravens

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The Banning House, B & B

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View of the second harbor from the Banning House

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Inside the Banning House library

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This is the type of trip whose memories get sweeter over time.

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Fourth of July Harbor

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Cherry Cove

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Lancaster’s Central Market: One of the World’s Ten Best Fresh Markets?

13 May

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I love farmer’s markets and Raj and I frequent Old Town’s very own regularly on Saturday mornings to buy DSC05130produce, flowers, and freshly baked bread. [In case you didn't know, Old Town's market is thought to be one of the nation's oldest continually operating farmer's markets and George Washington sent his produce from Mount Vernon (just down the road) to be sold here.] Anyway, we were searching for a day trip to take and I came across this CNN Travel article, Ten of the World’s Best Fresh Markets. Considering the article’s glowing recommendation and pairing it with my desire to shop for Amish jams and jellies (and perhaps a quilt–Lancaster is the heart of Amish country), it sounded like a perfect day!

DSC05132Lancaster’s Central Market is located in the downtown area of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It’s nice, but in no way, shape, or form does it belong on a list of the ‘Ten Best’ in the WORLD (let alone the country). It’s relatively small (think Eastern Market in DC), indoors, and not particularly Amish (as I mistakenly presumed). There were a couple Mennonite and Amish (not sure which and I’m no expert) merchants selling their wares, a couple of flower vendors, a fair sampling of beautiful farm raised vegetables, herbs, fruit…, a few bakeries, a small food court where sandwiches and such were prepared, along with the requisite tchotchke profferers. We bought a couple of loaves of bread from a cute couple and three jars “Amish” jam, which turns out are ‘made in the Amish style,’ meaning we were hoodwinked.

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DSC05150After a short jaunt through the market,  I wanted to get out of the city and onto the country roads where I envisioned bucolic farms and out-of-the-way stands selling unique, one of a kind items along with jams and jellies packaged by unjaded Amish women and girls and made in’ authentic’ ways (without corn syrup–the first ingredient on one of the jams we purchased). We headed towards the towns of Bird in Hand and Intercourse, but my fantasy was left unfulfilled. We stopped at a few ‘Amish’ markets that were less than noteworthy and ended up buying nothing. Nada. Zilch.

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This was an enjoyable day trip that I would highly recommend (preferably on a sunny day), but one needs to go with the understanding that this is a nice fresh market, not a mecca of amazing foodstuffs. Your local farmer’s market is probably better than this one, and if you’re in the mood for authentic Amish wares, you’re better off driving to Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, where a much more impressive array of items are readily available.

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After a long drive home, we settled in for the night with a few items we picked up along the way.

Classic Chocolate Mousse in Mini Cocottes

9 Mar

I’ve been a lazy, slothful blogger again despite already having this post ready to go since Valentine’s Day. I’m not a big mousse fan, but these little, easy beauties provided me with an excuse to pull out my utterly useless, yet adorable Le Creuset mini cocottes. It’s amazing what little you can do with them, so any opportunity is cause for celebration. This can be made ahead a few days in advance and then dressed up just before serving. I served mine with a dollop od whipped cream with a sprinkling of cocoa powder and fresh strawberries.

Classic Chocolate Mousse

6 Servings

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  • 3/4 cup chilled heavy cream, divided
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup espresso, room temperature
  • 1/8 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar, divided
  • 6 oz. semisweet chocolate (61-72% cacao), chopped
  • 2 large egg whites

Beat 1/2 cup cream in a medium bowl until stiff peaks form; cover and chill.

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This recipe calls for yet another excuse to pull out rarely used equipment such as the espresso machine.

Combine egg yolks, espresso, salt, and 2 Tbsp. sugar in a large metal bowl. Set over a saucepan of gently simmering water (do not allow bowl to touch water). Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is lighter in color and almost doubled in volume and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the mixture registers 160 degrees, about 1 minute.
Remove bowl from pan. Add chocolate; whisk until melted and smooth. Let stand, whisking occasionally, until room temperature.

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Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in another medium bowl on medium speed until foamy. With mixer running, gradually beat in remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar. Increase speed to high and beat until firm peaks form.
Fold egg whites into chocolate in 2 additions; folded whipped cream into mixture just to blend.

Divide mousse among ramekins or mini cocottes. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours. Do Ahead: Mousse can be made a few days ahead; cover and keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.

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The serving size of these is more like two servings, not one as it would be in a ramekin.

Before serving, whisk remaining 1/4 cup cream in a small bowl until soft peaks form; dollop over mousse.

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Homemade Fettucini with Clams and White Beans

23 Feb

Homemade Fettucini with Clams and White Beans

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Going out to eat on Valentine’s day is overrated and for amateurs, right…but who has the time to cook, especially when it happens to fall on a weeknight? Not me, but that’s why we celebrated on February 15th. Here’s a relatively simple meal that can be completed in about an hour.

Fettucini

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For this recipe, I used Dave Lebovitz’s recipe. I PROMISE, making pasta is the easiest thing ever and it makes SUCH a difference from dried pasta!

Homemade Pasta Dough

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1 1/2 pounds – 4 servings

  • 7 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 7 ounces coarse semolina
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

 

 

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  1. Mix together the flour and semolina in the bowl of a stand mixer, or mix them up and create a mound on the counter top with a crater in the center. If using a stand mixer, add the eggs to the dough and mix them together with the paddle or dough hook until well mixed. On the counter top, crack the eggs into the center of the flour and semolina. Use your fingers to gradually draw the dry ingredients into the center, mixing them with the eggs. The dough will be hard to mix at first – a pastry scraper will help you draw it all together – but eventually it will come together and be relatively smooth.
  2. Knead the dough with the heel of your hand for at least three minutes until the dough is very smooth. The dough should not feel sticky. If it sticks to your fingers, knead in a small amount of flour, just enough so your fingers come away clean when you pull them away. Wrap the dough and let it sit at room temperature for an hour.

(You can keep the dough for several hours at room temperature.)

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Clams and White Bean Sauce

  • 2 tbl (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 tbl olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 15 oz. can cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed
  • 1 lb fresh fettucini
  • kosher salt
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 lb clams
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Heat butter and 2 tbl. oil in large heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes with juices, crushing tomatoes lightly with your hands. Increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring often, until sauce thickens, 10-15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups pasta cooking liquid.
  3. Add beans and wine to sauce. Cook, stirring often, until wine has almost evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add clams and 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid. Cover; cook, stirring occasionally, until clams open, about 5 minutes (discard any that do not open).
  4. Add pasta and 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid to clams and stir to coat. Reduce heat to medium and continue stirring, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta. Divide among bowls. Drizzle with oil; garnish with parsley.
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Our pairing, a Christmas gift saved for the occasion.

 

 

 

 

 

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Next up…our dessert….

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