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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Silhouettes to turn your windows into Halloween showcases

15 Oct

Bats and headless ladyBlack paper makes a striking impression on a backlit window at night. Here’s how I made the creepy silhouettes that are gracing the front windows of my house

Dark paper works best, such as black construction paper. Laminated paper will last for multiple years, and even newspaper will provide a funny effect for a night or two.

It isn’t hard to sketch out basic shapes on large paper, but feel free to search for easier ways. Searching for Halloween stencils yields many images that would work well on a window (I borrowed several from this article by Jeffrey Rudell on the Make: blog).

Printing a black stencil will use up expensive printer ink quickly, so don’t do it! It’s more efficient to cut a big, dark design out of big, dark paper. To save printer ink, I turned my dark silhouettes into simple outlines using the open-source graphics software GIMP (Edge Detection and Threshold are your friends).

To print on a large scale, you may want to use a program like PosteRazor to enlarge and print out your outline over multiple sheets of paper.

Once I had the outlines, I taped them to my roll of heavy paper and used a razor to slice both the stencil and paper at once. Pizza boxes make excellent backings for slicing paper with a razor blade or X-Acto knife.

Finally, tape the silhouettes onto the window and turn on the lights. The effect is dramatic from inside and outside the house.

Zombie silhouette in windowTools and head

 

Cider Recipe – Pumpkinhead Cider

02 Aug

Pumpkinhead Cider capSeasonal brews can become great annual traditions: fruit-filled drinks for the summer, spiced drinks for the winter, and so forth. The catch is that you have to plan ahead. If you want a good Octoberfest brew, you need to start making it no later than August! If you start one now, it will be ready to drink well before Halloween.

With that in mind, I present a new seasonal cider for your enjoyment: Pumpkinhead Cider. I made a test batch last year and am starting a new batch now. This recipe combines standard cider ingredients with most of the ingredients for a pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie filling is a great shortcut for a pumpkin-based brew because it includes the spices needed to make the pumpkin flavor stand out.

Remember, you can tweak my recipes to your own liking. I included a few options in the recipe below. For example, to keep the dark, rich flavor and color associated with most breweries’ Octoberfest varieties, I recommend using either brown sugar (medium darkness) or molasses (very dark) instead of white sugar. I have tried molasses in the standard Panda Beer with great success. I am also trying out different acid blends, which bring out different aspects of the apple flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 6 gallons apple juice
  • 1 cup brown sugar or molasses (your choice)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 30-oz. canned pumpkin (one large can)
  • 60-oz. pumpkin pie filling (two large cans)
  • 2 Tbs. malic acid or an acid blend (try 2 tsp. each of malic, tartaric, and citric acid for a sharper flavor)
  • 2 Tbs. vanilla extract
  • 2 Camden tablets (150 ppm)
  • Champagne yeast (such as Lalvin EC-118 or Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast)
  • Dissolved in two cups of warm water and added right before bottling:
    • 3/4 cup priming sugar
    • 3/4 cup lactose
    • 3/4 cup maltodextrin
  • Follow standard brewing procedureswith a slight variation:
    • When starting the batch, pour all of your pumpkin into a mesh bag (nylon or muslin), tie it shut, and simmer it for 20 minutes in apple juice. Put the bag of pumpkin in your brewing bucket for the first stage and then dispose of it when you rack the cider into a clean carboy.
    • If you don’t have an appropriate bag, you can add the pumpkin straight to the juice; the only drawback is that you will probably end up with more pumpkin sediment left in the cider.
 

A new year and a new “improved” calendar

12 Jan

Gentleman bearJust like last year, I chose a $1 calendar to revamp for my brother’s Christmas present. This is a great personalized gift for anyone who shares your sense of humor.

All you need is a calendar, a few Sharpies, and enough free time to do justice to your concepts. As you’ll see, talent for drawing is truly optional.

For 2012, I chose a “Baby Animals” calendar, which will be hard to top in the future for sickly sappiness and satirical potential. I don’t know the precise target market for “Baby Animals,” but it’s somewhere between childless spinsters and tasteless grandmoms.

I still paid only $1, and yet this year’s calendar was thick enough that my Sharpie marks did not bleed through to the other side, saving me the trouble of resurfacing the monthly pages like last year. Perhaps the Dollar Tree’s $1 calendars are superior to Target’s $1 calendars. Should I do a side-by-side test next year?

Polar-bears-slainRaccoon Rampage

If your calendar does bleed through, double down on your $1 investment and paste over your calendar pages with the duplicates from the new, untouched copy. Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

Eyeball pillows to make your life cushier and creepier

05 Jul

Eyeball pillows on chaiseI have been dying to do justice to the eyeball-pillow concept ever since my list of decorating tricks for Halloween. Judging by the Wife’s obvious discomfort in their presence, my eyeball pillows were having the intended effect, but they weren’t practical for actual use as pillows. I like to prop up my head with a few pillows at a time; the tiny eyeballs would only have worked after some severe head-shrinking on my part. Solution: I needed BIGGER eyeball pillows.

Pillows are easy to make, as you’ll see. I had plenty of white fabric from old t-shirts and gray fabric from hemming some Ikea curtains, so I decided to make reversible pillows: eyes on one side, plain fabric on the other. That way, I could appease the Wife occasionally by flipping them over and thereby keep them in the living room all year long rather than just during October. Read the rest of this entry »

 

“Improve” and personalize your new calendar

18 Jan

Improving a Calendar - cover

It’s the start of a new year, so chances are you have put up a new calendar somewhere in your home that has a different picture for each month. Cheapskates like me may have noticed that classy-looking calendars often cost $12 or more, which can translate to $1 or more per page. Sure, there are calendars at Dollar Tree or Target that are as cheap as a buck, but let’s be fair: these are awful, ugly, and cheaply-made. Inexpensive calendars usually aim for the lamentably narrow range between “landscapes” and “cute animals” (leading also to the obvious combination of “animals in landscapes”). They tell you the days of the month, of course, but they don’t make any statement or add much to the room.

Here’s my suggestion: Buy a cheap calendar and a pack of markers and doodle your way through the pages until you’ve produced something entertaining (no art skills required).  I’ve “improved” a calendar as a Christmas gift for my brother two years running now. These make hilarious gifts for anyone who shares your sense of humor. I’ve included a few months from this year’s evil calendar below. Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

A lifetime supply of vanilla extract

02 Jan

Vanilla extract finished bottlesReal vanilla extract usually comes in small bottles at surprisingly hefty prices. I assume the scheming vanilla barons of the world can’t trust us with too much of their delicious extract at one time. I use vanilla extract casually in lots of things (in sodas, ciders, and smoothies, just for starters) and thought it would be a good exercise to make my own. It turns out that you can make a self-replenishing bottle of vanilla extract with just vodka, vanilla beans, and patience.

Vanilla beans may seem exotic, but the magic of the internet puts them right at your fingertips. A quick search finds many online vendors, including Amazon. Vanilla beans can be fairly inexpensive in bulk (under a dollar each), so I bought a large bunch and made a massive batch of vanilla extract for holiday gifts (I didn’t want to post about it before and give away any surprises). Along the way, I’ve ended up with plenty of vanilla extract for my own evil purposes. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Halloween decorations should be creepy (and cheap)

18 Oct

Store displayHalloween is my favorite holiday (after the ones with presents and the ones where I get to eat cake all day). Judging from the cutesy, neutered Halloween decorations I’ve seen, it appears that America wants to forget that Halloween is supposed to be scary. If an October passes without me fearing for my life during a horror flick or at least worrying about skeletal hands creeping out from beneath the couch, then the year gets chalked up as a personal failure. (watching The Orphanage guaranteed that I would succeed this year). Thankfully, the wife and I have a deal: in October, we watch horror movies; in February, we watch romance movies.

October is also when I get to break out the Halloween decorations. I’ve assembled my own batch of Halloween icons over the years, and I try to add something new every year. Today, I’m going to go through some ways to bring the true, creepy spirit of Halloween into your house with minimal expense and effort. My specialties include creepy creatures in jars and horrifically-labeled bottles.
Read the rest of this entry »