Tuesday, July 2, 2013

New friends

 During elementary school I was known as "the bug lady" because my favorite recess activity was collecting ladybugs on the playground. Sometimes I even brought them home and tried to keep them in improvised terrariums, with varying degrees of success. These days I'm a bit more squeamish when it comes to insects, but caterpillars are just cute enough for me to tolerate. Well, as long as they're not too big or hairy and don't have weird bulbous heads, anyway. 

I left some dill in my garden even after it bolted, because I had heard that swallowtails were attracted to flowering dill and might lay their eggs on it. Yesterday I found a pair of brightly colored caterpillars eating not the dill, but the flowers of a pitiful-looking second year parsley plant that I hadn't bothered to pull up. 

By the evening they had eaten almost all of it, so I moved the pot next to my raised bed and they quickly moved on to the dill.

I did some research this morning and found out that they are probably black swallowtail larvae, in one of their last stages or "instars" and close to pupating. I also learned that they are easy to keep indoors as long as you can supply adequate food (fresh dill, parsley, or fennel).

 I moved the first caterpillar into his new home, a five gallon aquarium with a live dill plant from my Aerogarden and some branches to hang from when he eventually forms a chrysalis. My photos will no longer be quite as nice, but at least my new friends will be protected from wasps and other critters that might harm them. I'm still waiting for the second caterpillar to move onto a stem that's easy to cut and transport- I may not mind looking at caterpillars, but there's no way I'm going to touch them.

With a little luck I'll have some chrysalis photos to post soon!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Caprese Zucchini Bread

This high-rising quick bread is moist, savory, slightly tangy, and a great way to use up zucchini!


1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 + 1  tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup zucchini, shredded
4 oz fresh mozzarella or farmers cheese, chopped into ½” cubes
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped (drain well if packed in oil)
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh herbs, chopped (I used basil with a little bit of oregano. Parsley, rosemary or thyme would also work, although I recommend reducing the amount if using rosemary or thyme)
A few small leaves or rosettes from herbs (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease loaf pan(s). Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. In separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, 2 tablespoons olive oil and butter. Stir in zucchini, onion, sun dried tomato and herbs. Add to flour mixture and stir until just moist. Pour into a standard loaf pan or three mini loaf pans (batter will be very thick). Press herb leaves and rosettes into top of loaf, brush with remaining olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake 50-60 minutes (45-55 for mini loaves) or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Inspired by http://cheese.food.com/recipe/zucchini-cheddar-bread-160890 and http://willcookforsmiles.com/2013/04/savory-caprese-bread.html

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Rainbow Daisy Pen Tutorial

Make colorful pens with this easy extruded cane technique!

When this tutorial popped up on my Pinterest feed, I knew right away that I had to try it and I ordered a set of ClayCore adapters that night. After a few experiments I figured out how to cover pens with the cane and came up with a bright rainbow palette that's perfect for spring flowers.

EDIT 7/6/13 The recipe for "Green" has been corrected. I apologize for any confusion!

You will need the following tools and materials:

Pasta machine
One 2-oz block each of Premo! clay in Fuchsia, Zinc Yellow, Cobalt and White
Slimline pen kit, or any pen/pencil kit with 2” long, 7mm diameter tubes
Tissue blade
Craft knife

I’m about to tell you how to mix the color recipes that I used, but any sequence of nine colors will work. You will need about a ¾” ball of most of the colors, double that amount of the middle (fifth) color, and 1 ½ times that amount of the first and last color.

To make the neon rainbow colors, start by adding a little bit of white to your fuchsia- about 1 part of 32. This will prevent it from darkening too much during baking. Roll 2 mm (5-6 playing card) thick sheets of Cobalt, Zinc Yellow and the lightened Fuchsia and punch out squares with your Kemper cutter. Use them to mix the following colors:

Purple: 21 squares fuchsia, 3 squares cobalt
Fuchsia: 16 squares fuchsia
Red Orange: 8 fuchsia, 8 zinc yellow
Yellow Orange: 14 zinc yellow, 2 fuchsia
Yellow: 31 1/2 zinc yellow, 1/2 fuchsia
Yellow Green: 15 zinc yellow, 1 cobalt
Green: 12 cobalt, 4 zinc yellow
Blue: 16 cobalt
Violet: 12 cobalt, 12 fuchsia

Roll each color into a 2.5 mm (7-8 playing card) thick sheet. Use the end of your clay extruder to punch out three discs each of purple and violet (or first and last colors), four discs of yellow or the fifth/middle color, and two of each remaining color. Mix the remainder of each color with an equal amount of white clay and punch out the same number of discs from each pastel color.

Starting with dark, alternate stacking the dark and light versions of your first color, then the second, third, fourth, and half of the fifth color to form a log. Repeat to make the second log. Yellow (fifth color) should appear at the end of both logs. Roll each log to smooth it and reduce the diameter until it easily fits into the barrel of the extruder.

Place the first log into the extruder so that yellow will be pushed through first. Each color will contaminate the following colors a little bit, so I like to start with the lightest. If you used a different color palette you can start with whichever end you would prefer to keep the most pure. Now the tricky part- place the square disc over the clay core disk and screw on the end of the extruder. As you get to the last few twists needed to fully tighten it, adjust so that the four holes of the clay core disc line up with the corners of the square hole, as shown in the photo. They will be just barely visible through the square. If the discs are not lined up correctly, the “petals” will not be shaped as nicely. 

Extrude the log and trim off the yellow end until it starts to look nice. Measure the extruded cane and divide that number by nine to figure out how long to cut each piece. My cane was 16” long so I cut it into nine 1 ¾” pieces, but I do recommend actually taking the measurement and doing the math as your results may vary depending on the exact thickness of the clay sheets you started with.

You’ve probably noticed that a small hole is running through the cane- you can start to close that by reducing the cane pieces a little. Arrange the nine pieces near each other without touching and flatten them just a little bit with a brayer or roller so that each is now slightly rectangular. Rotate each piece and carefully stick them together, in order, to form the final cane. Roll over it from end to end to flatten the pieces back into squares.

Repeat to make the other cane and let them rest for a few hours.

Roll a sheet of scrap clay on your thinnest setting. Cut five thin slices from one of your canes and carefully line them up on the sheet. Shave the surface with a sharp tissue blade until it feels even and smooth.

Closely trim the long edges with a craft knife, angling it inward to make a slightly beveled cut. The short edges don’t need to be cut as carefully.

Wrap the trimmed sheet around one of the brass tubes from your pen kit, matching up the edges as neatly as you can. It’s fine if the sheet doesn’t quite reach the ends of the tube. Roll the tube on your work surface to smooth and even out the clay layer, then trim off the excess at the ends. 

Thread the finished tubes onto a skewer, smooth out any fingerprints, and bake as directed. Sand and seal the tubes, assemble your pens and enjoy!

You can also buy finished pens and pencils from my Etsy shop!

This tutorial is available in PDF format at Poly Clay Play, and it's free with the purchase of a ClayCore Adapter set!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sutton Slice Leaf Ornament Tutorial

I recently received a box of new leaf-shaped cookie cutters. I knew that I wanted to make some autumn ornaments and that I wanted to do something with texture sheets- but what? I turned to my stack of polymer clay books and found a really interesting way to use texture sheets in Lisa Pavelka's Elegant Gifts in Polymer Clay- the Sutton Slice, attributed to Pete Sutton. Lisa's tutorial involves baking the clay and texture sheet together in your oven. I gave it a try and although the sheet didn't burn, it emitted enough fumes to make me nervous and started to warp after a couple bakings. I decided to try removing the clay from the texture sheet before baking and it worked 90% as well while producing 100% less smell and damage to my texture sheet, so I will present both methods to you.

You Will Need:

Texture sheet (an abstract design will work best as it will not be so obvious if your design doesn't transfer perfectly)

Pasta machine

Flexible tissue blade

Craft blade

Leaf-shaped cookie cutters

Small circle Kemper punch or drinking straw

Polymer clay in autumn leaf colors

Start by rolling a sheet of clay on the third thickest setting of your pasta machine. This color will form the raised design. Tear off small pieces and, using your fingers, press them firmly into your texture sheet to fill in the recessed areas. Periodically slice off the extra clay sitting on top. A gentle sawing motion while applying very little pressure seemed to work best for me.

The filled-in area just needs to be slightly larger than the cookie cutter(s) you will be using, so set your cutter(s) on the sheet periodically to check your process. No point in doing more work than you have to! Give your sheet a once-over and remove as much extra clay as you can, so the raised areas of the stamp are very clean. It may help to curve your blade.

Roll out a sheet of your base color on around the second thickest setting of your pasta machine and cut out your leaf shapes. Lay them on your texture sheet and, starting in the center, firmly press down to adhere them to the clay underneath. It's okay if the leaf shapes spread as you do this- just make sure they are not distorting in any direction other than "outward". Use a roller to smooth the leaves out if needed.

Press your cookie cutters down into the leaves and "leave" them there (heh). Use a small round punch- or a drinking straw- to cut a hole near the base of each leaf- you don't need to leave the punch in place afterward. Bake the whole mess at your clay's recommended temperature for 10 minutes, with as much ventilation as possible.

When everything has cooled enough to touch but is still flexible, carefully remove the cutters and clay from the texture sheet. If any important parts of the design did not come up with the leaves, unmold them and adhere them in the correct place with liquid polymer clay.

You'll probably end up with some extra bits hanging on to the edges of the leaves. Flip over the cutter and press down to cut all the way through the clay. Remove the leaf and clean up the edges with a craft blade if needed. Re-cut the circle with a twisting, drilling motion so it goes through both colors of clay.

If you'd like to try this without baking the texture sheet, remove the leaves after adhering them to the patterned clay. Try to hold the clay sheet flat and peel the rubber sheet from the clay, rather than the other way around, to reduce stretching and cracking of your clay. My other hand should be supporting the clay but I was using it to hold the camera.

If any important parts of the design did not come up with the leaves, roll a sheet of your base color on the second thinnest setting and press it onto the missing parts just as you did before. Peel the sheet carefully away and with any luck the missing part will come up with it. If not, you may need to re-mold the piece and try again. When you do successfully remove the piece you need, cut around it with your craft blade and adhere it to the right position on your leaf with liquid polymer clay. Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures of that.

Flip your leaves over and use the cookie cutters again to cut everything to the right shape. Cut holes near the bases with your Kemper punch or straw.

Both methods: Bake according to your clay brand's instructions. Lightly sand and seal with Varathane or floor polish. Hang by ribbon or fishing line.


I used Lisa Pavelka's "Flow" paisley texture sheet

I used the 3.5" oak leaf, 3.5" pin oak leaf, and two pieces of the 5 piece maple leaf set from The Cookie Cutter Shop

I used Premo in the following colors:
1 part Gold, 1 part Green
1 part Gold 1 Part Bronze
...and the brown was a mishmash of metallic scraps, but it's pretty close to 1 part Bronze, 1 part Blue Pearl, 2 parts Gold, 4 parts Black

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Paper Pumpkin Tutorial

After seeing adorable paper pumpkins all over the internet, I finally gave in and made a little crop of my own. They were easy, fun, inexpensive, and turned out great, so here's a little tutorial for you.

You will need:

Scissors (duh)
Pen-like object (just to curl things around)
Brads (2 per pumpkin)
Hole punch (I used a 1/8" punch but 1/4" should work as long as your brad heads are larger than that)
12x12 scrapbooking paper in green and/or brown (for stems and leaves)
12x12 scrapbooking paper in coordinating pairs (2 sheets will make 4 medium pumpkins)
Hot glue gun (I have nothing additional to say but everything else has a parenthetical)

You will do: 

Cut two coordinating sheets of scrapbooking paper in half, then cut each half into about 16 strips. You can get all fancy and precise with that if you want, but I just sloppily cut mine with scissors. My photo only shows two half-sheets.

 Now punch a hole in both ends of each strip.

Next you will need to make some leaves and vines from your green or brown paper. I found a pumpkin leaf template at this cake website, printed it at half size, and used the two smallest leaves as rough stencils for my own pumpkin leaves. You can just cut leafy shapes if you'd like. I won't judge you. Punch a hole in the base of each leaf. Cut tapered triangles from the same paper- maybe about 6" long and wide enough at the base to comfortably punch a hole. Comfortably punch that hole. Thread the leaf onto a brad, followed by a vine or two and then 16-ish strips of paper, alternating between your two patterns or colors. Fasten another brad through the other end of the strips.

Carefully spread apart the strips of paper to form a pumpkin shape. Yes, I know the vine disappeared.

Cute, but it still needs a stem! Cut a strip of green or brown paper around 3 inches long and 3/4 inch wide and coil it tightly around a pen. Pull the center "out" a little. Now that the vine has mysteriously reappeared, coil that around your pen as well.

Apply hot glue all the way around the outermost coil. Make sure the leaf is turned so that it covers the awkward ends of the paper strips, and stick the stem down onto the leaf with the brad in the center.


Some notes:

I used Bo Bunny's Forever Fall Collection to make my autumn pumpkins, and Echo Park's Apothecary Emporium Collection to make my Halloween pumpkins.

To make large and small pumpkins instead of medium, cut each paper into a 5" piece and a 7" piece rather than in half, then cut each into 16-ish strips just as before. A small pumpkin takes about 10 strips and a large pumpkin takes about 24, so 2 sheets of scrapbooking paper will yield 3 small pumpkins and 1 1/2 large pumpkins. That means that if you want 3 large pumpkins, you'll need to start with 4 sheets of paper. I hope all that made sense!