Hi! I'm taking a little break and it might take me a few days to reply to comments and emails. I'll be back soon! :)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Santy Claws Is Coming to Town!

Some of you may already know about my social allergies. I don't like talking to strangers and I despise talking on the phone. With anyone. How am I supposed to help the cats at the shelter if I can't function socially at a basic level? 'Tis the season to give!

Maybe a monetary donation?

*flips empty pockets inside out*


I know! I can make kitty toys at home like the good hermit that I am!

Catnip Toys for the shelter

This post has lots of pictures, so I'll try to keep the text to a minimum. Keep in mind that I didn't use dry catnip, I sprayed a catnip mist on the finished toys instead.

The materials I used are:

- twelve 11.5 by 9 felt rectangles in festive colors ($3.00)
- four bags of cotton balls ($3.20 at Target)
- thread ($2.60 at Hobby Lobby for one spool, plus more of my own thread)
- catnip spray ($2.90 at Target)
- socks, if you're making stuffed sock-pillows

It cost just under $12 to make a whole lot of toys! I made 12 body pillows and 18 small toys! That's a steal!

Let's start with toys for the adult cats! For the big too-cool-for-toys cats I made some body pillows/bunny-kicking sticks. They were extremely easy to make, even for a big non-sewing, needle-phobic like me. I used a sewing machine (after I figured out how to make it work!), but they can be hand sewn if you arm yourself with plenty of time and patience.

Catnip Body Pillows/Bunny-Kicking Sticks

Step 1- Start with a 11.5 by 9 felt rectangle. This will be enough to make two bunny-kicking sticks. I buy my felt at Hobby lobby, but you can use other fabrics and work with different sizes.

Step 2- Cut the felt rectangle in half.

Step 3- Take one piece and fold it in half.

Step 4- Sew along the bottom and the long edge, leaving the top open. I found that felt clings to itself and I didn't need to use pins to hold it in place. I used a contrasting green thread so you can see where the stitches are.

Step 5- Flip the tube inside out to hide the stitches. Doesn't it look like an abstract white seal?

Step 6- Stuff the tube with cotton balls or another non-toxic batting material. If you're using dry catnip, now would be the time to sprinkle it all over the cotton balls. I sewed all tubes first and then stuffed them with cotton all at the same time.

Step 7- Sew along the open end of the tube to seal up the bunny-kicking stick. Repeat all steps for the other half of the felt rectangle.

Here is Kitty demonstrating how to hoard a bunch of body pillows. Don't you find it pathetic that I use a stuffed animal as my pet?

Kitteh hoarding pillows

And here he is demonstrating how to use one as a bunny-kicking stick!

Kitteh bunny-kicks!

An even easier body pillow is a sock, stuffed with cotton balls (and dry catnip) and sealed up at the top. These socks were a Christmas gift from a couple of years ago. There is something very wrong about socks with individual toes, so I never wore them.

Catnip Santa sock for the shelter

Kitty thinks the Santa Sock is very comforting...

Kitteh and Santa sock

Now moving on to smaller toys, let's start with the easiest ones:

Catnip Empanadas!

Step 1- Start with a felt circle.

Step 2- Fold it in half and sew it up almost all the way shut, leaving a one inch opening. Stuff it with cotton balls (and dry catnip, if you're using).

Step 3- Sew up the opening to seal the deal!

Who ordered the Festive empanadas?

Kitteh with empanadas

Now let's make some festive toys!

Catnip gingerbread men:

Step 1- Trace two outlines of a gingerbread men on a piece of felt.

Step 2- Carefully cut out the gingerbread men. If you're using a sharpie like I did, cut along the inside of the markings to make sure the kitties don't eat any ink.

Step 3- Place one gingerbread men on top of the other (oh, grow up!), and sew all along the sides from shoulder to shoulder, leaving the head open. It's always good to have an open mind! :-P

Step 4- Stuff the little dude with cotton balls and stitch up his head.

I made one with a face and one faceless. The one with the face looks way too creepy!

Kitty likes the nip-man!

Kitteh and gingerbread man

There ya' have it. If I can do it, you can do it! I am in no way a professional crafter, I just like getting crafty. Hopefully this post will inspire other crafty kooks to make some toys for their local shelter kitties.

Happy Holidays, Merry Catmas, Happy Festivus, whatever you're celebrating I hope you have a catnip-good time! *Meow*

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Strawberry Santa Hats on Ganache-Frosted Chocolate Cake

UPDATE: I made these Strawberry Santa Hats again in 2012! Also check out this newer how-to video/post!

It's that time of year again! Time to make Strawberry Santa Hats! These are the same basic concept as last year's version, but this year I made a chocolate brownie cake instead of a coconut milk cake.

Strawberry Stanta Hats - Ready to nom!

This is actually not too much work, but there is a lot of waiting around for things to cool down.

This is no low-fat dessert. If all the fat scares you, you can always use another chocolate cake recipe and make the chocolate ganache with all oat/almond milk instead of coconut milk.

OK - here we go!

Stage 1 - Bake the cake

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup coconut milk (at room temperature)
1/2 cup milk (I used oat milk, soy or almond would work too)
1/4 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

1- Preheat the oven at 350 degrees and spray an 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray.
2- In a medium sized mixing bowl whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and chocolate chips.
3- In a measuring jar or small mixing bowl whisk together the coconut milk, milk, oil, and vanilla extract.
4- Pour the liquids on top of the flour mix and gently stir (without overmixing!) until everything is thoroughly combined.
5- Pour the brownie cake batter into the prepared baking dish and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Mine took 30 minutes, but the toothpick didn't come out 100% clean because I like mine a little on the fudgy side.

The cake needs to be at room temperature before you spread the chocolate ganache on top. I didn't bother transferring it to a cooling rack, I hardly ever do, so it's OK to leave in the baking dish until it's ready to be frosted.

Stage 2 - Make the ganache

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup milk (I used oat milk)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1- Place the chocolate chips in a medium sized mixing bowl.
2- In a glass measuring jar or mixing bowl, whisk together the coconut milk and the oat milk. Feel free to replace the oat milk with more coconut milk.
3- Microwave the milk mix for about one minute or just until it starts to boil.
4- Quickly stir in the vanilla.
5- Immediately pour the milk over the chocolate chips and whisk vigorously until the chocolate melts and becomes a smooth cream.

Strawberry Stanta Hats - Pouring the milk
Pouring the milk mix

Strawberry Stanta Hats - Whisking the ganache
Whisking the ganache

Strawberry Stanta Hats - Melted ganache
Smooth operator

Does yours not look smooth? Nuke it into submission for 15 seconds and whisk it again until it surrenders!

6- Take the ganache to the fridge and let it get nice and firm for about an hour.

After you so patiently waited a whole hour, the ganache should be firm and it should look like this:

Strawberry Stanta Hats - Cold ganache ready to go

Stage 3 - Frost the cake

1- Transfer the cake to a large plate or platter or tray. A rimless cookie sheet would be even more convenient.
2- Whisk the cold ganache until it's smooth and pour it on top of the cake. Use a spatula or flat knife to spread it evenly.

Strawberry Stanta Hats - Spreading the ganache frosting

Take the frosted cake to the fridge and let the ganache set for another hour (I know!)

The hour will fly by while you wash and stem the strawberries, and while you make the buttercream frosting. If you are going to cut the cake into nine squares then you will need nine strawberries, if you're cutting into 16 little squares then you will need 12 small strawberries.

Stage 4 - Wash and stem the strawberries and pat them dry with a paper towel, especially the bottoms.

Strawberry Stanta Hats - Washed and stemmed

Stage 5 - Make the buttercream frosting

1/4 cup margarine (I used soy-free Earth Balance)
1/4 cup powdered sugar (use more if you like it sweeter)
2 tbsp coconut milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1- In a medium sized bowl, cream the margarine and the powdered sugar for about one minute.
2- Add the coconut milk and vanilla extract and keep mixing for another minute or until soft and fluffy. Keep it in the fridge until you're ready to use it. It should look like this:

funny pictures of cats with captions

Sorry! Wrong soft and fluffy! Let's try that again:

Strawberry Stanta Hats - Buttercream

Stage 6 - Assemble the Santa hats!

1- Remove the frosted cake from the fridge and cut it into nine squares. If you're making mini squares then go ahead and cut it into 16 squares. A long serrated knife works best for this job. You can trim the sides of the cake first if you want to make all the sides of all the squares be perfectly straight.

Strawberry Stanta Hats - Trimming the sides
Trimming the sides
Strawberry Stanta Hats - Squares

2- Transfer the buttercream frosting to a piping bag with a medium sized open-star decorating tip. Pipe a spiral of frosting in the middle of each square. The circumference of the spiral should be a little bigger than the bottom of a strawberry. Just eyeball it.

Strawberry Stanta Hats - Piping spirals

3- Place the strawberries, bottoms down, in the middle of each spiral and gently press the strawberries down.

Strawberry Stanta Hats - Strawberries

4- Using the same decorating bag and tip, pipe the buttercream "pom poms" on top of each strawberry hat.

Strawberry Stanta Hats - Piping pom poms

Transfer the finished squares to a serving plate and keep them refrigerated. This cake is best when eaten at room temperature. I hate cold cake, don't you? They get hard and dry. It's best to take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature about 30 minutes before you plan to eat it. Or even better, I like to eat the strawberry and the cream first, and then microwave the rest for15 seconds so the cake gets fudgy and the frosting gets ooey gooey. That's the best way! Unless you like cold cake. Then have it your way. Weirdo! :P

Strawberry Stanta Hats - Ready to nom!

Next week I'm doing a whole post about how to make catnip cat toys! *meow*

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Few Peanuts a Day Make the Squirrels Go YAY!

Brrr!! Gone away is the bluebird, here to stay is a new bird! Or in this case, here to stay is the squirrel. Poor cold squirrels! This post is about keeping their fuzzy little tails warm and happy during the winter wonderland months. The best way to keep them warm? Build them a nesting box!

Squirrel box/house

Mr. Wing-It and I built this squirrel house a few years ago, and we must have done a good job because one of our backyard squirrels approved of it and moved in for the winter. She actually had her babies in there! No baby pictures though, I don't think Momma Squirrel would have been OK with that.

I think these were the plans that we used, but we decided to wing it and cut out an entrance square, instead of a round entrance hole. You can find other plans if you do a quick google search, like this one or this one. They are all basically the same concept, but with a few different features here and there.

If you're not feeling crafty or you're not confident enough to build a safe nesting box, there are some available for sale that will save you a lot of work and trouble. Here's one, and here's another one. There are a few different ones here, and check out this site where you can buy squirrel houses made out of recycled tires. Awesome!

If you don't own your home, you might want to check with your landlord, or parents, or roommate, or innkeeper, or jail guard before you put up a squirrel house. Some people can be rather paranoid about squirrels.

OK, that's enough chatter. We all know we're here for the cute squirrely pictures!

Momma squirrel relaxing in her box
Momma Squirrel, warm and sleepy in her nesting box. Aww!

Squirrel wondering if the grass is really greener over there
So? Is it greener on the other side?

Another way to keep them happy is to put a handful of peanuts out for them every day. Mr. Wing-It gives the birds and the squirrels a big serving of seeds and peanuts every single day.

Squirrel... hit by bullet?
*I've been hit... go on without me...*
*Every squirrel dies, but not every squirrel really lives*

Squirrel hiding a peanut
They like to hide their peanutty treasures under fallen leaves and save them for later.

Homer Simpson squirrel
Every now and then (but not too often) they indulge in a little junk food,
like Homer Simpson squirrel here.

Newman O's thief
"You might, m'lady, tweak my nose.You could, m'lord, step on my toes.
But Heaven help those poor bozos, who try to filch my Newman-O's"

Raisins are yummy but they get stuck on your teeth!
*Yuck! That seed had bird slobber all over it!*

Squirrel? Hedgehog?
If it has been raining for too long, Mr. Wing-It sets up a temporary eating station somewhere dry. Wet "hedgehog squirrel" here is demonstrating how the temporary eating station works. (sorry about the ugly blinds)

Squirrel drinking water - hurry it's almost completely frozen!
Neighborhood birds and squirrels can have a hard time finding water in winter when everything is frozen, so a bird bath or any kind of water is always welcome. Mr. Wing-It gives them fresh water every morning.

Thirsty squirrel!
I love this unintentionally awesome photo!

Squirrels are very well mannered creatures and they always want to give something back to show their appreciation for their shelter, food, and water. Their favorite method of payment is buffoonery!

*tickle tickle tickle*
*Tickle, tickle, tickle!*

Peeping Tom squirrel
Peeping Tom!

Tree-hugging squirrel
Tree hugger/kisser

Squirrel taking a little nap
Nap time by the kitchen window!

Don't you turn your back on me!
They subtly let us know when they've had enough of our picture-taking.

So peanuts + bird seed + water + shelter = happy squirrels and happy squirrel-watchers! We're no Amanda (her Squirrelly stories are the sweetest!), but we try to keep them as happy as possible. Are you into backyard squirrel or bird watching? It's the best form of geekery! *runs off to stalk the squirrels some more*