Monday, January 21, 2013

PSA: Changing a lightbulb behind the dash of a Toyota Echo

If you know me personally, and/or you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I have very little patience for helplessness. No, I suppose we can all thank my Dad for teaching me that you can DIY just about anything if you want to badly enough. When I need something done I more often than not just do a little research and find out how to do it myself. So, last week when one of the bulbs went out behind the dash of my car I didn't do what a normal person would do go ask for help at an auto repair shop. I, of course, went to YouTube. In the past YouTube has guided me through the process of changing a headlight, making popcorn, and even doing my eye make-up, so I was sure that it could teach me how to change light on the instrument panel. But, no such luck. In fact, there don't seem to be any good instructions anywhere on this world wide web for how to do this little repair yourself. Come on internet, help a girl out on this one.

So, today instead of a craft, I'm doing a Pubic Service Announcement: How to change a lightbulb on the instrument panel of a 2000 Toyota Echo. It's a $5 part and 5 minute fix and while you could probably figure it out on your own, it's always nice to know what you're getting into. 

Step 1: Get your supplies ready.
You'll need a Phillips head screwdriver, and replacement bulb 2721 LL. If you go to AutoZone or any other store that carries Sylvania parts, they will probably tell you that you need bulb 74LL. They're wrong. I ended up back at the store, burnt out bulb in hand, doing an exchange. Save yourself the trip. You need 2721 LL. 

Don't buy this one!

This is the one you need.

Step 2: Take apart the dash.
There is an oval of plastic just in front of your speedometer that you can pretty simply pry out of place with your fingernails. Don't use your keys, you'll scratch it. Once that is out, you have a handle to yank the larger plastic covering for the panel out of place. It comes right off.

Underneath the plastic cover you'll see three screws, one on either side of the instrument panel itself, and one on the far left side. You just need to remove the two (one on each side) that look obviously connected to the instrument panel. Don't lose those, you need them. Put them in one of the cubbies. Toyota Echos have tons of cubbies.
Lift out the instrument panel. You don't need to disconnect any of the wires, just lift it out and turn it around. On the back you'll see a whole bunch light cases. With enough guess and check you could probably disconnect that pesky check engine light, but pretend I didn't say that. The ones you need are the two towards the bottom of the panel.
Step 3: Change the bulb. 
The light cases are screwed in 1/4 turn, so to remove twist and pull. Then, pull the bulb out of the plastic case, remove the blue rubber sheath over it. Pop in your new bulb. Replace the blue sheath. Put the whole casing back in the hole it came from, securing it with a quarter turn. Repeat on the other side if both bulbs are out (or if you want to avoid this charade again when the other burns out).

Step 4: Put it all back together. 
Then, just reverse the process. Put the instrument panel back in place and secure with screws. Pop the plastic cover back on. Put the plastic disc back in place in front of the speedometer. Done.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tiramisu Yule Log

We've got a number of really wonderful Christmas traditions at my house that have developed since I went away to college and we essentially became a family of adults. We drink gin fizzes and eat cinnamon rolls before we open presents. We open presents one at a time in a circle on the living room floor until Dad gets impatient and just starts opening them out of turn. We drink beer and eat hot crab sandwiches after we open presents. And, for a number of years, my sister and I would get sloshed and try to make dessert for Christmas dinner. This, as you can guess, is a messy, and sometimes frustrating tradition. We have a great time, but not everyone sees the same humor in a melted ice cream cake or a burnt pumpkin pie that I do.

This year I had more time at home before Christmas than I usually do, so I decided to change the tradition: I would make dessert for Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, sober.

The first step, naturally, was finding the single most complex dessert recipe I could, which is how I found the Gourmet Magazine recipe for a Tiramisu Yule Log. Without even glancing at the estimated time involved in yule logging, I shooed my parents out of their kitchen and got to work. If you're considering this project, I do suggest giving yourself at least 4 hours. You'll have time in between to take a lunch break and read your email, but this is an undertaking you need to plan on. While the Gourmet recipe is really very thorough and easy to follow, I've made a few adjustments from my own experience.

Step 1: Make a very, very fancy cake.
Ingredients for Cake:
1/2 cup sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring), plus additional for dusting pan
5 large eggs, separated, left at room temperature for 30 minutes
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
To make Cake:
Heat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter pan and line bottom and sides with 1 sheet of parchment paper. Butter paper and dust with additional flour, knocking out excess.
Beat together yolks, vanilla, and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until thick and pale and mixture forms a ribbon that takes 2 seconds to dissolve when beaters are lifted, 5 to 8 minutes in a stand mixer or 8 to 12 minutes with a handheld. Awe at how fluffy egg yolks can get. Sift (yes, go find the sifter; I know you don't want to, but you have to; go) half of flour over yolks and fold it in gently but thoroughly, then sift and fold in remaining flour. Start to wonder, now about 20 minutes into this project, just what you've gotten yourself into.
If you're using a Kitchen Aid, transfer the yolk mixture into a medium bowl and wash the mixing bowl; wonder just how many dishes you're going to get dirty while making this cake. Beat whites with salt and cream of tartar in a large metal bowl with cleaned beaters at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Beat in remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until whites just hold stiff peaks. Stop and consider the fact that if you'd just made a lemon meringue pie, you'd be pretty much done by now.
Fold 1/4 of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
Stir 1/2 cup batter into melted butter in a small bowl (yep, that's 3 bowls already) until combined, then fold butter mixture into batter gently but thoroughly. Spread batter evenly in sheet pan and rap once on counter to help eliminate air bubbles.
Bake until top of cake springs back when gently pressed with finger, 7 to 10 minutes.
Sift top of hot cake evenly with confectioners' sugar (see, this is why I made you find the sifter the first time) and cover cake with a clean kitchen towel (not terry cloth) followed by a baking sheet. You may want to find someone to spot you during this step. You worked hard on this cake and don't want to break it. Holding sheet and cake pan together with oven mitts, flip cake onto cloth on baking sheet. Carefully peel off and discard parchment paper. Pat yourself on the back, rockstar. 
Call your clean-handed spotter back into the room for just in case you screw this up. With a long side nearest you and using towel as an aid, roll up cake in towel, jelly-roll style, keeping it wrapped in towel. I'm not sure here if the towel should be wrapped up in the cake, like filling, or on the outside. I went with outside. It worked perfectly. Cool cake completely, seam-side down in towel, on a rack.

Step 2: Make Espresso Syrup, Cream Filling, and Chocolate Ganache
For Espresso Syrup:
1/2 cup espresso or very strong black coffee
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy

For Cream Filling:
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream

For Ganache:
12 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

To make Espresso Syrup:
Make 1/2 cup espresso for the cake. Actually, you'll probably want some too. Make a latte for yourself while you're at it, fancy-pants. Oh, you don't have an espresso machine? Instant will work, or pull out that french press you got as a gift and never use and let it steep for a really long time. Bring espresso and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves, then boil until reduced to a scant 1/4 cup. This is going to take a while. Remove pan from heat and stir in Cognac (or booze of choice), then cool to room temperature.

To make Filling:
Slowly mix mascarpone, sugar, cinnamon, and Cognac in a large bowl (still counting? that's 5) with an electric mixer until combined. If mixture is very loose after adding sugar, beat mixture briefly to thicken slightly.
Beat heavy cream in another bowl (yep, wash the kitchen aid bowl, again) with same beaters at medium speed until it just holds stiff peaks. Fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture.

To make Ganache:
Put chopped chocolate in a large bowl. Heat cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until it just comes to a boil, then pour over chocolate and let stand 3 minutes. Stir slowly with a whisk until smooth. If bits of chocolate remain unmelted, set bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and heat, stirring gently, until completely smooth, and remove from pan. Stir in corn syrup. Chill, stirring a couple of times, until it thickens to an easily spreadable consistency, about 15 to 20 minutes. If you wait too long, you can heat it gently over the double boiler again to soften it. Don't worry.

Step 3: Assemble the Log
Gently unroll cooled cake on a baking sheet or, because it's really too big for that, a giant cutting board of somesort, keeping it on towel, then arrange baking sheet/board so that long side of cake that was inside roll is nearest to you. Brush all of cooled espresso syrup all over surface of cake.
Spread filling with offset spatula (any spatula will work, don't let Gourmet belittle your kitchen like that) evenly over cake, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Starting from long side nearest you, roll up cake without towel, leaving it seam-side down on baking sheet. Gently brush off any excess confectioners' sugar.
Cut a 1 1/2-inch-long diagonal slice from each end of roll and reserve. Transfer cake, using 2 metal slotted spatulas as aids or bring in that spotter for extra hands, seam-side down on platter. Using ganache as "glue," attach end pieces, diagonal sides down, on top and side of log to resemble branches. Don't show anyone at this phase, your cake will be ugly and according to my father, look like a double amputee.
Spread ganache all over roll and branches with offset spatula, making it resemble tree bark.
Gourmet says: Arrange a few meringue mushrooms, if using, around Yule log, and very lightly sift a little cocoa over log and mushrooms first, followed by a little confectioners' sugar to resemble a light dusting of snow. Seriously?

Did you actually do it? You deserve a pat on the back. Instagram that log. How better to solicit the approval of your peers?

Monday, January 7, 2013

DIY Pillow Packets

While the felt boxes didn't work out at all, one pinterest packaging idea did work out just as promised. There were no directions, whatsoever, on any of the pages linked to this particular image on pinterest. But, one pinner suggested using toilet paper rolls. Naturally, I've been hording empty toilet paper rolls since I first saw this pin. 
They're pretty self-explanatory to make. First, cover the tube with a little glue and wrapping paper. Next, flatten the roll down. Trim both ends to make a semicircle on each side. Starting on one end, fold down each of the "flaps" created by the semicircle. Boom.
The wrapping paper was a little too flimsy and sort of warped. So, I took a pair of scissors to a free AAA map of San Francisco. 
As it turns out, whoever made these boxes obviously did not use toilet paper rolls at all. The packages I made were much smaller than those in the original pin, but they are the perfect size for earrings.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Three things I learned while making felt boxes

You may have read that I made soap for Christmas gifts. Naturally, I wanted to make some sort of very crafty packaging for said soap. But, because soap is made out of oil and drain cleaner (who knew?) I didn't think a paper package would do at all. Then, I found it. Felt boxes! Perfect.

According to Pinterest, when you make boxes out of felt, they look like this.
 When I followed the directions to try it out, I learned some things:

1) Even "premium felt" doesn't look this that when you fold it. It's floppy.
2) Hot glue doesn't stick to felt, and craft glue, even when applied many, many times doesn't do much good either. Also, generic craft glue from the dollar store doesn't even really dry when left over-night. Spend the extra dollar for Elmer's.
3) Pinterest lies.
Nailed it.

Goodbye cowl, cowl, world

On my mom's side of the family, we do a big family gift exchange every year. Theoretically, the names of all parties involved (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) are put into a hat and everyone is assigned someone else to get a gift for. It's no secret, however, that the drawing can't help but be rigged. In order to keep 10-15 participants from ending up giving or getting from someone in their immediate family, there can really be very little variability in the whole thing. Not to mention, every year there are a few "special requests" that go in to making sure that people "draw" the name of someone in particular.

But, it's fun, and that's what matters.

Anyhow, when I found out that I was giving to my hip cousin, I immediately decided that I wanted to make her a hooded cowl. I don't know where this came from, or why I thought it was such a terrific idea. But you know me, once I get something in my head there's no stopping me.

I did a good deal of research online and had devised a plan to make a tube, about 2 feet around and a foot and a half long that could be worn as a scarf or a hood out of chunky yarn. Rather than just leaving well enough alone, I started talking to people about this plan. I got some advice that cowls are supposed to wrap around your neck twice. Then I saw a whole bunch the store that obviously did. So, I scrapped the old plan and cast on 280 stitches on size 9 needles with the ambitious (and poorly-gauged) plan of knitting a tube 8 feet in circumference and 15 inches long.

I knit pretty much solid for 7 days. I knit, and I knit, and I knit. Finally, it was done! 5 Skeins of yarn, tens of thousands of stitches, bound off. And... (you know where this is this going)...what the heck did I do.

I wrapped the 10 pound scarf around my neck once and it almost hit the floor. My gauge, which was slightly off when I tested it on a 4-inch stretch, was very off on an 8 foot stretch. Unfortunately, even if it hadn't been off, the whole thing was just too much. Too thick, to chunky, too heavy. Wrapped around my neck once I looked like I wrapped an entire afghan around my neck and was wearing it as a scarf.

So, I took a deep breath, untied the knot, and began unravel my weeks worth of work.

In my second attempt I went back to the original plan. Cast on 80 stitches. Work in a 4 by 5 basket weave pattern for 18 inches. Bind off. It took about 2 days. And the best part, it is exactly what I had in mind. I liked it so much, I made 3: One for my cousin, one for my sister-in-law, and one for myself (and, by the way, still didn't use all the yarn from the first one).

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Big Sticky Carmel Covered Mess

As I was growing up, my mother worked about 50 hours a week and had 3 very curious and somewhat fearless children at home. So, trust me when I say I in no way begrudge her for sticking to holiday baking and decorating in place of holiday candy-making during my formative years. But, this does mean that I never had much chance for observational learning on candy-making procedure around my house, and thus that I never mastered the art of the truffle, the brittle, or even the crispy-treat.

This year I was at a complete loss for what to get my dad for Christmas. He is the sort of guy who has everything that he wants, and if he didn't he would go to the Goodwill, the hardware store, or JC Pennys and get it. So, shopping for him is pretty much futile. One thing that I do know about my dad, though, is that he has a bit of a sweet tooth. Via the midmorning coffee break, lunchtime cookies, and after dinner desserts, he finds ways to sneak little treats into his day. He doesn't often buy it for himself, but if there is a sweet and salty treat around the house, he'll find his way into it eventually. I knew that there would be plenty of holiday cookies around the house at Christmas time, but there is one time-honored holiday treat that no one makes at that house: Carmel Corn.

Busy with finals and other holiday baking I didn't have a chance to make it in my tiny apartment kitchen. Luckily I got to my parents home a day early to take care of their dog in their absence, and had a big beautiful kitchen at my disposal. You know you're getting old, by the way, when your parents leave town and leave you in charge of the house and rather than throw a party you're excited to use their kitchen...

When it comes to making things that are bad for you, I trust Paula Deen, so I snagged her recipe from the Food Network website and got to work. Step one was to make popcorn on the stove, another thing I had never done before. So, in the true spirit of observational learning, I called upon youtube. Then armed with 8 quarts of popped corn I carefully followed Paula's recipe and, naturally, ended up with molten caramel all over pretty much every surface in the kitchen, including myself. You see, Paula doesn't offer any advice on how to mix the caramel with the popcorn. In a bowl? In a pan? On a cookie sheet? Help me out here, Paula. Eventually, now covered in caramel, I devised a plan to mix the caramel with the popcorn in the big 8 quart saucepan that I used to make the popcorn in two batches. Then, I somehow rangeled it all into two glass baking sheets and popped it in the oven for an hour.
When it came out, failing to read Paula's direction about cooling on waxed paper, I decided to let it cool in the pans. This was the wrong decision. Three hours later I had two unbreakable bricks of popcorn.

Back in the oven it went, at least for a minute or two so I could break up the bricks. It didn't help a lot, but I eventually got the popcorn out and broken. It is far more crumbled than I would have liked, and looks a little bit like it got beat with a baseball bat. The kitchen was a big sticky mess, by this point, covered in hardened sugar. So, I enlisted the help of my trusty assistant Molly to clean up while I packaged the gift.
Obviously, I have little to no concept of volume, as I seemed to think that 8 quarts of caramel corn would fit into one little 2 liter jar. So, I crammed as much as I could into the jar to wrap, and just hid the rest in gallon sized ziplock bags until Christmas afternoon. Luckily, dads have to pretend to be in love with whatever they get for Christmas. Look, Dad, I made it myself.