Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Minty Cucumber Zombie Popsicles

It all started with my first trip to the local Night Market.  Even though I knew it wouldn't be, I was secretly hoping it would be like the Floating Market in Neverwhere.  And it didn't disappoint, which is to say it was nothing like the Floating Market in Neverwhere.  

But it still held it's own charm and one of things that caught my eye was a popsicle vendor, Chrysalis Pops, with it's array of unique flavors.  Now if you think the combination of cucumber, mint and lime would taste like a cool breeze, under a shade tree, on a warm summer's day, you would be correct.  Mostly.  I'll explain:

While my cucumber, mint and lime popsicle did indeed invoke all those sensations, my initial lick gave me pause. It tasted like dill pickle, or at least that's what my brain initially jotted down.  Then it extrapolated all the data from my taste receptors, did an analysis, put it all into a spreadsheet, I think there was even a cute little pie graph to denote the individual flavors and cheerfully concluded that the original assessment was wrong.  It was indeed cucumber, mint & lime, no dill pickles present.  

But once in while the essence of dill pickle would pop back up, only to disappear the moment I tried to pin it down. Much like an optical illusion, or Gestalt switch for taste buds. Yes there's a reason I'm telling you this, and I'll get to it.  Eventually.

First a quick shout to some of the other night marketeers: Artery Ink for awesome anatomy based art, they even have a coloring book and Green Goat Apothecary, who has ensnared me with their blood orange scented goat's milk lotion. It makes my skin feel silky and the smell is divine, nothing like the headache inducing artificial scents that a lot of popular lotions seem to favor.

But back to popsicles, pickle or no pickle my curiosity was peaked and I wondered what life would be like if I could make my own cucumber, mint and lime popsicles.  I found a recipe that looked promising and realized it would be much easier if I procured actual popsicle molds.

That's when I found these lovely Zombie Molds by Tovolo.  I bought two sets online from Target, for $10.99.  Of course they are sold out now.  There are a few vendors that carry them on Amazon but they cost a bit more.  Each mold holds 2 oz and there are 4 zombies per set.

Pros:  They make zombie shaped popsicles! And the popsicle handles are zombie legs! And the part of the handle that goes into the mold, is a rib cage! So you literally eat the zombies down to their bones!

Cons:  The mold is a flexible silicone, which is fine, but tricky to peel off.  I find it best to push down on the top of the zombie heads while peeling the mold off inside out.  This works fine for all the zombies except the one zombie with his tongue hanging out.  Half of the time I break his head off.  (Quick fix: Rub a little water on the neck, push the head on and stick it back in the freezer.)

Or maybe it's just me.  Hungry Happenings not only has a raspberry cheesecake pop recipe, but they have better quality pictures and a video that makes demolding look like the easiest thing in the world.

Silicone apparently really absorbs odors.  This is the first time I've made anything with a strong scent and now all my molds smell like mint. I tried baking soda and I tried vinegar.  Both reduce the odor but do not completely remove it.  I'm not sure how much mint flavor would even transfer if I made something else with the molds.

While the zombie legs are adorable, they do limit the number of full bodied zombies you can make.  (If the legs are otherwise occupied, good old wooden popsicle sticks will do.  Cover the mold with a layer of tinfoil to provide stability and poke the stick through it.)

The recipe that I tried is from SenseAndEdibility.com.  The flavor was spot on, including the random phantom dill pickle.   But never let it be said that there was ever a recipe I didn't bastardize.

First I don't like recipes that give a number of fruits/veggies and not an actual measurement, that had to change.

And I got rid of the phantom pickle flavor by steeping the mint, this also reduced the mint odor left in the molds. Most of the pictures are from the first batch and show green flecks of mint. Most of the zombies using my version were eaten before I could get pictures. 

The Chrysalis Pop popsicle I bought had the most perfect balance of sweetness I have ever had in a popsicle. The Sense and Edibility recipe was way too sweet for my taste. Rather than figuring out the proper amount to decrease the sugar, I decided it was more fun to add additional ingredients. So I consider my modified recipe to be a base mix.

Cucumber Mint & Lime Base Mix
Makes 18oz of mix  (Total of 24oz when combined with additional flavors)

2 cups peeled, diced and seeded cucumber (see Note:1)
1/2 cup lime juice with zest (see Note: 2)
1/2 cup mint infused simple syrup

Mint Infused Simple Syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup packed mint leaves (see Note: 3)

To make the simple syrup gently manhandle the mint leaves to release the oil.  I like to press them firmly between my finger tips as I pluck off the leaves or you can spank them if that's what you're into.  After measuring, I transfer them to a small glass dish and again apply a little more pressure, but not enough to crush or tear the leaves.  In a small pan bring the sugar and water to a boil.  Simmer for one minute, remove from heat and pour over the mint leaves.  Let stand for an hour. Strain before using.  Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers.  It's great to have on hand for a mojito or glass of limeade.

Puree the cucumber, lime juice and half a cup of the mint syrup.

To use: I find a 3 to 1 ratio of cucumber mix to whatever non-alcoholic flavor your heart desires results in the perfect amount of sweetness.  I would keep to mild flavors so you don't overpower anything.  Some suggestions: avocado, coconut milk, more cucumber puree or plain yogurt.  It takes about 3 tablespoons of diced cucumber to equal one ounce of puree.  You don't have to make the whole batch one flavor, try a few different combinations.  You could just dilute with water, but where's the fun in that? Unless it's frozen water. Blending it with ice cubes to make a slushie instead of popsicles would probably be amazing.

One set of zombie molds will hold 8 oz, so 6 oz cucumber mix plus 2 oz of whatever.  Once your mix is complete, fill the molds and for a special touch add a frozen raspberry.  Even if you have fresh raspberries, freeze them first.  Freezing breaks down the cell structure so when you insert them into the molds they start to thaw in the mixture and diffuse their lovely color before they freeze again.  The raspberry adds a nice flavor boost. I like to break it into halves or thirds and then poke it down into the mold with a chopstick. It's always a delight to see how it turned out after the unmolding.  Does the back of this guy look like an exit wound or what?

Obviously this all makes way more than you need for one set of zombies.  So plan accordingly.  I didn't just make zombies, I used my other silicone molds to make skulls & maggots and even utilized an ice cube tray.

I specified non-alcoholic because alcohol requires a different ratio if you want it to freeze and even then it doesn't freeze solid enough to properly unmold zombies.  Which is why shortly I will introduce you to Boozie Maggots and also my favorite flavor combination for frozen zombies.

Note 1: The original recipe calls for those long skinny cucumbers in the shrink wrap called English cucumbers. They are shrink wrapped because their skin is so delicate. They have smaller seeds and are supposedly sweeter. But I think a fresh cuke from the garden or farmer's market could give them a run for their money. I think either type makes a tasty pop. Apparently the trick to further reducing bitterness of any cuke is to cut off both ends prior to peeling.

Note 2: I always zest limes, even when the recipe doesn't call for it. Why just toss that extra flavor? The original recipe calls for 6 limes, I get more juice than I need with 4 average sized limes. First start with room temperature limes. Zest them and then firmly roll them a few times on a clean hard surface until they feel soft and squishy. After all that man handling they should be practically bursting with juice. In fact slice them in half over a bowl because they will ooze out juice when you cut into them. I use a simple hand squeezer. If you follow this tip and slice off the end before juicing, you'll get a lot of juice. After you've squeezed two halves, if you put them both back into the squeezer and give them another squeeze you should get just about every last drop of juice. Toss the zest into the juice and any leftovers can be frozen in an ice tray.

Note 3: Whenever I use the word mint I am referring to spearmint.  The easiest way to tell what kind of mint you have is to taste it. 

As far as my dill pickle experience, I think part of it stems from my lack of exposure to fresh mint.  I'm used to mint that has been refined to an extract or oil or is just plain fake.  Because what I was tasting wasn't anything like dill.  A comparison of real dill made me realize that's not it at all, but I think that's the closest thing my brain had on file to relate to.  (Kind of like in my mind Corey Hart looks just like James Hurley, but side by side they are obviously two different people.  But thank you random internet person for unknowingly validating my feelings.) For the record my daughter had the same experience, with the dill/mint that is.  She's never seen Twin Peaks and doesn't understand why I wear my sunglasses at night.  

But over-muddling, does release bitter chlorophyll which is often described as a grassy taste.  Which is why I chose to steep the leaves in the syrup rather them blend them in the cucumber mix.  The downside is losing the visual appeal of all those little flecks of green.  Below you can see the difference. Don't think that because the leaves have been steeping in sugar water that they are no longer bitter and can now be chopped up and added back in for curb appeal. Bite into one if you don't believe me. That might be a good experiment, chlorophyll might not taste as strong to you and if the flavor doesn't bother you, who doesn't like a little extra green in their zombies?


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Zombie Jesus & Bunny Brains

Not that I was trying to make good on my threat to do Easter in July, but my little buddy here didn't get finished until after Easter and then summer showed up and if I don't post about him now, I'll forget by next Easter.

Since we're talking about Easter, I finally got around to watching the second season of Happy! and it is to Easter what season one was to Christmas.  It is so wrong, and bound to become a Creepster holiday classic.  It's Rated TV WTF: Weird Situations, Tasteful Nudity, F***ed Up Bunnies, Viewer Discretion Is Advised.  And the trailer below, it's a bit graphic, so you know, probably don't watch it if you have kiddies or co-workers around.

I know that no amount of palm weaving tutorials are going to keep me from going to hell and I'm ok with that.  I grew up in a very Catholic family, which as you can probably tell, has had some influence on my art. As a kid I accepted all that was Easter, from the resurrection of Christ to the magical rabbit that hid eggs and put treats in baskets.  As an adult, I'm just in awe that we celebrated all that crazy wrapped up in one holiday without anyone batting an eye.

As tribute to the holiday mash up of my childhood,
 I offer Zombie Jesus Eating Bunny Brains.

I don't really do tutorials on felting, once the stabbing starts it's hard to stop and take pictures. But I'll run through the basics on the off chance it gives someone ideas of their own.  For reference Zombie Jesus is about 8cm tall.  He started out as a white oblong sphere.  I added a layer of zombie green over the top for his head.

Zombie green is a mix of olive, sage, green, evergreen, or whatever else I feel like throwing in.  Except for black and white, I rarely ever use just one color of wool.  The red robe, brown hair, pink brain are all a mix of at least three different shades.  Even the bunny is a mix of yellow and white.

Because A) I like to think it looks more interesting, B) I like buying multi color sample packs from local vendors, so I have small amounts of lots of colors C) It takes a lot longer to run out of specific colors and D) When I do run out of a color, I never worry about having to buy an exact match.

The robe I added in sections.  This would be easier to explain in pictures, but I'll give it a shot.  When I want a thick straight edge, such as the bottom and sides of his robe, I lay down some wool flat and give it a few shallow pokes to set the fibers.  Then I fold over an edge and give it some more shallow pokes. Shallow pokes because you are trying not to poke the fibers all the way through.  It can't be helped completely and that's why it'll need to be flipped, given a few more pokes and then flipped back again, more pokes.  At this point you can set it on your object and poke with abandon to attach it.  I just did this for the sides of the robe and filled in the rest by laying wool directly on his little body.

The white washed Christ of my youth always had burgundy robes and long brown hair. A friend let me raid her stash of Merino wool for his luxurious locks.  Merino has a smoother shaft, and I like it for fur or hair.  

This video shows how to layer wool for long fur.  It's pretty close to what I did  except I did way too many rows, too close together.  I wish I had taken a picture so you could see what Zombie Jesus looked like when he had big beauty pageant hair.  

It was pretty easy to fix, I ran an eyebrow comb repeatedly through his hair to thin it out.  The tines on the eyebrow comb are fine enough to grab the wool, I just had to be careful to thin it out evenly and not pull out any big sections. Then I gave him a haircut with cuticle scissors, which have never even seen a cuticle, but I love them for needle felting.  

The following is a quick and dirty brain felting technique that I came up with on the fly.  Sometimes I get a little too caught up in the details and I did not want to stress over proper placement of brain ridges on this teeny tiny brain.  This method enabled me to avoid the part of my brain that makes me mental.

I imagine the first part of this process is similar to spinning wool into yarn. That is if you were to ignore all the time tested techniques that result in a strong uniform yarn.  Like I said, quick and dirty.

Step 1:  Lay wool fibers out in a line and roll back and forth until you have some that resembles a loose string.  Add more fibers to the ends to make it longer, add more fibers to the entire length to make it thicker.  I use some pretty hi-tech equipment for this, namely my hand and my thigh.  Also wearing pants helps the process.  That's right, in a seated position I roll the wool up and down the top of my thigh.  Pants provide a grippy surface to work the wool against.

Step 2:  Once the fibers are matted enough that the string isn't going to fall apart, start twisting it one direction.  Twist tightly enough that it twists up on itself.  To tame all the loose fuzzies you will have to do this a few times, stretching out the string and twisting it tighter. If you want it really smooth you can dip it in soapy water and then twist, essentially wet felting it.  If you decide to get it wet, make sure it's completely dry before moving to the next step.

Step 3:  Spread out the brain matter and lay a bit of darker wool over it.  Poke it a couple of times to tack it to the brain.

Step 4: Roll the brain matter into a little brain ball around the darker wool.  Poke it a few more times so the brain ball stays together.  Then poke it a couple more times, just for the shear joy of stabbing a brain ball.

This bunny was kind of a pain.  I feel it's a bit too large in proportion to Zombie Jesus, but still small enough to give me a headache.  His dastardly tiny limbs and ear were difficult to needle felt without stabbing through the other side or my fingers.  After I needle felted them into the general size and shape, I dipped them in soapy water and rolled (limbs) and pressed (ear) to wet felt them.  This gave them structural strength without drawing too much blood.  

[Note: All crafts require a blood sacrifice, as demanded by the gods.  Some, such as needle felting, just require more than others.]

After the bunny was assembled I used my trusty cuticle scissors to cut open his little head, partly insert the brain and then stab it into place. A fine needle was used to poke in any stray dark red fibers and then some bunny flesh was built up around the brain.  After all my careful work my brain still wasn't perfect, there was a low spot.  That was easily filled with a little tiny ball of pink and no one is the wiser, except for us of course.

Is it just me or from this angle does it look like Zombie Jesus is breastfeeding a dead bunny?  Maybe he just likes to slow dance with his food.  Anyway, the final touches were to add a face to the bunny and arms so Zombie Jesus could hold his feast.

Of course none of this helps me understand why a rabbit would decorate eggs. But I think I figured out how the Easter Bunny manages to fill all those baskets in one night.  I mean Santa gets magical flying reindeer and a sleigh to carry everything while the Easter Bunny has to hop the whole way and doesn't even have opposable thumbs. But Jesus is just a baby on Christmas Eve, he doesn't even have his super powers to turn water into wine yet, so Santa needs all that extra gear.  On the other hand by Easter, Jesus is an able bodied zombie and he can totally give the Easter Bunny a hand.  Not only that, but by then he has his super powers, and they probably only have to carry one basket of goodies and just duplicate it fish and bread style.

Now that I understand it all, I feel a little bad about having Zombie Jesus eat a bunny brain.  But he looks so cute eating his little bunny brain.