Monday, September 19, 2011

How to Make a Hand-Cut Silhouette

My former neighbor had this great silhouette of herself hanging in her kitchen. It captures her six-year-old profile with the upturned nose, plump cheeks, and high ponytail. Her parents had had it made as a souvenir from a trip to Disneyland. I loved the vintage charm of the artwork, conjuring up images of Jane Austen’s famous profile. I have to admit I felt a pang of jealousy. Why hadn’t my parents gotten my silhouette done on our annual excursion to Disneyland? Then I felt a wave of guilt. Why didn’t I stop to have my children’s silhouettes cut to capture those sweet pudgy profiles of early childhood? I wished I could turn back time. I decided to research how to do this myself before my children grew one more inch.

Before cameras were invented, hand-cut silhouettes were an inexpensive way to capture a person’s likeness. The subject would sit with her profile facing the artist, and the artist would cut her profile out on a piece of black paper with sharp scissors. Those who were less artistic simply traced a shadow of the subject on a piece of paper secured to the wall.

I suppose I could have gone the traditional route and used a flashlight (or candle if I really wanted to go old school) to cast a shadow of my subject on my dining-room wall. But I could spare my younger daughter the agony of sitting still by speeding things up with my digital camera. I had her sit on the dining room table (so she would be at my eye-level) with her profile facing me. If your subject is a very young child, you may want to have another person stand in front of her to entertain her while you snap the picture. After I uploaded the picture, I printed it out as a 5” x 7” on plain white paper. Now I was all set to make my hand-cut silhouette. As you can see from the materials list below, this is a very inexpensive project that looks like a million bucks.

Photo of subject in profile
5” x 7” Picture frame
Black acid-free scrapbook paper
Decorative acid-free scrapbook paper
Pencil (preferably mechanical for fine point)
Glue stick (or double-sided tape)
Sharp scissors
Kneaded eraser

Step 1. Cut out outline of subject’s profile, careful to include wisps of hair and eyelashes. Those little endearing details will give your silhouette personality.

Step 2. Trace outline onto black paper. Cut out black silhouette. Erase any pencil marks with a kneaded eraser.

Step 3. Remove the glass from your picture frame and use it as a template to measure how much decorative paper you will need. Simply trace the outline of the glass with your pencil and cut out the paper.

Step 4. Glue the silhouette to the decorative paper. I used double-sided tape because for some reason I can never find a glue stick when I need one. My kingdom for a glue stick!

Step 5. Place in picture frame.

After studying the finished product for a few minutes, I decided I wanted to redo it. My daughter was slightly turned when she posed for the picture, so you can't see her eyelashes. I took some artistic license and added those. I also didn’t like how the bottom of the picture ended in a harsh horizontal line so I cut an elegant curve instead. 

Don't worry, I didn't waste the original. My daughter made one with construction paper and a different frame.

With this method, I can even turn back time. Kind of. I combed through my picture albums and found a motherload of my children at various stages of their childhood in profile! I even found myself in profile half a dozen times at my wedding—the only day in my life when I wore my hair in a chic French twist with curly tendrils. Hot dog! My fantasy of having a Jane-Austen-esque silhouette of myself has become reality. I

Chocolate Meringue Cookies

Here's a great dairy-free recipe that tastes fudgy and satisfying even though it doesn't have any butter or oil. It has chocolate in it so it's not fat free. I use semi-sweet chocolate chips from Trader Joe's because ever since Phoebe could read, she looks at the ingredient list to make sure there's no milk or butter. If the package includes a disclaimer indicating that the product is manufactured in a facility that also makes products containing milk, she won't touch it. Good thing the Trader Joe's package includes a statement that reads "our vendor follows good manufacturing practices to avoid cross contact with allergens."

Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 c powdered sugar, divided
2/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
4 t cornstarch
4 egg whites
1/8 t salt
1 t vanilla

Separate eggs and let egg whites come to room temperature. Move oven racks, such that one rack is in top third and one rack is in bottom third of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chocolate chips in a small bowl and microwave 15 seconds at a time until melted. Let cool.

Whisk 1/2 c powdered sugar, cornstarch, and cocoa in a medium-sized bowl and set aside.

Beat egg whites in mixer with salt and vanilla on low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase to medium speed until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Beat in 1/2 c powdered sugar, a quarter at a time. Beat 2 minutes more. Meringue should look glossy and thick like marshmallow creme.

Beat in cocoa mixture.

Fold in melted chocolate.

Using a 1 T ice-cream scoop, drop batter onto parchment-paper lined sheet pan, spacing about 2 inches apart. You can bake two pans at a time.

Bake cookies 7 minutes. Then rotate pans and bake another 6 minutes. Cookies should crack on the surface.

 Transfer to cooling rack. Yield: 36 cookies.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Forever 21 Trench: $21!

So I'm at the mall cashing in Chloe's birthday gift cards from Hollister for fall sweaters. Yes, my daughter seems to have inherited my husband's disdain for shopping. Good thing they have me! On my way to the car, I pass by Forever 21. A giant yellow sign advertises jackets for $21. What?! $21?! OK, I expect a cheesy unlined sweatshirt "jacket." But no, this trench coat looks pretty substantial. The shell is 51 percent polyester/49 percent cotton and it's lined! Even Old Navy wants $54 for a trench coat.

I tried on the size S/P in navy and found that there was room to spare for a sweater. I was too giddy about the price to check if they had an XS. In any case, the sleeves on the S fit me. There's a belt for me to cinch at the waist if it's too roomy sans sweater. I'm thinking this will be a fashionable jacket for rainy days. One odd thing about the jacket: the belt is really long. I'm not sure if this will become a nuisance, but worse case I can always remove the belt and wear it as a pea coat. For $21, I'll deal with a long belt. The jacket comes in khaki, navy, and I think I saw a mustard yellow. Sorry, I honed in on the navy and didn't look around much.

I never shopped at Forever 21, because for some reason I thought they were a cash-only operation. Sadly, I didn't even have $21 in my wallet so I went up to the large sign posted by the register to investigate but found that it only explained the return policy. I asked the cashier if they accepted credit cards and she said yes! When I expressed my glee over the incredible price, the friendly cashier smiled knowingly with a We-get-that-reaction-a-lot look and explained that it's a yellow tag special, meaning they only have what's in the store and they won't get more once they sell out. So hurry and get yours!

P.S. Here's the catch about shopping at Forever 21: The cashier told me that even with a receipt, you can only return things for store credit or wait for a check in the mail.

Pros: Classic trench only shorter and cuter, $21!
Cons: Long belt, polyester blend (noisy, but then again, maybe good for rain)
Verdict: A keeper

Look how cute with my lemony loafers!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

J.Crew Schoolboy Blazer

Schoolboy Blazer in Eyelet $49.99

I've been wanting to add a blazer to my wardrobe but blazers make me think boardroom and I haven't worked in an office since 1998. This summer version in cotton looks so relaxed and the eyelets add a girly touch. I call it the un-blazer, a good alternative for those who prefer cardigans. It comes in smoky graphite or white. I chose the smoky graphite because it pairs nicely with white shorts or a white t-shirt. I can also see the neutral shade with yellow, pink, green. Also, the blazer is lined so that means dry clean only. And who are we kidding here? I would probably splatter spaghetti sauce on the white one the first day.

Some things you should know before you order the Schoolboy, currently a final sale item, which means you can't return it:

It's a very boxy fit so if you prefer a longer jacket, this one's not for you. I ordered the size 0 and judging from the shoulders, it runs TTS.

Also, I use the term jacket loosely. Although it's lined, the fabric is so thin that it's more of a glorified shirt, which means you can only wear it in the spring or summer. Considering I got it for $49.99, I'm OK with a thin blazer. I'm wearing it as much as I can with shorts, capris, jeans until fall. If you like the boxy fit, the Schoolboy comes in flannel and velvet for fall.

Finally, I tried pushing up the sleeves the way J. Crew styled the model and although this is probably the one blazer that's soft enough to do this, it felt a little too Miami Vice for me so I ended up quickly pushing the sleeves down when I was in public.

Pros: Relaxed, pretty eyelets
Cons: Very thin, boxy fit, dry clean only
Verdict: Final sale item so must keep