Projects Projects Everywhere, Redux

the project projectQ: What do I do with my kid’s art projects? They’ll be upset if I toss them out, but I’m being squeezed out of the house by an army of cardboard creations!

No, this isn’t a question from a blog reader. It’s the question I ask myself the eve of every curbside recycling pick-up. You see, our home studio overflows with art projects. Which I consider a very good thing. Bring on the creativity!  But eventually, space runs out and reality rears its ugly head. My house overflows with paper, tubes, and boxes connected with sticky webs of tape. The shelves are packed, and I haven’t seen the top of my coffee table in 7 days. Worse, we don’t have any room to make new projects!

Alas, I have a few unpleasant options to choose from:

Option 1: Toss the projects. This usually backfires because my kids routinely root through the recycling bins for building materials, resulting in “MOM! Why did you toss my 10 car tissue box train!?!?” Or they catch me carrying the stuff to the trash and plead with me to keep the 45 pieces of pipe cleaner jewelry that have been hanging on the living room doorknob for 5 weeks.

Option 2: Have the kids decide which projects they’re ready to toss. I sit the kids down and tell them how proud I am of their projects. I explain that it’s time to let the shoe box fire station go because we all need to be responsible and keep the house orderly. My kids of course understand and don’t argue with me. They dispose of the projects and even offer to tidy up their rooms as well. Um…in the spirit of full disclosure…I must admit that I’ve never actually had any success with Option 2.

Option 3: Wait until they’re not looking / asleep and sneakily dispose of the projects. This is what happens most often I’m afraid. However, it’s surprisingly difficult to turn your back on an oatmeal container cat staring dolefully at you over the rim of a recycling bin hidden in the backyard. And then there’s the inevitable “Hey, where’s the swimming pool I made for my Shopkins?” A ferocious interrogation ensues until you finally confess you tossed it because you had to clean up. Even while you’re rationally defending the tidiness of your household to the indignant artist, you secretly feel like a horrible monster for tossing your child’s creative vision. Sigh.

In 2014, I blogged about one solution to project clutter. It’s a customized project book made out of an inexpensive photo album. You can read about it here.

project bookLast weekend, however, I came up with another solution! I created an Instagram account dubbed “The Project Project.” Now anytime a project needs recycling, I just upload a photo of it to Instagram.

the project project screen shotThere the project remains, forever validating my kids’ imaginative musings. It’s a fun gallery documenting their tremendous creativity AND a digital representation of one less job for Mom the Recycling Cop. Bonus! Grandma and Grandpa can follow our Instagram to see what those clever grandkids are up to.

the project project train table

The Project Project hasn’t been running very long, but I can already see and feel a difference in the house. Projects are recycled without a fuss because they’re not getting tossed out. They’re simply changing into something that can be seen and shared with others. Also, I love these projects! I honestly feel bad when they have to go. Now I can revisit them all the time.

Want to see a truly FANTASTIC Instagram art project? Check out this fashionista mother and daughter crafting team!

Kit, Thou Mockith Me

kit, thou mockith meWe are truly honored to bring an old friend back to the blog today. Remember Hope, our kid tester? The last time we saw her, she was testing ice cream makers. Then she made it to finals for National History Day, started high school, joined marching band, and designed a kick butt hands-on history program for her community library – you know, keeping busy. But this summer, I lured her back to the offices to test a calligraphy kit by ARTSCHOOL, which retails for around $30. Take it away Hope!

calligraphy kit by artschool


Hey everybody! I’m glad to be back reviewing cool crafty products for Pop Goes the Page. I guess I’m your “teen-tester” now!  With that being said, I was enthusiastic to test this calligraphy kit by ARTSCHOOL. The box was aesthetically pleasing, with a fold-over magnet fastener and a modern color palette of gray, teal, black, and white. The box also doubled nicely as reusable storage for the kit items because it wasn’t flimsy cardboard.

inside of calligraphy kitThe kit includes: 1 instruction book, practice paper, 3 cartridge pens (xtra fine, medium, and xtra bold), 5 ink cartridges (red, green, purple, blue, and black), 1 classic dipping pen with metal nib, 1 small bottle of black ink, 4 tubes of gouache (red, white, blue, orange), 1 paint brush, 4 gift tags, 4 bottle tags, and 8 note cards with envelopes. After reading the extensive list of supplies included in the kit, I searched the exterior of the box, the interior of the box, the instruction manual, and pretty much everywhere else for a suggested age range for the product…

Now, if you’ve read some of the other product reviews featured on Pop Goes the Page, you know by now that most products that have age ranges are not estimated very carefully, and a product suggested for ages 8+ gives a 14 year old and 2 full-grown adults trouble (like this. And, uh…this).  But I couldn’t even find an age range suggested for this kit. Personally, I find that more troubling than an inaccurate age range because as a customer purchasing the product, you don’t have even the faintest inkling (did you catch that calligraphy joke?) of how difficult the projects included will be. At least an inaccurate age range still is able to tell you, even roughly, that the product is intended for children, or teens, etc.

I’ve done a bit of calligraphy in the past because I received a book and pen set as a gift, so this wasn’t my first calligraphy rodeo. I mean, that was probably three-ish years ago, so I needed a refresher, but there were a few things I thought I might have kept with me. Just like riding a bike, right? So I thought, Sounds like fun! And hey, maybe this instruction booklet will be helpful in rekindling my minimal calligraphy talent! Ah, well, “the best laid plans of mice and men…” truly applies here.

booklet exteriorUpon opening the instruction booklet, which was titled Calligraphy the Easy Way by Diane Foisy, I was pleasantly surprised to find a ten page history on calligraphy’s origins, purpose, and more recently, its decline, and those who are attempting to keep the art form alive.

booklet interiorWith the ending of that section, in bold letters, it said “History has shown us that calligraphy will prevail.” I’m not sure about you, but to me that sounded a bit sinister, a bit secret society-ish. There was nothing exactly wrong with the statement itself; it just felt a bit chilling for a craft kit instruction booklet.

Following this seemingly superstitious statement, there was a page titled “Equipment: Basic Materials” that did not specifically mention the items in the kit, though there was a photo that showed the gouache in the center of a palette. I flipped through the whole booklet; there is not a single place where it tells you how to use the items specifically in the kit, except for a set of instructions telling you how to load each kind of pen included. Also, the cartridge pens were very hard to load, and it almost hurt to pop the seal on the cartridge so that the ink could flow.

difficult ink cartridgeOn that page, it also mentioned directions for using a “classic stylus”… nowhere else in the kit is this mentioned. Perhaps it is referring to the “classic dipping pen,” but if so, that was not made clear.

dipping pen in ink

To be honest, though using the dipping pen was more difficult, it was much more fun to use. It felt like a portal to the past, and you could imagine famous writers doing exactly what you were doing; Dickens, Tolstoy, Wells, Poe…

There was a page in the booklet with photographs detailing the cleaning of your pens after each use that I thought was a nice touch. Right after the page about pen care and cleaning, the booklet dove straight into “The Basics.” This was a 4-page section on the basic lines of calligraphy that are used to make all of the letters. However, there were no pictures of someone actually holding a pen so that you were able to gain an understanding of how to angle the pen for optimal ink flow. The directions simply made the callous suggestion “…if the ink does not flow, correct the angle until you have the stroke like the sample shown. You will develop a feel for when the ink flows well.”

Excusez-moi! What does “correct the angle” mean, exactly? To me, this felt like the pretentious calligrapher’s way of saying, “Sorry that you’re new at this, but you’ll figure it out eventually.” I did not feel properly instructed by this instruction booklet; I felt slighted for my comical lack of talent.

kit practiceNeedless to say, I was not very adept at creating even these simple lines. When I was making these lines on the practice paper provided, the ink went right through the paper. When it did not go through the paper, it bled on the surface of the paper, so it did not make clean lines like those pictured in the booklet.

Finally, I just decided to move on to trying to make actual letters in what the booklet called the “Chancery Style” of calligraphy. Overall, it was much more satisfying to make slightly misshapen versions of the letters pictured instead of creating row after row of little dashes.  However, again there were no pictures of someone actually writing the letters; there were simply arrows with numbers silently instructing you how to shape the letters.

Considering the minimal amount of instruction provided concerning how to make the letters, I felt like I was doing a decent job. Please don’t misunderstand me- I am certainly no expert (as is evidenced by these misshapen letters). But it was certainly more satisfying to make complete letters instead of what felt like, what must’ve been, hundreds of dashes, row after row, never succeeding.

letteringThe last section of the instruction booklet was titled “Projects”, and mostly pictured completed versions of the tags, note cards, and bottle labels included in the kit with long descriptions of the pictures. It was pretty much the biography of a thank-you note card, the origin story of a gift tag, and the memoir of a wine bottle label.

I think I would have appreciated it more if these had been the actual histories instead of the author narrating every pen stroke it took to design the aforementioned items. Despite this, the photographs included were helpful in inspiring my creations, including, a note card, a tag, and a wine bottle label (along with the honest statement, “I have no idea what I’m doing!” pictured at the beginning of this post).

calligraphy thank you cardThe booklet ended with a brief piece about the history of illumination, a type of medieval calligraphy done mostly by monks, and a few pages of flower templates that the author encouraged you to copy and use in your own designs.

There was never a mention of using the gouache and paintbrush. Not once. This was puzzling and frustrating because I was interested in getting to work with gouache (hybrid between watercolors and acrylic paint).

gouche, i hardly knew yeBy the end of this kit, by hands were speckled with ink, and I felt like that more than just my fingers had been immersed in the messy history of calligraphy. (The ink came off of my hands after 6-10 hand washes.)

inky handsI was so excited to use this product to make something beautiful with calligraphy, but instead I felt inadequate and mocked by the instruction manual. I should’ve been the one mocking the inadequate instruction manual. Since it was called (and I quote) an “instruction book,” I felt that I should have been instructed, not loosely guided by numbers and arrows. On the plus side, I gained a new appreciation for Charles Dickens’ incredibly long novels because he had to write them with one of these pens!

PROS: Nice packaging, good array of supplies, fun concept.
CONS: Lacking detailed instructions and sympathy for the learner.

After reviewing the pros and cons, I rate this product:
A sigh out of five. Which I’d categorize as a 2 out of 5.

Rock Cakes by Hagrid

rock cakes by hagridHarry Potter is celebrating a birthday shortly, which is the only excuse we need to bust out our hats and robes and do something Potter. You might recall our Wand Works event, which included some awesome Flourish & Blotts giveaways. Well, when Katie and I were researching said giveaways, we stumbled across The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook by Dinah Bucholz (Adams Media, 2010). Today, we’re going to test a couple recipes from the book. And post reaction shots. In wizard robes.

the unofficial harry potter cookbook by dinah bucholzThe cookbook contains 10 chapters and 150 recipes. While a traditional cookbook organizes its recipes under chapters like main dishes, salads, and sides, the Unofficial Potter has chapters like “Recipes from a Giant and an Elf” (Rock Cakes, Bath Buns, Treacle Fudge, Kreacher’s French Onion Soup, etc.) and “Good Food with Bad Relatives” (Lemon Pops, Knickerbocker Glory, Roast Pork Loin, Mulligatawny Soup, etc.).

The Unofficial Potter is also an interesting education in British cuisine, as recipes for crumpets, kippers, and black pudding are included, among other things. Each recipe in the cookbook is matched to a Harry Potter reference and there are also very interesting bits of culinary history. For example, did you know the first ice cream recipe came to England in the 1600s and King Charles the I swore his cook to secrecy because he wanted to keep the delicious dessert exclusive to royalty? Such a scallywag.

OK! On to the recipe tests! Katie tested 3, and I tested 1. Here we go…


ROCK CAKES, tested by Katie

The recipe for Hagrid’s infamous rock cakes was one of the first I spotted in The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. I couldn’t wait to give it a go and see if they are as delicious as Hagrid claims because we all know he eats them throughout the Harry Potter series. My sous-chef son had been eager to get back into the kitchen with me after our failed attempt at making Monsieur Bon-Bon’s Top Secret “Fooj.” We’ve baked many times together, so we were confident we wouldn’t mess up this recipe!

My sous-chef carefully measured and combined all of the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt) into a mixing bowl while I prepared the cookie sheet and turned on the oven. After we washed our hands several times, we dove into mixing the butter into the dry ingredients.

rock cakes 1It didn’t take long before the use of our fingertips turned into the use of our full fingers (and some of our hands) in order to make sure we fully incorporated the butter into the dry ingredients.

rock cakes 2After folding the egg and milk into butter mixture, we slowly mixed in the raisins. This was the only time we both grew concerned about the rock cakes. The batter seemed really thick and tough to mix. After a short while, my son didn’t have the strength to fold in the raisins so he passed the spoon over to me. Even I had a hard time making sure the raisins were fully mixed in!

Once we both determined the raisins were well combined, we dropped the dough onto the cookie sheet. We skipped using a tablespoon to measure the dough size and just eye-balled the amounts. There was a small amount of batter leftover that my son used for his own personal “teeny tiny” rock cake.

rock cakes 3We slid the cookie sheet into the oven for 25 minutes, turning the sheet once in the middle of the baking cycle. Once the rock cakes were lightly brown on the bottom, we pulled them out and set them on racks to cool. The next morning, Dr. Dana and Marissa’s office test confirmed…the recipe is a winner!

rock cake taste testRock cakes have the appearance and consistency of a scone, so they would be perfect as a morning treat with a cup of coffee or eaten in the afternoon with a spot of tea. My son and I brainstormed other filling options to use in place of raisins and we came up with dried fruits, such as cranberries, cherries or blueberries, chocolate chips, or perhaps just including a splash of vanilla extract to the dough. You could also skip adding anything and eat plain rock cakes with a pat of butter and glob of your favorite jam or jelly.

In honor of Hagrid, Dr. Dana and I set one rock cake aside and let it harden for over a week to see what would happen. It was hard, though not as hard as a rock because Ian was able to take a bite and not break a tooth. I deem the rock cakes recipe worthy of trying in your kitchen!


ACID DROPS tested by KATIE

Confident from our success with the rock cakes, my sous-chef and I moved onto another intriguing recipe: acid drops. Poor Ron Weasley had a hole burned in his tongue when his mischievous brother, Fred, gave him one to try. What would happen to us?

I had most of the necessary ingredients already, but I did have to hunt down cream of tartar, which I discovered in the spice aisle, and citric acid, which was kept with the accessories needed for home canning.

citric acid and cream of tartarAs I lined two baking sheets with parchment paper, my son measured and combined the water, sugar, and cream of tartar in a small pot. He asked for help with the corn syrup as it looked to him to be hard to measure correctly. I happily obliged to avoid a sticky syrupy mess. We followed the directions carefully, stirred the mixture constantly and used a candy thermometer once our concoction was bubbling. We watched the candy thermometer slowly rise in temperature, stirring every once in a while.

acid drops 1All was going well until the mixture reached a temperature of about 250 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s when I noticed our whitish clear blend suddenly started turning brown.

acid drops 2There was also a distinguishable burning smell being emitted from the pot. I knew this was not good, but we decided to follow through until the mixture was at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, per the recipe. Once it hit that temperature, I turned off the burner and we added the citric acid. As soon as the mixture had cooled and stopped bubbling, we took turns dropping teaspoon sized circles of the candy onto the baking sheets.

acid drops 3Total fail. Acid drops are supposed to be yellow or yellowish-white, not dark brown almost black. The smell of the candies also reaffirmed what I already knew: the sugar had scorched and the candies were a bust. On a dare, Dr. Dana tried one of the burned candies. I think this image says it all.

dr. dana taste tests burned acid dropAttempt #2. I consulted Google to find suggestions or ideas from others who have suffered similar fates with their candy. Apparently sugar is very easy to burn, so you have to be cautious when your mixture starts getting close to reaching 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Armed with this new information, I set forth to try again.

I think I may have pulled the mixture off the burner too soon because it didn’t harden into candy. It was congealed and looked like white, stringy amoebas when I dropped it onto the baking sheets.

acid drop 6Not wanting to give up, I tried the recipe for a third time. Did I finally find success? Maybe.

acid drops 5The third candy attempt definitely had a yellow appearance, smelled like lemons, and hardened into round-ish discs. The acid drops were sour to the taste, but not overly sour like I had expected. What we didn’t anticipate was once we put the acid drops into our mouths, the candy adhered itself entirely to our teeth! It was quite alarming. Here are Dr. Dana and Ian captured at the very moment the acid drops adhered to their enamel like a vise:

acid drops taste testMy takeaway from trying to make acid drops is that I’m a baker, not a candy maker. I offer a round of applause to those who can make candy because, alas, it is proven that I cannot. I’ll officially hang up my candy maker hat and leave the job to Honeydukes.


TRIPLE POWER ICY LEMON POPS tested by KATIE

My sous-chef son was thrilled when we found the lemon pops recipe in The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook because he has a wicked sweet tooth (like his mother) and he absolutely loves anything with lemons. He’s been known to steal lemon slices from my water glass and eat them raw without making a funny sour face.

The only ingredient that I didn’t already have in my kitchen for the lemon pops was lemon extract, which I found in the spice aisle at our local grocery store. I took care grating the zest of our lemon directly into the saucepan, making sure to not add any of the white rind because that could cause the lemon pops to have a bitter taste.

lemon pops 1My sous-chef squeezed the juice out of the zested lemon using our handy lemon/lime press, and then he added the sugar and water to the pan. After bringing the mixture to a simmer, we turned off the heat and added the lemon extract. We let the mixture cool down a bit before pouring it into our popsicle molds, then we placed the molds into the freezer.

lemon pops 2Many hours later, we gave the lemon pops a taste. Delicious! The combination of the lemon zest, juice and extract along with the added sugar gave the lemon pops a nice sweet and sour flavor that almost tasted like limoncello liquor. But trust me when I say that these popsicles were absolutely alcohol free.

lemon pop taste test

Two hardy thumbs up for the Triple Power Icy Lemon Pops! We agree with Harry Potter, these popsicles are quite good!


CHOCOLATE PUDDING tested by DR. DANA

I tested something chocolate. Are you shocked? Specifically, I tested the chocolate pudding recipe in the chapter entitled “Delights Down the Alley.” We have food allergies in my house – including eggs – so pudding is usually off-limits. I was thrilled that, unlike most pudding recipes, this one was eggless! The binding agent is cornstarch.

cornstarch thumbs upI won’t send you process photos because Katie’s stove is way cleaner than mine. But I will say that this recipe is straightforward, easy, and can be made in a single pot. The ingredients are sugar, unsweetened cocoa, cornstarch, milk, cream, butter, bittersweet chocolate, vanilla, and a pinch of salt. Though simple, there is a bit of cooking magic involved in the final stove top stage – the recipe transfigures from a chocolate liquid to a thick, velvety pudding. Mmmmm.

The recipe says to strain the pudding into a bowl (I’m guessing to catch some of the inevitable lumps). But I don’t have a strainer, so I skipped that step. The pudding was a tad lumpy, but not enough to bother me or my extraordinarily picky children. Here’s a shot of the pudding before it headed into the fridge to set. Note the magic wand in front of the bowl.

pudding 1How does the Unofficial Potter pudding taste? Awesome. The milk, cream, and butter in the recipe make it rich, but not too heavy. The consistency is great too. Very smooth and creamy. Ian had a taste and found the chocolate pudding to be quite…bedazzling.

pudding taste test


We only scratched the surface of the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook, but we really liked it! It’s a fantastic blend of British dishes, culinary history, and astute references to the dishes and desserts served in the Harry Potter books. It’s clear the author is either a fan of the books, a very good researcher, or both! If you are a Harry Potter fan who likes to cook, or if you are ready for some hands-on experience with meals in the wizarding world, add this book to your collection!