Thursday, May 16, 2013


Milk cartons used as molds create cube-shaped hypertufa vessels, each sized for a single succulent. The tint variations are achieved by mixing in masonry stains.


Pots with a Personal Touch: Hypertufa1

Years ago at a flower show, a group of rustic garden containers caught my eye. They were made from a stonelike material known as hypertufa, which mimics a type of rock.
As a crafts editor for Martha Stewart Living and a ceramicist, I was intrigued to learn that the planters were composed of just three accessible, inexpensive substances: perlite, Portland cement, and peat moss.
When I realized pots so impressive could be shaped using basic molds, they became even more appealing. It's not often that a process as rudimentary as making mud pies yields such a sophisticated result.
Faux Bois Planter Mold
Leaf-Embossed Tabletop Mold
More Container Garden Ideas
Hypertufa was developed in the 1930s to replicate the stone troughs that were popular among English gardeners in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The lightweight stand-ins were not only easier to come by, but also easier to transport. Thanks to their porous nature, the pots were ideal for plants needing good drainage. Hypertufa containers are still practical in the garden and simple to create.
To make a pot, you'll need to fashion a mold from a pair of vessels -- the mixture is poured between them. I experimented with various objects, such as milk cartons and metal bowls, and also constructed wooden molds. Because the medium captures subtle textures, baskets and leaves can be rendered in "stone," while clean-lined molds offer a sleek, modern look.
After making many containers and a couple of tabletops, I found the process quite rewarding. It is not an exact science, which is part of the fun: Every pot has the potential to surprise.


1. Choose mold: Make a mold from two nested vessels, so you can pour the mixture in the space between them. Both should have sides that are straight or taper out; the gap between them should be at least 3/4 inch for smaller vessels and 1 1/2 inches for larger ones.
2. Mix materials: Wearing gloves and a dust mask, mix equal parts white Portland cement (gray can be substituted for nontinted vessels), perlite, and peat moss in a large bin; stir in masonry stain if desired. Add water gradually to reach the desired consistency.
3. Fill mold: Coat vessels with mold-release spray. Pour mixture into the outer mold to a 1-inch depth for smaller vessels or a 2-inch depth for larger ones. Set interior mold inside, centering it (you can fill it with sand to steady it). Continue adding mixture between vessels. Tap exterior with a rubber mallet to minimize bubbles. Cover with plastic; let set.
4. Finish hypertufa: After removing mold, drill holes into the bottom of pot using a masonry bit, for drainage; smooth the top edge of pot with a planer file. Wrap it with plastic, and let cure for several weeks.


Flat-weave baskets gave these large containers their checkered finish. A spray of New Zealand flax underplanted with oxalis provides a touch of drama.


Mix 8 quarts peat moss, 8 quarts perlite, and 8 quarts portland cement. Add water until mixture has the consistency of cottage cheese. Makes 1 basket (12 by 13 inches).

Set Time and Release

Let set for 36 hours, then gently remove interior container. After another 12 hours, cut away basket.


Cast in wicker baskets, these pots feature a ribbed pattern that contrasts with the delicate violas inside.


Wrap exterior of basket with duct tape to help prevent leaks. Mix 8 quarts peat moss, 8 quarts perlite, and 8 quarts portland cement. Add water until mixture has the consistency of cottage cheese. Makes 3 to 4 baskets (3 1/2 by 14 inches).

Set Time and Release

Let set for 36 hours, then gently remove interior container. After another 12 hours, cut away basket.


Milk cartons used as molds create cube-shaped hypertufa vessels, each sized for a single succulent. The tint variations are achieved by mixing in masonry stains.


Mix 3 quarts peat moss, 3 quarts perlite, and 3 quarts portland cement. Mix in 13 1/2 tablespoons masonry stain (1 1/2 tablespoons per quart). Add water until mixture has the consistency of cottage cheese. Makes 3 to 4 small boxes (4-inch cubes or 4 by 4 by 5 inches).

Set Time and Release

Let set for 24 hours, then gently remove interior container. After another 24 hours, tear away carton.


These rounded pots owe their smooth, elegant forms to a kitchen workhorse: the metal mixing bowl, in two sizes. Masonry stain added to the basic hypertufa formula imparts a cool blue hue. Mixed groupings of dwarf plants -- confiers, ground covers, and hostas -- fill the hemispheres.


For a 6-by-11-inch bowl, mix 2 quarts peat moss, 2 quarts perlite, and 2 quarts portland cement; for a 7-by-14-inch one, use 3 quarts of each. Mix in masonry stain (1 1/2 tablespoons per quart). Add water until mixture has the consistency of cottage cheese.

Set Time and Release

Let set for 36 hours, then gently remove interior container. After another 3 days, turn bowl over, and tap bottom with a rubber mallet to remove hypertufa.
Get the How-To for the Faux Bois Hypertufa
Get the How-To for the Leaf Tabletop Hypertufa


Peat moss (#809383) and perlite (#809352), by Miracle-Gro, from Home Depot. Gray Portland cement and carpet tape (#50-605), by Roberts, from Home Depot. White Portland cement, available at masonry supply stores. Universal Smooth-on Mold Release (#66MR1), from the Compleat Sculptor,sculpt.com. Nasum basket (flat-weave), from Ikea. Mason stains, fromeceramicsupply.com. Wicker baskets, from B&J Florist Supply, 212-564-6086. Texture mat, in wood-grain pattern (PA 02-4), from chineseclayart.com. 1/4-inch Plexiglas, by Stanley, from Home Depot. Surform Plane Type, regular cut blade (#185515), by Stanley, from Home Depot.


   The Badwater Ultra marathon describes itself as "the world's toughest foot race". It is a 135-mile course starting at 282 feet  below sea level in the Badwater Basin, in California's Death Valley, and ending at an elevation of 8360 feet  at Whitney Portal, the trail head to Mount Whitney. It takes place annually in mid-July, when the weather conditions are most extreme and temperatures over 120 °F, even in the shade, are not uncommon. Consequently, very few people—even among ultramarathoners—are capable of finishing this grueling race.


    Originally, the run was conceived as being between the lowest and the highest points in the contiguous United States:  Badwater, Death Valley (−282 ft) and Mt. Whitney's summit (14,505 ft). The two are only eighty miles apart on the map, but the land route between the two points is substantially longer, 146 miles, because of detours around lakebeds and over mountain ranges. Additionally, since the finish-line is 11 miles  from the nearest trailhead, anyone who competes over the 146-mile  race-distance must be capable of a total physical effort of 157 miles. Due to the two mountain ranges that must be crossed between Badwater and Whitney, the course's cumulative elevation gain exceeds 19,000 feet.
   In later years, as the United States Forest Service required summit permits to climb Mt. Whitney, the official course was shortened to end at Whitney Portal. The Badwater-to-Portal course is 135 miles  long, with 13,000 feet  of cumulative elevation gain. Forest Service regulations do not allow competitive events in the John Muir Wilderness; however, many runners choose to continue tradition and complete the ascent to Mount Whitney's summit on their own.

   Early History

   The hike between Badwater and Mount Whitney (via the treacherous salt flats in Death Valley) was first made in 1969 by Stan Rodefer and Jim Burnworth of San Diego.
   Al Arnold first attempted running the route in 1974 but was pulled off the course after eighteen miles with severe dehydration. After vigorous sauna-training and desert-acclimatization, he attempted the run again in 1975. This time, a knee injury aborted the run at fifty miles. In 1976, training injuries kept him from even beginning his annual attempt on the course.
   In 1977 he successfully pioneered running the course, summiting Whitney eighty hours after his start at Badwater. Arnold has never returned to the course, except to receive the Badwater Hall of Fame Award.
   The second Badwater-to-Whitney running was completed in 1981, by Jay Birmingham.

   In 1987, the crossing became an official, organized footrace. Five runners competed the first year. During the early years of the race, no particular route between Badwater and Whitney was specified and runners attempted various "shortcuts" between the start and finish. Adrian Crane, one of the competitors in the inaugural race, even used cross-country skis to cross the salt-flats at Badwater.
   AdventureCORPS manages the competitive race from Badwater to Whitney Portal. The course route is specified, and the race is held annually. The field is invitation-only and limited in size. Demand to participate in the race usually far exceeds available spots. Rules have changed somewhat over the years: afternoon starts have been discontinued; the use of intravenous fluids now disqualifies a runner.

   Course support is not provided. Each runner must arrange for his or her own support crew and vehicle. The crew provides their runner with his or her needs, including water, ice, food, gear, pacing, and first aid.
   Runners who complete the course in sixty hours receive a commemorative medal; runners who complete the course in forty-eight hours receive a belt buckle. No prize money is awarded.
   The record for the 146-mile  race was set in 1991 by Marshall Ulrich: 33 hours and 54 minutes. Records for the current 135-mile course are 22 hours 51 minutes 29 seconds (men), set by Valmir Nunes, and 26 hours 51 minutes 33 seconds (women), set by Jamie Donaldson.
   In the last few years, 70 to 80 people have competed in each race, with 20–40% failing to reach the finish line. There have been no fatalities.

   Multiple Crossings

   In 1989, Tom Crawford and Richard Benyo completed the first double crossing (which became known as the "Death Valley 300"), running from Badwater to Mount Whitney's summit and back to Badwater again.
   In 1994, Scott Weber completed the first Triple Crossing going from the Mount Whitney Summit to Badwater, then returning from Badwater to the Mount Whitney summit, then going from the Mount Whitney summit back to Badwater in 10 days. The first leg of the Triple was also done solo unassisted with Weber pushing an unmodified "baby jogger" cart with his supplies from oasis to oasis spaced from 20 to 30 miles  apart. Weber completed the majority of the triple unassisted and solo being met once or twice a day by Ben on the second leg and for 100 miles of the third leg. Faced with the necessity of completing the Triple before August ended, Weber abandoned his cart at mile 390 to be fully crewed by Denise Jones. Completing this Triple and adding the Badwater race from the previous month made Weber the first runner to complete four full crossings of the Badwater-Mount Whitney summit course in a single July-August window. He remains the only runner to have done a multiple crossing with a solo unassisted section of 146 miles or greater.

   In 2001, Marshall Ulrich was the first runner to complete the "Badwater Quad", consisting of two back-to-back Death Valley 300s for a total of four consecutive Badwater/Whitney transits. He completed the course, a distance in excess of twenty-two marathons, in ten days.
   In 2003, Sawyer Manuj became the first Asian-American to complete the Badwater duo.
    Unassisted solo crossingsIn 1994, Scott Weber became the first runner to cross from the summit of Mount Whitney to Badwater course solo without a crew. He did so by pushing a 'baby-jogger' cart with his supplies going oasis to oasis (20-30 miles  apart). Weber then continued on to complete 2 additional crossing with minimal support until being crewed full-time for the final 45 miles of this 438+ mile journey.

   Unassisted "self-contained" Solo Crossings

   In July 1999, Marshall Ulrich became the first and only runner to complete the 146-mile  Badwater-to-Summit course without a crew or resupply, denying himself the use of artificial shade or outside aid of any kind. Starting with 225 lbs of gear and water loaded in a modified baby jogger, he pushed and pulled the cart to the Whitney trail head, then continued on to the summit with a pack. He reached Whitney's summit in seventy seven hours and forty six minutes.

   Badwater Solo Ultra Marathon 135/146

   In 2005, in response to the desire of local and non-elite runners to test themselves against the course, Hugh Murphy initiated the Badwater Solo Ultra 135/146.  Runners attempt the course during the months of July and August and have their completion verified and published by Murphy. Runners are encouraged to include the Whitney summit as part of their transit, but credit is given for either distance. In compliance with National Park and Forest Service permitting rules, this is not a competitive race but a "solo" crossing with a support crew (as in, "not a part of the official race", which is not to be confused with Weber or Ulrich's use of "solo" to designate an unassisted crossing).
    In  2007, then-19 year old Ben Eakin completed his first solo crossing, having only finished 2 marathons and 1 50K prior to doing so. Eakin completed the solo from Badwater to the summit of Mount Whitney, to become the youngest male to complete the lowest to highest course, as well as the first type-1 diabetic.
      In   2005, Barbara Szeprethy, then 24, is the youngest woman to finish the course, 3 times total, in consecutive years.

Death Valley Cup

   Any competitor who completes both the Badwater Ultramarathon and the Furnace Creek 508 bicycle race (also held in Death Valley) during the same calendar year is awarded the Death Valley Cup.

 Badwater World Cup BWWCBadwater World Cup (BWWC) consists of:
  • Badwater ( race in the desert)
  • Brazil 135 Ultramarathon ( race in the mountains)
  • Arrowhead ( race in the snow)
  • Europe 135



Colorful Spiral Cookies

Just try to be in a bad mood around one of these. Impossible!

I was naturally drawn to these because of the bright, eye-catching swirl, not to mention the jumbo sprinkles-encrusted edges!  If anything, these should be the SB mascot, because they are everything I love.  Bright, happy, buttery and delicious. Also versatile!
I spied these first here, (green-tea version) and then here (peppermint version).  I've looked at these countless times, and I'm not sure why I didn't make these earlier.  Maybe because the dough is made in the food processor and I really hate digging / lugging that thing out of my pantry. I soon vowed to make my food processor more accessible because it did all of the work! Now I kinda wish all doughs could be made in the food processor.

Another thing I love about these is that they are SLICE and BAKE. You could easily put the unused portion in the freezer for later.  

I won't go much into preparation here, because that's all in the recipe, but here are some pictures to give you an idea of the process.

I wanted to make my dough even on all sides, so I trimmed some away to make an even roll.

I used Wilton's rose gel food coloring.  I like gel coloring for this because it doesn't add much moisture to the dough. You can use any kind of extract for flavoring.  I used Strawberry, and the whole house smelled like baked strawberry shortcake.  Very yummy!    

You'll then encrust the dough with jumbo (or other) sprinkles.  I cut my roll in half, and rolled one half in smaller sprinkles. The above kinda looks like a sprinkle-coated ham doesn't it?

Speaking of ham...

Some of you may wonder why there are so many pictures of my dog, Biscuit, included in my posts.  The truth is, he is stuck to me like glue!  He never leaves my side, and he always watches patiently in a chair as I work on projects and take photos. While editing photos, I rarely have a group that doesn't include him sticking his head (and nose, see above) where it doesn't belong.  He's never been alone for any extended period of time. I have a day job working from home for a Pathology company, and this has made him my constant companion.

I'll say "Biiiissscuit...no-no!"  and he'll look at me like this...

...and all my disciplinary plans fly out the window.

I think this version turned out cute too, although I really like the larger jumbo non-pariels better.  I realize some people have an aversion to sprinkles, or a mind-set that they are only for kids, or that they just plain taste bad.  Some do taste bad!  The jumbo sprinkles I used are from Wilton. They are fruit-flavored and very tasty, but there are other sprinkles you could use - just think of the variations!  Crushed pistachio nuts with a green-pistachio spiral, or crushed oreos with a chocolate spiral.  I can't wait to try them all!

I couldn't stop taking pictures, they are just so bright and happy!

I suppose I should stop getting carried away with the photos and post the recipe.  Here it is!

I have reviewed this recipe, and cannot recommend another method other than making it in the food processor.  Making it in the Kitchenaid was problematic and I ended up with a poorly rolled, tough cookie. The cookie itself is a French sable/shortbready-tasting cookie.  It's subtly sweet, so if you are a fan of drop cookies with lots of sweetness and chocolate chips etc., then this may not be the cookie for you.