Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Holiday Pies ala Sarah and Anna

Well, it's still Christmas Carol season over here at the Fake-n-Bake kitchen. The show is open, but the standard little repairs and maintenance are coming over to the shop. You know, a $400 piece of electrical equipment was installed incorrectly and fried, the dead body's lead shot is leaking out of it's shroud, the usual stuff. No one has caught on fire yet (this year) so we're still pretty hum-drum on notes. 

This week, I want to bring you two examples of salt dough pies from two very different Christmas productions.  The first set of pies are from our production last season of "The Seafarer." The second act of this play centers around a Christmas day card game between a group of bachelors. Of the men at the table one is blind, one is playing for his soul, and the only man who isn't an alcoholic is actually Satan. So, obviously, they have some very festive refreshments including smoked salmon and store bought mince pies.  By the time we see the men, they have devoured most of their treats, and we see only the remnants of their Christmas feast.

 I started out by researching mince pies, it turns out that they are a British tradition, and that frozen and packaged mince pies are readily available. We purchased a package of little mince pies from an online British Grocer for research, and also to use the packaging as a prop.  

The pies themselves are made of salt dough. You can find all sorts of salt dough recipes online to fit your taste, but basically, salt dough is salt, flour, and water. Thin sculptures can often be air dried, but baking tends to be faster.  I mixed up a batch of salt dough, and sculpted it around some 1" long cut-offs of curtain rod. I just wanted to make sure that the dough wasn't too thick to dry out thoroughly.  I used a muffin pan to give me a good bottom shape, and cut out little Christmas trees for the top of each pie. I then baked the little pies at 250 degrees F for about an hour, or until they seemed to be dried completely.

For paint, I just used watered down acrylic paints, and then coated the pies with flex glue or acrylic medium ( I don't remember which.)  Though there are six pies, only two made it out onto the plates. On one, I broke the pie open and filled it with hot pour vinyl, as if it were half eaten. Do I have a photo of this hilarious half eaten pie? Yes, but I can't find it. Sorry about that.

Sarah's Christmas Carol pies are also made out of salt dough. In fact, her pies are entirely salt dough, with no filler in the middle. This seemed to work out just fine, though the dough did seem to contract some during the baking process.  The edges of the dough pulled up just slightly from the pans, but not enough to be problematic. 

Sarah had a much nicer plan to color her pies than I did. She used amber shellac on the pies which gave them a delightful golden brown color and a sealer coat in one go.  She did use multiple coats of the shellac in the middle and along the edges to give the color some depth and make the pies look like they were fresh from the oven.  You can see a photo of Sarah with her festive pies up at the top of the blog. Darling, aren't they?

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Christmas Carol Coffee Cake

Materials: Great Stuff, Tissue Paper, White Glue, Design Master, Acrylic Caulk, Gloss Medium, Fake Holly

So, is everyone feeling festive yet? If you work in a theater in America, chances are 64% that you are about to open your Christmas show. (Statistic not based on fact) Whether it be 'A Christmas Carol' (yay, public domain!), 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever', a Nativity play, or some multi-denominational holiday extravaganza, you're probably picking glitter and pine needles out of your clothes at the end of each day. Well, here in the Fake-n-Bake kitchen, we are no exception.  Now, I feel like I should say that I love our beautiful production of 'A Christmas Carol,' but one does tire a bit when most of the notes involve bow fluffing and holly gluing. 

This prop is a rebuild of a smaller coffee cake that wasn't reading well.  I started by making a ring of Great Stuff foam. Now, I'm having a bit of a falling out with Great Stuff right now (See upcoming posts on life casting traumas) but I like using it for baked goods because it is lightweight, readily available, and it carves well. 

Once the Great Stuff was cured, I trimmed away the funky bits to smooth the shape a bit.  Then, I did a papier mache treatment over the foam, to give it a more 'pastry like' surface to paint.  I used tissue paper and white glue for this.

Once the papier mache was dry, I painted the cake with Design Master spray paints. The Honey Stain and the Glossy Wood Tone worked to give the cake that fresh baked golden look that looks so good on stage.  The icing is made from a mixture of Acrylic Caulk, Acrylic Gloss Medium, and Water.  I drizzled it over the top. The first time, I put on way too much and had to wash it off. The next time was a little bit better, though I would have liked to have achieved skinnier drips, so I'll have to practice that in the future. I also could have spent a bit more time and attention to a more symmetrical coffee cake, but as my real coffee cakes usually turn out asymmetrical also, I thought I'd let it go.

Then, I glued it to the plate, and hot glued a metric buttload of fake holly and fruit picks to it, and WAH-LAH! Christmas like Charles Dickens intended it!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Meat Buns aka St. Lucia Rolls

Materials:  Upholstery Foam, Liquid Latex, Acrylic Paint, Sawdust, Flex Glue

These are another prop from our recent production of Cabaret.  As I've mentioned before, it was my job to create a smorgasbord of (inedible) German treats for the engagement party scene.  I had recently seen some beautiful prop rolls created out of latex coated upholstery foam, and so I wanted to give the technique a try. I did some poking around to find photos of German foods, and I found a photo of some beautiful rolls over on  Now, this might be a good time for a disclaimer. I cheated a bit, St. Lucia buns are actually Swedish.
Swedish, actually. Don't tell my boss.
Making these buns is very straightforward. First, use an Olfa knife (or other utility blade) to carve upholstery foam into the appropriate shape. 
After carving the rolls, give them a few coats of liquid latex. Once dry, use some thinned acrylic paint to give them some color. I mixed my paint with matte medium.

Finally, stuff the little divots in the buns. I used a combination of sawdust, flex glue, and acrylic paint.  Once they are dried, put them in a lovely basket, and put them onstage!

Pretty easy, huh?

The only thing that I don't like about this technique is that it is very difficult to get the rolls to be nice and smooth.  Perhaps I just need more practice, or perhaps I'm missing something. Does anyone have a surefire way to get upholstery foam to carve smoothly? If so, please comment below, I'd be happy to hear it!

Did you like this post? For another delightful type of roll, visit the following link:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sarah's Festive Balls- Sugarplums/Sweetmeats

Materials: Celluclay, Food Coloring, Spray Paint, Cork, Spray Snow, White Glue, Garnish

Well, the time has come once more for our beloved production of 'A Christmas Carol' to be dragged from the filthy warehouse, lovingly cleaned and pieced together, and presented as a gift to the whole city. But, alas, this year, a few of the props needed special attention. The sweetmeats. Yes, the faithful sweetmeats that have served us, lo, these six long years, have seen their better days.  It is time for a new platter of sweetmeats to grace our stage, and who better to confect these Victorian beauties than one of my favorite propsters, Sarah Heck?

Sarah is my co-crafter at the Rep, and she's a propster of the highest caliber. She specializes in fake taxidermy, leatherwork, and other crafts; she is a gentlewoman, a scholar, and a judge of fine whiskies. Also, I envy her for being tall. There, I said it.

But enough kissing up to Sarah, let's talk a little bit about sweetmeats.  Sweetmeats, according to my favorite reference website, , are a British term for confectionary. Basically, what we call candies.  Confections back in Dickens' time were mostly very sweet mish-mashes of honey, nuts, and preserved fruits.  One of these types of sweetmeat is the famous sugar plum, which according to Saveur Magazine, look like this:

Sarah started these sugarplums by making round lumps of Celluclay colored with brown food coloring and allowed them to dry.  Celluclay is nice because it is lightweight and paintable.

Next, she put pieces of rolled cork (the kind you buy to make cork board) into a blender.  Once the cork was minced to a desirable size, she used spray paint to add some color to batches of the chopped cork.  She dipped each of the Celluclay lumps into white glue, and rolled them in the cork schnibbles. Once the cork dried, she coated each sugarplum in white glue to seal and bind the cork even further.

Once all the glue had dried again, she dusted the top of each with spray-on snow, a sweet substitute for powdered sugar.

Once the 'sugar' was dried, there was nothing left but to pile them dramatically on a wooden platter, and garnish them with holly.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dirty Martinis

Hey all! Sorry for the delay in a new post. I worked on a commercial shoot these last two weeks that completely took up my time. Please enjoy this week's post!

Materials: Acrylic Water (the kind florists use), Martini Glasses, Toothpicks, Sculpey, Acrylic Paint, Spray Paint

So, this is a project with a couple of issues- one was an I-D-10-T error (I was being an idiot) and one was more about being unfamiliar with the materials.  I'll explain both when we get there.  These martinis were made for  Milwaukee Repertory Theater's production of  'Cabaret.' We needed spill proof champagne and martini props for the Kit Kat Klub patrons to wave about while they caroused.  I did a few samples before I settled on the Acrylic Water. Neither Smooth Cast 325 nor the year old Zeller Opti-Kleer that I had in stock was water white or bubble free, so I ran over to my favorite floral wholesaler, and picked up a bottle of Acrylic Water.  This is a two-part acrylic resin that is used in the vases of silk floral arrangements to simulate water.  It is easy to work with, water white, virtually bubble free, and has a beautiful refractive quality in a glass. I've never used it before, but I was eager to give it a shot, and I'm glad that I did. (There was no MSDS, and I didn't have time to request one, so I took the same precautions as I would with any two part resin. I used the appropriate PPEs, and worked in a ventilated area.) 

Jim Guy, my boss, and Props Director Extraordinaire, found these acrylic martini glasses at World Market.  Aside from having a nice look, the thick stems are sturdier than a typical martini glass, which helps to keep them from breaking or tipping when the acrylic makes them top-heavy.  Aside from the glass, the most important identifying characteristic of a martini is the olive.  These olives are made from white Sculpey brand polymer clay. 
Aren't they hilarious? White model olives!
White was the only color of Sculpey that I had on hand, so I had to paint them.....but I'll get to that later.  I shaped the olives by hand, and used a pen cap to give them the round impression that looks like a pimento. I decided to put two olives in each glass, to add color and help take up volume. Then, I made a stupid mistake. 

I decided to put the two olives on skewers before baking them. This was not the stupid mistake.  I went down to our stock hoping to find metal toothpicks. Faced with the decision between wooden toothpicks and plastic toothpicks, I chose plastic. The voice in my head said "Don't do it, they'll melt in the oven," but the tired part of my brain that had been working too hard said "Nah, it'll be fine." STUPID!  Here's something I've learned in theater and life. If that little voice in the back of your brain pipes up, it's usually right, don't ignore it.  So I baked the Sculpey olives on their plastic toothpicks, and I melted the plastic toothpicks. I didn't melt them entirely, just enough to make them misshapen and saggy.  Stupid.  Since I was working with limited time, I did my best to straighten them out, painted them silver, and carried on, hoping that the refraction of the acrylic in the round glass and the distance to stage would help me out.  Luckily, for the most part, they did. 

Olives before baking.

I also painted the olives. For the green of the olives, I used Design Master spray paint, for the pimentos, I used red acrylic paint.  I probably should have given the spray paint a bit more time to cure, but as I said before, we were pressed for time.  I dropped a skewer of olives in each glass, mixed the acrylic according to the directions, poured the martinis, and left them to cure for 24 hours. 

Once cured, the acrylic is beautiful and durable,  The overall effect from stage is actually very good. There was no reason not to send these martinis on stage. There was, however, a swirl of paint coming off of the olives into the martini.  It looks pretty cool actually, but it isn't part of what I intended the martini to be.

See? GRRR!

I think that if I were to duplicate this project, I would use green and red Sculpey instead of attempting to paint white Sculpey. As it was, we said that I meant to do it, called it a dirty martini, and sent it onstage. I highly doubt that the audience, or even the performers, noticed that anything was amiss.  It wasn't  the perfect prop that I would have liked it to be, but I learned a few things, and got to try a new product, so I can't complain too much.  But hey, if I did it perfectly the first time, what would be the fun of doing it again? Cheers!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pickled Herring with Onions

Materials: Paraffin Wax, Candle Pigments, Microfoam, Fake herbs

This is one of the dishes that I made for the engagement party scene in 'Cabaret.'  In the scene, the counter is covered in party food; punch, sausages, St. Lucia rolls, fruit bowls, and pickled herring.  This pickled herring is made of a material newly discovered to me- paraffin wax.  Well, okay, I knew about paraffin wax before, but the idea of using it to replicate translucent foods is on the newer side. My boss suggested it last season for a smoked salmon platter that was on the list, and I decided to use it for this project.  The paraffin is nice because it is easy to carve with an olfa knife or carving tools, easy to tint with candle coloring, has a great translucence for things like fish, and you can buy it at the grocery store. Also, you can melt it down for re-use.

 I started by finding a few research photos.
This is one of them.    

Next, I went out and bought some candle pigments. Okay, I asked our shopper to go out and buy me some candle pigments. Candle colors come in packets of small, intensely colored wax diamonds, like tiny diamond shaped crayons.  I bought my pigments from a candle supply company in my neighborhood which I will now shamelessly plug. Not only can you find candle and soap making supplies at The Candlemaker, you'll also be dealing with a small, local and web-based business run by a delightful woman that boosts tax revenues in my neighborhood. Also, she's really nice.  Please check her website out for all of your candle making needs.  Again, that's

Okay, the shameless promoting is over for now. After buying the pigments, I carved the paraffin wax into pickled herring shapes. I carved the shapes with my trusty Olfa knife, and used a clay carving tool to smooth them.

Like this.
 Once the shapes were carved, it was time to add some color.  Using a makeshift double boiler (tin cans in a bath of boiling water) I made three wax washes; one yellow, one gray, and one black.  The yellow was just to cut the bright white color of the wax, the gray and black were to give the appearance of skin.  Keeping the colored wax warm and liquid, I used acid brushes to paint it onto the pieces of "herring."

Like this!
 Once the herring was finished, it needed some garnish to make it believable.  The dill was easy, I just pulled some plastic fish tank plants out of our stock.  The onions were more fun. I cut microfoam packing material into thin strips, and glued it into rings using rubber cement.
Neat, huh?

Once I had herring, onions, and dill in hand, I just had to glue them down. I used a combination of hot glue and rubber cement to do this. Turns out, rubber cement doesn't stick to wax, and hot glue doesn't stick to microfoam. Fun, no?  Anyway, once it was all together, I was very happy with the effect. 

Not too shabby.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Proppy, Proppy, Punch Bowl

 Materials:  Punch Bowl and Ladle,  Artificial Fruit Slices, Clear Acrylic Sheeting, Design Master Spray Paint

 Behold the proppy, proppy punch bowl from our current production of Cabaret*!  This one surprised me, folks.  I went back and forth with my boss about what should be in this punch bowl.  The conversation went something (nothing)  like this:
Me: Jello?
Boss: Spoilage
Me: Acrylic? Resin?
Boss: Heavy and expensive.
Me: Punch?
Boss: Now you're not even trying.
Me: Well, what do you suggest, smart guy?
Boss: We used to do this trick in opera with Plexiglas and spray paint.
Boss: You got any better ideas?
Me: ..........................

And that is how the proppy, proppy punch was born.  Frankly, its success surprised us all. 

First of all, I taped a fill line around the inside of the bowl. Then, I cut a piece of acrylic to fit into the bowl at the fill line, and cut out a notch along the edge for the ladle.  Once this was done, I spray painted the inside of the bowl, and the bottom of the acrylic.  I used design master paints, Cherry Wood Tone of the berry colors. Cranberry, maybe.  I wanted it to look more like a wine punch than Hawaiian Punch, so I tried to keep the color subdued.

All that was left was to assemble the punch. I used snot tape to hold in the fake orange slices and ladle, and even to hold in the acrylic top.  I most likely could have used something more permanent to hold in the acrylic, but I wasn't sure what was a better option.  At least this way, I can disassemble and reuse the pieces when the show comes down.  A few orange slices on top completed the punch (one small slice behind the ladle hides the notch.)

 And that's it, the proppiest punch you ever did see! It sat on top of a buffet counter loaded with treats, and surrounded by beautiful people in their undies.  Did it steal the show? No. Did it do the job? Yes.

 If I were going to put a punch bowl smack down-center, this technique might not cut the mustard.  Scratches in the paint give it away, as well as the tell tale clear edge of the acrylic, (though perhaps this could be remedied with some judicious Sharpie action).  It is by no means a perfect solution, but it is light weight, simple to make, and effective from afar. 

 *(I will not title this post 'Punch and Jew-dy Show', I will not title this post 'Punch and Jew-dy Show')

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Hot Links- Menus and Food Timeline

From the LAPL menu database. Part of a menu from the Seven Homes Restaurant in Denmark, circa 1960s.
This week on the Fake-n-Bake blog, I bringing you two new phenomenal links that I have recently stumbled upon.

Los Angeles Public Library Menu Collection
The first is a database of period restaurant menus at the LA public library.  You can search for menus by Keyword, Restaurant, Cuisine, and Date. This is useful in many ways. Not only is this a gem for ephemera buffs and paper props creation, you can also us it to research food history! Wondering what was popular in New York restaurants in the 1930s? Pop onto the database and browse menus from that period. Some of the menus even have images of their restaurant decor and meal selections, what more could you ask for? Take some time and poke around, I'm sure you'll be thrilled with what you find.

Food Timeline
Reference librarian Lynne Olver has put together this database which is an invaluable tool for food craftsters. From "a la carte" to "zweiback" hundreds of articles discuss the history of food, and a timeline dating back before the beginnings of agriculture lays it all out.  Whether you need to know what Christopher Columbus was lunching on or need a recipe for popcorn balls, you'll find what you need here.

Happy Propping!

Monday, September 6, 2010

One Last Herring Cake

This cake is the last of the opera's Albert Herring food-stravaganza, and it happens to be the one that I made.  Here is the research image:

Isn't it darling? You just know that whoever baked it was wearing pearls and a crinoline!

I started by using the band saw to cut a bevel into my bead foam base, and then cut a hole into the middle of the cake.  I then sanded the edges to soften them.  Next, I mixed some color into my acrylic caulk, and frosted the cake.

Once the frosting dried, I decorated the cake using items I found in stock; some foam lemon slices that I painted orange and some little silk daisies. Ta-da!

Note: There is actually one other Herring cake, a lovely strawberry number by Keli (of the Sham ala Keli entry.) Unfortunately, I do not have photos of said cake. If I come across any, I will post them!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cakes ala David

This is another lovely foam con-caulk-tion! David Russell is our Master Craftsperson, and boy, can he fake some cakes! This one is a lemon cake based on a research photo from County Living.

David's other cake is a lovely sugared violet number. Here is the research image:
Is this not the most precious cake you've ever seen? Thanks Kids

He started out with an insulation foam base, and added little foam lady fingers around the edge. To texture the lady fingers, he coated them with Elastomeric and sand, and handed them off to the painters for that fresh-baked look.
The frosting is our good old standby, acrylic caulk.  Unfortunately, the caulk took a while to dry, and before if was cured, some curious performer left a few fingerprints in the top. No worries, though, a few judiciously placed violets solved that right quick. The resulting cake was far sweeter than this photo shows.
Lord, I need a new camera.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cherries Cake ala Ellie

This is another of the 'Albert Herring' cakes. As you can tell, we put together quite a spread for the picnic.  This lovely cake is the work of props apprentice, Ellie "Biceps" Bye, another talented and sweet young props artisan.  Ellie used the standard recipe of insulation foam and acrylic caulk to make the base of her cake. The cherries on top are purchased artificial cherries from our stock.
Ellie is just nuts for fake cakes!
The real charm and cleverness of this cake is in its nutty exterior. Ellie used cork crumbles to simulate copped walnuts, pressing them into the caulk before it dried. The result is a cake that is beautifully textured, and looks good enough to eat. Yum!

If you'd like to read more about Ellie, you can take a look at this article at

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sham ala Keli

This lovely ham is yet another picnic prop for 'Albert Herring.' Crafted by our resident sculptor Keli Sequoia, and painted by our talented painters, this ham is a vision in foam and flex glue.  The body of the ham is carved from bead foam, and the slices of ham are microfoam sheeting- that thin, translucent foam used for packaging.  I believe the bone is made of bamboo. Keli did something very clever here, which was to reinforce the edges of the ham slices with wire, allowing the slices to gracefully drape from the ham. The slices of ham were attached to the body with green glue, and the ham was coated with flex glue (I believe) before being painted. The final touch is the real cloves, which you can see Keli placing in the photos. Well done, Keli, another beautiful prop from a talented lady!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Herring-Do Part 3- Sugared Pansy Cake Ala Oona

Lovely Oona and her lovely cake. The photos don't do either of them justice.

This is a fine example of pastry fakery from a lovely young woman who claims to be a costumer/couturier but is just aching to let her inner propster out.  Oona Tibbetts created this lovely bundt while overhiring in our shop this summer.  I hope you'll all forgive me, my sub-par camera has led to some sub-par photos of this lovely cake. I assure you, the 'real' thing is far more scrumptious looking than these pics give it credit.  If any of you many wealthy readers want to see better photos, please send a Canon Rebel EOS to Anna Warren, C/O Milwaukee Repertory Theater, and I'll do what I can.  Now, back to Oona's cakery.

Here is the research image that Oona was given:
She decided to make a few adjustments based on size and the flowers we had available in our stock.  The cake that Oona made is taller and has a smaller diameter than the source photo, and she used violets instead of pansies. You see, my friends, adaptability! Oona started by carving the cake form from bead foam. After patterning the cake, she set the bandsaw table at a 10 degree angle, and cut the cake with a lovely bevel.  From there, she used an Olfa knife to carve away the scalloped pattern around the edge of the cake, and sanded the top to a graceful curve.

Once the shaping was done, a coat of Jaxsan (the magic prop goo) was applied to seal the foam and provide a paintable surface.  One of our talented props painters (Ilana Kirschbaum, I believe) painted the cake. Once dry, Oona glittered up a few silk violets (mmm sugared flowers) and applied them to the top of the bundt. Et, Voila!  Another darling addition to the Albert Herring picnic table.


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