I was chopping vegetables for dinner recently when my 14-year-old daughter, Grace, disappeared with the stem end of the bok choy. She returned five minutes later with paper, a stamping ink pad, and the pilfered vegetable.
"Look, Mom," she said, and held up a stunner: The bok choy head, refuse to me, had stamped a beautiful blooming rose onto the paper.
It was then that I discovered what some crafters have long known - the beauties of stamping with food. Part of the pleasure derives from the experimentation, and part from the element of surprise when an ordinary vegetable produces a beautiful image.
Kristen Sutcliffe of Oberlin, Ohio, came to love stamping while teaching preschool in Japan, where it's popular, she says.
Her favorite food tool? Okra.
"It's so pretty," Sutcliffe says. "It looks like a little flower."
The stem ends of bok choy and celery stamp pretty roses. Pull off a stalk of either to stamp U shapes. Peppers, sliced in half and deseeded, stamp wavy rounds for making flowers.
Garlic is the favored stamp of Sarah Raven, program director for a group with the acronym GARLIC (Green Art Recreating Life in Communities) that encourages low-income residents of New Haven, Conn., to make art from recycled items. Garlic, too, can create a delicate flower image.
The discovery was part of the thrill, Raven says.
"I tried to ink the entire garlic and that didn't work," she says. Then she pulled a single clove out of the bulb and realized it looked like a finger and a flower petal.
"The individual clove becomes a stamping surface for individual flower petals," Raven says.
She also has tried carved potatoes and star fruit cut in half. The latter is a little unwieldy and stinky, she says.
Terri Ouellette of Phoenix has a tip for that: Cut and air-dry citrus and other watery fruits and vegetables, sometimes overnight, before working with them, she says. Be watchful, because they dry out quickly.
"Anything with a very high water content does not work very well," says Ouellette, who posts crafts videos to YouTube and her own website, "Super Simple with Terri O."
What works, she says: apples, oranges, and pears. What doesn't: grapes, broccoli, and lettuce.
Besides celery, Ouellette likes using mushrooms, cauliflower and potatoes.
Potatoes "can be cut up into anything and turned into a great stamp," she says. "You just have to carve in reverse."
Marcie McGoldrick, editorial director of holiday and crafts for Martha Stewart Living, has stamped with apple halves, carrots (the ends make polka dots) and radicchio.
Radicchio? The cut end of a head of radicchio, like celery and bok choy, makes a version of a rose print.
Martha Stewart Living online also recommends trying Brussels sprouts cut in half.
The whole venture is trial and error, says McGoldrick.
"It's really just looking at different things when you're cooking," she says, and then having a printing day.
As with other stamping, use a stamp pad or acrylic paint for stamping on paper. Use fabric-specific acrylic paint for printing on textiles.
Sutcliffe recommends soaking a sponge with tempera (poster) paint or pouring a thin layer of the paint on a plate and using either as an ink pad.
Once your prints are dry, add embellishments, such as stems or leaves, with colored markers or fabric markers, says Ouellette. She has stamped aprons, place mats, and tote bags with food. McGoldrick has stamped note cards and gift wrap.
Sutcliffe, whose book for kids, Fabric, Paper, Thread, will be published in June by C&T Publishing, prints mostly on paper gift tags and note cards, and small swatches of fabric. Sometimes her 6-year-old daughter joins her.
While it's a great project for kids, food stamping also can provide attractive artwork for the home.
McGoldrick recommends stamping several images of the same vegetables but in complementary colors, then framing the series.
She also recommends this for gardeners who want to document their harvest artistically.