Introduction: Spinal Crackers
When I first started driving alone, I needed to give myself time to calm my nerves before getting in the car. Sometimes, I didn't even want to drive and would consider taking the bus instead. When I finally pulled myself together and ran my errand, I found out how patient other drivers were with me. They would pass me to teach me how to accelerate and bid me good day with a nice honk. I always finished my errands with all body parts intact, but I usually came home with a (figurative) broken spine. "Oops, I shouldn't have done that at the intersection. Why did I do that? People must think I'm so stupid. I feel so bad."
But one cannot afford to have a broken spine. Those who do are unattractive, after all, and since I don't need to be more unattractive than I already am, I decided to grow my own spine using a simple cracker recipe.
I am still an inexperienced driver, though I am showing signs of improvement, albeit slowly. I brake a little less jerkily, drive faster than a snail, and take only twenty minutes trying to straighten my car in a parking space. Before you know it, I'll be confident enough to perform the California rolling stop.
Every now and then, I still feel stupid, but at least I have a spine made of crackers. If you need to grow a backbone, too, then this Instructable is for you.
Note: I made this for an art project, but since the spine is edible, it can be easily used to entertain party guests. I use the word "entertain" loosely.
Step 1: Supplies and Ingredients
If you've decided to go ahead with this project, it will be slightly helpful to know what materials you will need.
In order to make the crackers take the shape of the spine, you will need to make some molds around which you will wrap and shape the dough. I made the entire spinal column--a decision that I briefly regretted in the midst of crafting, though it was worth it in the end. Just make sure that you don't have the cold or the flu when you begin growing your spine. It will save you a lot of misery.
Supplies for the molds:
cardstock (e.g. cereal boxes)
Ingredients for the crackers*:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
scant 1/2 cup water**
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
*This amount makes one batch of crackers, whatever that means. If I recall correctly, I had to triple the amount for my spine. It may differ for your project, depending on how large of a spine you want. It would be best to make one batch at a time so you can see how much you need.
**It is better to err on the side of less water. I've found that adding just slightly more water changes the texture of the dough and makes it seem more like a tough bread dough instead of the drier cracker dough.
Step 2: Do Some Research
Before you begin growing your backbone, do some research on the spinal column. Don't worry, the research is not hard. Look, I'll even give you 50% of what you're supposed to find out:
The spinal column consists of 33 vertebrae (7 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 fused vertebrae for the sacrum, and 4 fused vertebrae for the coccyx).
The other half of your research is to find out how each vertebra looks like. I highly suggest sketching the vertebra so that you can become familiar with its shape. If Mixter Bones, the anatomical skeleton, is your friend, politely ask it if you can study its spine. It will definitely help a lot to have some visuals with you while you're shaping the cracker dough. Here are the links to the images that I used for reference:
Color-coded sections of the spinal column: http://www.disabled-world.com/artman/publish/spine_picture.shtml
3-D rendering that you can rotate: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/body/factfiles/spine/lumbar_vertebra.shtml
Sacrum and coccyx: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/imagepages/19464.htm
I guess I just did your research for you.
Step 3: Making the Molds - Planning and Supplies
Before you start making the molds, you will want to decide upon the scale of your spine. I'm not providing any measurements because I eyeballed it. Goodness, I'm dropping body parts all over this Instructable.
Once you've figured out the scale, you're ready to begin. I suggest creating your molds in groups according to the sections of the spine because if you did your research, you will notice that the vertebrae get slightly larger as they go lower down the spine. What I mean is that you should create seven molds for the cervical vertebrae, then move on to the thoracic, and so on. It just helps with organization.
1 sacrum and coccyx (good thing these 9 vertebrae are fused)
cardstock (e.g. cereal boxes)
I will divide the mold-making into two parts--the first being cervical, thoracic, and lumbar, and the second being the sacrum and coccyx.
Step 4: Making the Molds - Cervical, Thoracic, and Lumbar
The cervical, thoracic, and lumbar vertebrae will require ring molds. The cervical molds will be the smallest. The lumbar molds will be the largest.
You will need 7 cervical molds, 12 thoracic molds, and 5 lumbar molds.
The construction of these molds is slightly difficult. It involves a lot of meticulous handiwork and sometimes things don't turn out nicely, which is frustrating. You may need to enlist the help of Mixter Bones or some other willing friend. It's nice to have an extra set of hands and bones while you make these molds. Because making these molds is a little challenging, I admit that the following instructions are a bit complicated, but if you read carefully, you shouldn't run into any problems.
Here is what you have to do:
Cut the cardstock into strips, curl them into circles, and staple them together.
Step 5: Making the Molds - Sacrum and Coccyx
The sacrum and coccyx are shaped a little differently than the rest of the vertebrae. Just a little differently.
Take a sheet of newspaper and crumple it into a ball. Take another sheet and crumple it around the small ball that you have formed. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If the ball gets too big for the newspaper to completely envelope it, use some tape to keep everything in place. As you're doing this, slightly squash and flatten the ball that's forming. You don't want a perfect sphere, although if you achieve that with crumpled newspaper, I'd like to study your technique.
When do you stop? Take a look at your reference images and see how the size of the sacrum and coccyx compares to the rest of the spine. I gauged the sacrum and coccyx against the lumbar vertebrae.
Note: All of your molds will go in the oven. If you have any reservations about sticking paper products in the oven, you could fashion some ring molds out of metal, like empty cans (a little more effort than I'm willing to expend), and instead of using newspaper, you could use foil. However, I do want to say that I still have a house, so I wouldn't worry too much about it. The only thing I will say is to avoid using magazine. It emitted a strange smell when it was in the oven. I dno't bieleve I hvae impiraed cgontiive fnuciton, tohugh.
Step 6: Making the Molds - Covering With Foil
Once you've made all of your molds, the next step is to wrap each and every one of them with foil. It's not that bad. The sacrum and coccyx are fused, so that saves you nine vertebrae.
For the ring molds, tear off a strip of foil that is large enough so that its edges can be folded over the mold. The foil doesn't have to cover the inside of the mold completely, but you do want to be able to fold the edges of the foil over so that it stays secure. I found it easier to wrap the ring molds when I tore the strip of foil in half. Oil the ring molds before use. Also, keep the molds organized.
For the sacrum/coccyx mold, tear large sheets of foil and wrap them around it. Use some tape to keep everything in place. You don't have to oil this one.
Step 7: Making the Crackers - the Dough
Now that the molds are done, we can move on to the cracker dough.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
scant 1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
To make the dough, dump the flour and salt into a bowl and mix to incorporate. Then add the water and oil and mix until a ragged dough forms. Turn out the dough onto your work surface and knead just until it all comes together. Be careful not to overwork the dough, especially if you plan to eat your spine.
Divide the dough into two. Set one dough ball aside and cover it with a bowl or a damp cloth to prevent it from drying out. You will use the reserved dough later when your first ball of dough runs out. Also, unless you choose to make extremely tiny vertebrae, you will most likely need to make more dough later as you craft.
Step 8: Making the Crackers - Measuring the Dough
Roll out the dough as thinly as you can get it, but not too thinly that it will tear easily. If you are more skilled than me, you can roll out the dough in a neat circular or rectangular shape. Well, in retrospect, I suppose a rectangular shape would be more practical.
Once rolled out, take a ring mold and place it on its side on top of the dough. With a knife, cut out a strip of dough slightly shorter than the height of the mold.
Step 9: Making the Crackers - Wrapping the Dough Around the Ring Molds
Wrap the strip of dough around the mold. You don't want to wrap the dough around too tightly, since it shrinks in the baking process, which will make removal difficult. You just want a snug fit so that the dough doesn't slip off the ring mold. With kitchen shears, trim off any excess dough--be sure to leave a bit of overlap, though--and press down on the edges. Dab with a bit of water, if needed, to make the edges stick together better. Make sure you seal them well. Do this twenty-four times.
Once you finish with each mold, make sure to keep it covered to prevent the dough from drying out. Again, try to keep your molds organized.
Step 10: Making the Crackers - the First Two Cervical Vertebrae
The first two cervical vertebrae, the atlas and axis, are shaped differently from the majority of the vertebrae, so they deserve a little extra attention.
Scroll down on this page (http://www.spineuniverse.com/anatomy/spinal-column-integral-part-human-body) to have a look at them. We will try to replicate those shapes in a simplified manner.
To make these, find your two smallest molds. They should already be wrapped with dough. Gently squish the top and the bottom of the dough down to make it narrower. Tear small bits of dough from the dough you've rolled out and pinch them to make them resemble the parts that protrude from the atlas and axis. Use some water to firmly press the bits of dough onto the dough wrapped around the mold. Have a look at the pictures to get a better idea of what I'm trying to say.
That was easy. Next comes the hard part.
Step 11: Making the Crackers - Making the Vertebrae Look Like Vertebrae
The odd protruding shapes of the vertebrae are called processes (http://www.frca.co.uk/article.aspx?articleid=100361). We will attempt to make them out of dough.
This is my favorite part.
I will describe the steps in each picture, since it is a lot easier to point out in the pictures what I am doing. This is the step that will benefit most from the images you looked at for your research.
Step 12: Making the Crackers - Making the Vertebrae Look Like Vertebrae (cont.)
Now that you've cut out that odd shape, dab some water onto it and paste it onto the dough wrapped around the mold. Pinch the shape to make it more three-dimensional. Fold and bunch up the "flaps" of dough on the left and right sides in order to prevent them from hanging lifelessly. These are the transverse processes.
The process you want to follow: cut out the shape, paste it on, and pinch it. Then cover the dough to prevent it from drying out. Repeat twenty-two times.
Step 13: Making the Crackers - Making the Vertebrae Look Like Vertebrae (cont.)
The final component to making these look like vertebrae is the spinous process.
For the larger vertebrae, take a small ball of dough and shape it into a weird, oblong half-moon.
For the smaller vertebrae, pinch the dough to form a rounded point.
These don't have to be very accurate (I didn't even want to try to make the really long spinous processes of the cervical vertebrae for fear of going mad). Attach with some water and press down on the edges to seal it as best as you can.
The process you want to follow: construct a spinous process and stick it on. Cover the dough to prevent it from drying out. Repeat twenty-two times.
Step 14: Baking the Vertebrae
Place the vertebrae upright (not lying on their sides) on a baking tray and bake in a preheated 430°F/220°C oven. Baking times will vary depending on the size of your backbone. Try 10 minutes and estimate from there. Flip the vertebrae around halfway through the baking time. The crackers should be a light golden brown.
Depending on the size of your vertebrae, you may be able to fit all of them onto a baking tray, or you may have to bake them in batches. If you bake them all at once, or if you're mixing the sections of vertebrae together (i.e. baking cervical and lumbar vertebrae together), you will have to flip and remove the vertebrae at different times, which can get a bit annoying, especially if the vertebrae are disorganized on the baking tray... but if you don't mind grinding teeth, you're more than welcome to figure it out.
Tip: to save some time, you could start baking in batches while you're busy constructing the rest of the vertebrae.
When they come out of the oven, wait a bit before you start handling them. To remove the crackers from the mold, simply slide them off. If they are on pretty tightly, you could try snipping the mold and then ripping it off. Do it carefully, though, because you don't want to break your spine that soon.
Step 15: Making the Crackers - the Sacrum and Coccyx
While the vertebrae are baking, you can get started on the sacrum and coccyx.
Somewhere amidst the twenty-four vertebrae, I got a little tired, so I was grateful that the sacrum and coccyx was only one piece.
Since I used the lumbar vertebrae to help me judge how big to make the sacrum and coccyx, I located my now baked lumbar vertebrae and lined them up. I then placed the oblong sacrum/coccyx mold next to them.
Roll out your dough as usual. Try to roll it out thinly in a nice circular shape. Mine ended up too thick, as you will see later, but at least I succeeded for once in getting a decent circular shape. Get it as large as you can--it's better to have extra than not enough. Drape the dough over your oblong mold.
Step 16: Making the Crackers - the Sacrum and Coccyx (cont.)
Get out your pictures of the sacrum and coccyx: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/imagepages/19464.htm
Trim the dough so that it roughly resembles the shape of the sacrum and coccyx. The shape tapers down towards the bottom.
Next, cut two slits in the center of the wider end to create a tab for the sacral canal. I don't know if this step is necessary, since I was trying to figure it all out while I was constructing this piece, but making this tab made me feel productive.
Pinch and manipulate the dough around the tab you have created so that you are left with an upright edge that looks like a wide, hideous, wobbly 'M'. You may have to snip the dough and make a few more tabs to get it to co-operate. Nothing like a little bit of violence to induce compliance. Refer to the pictures. This part is not frustrating at all.
Step 17: Making the Crackers - the Sacrum and Coccyx (cont.)
Now it's time to create the bumps and ridges of the sacrum. I'm impressed by my use of medical jargon.
With your reference images handy, simply pinch the dough in places where there are bumps and ridges. I created two long lines coming down from the sacral canal and three bumps (a.k.a. spinous tubercles) down the center. Refer to the pictures to see what I did.
Step 18: Making the Crackers - the Sacrum and Coccyx (cont.)
Let's stop picking on the sacrum for a bit and divert our attention to the coccyx.
Looking at the the reference image (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/imagepages/19464.htm), you will notice that the coccyx is shaped like a triangle.
At the tapered end of the dough, make two horizontal snips to differentiate the coccyx from the sacrum. I apologize for not having a measurement of some sort for how big the cuts should be and how far down to make these cuts, but it's easy enough to eyeball it. After snipping the dough, pinch a small section of the dough below the cut you have made and shape them like shown in the picture. You can also take a look at your reference image.
Then, pinch the very bottom of the coccyx to form a point.
With the back of a knife, make several horizontal indents on the point of the coccyx. Make these indents deeper if you want them to show up more after baking.
Step 19: Making the Crackers - Finishing Touches on the Sacrum and Coccyx
While you're making the sacrum and coccyx, be sure to keep gauging the proportions and trim as necessary. I didn't include this as a separate step, but I ended up trimming the sides to make the piece narrower.
Now, go back to the sacrum and with kitchen shears, make four small snips down the left and right sides to make the dorsal sacral foramina (pictures are so helpful, aren't they?). You will have a total of eight small slits. Using the tip of a knife, gouge around the little slits to widen them, forming holes.
Once you're satisfied with the form, make sure that the dough is positioned on the mold in a way that allows the cracker to be baked with a curve that resembles the actual curve of the sacrum and coccyx.
Step 20: Baking the Sacrum and Coccyx
Place the mold with the sacrum and coccyx on a baking tray and bake the dough at the same temperature as the other pieces. You will have to keep an eye on it to determine when it is done. I wasn't too concerned about the baking time because I wasn't planning to eat this piece (or the other vertebrae).
Sometime during the baking when the cracker has hardened, you can excise the mold and put it in the biohazardous bin. Flip the large cracker onto its back so that the underside can brown a little. Flip it as you see necessary.
My sacrum and coccyx burned a little. Ouch.
Step 21: Presenting Your Spinal Crackers
What to do with your spinal crackers is up to you.
Some ideas off the top of my cranium:
- Eat them. Share with your dog.
- Turn them into little cups/containers in which to hold food. Serve to party guests.
- Glue them together.
- Throw them at the wall.
- Throw them at people.
- Scatter them on your bed and sleep.
- Scatter them on your housemate's bed.
- Drop them from a tall building and see if they hit someone.
- Smash them on your forehead to see if it hurts more than a soda can.
- Have fun, be creative, and don't take the majority of this list too seriously.
I used my crackers in a performative art piece. It was satisfying.