Saturday, October 29, 2011

Puppy Dog the Ladybug

I made my dog a Halloween costume.

First off, I would like to affirm my belief that dogs should not wear clothing.  They have fur.  Unless you have a grayhound who has been bred to have no body fat/hair and therefore has a legitimate reason to wear a sweater, you should not put your dog in a sweater.  I have two exceptions to this and both are conditional.  I find dog raincoats practical in rainy climates, not because they look cute, but because the first thing my dog does after being out in the rain is shake all over the front entryway. The raincoat seems like it would be a practical convenience (I don't own one).  The second is dog booties in icey weather. In general, I think a dog's paws are made for the elements and we shouldn't mess with the natural calluses. However, deicing salt is dangerous for a dog. It can cause chemical burns on their paws from prolonged contact (long walks or iceballs on the foot hair) and can be toxic if the dog licks their paws (to get rid of iceballs, etc).

That said, costumes are not clothing.  A costume has no practical purpose and I do not intend for it to serve any purpose other than being adorable.  And Puppy Dog is adorable.

I spent maybe $3 on this costume for the red felt, which I actually bought to make Christmas ornaments.  The entire costume is made of felt and stuck together with felt glue.  I rough measured her to cut out a rectangle of felt and then cut out a bit for her neck and rounded the back end.  I discovered a wine bottle made appropriate sized black circles.  Some of my felt scraps and velcro were used to hold it on it on to her body at the waist and neck.  I did not make any sort of hat because those tend to bother dogs. 

sad eyes
 Ok, so she's not thrilled with the costume. I had the velcro on there pretty loose so she shook it off in about 10 minutes.  That's ok.  I spent $3 on it and I wasn't expecting her to wear it for long. 

the largest bug I've seen in our house.  some have come close though.

[edit] I intended to post this on Thursday, but after taking Puppy Dog to the vet, I was in no shape to add the last minute touches, take pictures, and write something up. On Thursday, we found out three pieces of bad news regarding our dog, Puppy Dog.

First, she has an ear infection.  I was expecting that one.  She's been using her paws to scratch her ears/nose in the most adorable way, but she seemed in pain. We got a prescription for some meds that will easily clear it up.

Second, she's in heat. We had believed she was spayed, so this was a big surprise.  Dogs should ideally be spayed before their first heat. She has at least a 25% chance of developing mammary tumors because she's had several heats (probably in the neighborhood of 16) and the anesthesia is more dangerous for older dogs.  Again, easily taken care of, but the surgery will be somewhat traumatic for her 9 year old body and it's an extra expense for something we thought was done.

Third, she tested positive for heartworms. This one is WAY, WAY more serious than the other two issues.  Heartworms are a potentially fatal condition and if left untreated, they can cause problems in the heart and lungs.  We have two options to deal with it. One, the slow-kill method: give her heartworm prevention medication so she doesn't contract more heartworms or spread heartworms and wait for the ones in her to die.  This could take several years.  This is not an accepted treatment, but it does work for some otherwise healthy dogs and is recommended for those that cannot withstand the treatment.  Two, the fast-kill method: give her the treatment, which is a long and expensive process.  After being evaluated to make sure she would survive treatment, she would be given injections of an adulticide in the muscle (ouch!) over a period of several months.  For both of these options, the real danger lies in the adults heartworms dying.  As they die and decompose, they can cause partial or complete blockage of blood flow to the lungs.  For the fast kill method, she has to be kept on the doggie equivalent of bedrest because all the worms are killed at about the same time.  For the slow kill, the more active she is, the greater the risk.

We decided to go with the slow kill method. Even if we had the money for the fast kill method, it wouldn't necessarily be worth the expense due to her age.  As she is relatively healthy, she seems to be a good candidate for the slow kill method.  However, she could basically drop dead from a dead worm blocking her blood flow and that terrifies me- and because it's a very slow process, I expect to be terrified for several years while I wait for them to die.

So after all this, I realize I made her the wrong costume.  Heartworms look like spaghetti and since they are in her heart, clearly she is a Pastafarian and member of the Cult of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

However, I started this costume before I knew any of this.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Carroty Macaroni and Cheese

I love boxed macaroni and cheese.  It was the first dish I ever learned to make completely by myself (second was tuna noodle casserole).  My husband does not share my love for boxed mac and cheese.  He loves macaroni and cheese casserole.  It's a bit of a sensitive subject for us.  Before we got married, we had half-joking discussions regarding which version of mac and cheese our future children will eat more and likely love more (jury is still out).  Since we've been married, it hasn't been as big of an issue.  We've made mac and cheese casserole, but I always keep a box on hand for those days we both get home late, I have no idea what to make for dinner, there's no meat defrosted, and if I don't get something on the table now he's going to order pizza.

When I was fully FUNemployed, it wasn't too hard to get dinner on the table every night without much planning.  Now that I haven't slightly less time on my hands, it's been a bit hit and miss.* Last weekend, Jamie and I planned out this weeks meals.  First up was something I was rather excited about and he was kind of dreading: his beloved mac and cheese mixed with some like-colored vegetables.

The carrots kind of look like cheese.
Result?  Well, he said he couldn't taste the carrots and had seconds, so I'm going to count that as a win.

I made a few alterations, but here's the recipe I used with my alterations (1/4 tsp less mustard powder, used buttermilk instead of sour cream, and I'm not sure I put in as much carrot as called for either.  And after reading over the ingredients again, I totally forgot to put butter in... wow.  Couldn't tell.)

Carroty Mac and Cheese
  • 2 cups macaroni
  • 2 1/2 cups coarsely grated carrot (about 8 small)
  • 2 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup gouda
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (I used powdered, so I always have it on hand)
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 400°F and grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Arrange a rack in the top third of the oven.
2. Cook macaroni according to package instructions in a large pot of salted boiling water; add carrot 3 minutes before pasta is finished cooking; drain well.
3. While pasta is hot, stir in all but 1/2 cup of the cheddar and the butter. In a bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, milk, eggs, salt, mustard powder, and pepper. Fold mixture into the pasta.
4. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar and the parmesan over the top. Bake until the casserole is firm to the touch and golden brown, about 30 minutes. 

* I would like to clarify that I don't cook our meals because I'm the wife and he expects me to.  My husband is a fine cook and often cooks on the weekends.  However, I am done with my education at this point and he is continuing his for the benefit of both of us. I consider his studying every night a bit more important than evenly dividing cooking nights.  The 1L year is hard enough without me stressing him out more. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sweet Potato Zucchini Bread

[editor's note: I just got an iPhone and I would like to assure those using smartphones that this site looks good in the mobile version. So you know... if you want to visit me more.  Or look up ingredients for recipes. Also, I have discovered that those of you who have liked me on facebook aren't always seeing my new posts pop up in your feed. I believe if you like a couple things on the page or add comments, facebook will "learn" that you like hearing from me and notify you more often. Now, on to the actual post.]

Sweet potatoes were on sale last week and my husband and I got excited because of all the great things that can be made with sweet potatoes- sweet potato pie, sweet potato mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, baked sweet potatoes with brown sugar and marshmallows, etc, etc.  Jamie claimed some of the sweet potatoes for a pie and I got the rest to portion out for dinners and this new recipe I found. 

Sweet Potato and Zucchini Bread

Usually I link to where I got recipes and patterns to avoid copyright infringement and give full credit to the original author/publisher.  For this recipe, I took the main idea from an Epicurious recipe and combined it with elements from the zucchini bread recipe in The New Best Recipe Cookbook (hereafter shortened to NBRC).

Whenever I use a recipe off Epicurious, I always check the comments to see how people have changed the recipe.  Usually people have decreased the fat/sugar or suggested adding another spice to really bump up the flavor.  This one was no different.  Most people did some combination of all purpose and whole wheat flour, decreased the sugar, and replaced some of the fat with applesauce.  I also combined whole wheat and all purpose flour, decreased the sugar to NBRC levels, and fully intended to replace some of the oil/butter with the last bit of my applesauce... but I opened the jar and was nearly overpowered by the scent of fermented apples.  So I just cut down on some of the fat [edit: it needed that extra 2 tbs. I put it back in the recipe.]

NBRC has some great ideas regarding zucchini bread.  Zucchini, like tomatoes, cucumber, and melons, has a high water content.  Macerating the zucchini in sugar allows it to release it's juices, just like people do with strawberries they want to enjoy on waffles.  Instead of grating the zucchini, I ended up grinding it.  I do not have a box grater appropriate for this (my microplane grates too finely) and my faithful food processor's 30 year-old bowl finally broke (it's been in the process of breaking since a roommate was particularly harsh with it).  So I had a food grinder.  I don't really recommend using it unless the veggies are softer, but it definitely works in a pinch. 

Grinding the zucchini up.  I find most things, once ground, look slightly disgusting.
I've noticed that NBRC tends to add sour cream, plain yogurt, or buttermilk to their quick bread recipes (muffins, sweet breads, etc) because it is an acidic liquid that brightens flavors.  In this one, they preferred yogurt.  I did not have any on hand so I went with their second choice: buttermilk. 

So, I've only had a small slice of this so far, but here are my impressions.  It has a mild sweetness with a subtle flavor of both zucchini and sweet potato.  I think the sweet potato is kind of like the carrot in carrot cake: it lends the sweetness and backbone of a root vegetable, but isn't so intense you can't taste the other flavors.  I think using some allspice and nutmeg would help round out the flavor- just cinnamon is too one dimensional.  Overall, I'm pleased with it.  It's a bread you probably wouldn't bring to a potluck or make for company, but it is the kind you would buy at a coffeeshop.  It's filling and as far as coffeeshop treats go, it's one of your healthier options.  It's actually exactly what I was going for: something healthy-ish my husband could eat with coffee instead of buying something from the coffeeshop. 

not my best photo.  it was not a bright and shiny day. 
Sweet Potato Zucchini Bread

1c. all purpose flour
1c. whole wheat flour
1tsp cinnamon (or 1tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp nutmeg)
1tsp baking soda
1tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

3/4c. sugar
2 eggs
6tbs (3/4 stick) butter, melted and cooled (or replace up to half with applesauce)
1/4c. plain yogurt or buttermilk (or 1 tbs dry buttermilk added to dry ingredients and 1/4 c. water added to wet)
1tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2c. grated zucchini (+ 2tbs sugar)
1 1/2c. peeled, grated sweet potato

1/2c - 1c. chopped walnuts, toasted (opt)

1. grate zucchini and toss with 2tbs sugar.  Put grated zucchini in a strainer over something to catch the juices.  It should drain for about 30minutes or however at least as long as it takes to prepare the rest of the ingredients and heat up the oven.
2. preheat oven to 350 and prepare bread pan or muffin tin
3. mix dry ingredients.
4. grate sweet potato and add wet ingredients to it and mix.  Add the zucchini.  Add the walnuts.
5.  bake for 55min - 1hr 15min at 350degrees.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Weekend Hand Warmers

I'm not very good about finishing big knitting projects.  I've been working on a cranberry colored market tote made up of mitered squares for about three years.  Some projects are just hard for me to stick with, so I was super proud of myself for making these hand warmers. 

They're a tiny bit fuzzy cuz I've been wearing them for a year

Especially since to get the shaping right, I ended making a total of FOUR hand warmers.  Yup, I have two sitting with my yarn waiting to be frogged (rrrrrrriiiiiip it out).

Want some tips if you want to make your own?  (or just to see more pretty pictures??)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pot Scrubbies and Plarn

After I switched to using Alternasponges, I needed something scratchy.  I'm a big fan of alternative materials like plarn.  Plarn is "yarn" made out of plastic grocery bags and you can make some cool baskets and purses with them like this.  I've played around with making crocheted bags and purses out of plarn, but due to how chunky plarn is and the size of hook that needs to be used, I haven't made much else.

I had just finished a bag of clementines, so I decided to see what I could make out of the nylon stretchy bag. I ended up making a great little scrubby that has served me well for months now.  Have you ever tried to clean up dough with the scratchy side of a sponge?  It doesn't come out.  This scrubby rinsed out after using it a few more times.  We primarily use cast iron and generally one doesn't use soap or sponges that might have soap in them because it breaks down the oil that seasons it.  This scrubby doesn't hold soap like cotton or sponges and is great with cast iron. 

the original scrubby
So I decided to make another one. 

This one didn't turn out so well.   Why?  Well...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Living Frugally

I think I've mentioned that I'm currently FUNemployed*.  It has a HUGE effect on what I can do here because I need my money to buy food, not grommets and bias tape.  I've set rules for myself that were somewhat unconscious until I wrote this post.  So here they are. 

1.) No buying things.  Unless I find a fabric in the remnant pile (50% off retail price!) and I really need it for a specific project (i.e. I bought some terry cloth for some commissioned wetjet pads).  Exceptions made for notions.  I can fudge what kind of fabric I'm using, but if I've explored every other option (stashed zipper in the correct length, buttons, etc) and I need velcro, then I need velcro.

2.) Check the thrift/seconds stores first if I do need to buy something and I keep my eyes open at garage sales.  This worked better when I lived with my parents and could go to Scrap ($0.10 zippers!) and The Knitt'n Kitten ($0.50 knitting needles!) or Wise Buys ($3 iron! $0.25 yarn!) and a couple antique stores in college.  Heck, my mom found my amazing serger at a garage sale around home (thanks, Mom!).  Here, it's much rarer to find someone who has donated every zipper they owned to charity.  The section of fabric lengths that usually sit next the hanging linens at Goodwill is much smaller.  The finds are fewer and farther between.  I've enjoyed thrifting for over 10 years now and I have some advice on finding things on the cheap.
a.) Every thrift place has at least one specialty.  Some always have a great selection of picture frames and furniture but hardly any craft things.  Some have the best selection of shorts, but very few housewares.  Check out every thrift store in your area and try to categorize them (probably will take a few visits).  This way, when you're in a bind and you really need X, you can know what place is likeliest to have it.

b.) Flat sheets are really just giant lengths of fabric (if you can find ones that aren't threadbare).  Instead of buying new muslin, make mockups out of old sheets.  We recently got a couch off craigslist so I'm on the look out for a set of king non-threadbare sheets or curtains to use in a color that doesn't disgust me. Curtains are good when you need much thicker or much thinner fabric. Here's a guide to sheet yardage I got here.
  • Crib Flat Sheet: 42″72″. This equals two yards of 42″-wide fabric.
  • Twin Flat Sheet: 66″x96″. This equals a smidge over two and two-third yards of 66″-wide fabric.
  • Twin Extra Long Flat Sheet: 66″x102″. This equals a little over two and three-quarter yards of 66″-wide fabric.
  • Full or Double Flat Sheet: 81″x96″. This equals, lengthwise, a smidge over two and two-third yards of 81″ fabric. The fabric is wide enough, however, that you can turn it the other way if the print works sideways. Widthwise, the fabric equals 2.25 yards of 96″-wide fabric.
  • Queen Flat Sheet: 90″x102″. This equals a little over two and three-quarter yards of 90″-wide fabric. Used sideways, widthwise, the fabric equals 2.5 yards of 102″-wide fabric.
  • King Flat Sheet: 108″x102″. This fabric is longest when turned sideways. Widthwise, the fabric equals three yards of 102″-wide fabric. Used lengthwise, the fabric equals a little over two and three-quarter yards of 108″-wide fabric.
  • California King Flat Sheet: 102″x110″. This equals a smidge over three yards of 102″-wide fabric. Widthwise, the fabric equals a little over two and three-quarter yards of 110″-wide fabric.
c.) Don't buy it unless I have a project in mind.  This applies to nearly ANYTHING found at a good deal, anywhere.  Now, there are some things particular to what I do that maybe I can/should stock pile (for months I was finding xacto knife blades at Tuesday Morning and I stocked up because I went through them like candy as a design major) but that doesn't mean I buy everything that interests you if it's on sale.  I tend to see things that only cost $1 as not being that big of a deal to buy... since I recognize that in myself, I don't let myself buy (hardly) anything from the dollar bins at the front of Target and in the checkout aisle of Joann's (hmm, I'm guessing they realized other people think like me) and thus don't buy a lot of super cheap things I super didn't need. 

d.) Go through your own stash.  Chances are, you probably have something that will work.  I happen to have a stash of fabric right now so I don't really need to buy any. I've seen some advice for those who end up with overflowing stashes of yarn, scrapbooking, sewing supplies, and clothes: if you haven't used it in a year, toss it.  You probably won't use it.  I feel like this applies to the hardcore crafters who consistently use their stashes.  Most people I know only sew a couple times a year or knit/crochet a few scarves, but they shouldn't get rid of all their needles and stuff.  I think more useful advice for the occasional crafter who finds that life takes up more of their time than crafting is to have a predefined storage space for your crafts and then stick to it.  Maybe it's a wardrobe, a set of shelves, a closet, or even a small room with cabinets, whatever is appropriate to your craft/house-size/average stash/frequency of crafting.  If your stuff doesn't fit, then you have a problem.  The answer is not another set of shelves, it's going through what you have and slimming down your craft diet.

e.) You get what you pay for.  I just bought some sheets and pillowcases at a thrift store.  It cost less than $5.  If I had bought them new, the sheets alone would have cost around $50.  Even at a closeouts/seconds store, it still would have been in the neighborhood of $30.  My thrift store sheets don't match each other and one has a hole I patched, but I'm ok with that.  The amount I saved more than makes up for that small detail at this point in my life. 

f.) Lower your expectations.  While it's not incredibly rare to find things new in box, don't count on it.  Things will generally be used, it's more a question of how used/damaged are they.  Also, raise your expectations: just because it's cheap doesn't mean it's what you want/need.  Factor in how much it might cost to repair the item in the sale price.

3.)  Crafts must have a purpose (especially if I want to spend money on it.)  I tend to give practical gifts and make practical things.  There are some things that should not be knit (I'm looking at you, human hair doily).  I think amigurumi is adorable and I really want to make all of these, but I'm not going to buy all the colors of yarn I need to do so.  If I happen to already own some Tardis blue yarn, found a free pattern, and have several hours, I might make a dishcloth of a Tardis that has no practical purpose- but it's outweighed by the alternasponges and other practical cleaning supplies I needed and made.

4.) Use coupons.  If you know you're going to be working on a project and you know everything you need, start buying your supplies a month or two before you need them and make use of every 40% coupon you can find.  Joann's, Michael's, Craft Warehouse, Fabric Depot, whatever is in your area or stocks what you need probably has coupons that you can get in the newspaper or pick up in-store (I do the latter as we don't get a paper).  However, if you don't have a project in mind, don't wait to use them for something "more expensive." I've wasted so many coupons that way.  Pay attention to what types of things have regular sales.  I know that Joann's has a sale at least once a year where patterns are $1-$3 (next week in fact!).  The notions wall is often 50% off.  Their fabric rotates what type is on sale for 40%-50% off about every week.  So, if you can, just wait a week and check the ads. 

*technically, I have a very short term contract job at the moment and it has prevented me from making anything for today's post.  Thus no pretty pictures.