Monday, December 3, 2012

Making a mend(s)

So one day a girl walks into her wedding cleaver.

Oh wait, there's no joke there.  I walked into our cleaver (doesn't everyone get a cleaver for a wedding present?) and it cut a few tiny threads in my favorite, favorite jeans which I knew would turn into a full fledged hole in a few days.

And lo, it did.

So I decided I should finally learn to mend

Before I started on my favorite pants ever, I, of course, practiced on things I didn't care about: an old pair of sweatpants, ripped jeans I don't wear anymore, a zip hoodie I only wear to work, and my husband's pants.

I started off with some ripped jeans I never wear any more.  They are pretty faded already, so finding a shade to match would be kind of hard... so i went contrasting. 

ripped jeans back

patch close up

ripped jeans knee

This zip hoodie has probably reached the end of it's life.  I've had it for a good 6-7 years, it's thin, there are holes I don't think I can patch, and should probably be thrown out.  I didn't mind the ones near my wrist, but the one on my elbow was noticeable to the point that I had a customer (at the job where I have a company shirt and the only dress code is no jeans) comment on it. I'm pretty happy with the results.  I had to back the elbow patch with scrap (which was black/white check) to cover the hole, but I don't mind.  I think the other elbow is about to go though....


elbow patch
So finally I felt comfortable working on my own jeans. I picked out some some thread I thought would match, but I think I matched it to a slightly less faded part of the jeans, because it doesn't blend in like I thought it would.

The cleaver hole!

cleaver hole close up
First off, I cut a piece of interfacing to slightly cover the hole and ironed it onto the inside of the jeans.
interfacing ironed on to inside of jeans
Then I used my machine to run over and over over and over the hole until it was covered with stitches (I used the default stitch length). I didn't get any pictures of that step, but this blog post has great pictures of the process. 
the patch!
My end result doesn't look exactly like hers, but I'm 100% positive I'll end up doing this again and I'll get better at it. I love that this saved my jeans! I don't feel comfortable wearing them to work any more (not the job where I wear the patched hoodie, the job where I can wear basically wherever I want as long is it is neat and not revealing), but my mom got me an early birthday present of this same cut so I have jeans to wear to work again! So now I have patched jeans for every day wear and nice jeans for work/date night!  It's a win-win situation.  I'm very happy. 

It doesn't disappear, but it doesn't scream "patched!" either

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Baby Blanket

I made a baby blanket a few months ago.  Actually, I should say I finished a baby blanket a few months ago. I started it in 2007.  (Have I mentioned it takes me a while to finish some things?)

I have no idea if that little thing to hang the blanket by is useful, but I was excited to add it. 

When I was studying abroad in Germany in 2007, I bought some yarn.  I had a vague intention of crocheting a baby blanket.  I just really wanted to crochet some granny squares, the end result of which would likely be a small blanket.  I was not in any hurry as the eventual recipients were in the process of planning their wedding, not pregnant, and not expecting to be pregnant for several years.  However, even with that much of a head start, it was not finished by the time their child was born. Their darling little daughter was born August 1, 2012. I finished it around August 23.

I've never made a baby blanket.  I've never crocheted a blanket. I had no idea what I was doing.  I had chosen a nice gender neutral blue/green variegated yarn that I paired with a soft cream, but I only bought one skein of each.  By the time I had crocheted all the squares I would able to make, I knew it was going to be a bit smaller than I wanted. Also, what the heck was I thinking with using a soft cream for a baby blanket?!  Figuring out the pattern took a bit because while I like the white design, I figure it would be a magnet for juice spills.  Cranberry, not apple, of course.

Granny squares!  So many granny squares!

Several years ago when I was making tiny squares, someone questioned the wisdom of making something with tiny little holes that a tiny little child's fingers could get caught in.  I had not thought of this. I decided to back it with a coordinating fabric and tack down the crochet, then bind the edges with satin binding.  I loved edges as a child; my mom had to serge off the corners of my baby blanket because I chewed it off.

I actually had the majority of the blanket finished by the time the child was born. Turns out tacking down crochet takes forever.  First I went through with my machine and a loose stitch to tack down the edges of the squares. Depending on the color of the square, I used either a matching ivory or a silver/gray that that was in the same tonal range as the blues/greens. Then I went through each square to tack down the inner edges by hand. 

The tacking down of the blanket as seen from the back.

The tacking down is kind of ugly, so I used another layer of the flannel to hide it.  It was sewn to the piece of flannel that the crochet was tacked down on so if the binding ever needs to be replaced (which I expect, because babies love soft satin binding and the things they love go in their mouth), matching up layers is one less thing to worry about.  So with two layers of flannel and crochet, I'm going to call this a winter baby blanket. 

Green satin binding

I found some tutorial online to figure out how to sew on the binding.  I don't remember which one at all, I think I looked at several.

Monday, August 13, 2012

From College Cubes to Wire Shelves

It's been a while since I last posted.  In early April, I got a second part time job in my field– graphic design.  So, I cut back my hours at UPS Store job to 2 days a week with the occasional Saturday and started working an 8-5 job 3 days a week. 

Usually those Saturdays are spread out and I don't mind working them even though it means a one day weekend.  However, it's August and everyone is moving and I ended up taking someone else's Saturday shift along with my own.  After three weeks of working 6 days a week, this normal two day weekend feels amazing.  

So what's been happening?  Well, it's summer now.  My law student husband had an internship in Germany for 7 weeks. (Oh and did I mention this is the first summer I've ever not had a vacation or break from work/school??)  He's back now and starting school soon, but that was really rough on me.

I've been busy.  I still work on knitting, baking, crafting, etc but usually don't have time to photograph them or post (even this post has taken me most of an afternoon!). Hopefully I can get back on some sort of schedule—or at least do some mass writing and post date them so it appears I'm on a schedule!


Everybody dislikes something about their house.  I dislike many things in my house.  Case in point: the master bathroom.  It's about 3 feet wide.  My feet touch the wall when I sit at the toilet.  The only storage space provided was an ill-fitting medicine cabinet and likely because it was there when the landlord began fixing up the house - if he did not bother to install any sort of towel racks or toilet paper holders, I can't imagine that a medicine cabinet was a priority.  When we moved in last year, we put some of my old college modular cube storage in there because we had it and needed something to put our toiletries on in the bathroom.  I was against this from the beginning.  The cubes are ill-fitting in that space and not very usable.  However, it was what we had. 

Fast forward to this April.  Our lease was up and after negotiating with our landlord, we were able to secure the same rate we were currently paying for the next two years. As much as we dislike certain things about our house and our landlord's management, it was worth it to us.  So the first project I tackled when I realized we were going to be here another two years was our bathroom.

The before.
A wee bit crowded- mostly my stuff.

When I was at the RE Store (a Habitat for Humanity store full of all sorts of fun building type stuff), I found an 84" piece shelving wire looking lonely and tall in a corner.  Wouldn't you know, it would fit perfectly in my little corner space if I cut it in half!*  I took it home and then gathered the appropriate hardware from a big box store to connect it to my wall. And also a hack saw.** 

While the husband was studying hard for exams, I got all handy and cut/installed the shelf. 

I actually really like the white on cream look.
I chose to install the top shelf slightly high because I wanted it to double as a make up shelf.  I'm blind without my glasses. They are useful when applying stuff to your face, so it helps to have a mirror about two inches away from eyes. Leaning over a sink that has a high likelihood of getting my shirt wet because the faucet sprays too hard and soaks the entire tiny counter space is not ideal. I put down a clear shelf liner from the modular cubes in two places. One so our toothbrush chargers won't fall through and the second I have a small place to put the earrings/necklaces I wear too much to have a permanent "away" place.   

much better!

I also found a glass jar with lid (possibly used to have a candle in it?) at a thrift store to put my cotton balls in.  It makes me feel like I have a fancy, organized vanity space.  I looked for a while for an equally nice looking glass jar to put q-tips in, but eventually gave up. A salsa jar ended up being the perfect size.  At some point, I'll get around to painting the lid.*** I'm pretty sure all q-tips are "mild" and I don't need to be reminded.

* Technically, due to the stellar construction of my house, it only fits perfectly at the back near the wall.  It widens out about .5" by the front of the shelf. 

** Young married people have no basic tools.  Next time you are invited to a wedding and forgot to buy a present, consider dropping by a Big Box hardware store and picking up a gift card.  It will get used eventually.  They have no idea what they need right now.  

*** Honestly, it'll probably be a couple of years if it ever gets done.  I have very realistic expectations from some projects.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Plastic Bag Holder

Our plastic bag situation was getting out of control.  While I am highly in favor of reusable grocery bags, it's very handy to have a stash of bags around for walking the dog and garbage bags.  Also, I forget them in my car a lot.  However, a reasonable sized stash of bags has ways of taking over spaces.  I've done some crafts with plastics before: plarn baskets, pot scrubbies, and even some full on purses with plarn (eeks!  Must get a picture!) but I've never made anything to control the stash.  I once posted on my college message board that I was looking for plastic bags and ended up going to an apartment that had dedicated the entire area under their sink plus a few other cabinets to plastic bags.  They were trying to be responsible and not throw it away, but they clearly needed to stop collecting bags.  My mom used an old cardboard container, an old roommate bought a plastic ikea contraption, and until a few weeks ago, we were using a wicker basket.

The basket had issues.  Namely, it didn't fit well near the door and bags tended to float out of it when it got too full.  I thought about buying something, but since I have free fabric, why not use it?

bags easily come out the elastic bottom
I used The Accidental Crafter as my technique guide for properly casing the drawstring and elastic and wound up with something that matches the cover I made for the dog bed, pops on my white/cream walls, and fits perfectly in narrow space by the door.

drawstring doubles as a way to hang it to the wall. 

The drawstring top allows us to periodically add bags to the holder easily and the elastic bottom allows us to draw out single bags as needed when headed out the door when an excited pup in tow.

Were I to do it again, I would reposition where the drawstring comes out because I have a prominent seam right in front that I am not a fan of looking at all the time.  Alternately, I could add a ribbon/band between the seams so that the seams are on the side instead of lazily using my drawstring as the hanger.  Also, I would loosen the elastic at the bottom to a size I could more easily fit my wrist in to grab bags that are stubbornly not falling to the bottom.  It works as is, but one of these days I'm probably going to get annoyed and fix that. 

awkward narrow space + tall, narrow bag holder = awesome

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Baked Pizza Pockets and Veggie Sweet Potato Burgers

I know the "about me" on my blog says it's to keep me busy while underemployed, but I have been BUSY lately.  Underemployed really refers to the type of job and minimum wage I'm earning despite having a bachelor's degree, not the hours I work.  My paychecks are pitiful despite working a decent amount of hours, so I've been doing some freelance graphic design work to supplement my income.  My house and this blog are suffering due to my lack of free time.  I'm slowly making progress on a few projects, I just haven't had time to write up anything about them!

In the last few days, we tried the pizza pockets from the last post.  They were delicious!  We have plans to pick up more pizza dough and make more.  Yum.  They don't brown very well on top, I think a bit of olive oil or an egg wash just before popping them in the oven would fix that though. 

I also made this Veggie Sweet Potato Burger the other day.  I halved the recipe and spiced it with oregano, red pepper flakes, and and garlic.  It was delicious!  It reminded me of a hummus made with sweet potato - which isn't surprising since tahini is one of the major flavors in the burger and I topped my burger with spinach, tomato, and cucumber, just like I would for a hummus wrap.  Half a recipe made four giant burgers so we'll get to enjoy it again in a few days.  I believe due to my use of garlic in it, it is not doggie-scrap safe, which is unfortunate because our Puppy was super excited when we made it.  I think she likes sweet potatoes.

Here's a sneak peek into a project we're currently working on.  It's taking a while to finish because the weather isn't always cooperating when I have time off to work on it. I'm hoping it'll be functionally finished this weekend though.

project supplies from a big box store

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Frozen Pizza Pockets

My husband has a weakness for cheap frozen food.  He loves cheap frozen taquitos and burritos.  I have a problem buying them because I flip over and look at the ingredients- the salt is way too high and the serving size way too small.  There's no way he'd only eat five taquitos or one small burrito, he'd easily eat twice that.  What to do??  Well, I had some left over pizza dough so I decided to make pizza pockets.

There was a BOGO sale on pizza dough the other day. One was used immediately for a spinach, turkey sausage, onion, and pepper pizza on an olive oil base and the other sat waiting for inspiration.  My first thought was to do rolls stuffed with pepperoni and pepper jack cheese (a West Virginian specialty according to my freshman year roommate), but nixed it because I didn't have pepperoni or pepper jack.  Then I realized I could make pizza pockets using ingredients on hand from the pizza the night before and some frozen pizza sauce from a couple months ago.

ingredients set up
After defrosting the sauce, I set up my ingredients:

- Turkey sausage
- mozzarella (we buy balls, not shredded)
- pizza sauce (homemade and seasoned with oregano, garlic, and basil)

- parmesan (optional, but it was in the fridge!)
- red pepper flakes (optional)

Basically, any combination of ingredients you'd put on a pizza would work.  I gently rolled the dough into a log and divided it into roughly equal pieces.  Taking one piece at a time, I gently stretched it into a round(ish) shape like I would for a large pizza.  Take your time, dough is fragile.

I spread about a teaspoon of sauce over the entire dough ball and over half put 5-6 pieces of sausage, roughly the same amount of mozzarella, a tiny bit of parmesan, and a dash of red pepper flacks.  
pizza pocket assembled
Then I folded half the dough over to form a pocket.  Look, a tiny calzone!  I use a fork to seal the edges and tried my best to not seal them too flat because I didn't want them to burn when I eventually cook them.  I froze them individually on a baking sheet so they wouldn't stick together and put them in vacuum bags after they were frozen in portions of 2 (for one person) or 4 (if we're both snacky).
pizza pockets frozen
According to a recipe I read, bake them at 400 for about 30 minutes frozen or 20 minutes defrosted.  I haven't actually cooked these yet so I don't know if that cooking time is accurate and I'll have to keep my eye on it. I'm excited to eat these!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dry weather, dry house

[1/14/12: apparently I forgot to press "publish" yesterday... oops!]

The weather is not cooporating.  I have a couple of projects in the works, but I need it to not be freezing and/or raining so I can sand and spray paint outside.  For another project, I am in the processing of finding/ordering an essential component and I'm stuck until I get it.

With the exception of today, the weather has been dry and with the heater running, bone dry in the house.  My nose has been quite distressed by this and protested with some bloody outbursts.  Since we don't own a humidifier (yet), we've been exploring the DIY options.

Option 1: leaving bowls of water in rooms to evaporate
Verdict: doesn't appear to help much, but I've left them out. Best if you have a baseboard heater.

Option 2: using a crock pot as a makeshift humidifier
Verdict: helps a little, but we're no longer using it because there is no "on" light. Someone decided to see if it was on, stuck their hand in very hot water, and burned themselves. 

Option 3: hanging up wet laundry or damp towels around the house
Verdict: best solution yet. Since we already hang dry our clothes, we just moved a drying rack into the bedroom.  Our jeans and other laundry are nearly bone dry by morning.  If you've ever tried to air dry jeans before, you know that's unusual.  It typically takes a good two days to air dry.

Option 4: be the humidifier and go around spraying water from a spray bottle everywhere
Verdict: works instantly, but only as long as you spray frequently.  Not a good solution if you want uninterrupted sleep. 

Option 5: simmer water on the stove
Verdict: works great, but quite localized to the kitchen.  I highly suggest doing this if the oven is on because that can further dry out a home.  Bonus points because you can add citrus peels, essential oils, or other spices/herbs to the water to make it smell delicious.

Option 6: bring plants inside
Verdict: undetermined, but my rosemary is now living next to my bed for the rest of winter.  The act of watering the plants will humidify the hair and plants recycle water by transpiration: moisture is released from the roots to pores on the bottom side of the leaves. If you're buying a plant instead of a humidifier, look for bamboo palms, snake plants, areca palms, spider plants peace lilies, and gerbera daisies. 

Option 7: shower with the door open
Verdict: works, but a short term benefit. 

Option 8: make a humidifier from scratch
Verdict: haven't tried it.  We'll cave and buy one as soon as we find one in our price range that cleans easily.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Homemade Turkey Sausage

Remember that giant turkey we got on sale after Christmas? Well, one thing we've really enjoyed making from the ground turkey is turkey sausage.  For almost every package we open, part of it becomes sausage: on pizza, in pasta sauce, with eggs, etc. We have yet to find sausage casings to make proper tubular sausage (though we have a stuffer attachment for the Kitchenaid!), so most end up being patties or tiny meat balls.  Jamie and I have both been to Germany and realize there are a bajillion types of sausage depending on the meat, spices/herbs and prep method, but we've seasoned it simply: sage.  It is AMAZING how much that one little herb changes the somewhat bland flavor of plain turkey into sausage.

By the way, it is coincidental that "sage" is the final syllable of sausage.  Sausage is derived from "salsicus" (salt) in Latin.  

So how do we make turkey into sausage?  First, chop up some fresh sage and add it to a bowl of ground turkey. I estimate we use about a tablespoon or so per pound. Salt and pepper to taste.  Pinch off pieces to make little balls (hint: wet hands work best when working with raw meat).
forming the sausage
Next: saute over medium heat in olive oil.  Baking would probably work as well, but we've always been too impatient to get dinner on the table. 
sauteing the sausage
Then use in your favorite recipe.
Mushroom and turkey sausage pizza with asparagus
Easy peasy.   We love it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Energy Trail Mix

This happens to me often: I'm headed out the door and realize I need to eat something fast, otherwise I won't make it til my next regularly scheduled meal (which means getting fast food or convenience snacks to tide me over, which is both unhealthy and expensive).  Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of snacks that be carried out the door (yogurt can be messy).  So, I decided to mix up a high energy, good source of protein snack.  I could have just bought some trail mix from the store, but most of them had something in it I didn't want (i.e. brazil nuts, etc).  I feel like this was just as cheap and I could choose exactly what I wanted in it.

almonds, cashews, cranberries, golden raisins

1 lb almonds
1 lb cashews
2 c. cranberries (or to taste)
2 c. golden raisin (or to taste)

Mix together in large bowl.  Keep in airtight container.  Servings size: 1/4 c. (about a handful)

I already had the cranberries on hand in a Costco sized quantity and we had the golden raisins left over from my husband's Christmas pudding (which I totally meant to post a picture/recipe of, but forgot til it was nearly gone).  I don't use golden raisins much, so I figured this would be a good way to use them up before they got all dried out.  Yes, I realize raisins are dried out, but there is a difference between fresh, plump raisins and old, dried out raisins.

By the way, I ended up keeping the trail mix in an old tupperware 1qt pitcher with a push button lid, but this canning jar was waaay more photogenic.  A ziploc back would have worked well, but I've noticed that if a bag/container cannot be closed with one hand (because the other is full of snacks), it won't get closed in this house. Then I wander through the kitchen a few hours later wondering why the chip bag is open.  Or if the cereal has been opened all day or was an afternoon snack. We're probably going to be using that tupperware as a snack container more often. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Homemade Laundry Soap Research

Last weekend, I made homemade laundry soap.  I've heard this should only take about 15 minutes to do, but I took at least an hour because midway through I started second guessing which recipe to follow and took a good 45 minute break to research everything.  Again.

There's an overabundance of recipes for homemade laundry soap floating around on the internet.  This website alone has collected 10, and I think the comments include a few more variations. There's a lot of information and a lot of people contradicting each other which it comes to homemade products. (Differing opinions on the internet?!  Who knew?!)  The most helpful sources seem to be the mothers laundering baby diapers.  Not only do they have a need to get some serious junk off what they are washing, it needs to be gentle enough for a baby's skin. 

Why use homemade laundry detergent?  Lots of reasons.  It's frugal (generally $.01/load).  A simple batch generally yields a generous quantity, so there's less frequent making/purchasing.  It's virtually zero-ish waste because containers get reused- think about how many plastic detergent containers you've bought and thrown away.  They may get recycled, but you're still creating demand for them to be made.  There's also far fewer fragrances and dyes to irritate skin- unless you want a particular scent, why have them in there?  Plus, your skills will be in high demand when the zombie apocalypse comes.  It seems to work as well as regular store bought detergent (one example here), so why not?

Well, for one, the effectiveness of your personal soap seems to involve a bit of trial and error and some basic chemistry.  I've been several months off and on researching this before I finally made a batch.  It was confusing.  If you're thinking about making your own, here's a few things to consider.

First: Hard water vs. soft water
It's important that you know whether your water is hard or soft.  If you don't know off the top of your head, go look at your shower head or glass shower door.  If you have limescale deposits (whitish powdery stuff and rather hard to clean off shower doors), you have hard water.  If your soaps lather up really easily but doesn't wash off super easily, you probably have soft water.  There is a regional factor to this: New England, the Northwest, and Gulf coast tend to have soft water.  The Plains and Southwest tend to have hard water.  HOWEVER, about 85% of tap water is considered hard.  If you are confused as I am about your water (but have more disposable income), a hardware store should have a test kit that will tell you how hard your water is.  If you don't want to spend that money but like tea, use this home test.  If you don't like tea, use this test.  The advantage of a test you have to pay for is that you'll find how how hard your water is on a hard water scale (soft, slightly hard, moderately hard, hard, very hard) which depends on how many parts of hardness per gallon you have.  To confuse things even more, previous owners/landlord/etc may have had a water softener hooked up so even if your neighbor has the hardest water ever, you may not.  Ok, now that you know (or know that you don't know!) what the water is like in your home, read on.

Second: Soap vs. Detergent
This is a summary of this article by Heather L. Sanders plus other relavent information I found.

What is the role of soap/detergent in laundry?  As a surfactant (surface active agent), it helps reduce the surface tension of water.  If you walk outside in the rain wearing a raincoat, the rain is probably going to bead up on the outside of the coat.  The surface tension of the water droplet is what allows the droplet to retain it's shape.  Surfactants cut that surface tension so it can soak into the clothes.  Both soap and detergents are surfactants.  Soaps are generally made from natural materials (oils/fats) and detergents are made from synthetic materials (chemical equivalents).  Detergents tend to work better in hard water than soap.  Soaps form a scum that doesn't wash away as easily in hard water. Detergents have been prevalent since WWII because it takes out the trial and error factor of homemade laundry soap- they will work in hard water, no fiddling with a recipe or additives. 

Third: Composition of a Homemade Laundry Soap
There are many variations of proportions and occasionally some other ingredients, but here's what the most common ones do.

1.) soap - surfactant (see above), see #4 for which soaps to use

2.) borax - sodium borate, a whitener and deodorizer.  It raises the ph of the wash water to a basic solution, softens hard water by removing hard water minerals, and is a color safe bleach alternative. This can be found on your laundry detergent aisle as made by 20 Mule Team or online.   

3.) washing soda - soda ash, helps remove dirt and odors. This is NOT baking soda.  Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. Washing soda is sodium carbonate (and can be derived from baking soda when heated, google for instructions).  This can also be found on the laundry detergent aisle as made by Arm and Hammer.  If you don't have luck there, try the pool aisle/store and look for soda ash (just make sure it's pure sodium carbonate) or online.

4.) essential oils - Since many homemade laundry soap recipes leave the clothes coming out smelling like nothing (i.e. no "fresh clean smell"), some people like to add essential oils. 

5.) vinegar - ok, this is not actually added to the recipe (usually), but is often suggested to add to the rinse cycle or fabric softener dispenser.  White vinegar helps strip excess soap/detergent out of the water and lowers the pH of the water.  If you line dry you clothes (like me), it's rather important to have a fabric softener so everything doesn't dry to a stiff board.  I dilute mine in water before adding it to the dispenser.  Oh, and bonus: it's safe for microfiber (most fabric softeners are not, check your care instructions).

Fourth: Which Soaps
Most recipes suggest Fels Naptha Soap (found on the laundry detergent aisle), Zote (I've heard Mexican stores and Dollar Generals if not in your grocery store), Castile, or Ivory. 

Fels Naptha -  a pure soap specifically formulated for pretreating stains and removing residue from poison oak/ivy, etc when washing
Zote - made from coconut oil and tallows and contains an optical brightener and citronella. 
Castile Soap (Kirks, Dr. Bonners**, etc) - made from olive oil instead of tallow
Ivory - made from similar ingredients as Fels Naptha (based on skimming their listed ingredients), but with the purpose of body soap, not laundry soap
homemade soaps- there have been universally positive results from people making their own homemade soaps who then use those soaps in laundry soap.

There is much anecdotal evidence (read: multiple commenters on every homemade laundry soap post) that whatever you use in your shower and the mini bars from hotels will work too.  I caution against that.  It may contain fragrances or oils that could leave stains on your clothes or react with the other ingredients in a negative way.  That said, if one has allergies/sensitivities to anything in the soaps listed above, start with a soap you know won't react with your skin.  Just make small batches and test on non-expensive, easily ruined items.  If you don't have skin sensitivities and just want to make a batch already, start with whatever soap on the list above you can find easiest. 

Fifth: Which recipe
I can't suggest a recipe because I haven't experimented enough to figure out what works best with my water.  I can say that based your water type, you'll have better luck increasing or decreasing certain ingredients.  In general, most combinations should work because the soap is decreasing surface tension, the borax is whitening and deodorizing, and the washing soda is helping remove dirt/odors.  However...

... if you have hard water, you may want to increase how much borax you use.
... if you have extremely hard water, you may want to even double the amount of borax you use. 
... if things aren't getting clean enough (dingy white shirts, etc), try
      ... adding white vinegar to the rinse cycle as a fabric softener or more borax per load
      ... Zote contains an optical brightener (which many conventional detergents contain)(I have no personal experience with this)
      ... add bluing
      ... add lemon (citric acid has whitening properties) 

Sixth: What container
There are powdered soap recipes and liquid soap recipes.  The main complaint against liquid recipes is that they take up more room.  You can store them in old, cleaned pour spout detergent containers, milk jugs, or buckets.  For free buckets, ask the bakery section of the grocery store if they have any extra icing buckets they want to get rid of (bonus: there's about 1/2c of white frosting left in the bucket!).  For powdered soap recipes, plastic containers (yogurt, glad, ziplock, tupperware, etc) work well. 

Seventh: HE machines?
Does this work in HE machines?  I have a top loading HE machine (yes, they do make those!) and I don't want to break it.  I can't find a satisfactory answer to this.  The soaps listed above are low sudsing, which is good for HE machines (using a non-HE detergent in an HE machine can cause it to foam over).  Anecdotal evidence (read: commenters on blogs) say it works great in their machines! However, I did find one commenter (among hundreds that I've read I might add), who suggested this:
This formula is missing the corrosion inhibitors, enzymes and chelating agents that are usually present in a commercial detergent. This may reduce the life of your clothing and washing machine. I would caution against using this in a HE or front loading washer. Because the water use is lower, concentrations of contaminants is higher and these additional ingredients in commercial products are more critical. Also, there are typically special surfactants or surfactant formulations that do not foam as much to prevent damage to the machine.  ~ Credit
Now, his last point about surfactants I feel isn't well founded because Fels Naptha IS low sudsing to the point that many people who start use it get worried that there aren't enough suds.  However, that first part?  I'm not sure. I've tried searching for answers, but it's a bit beyond my understanding of chemistry. 

Eighth: My Unanswered Questions
So, I've learned a lot, but I still have questions.

1.) Does my laundry detergent need the corrosion inhibitors, enzymes, and chelating agents found in commercial detergents to prolong the life of the machine?

2.) Borax raises the pH of the water to a basic solution.  Vinegar lowers the pH to an acidic solution.  If you mix them, you can make salt.  Can I use a homemade laundry soap that contains borax (or use it as a booster to commercial detergent) and still add vinegar to my rinse cycle without making salt?

3.) Would homemade recipes please indicate whether they mean 2 cups of grated soap or 2 cups soap, grated??  They are different!  I grated 4.5 oz of soap and yielded 2 cups grated soap. 

4.) What is the specific hardness of these recipe posters (specifically on the scale of water hardness)?  It's well and good to say "I have hard water and this works great!" but what level of hard water?  What if I don't have hard water?

I've only used my recipe once so far, which is not nearly enough times to recommend it.  If I like it, I may post what works for me.  I have a feeling it will take a while for me to feel comfortable endorsing any particular recipe.

** after I wrote and posted this, I looked at Dr. Bonner's Castile soap in the grocery store.  While it likely does have olive oil in it, there was more coconut oil.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Classic Bottle Opener

I got my husband a mounted bottle opener for Christmas from a thrift store. His last house had one and everyone loved it. They had a bucket on the floor to catch the bottle caps and it was quite convenient for parties. After deciding on the best place to put the bottle opener (on a sturdy stud in a convenient location), we were a bit stumped on what to do for a bottle cap catcher. Problem was, it had to be removable.  We couldn't just nail an old tomato jar up because eventually we would want to empty it.

We found a cool coffee tin from a local coffee company and decided to somehow mount that after we finished the coffee.

We took a finishing nail to hammer two holes in the top, then I took some wire and fashioned a handle.  I used a command hook to mount the coffee can because I felt a nail, while more aesthetically pleasing, wouldn't be as secure.  That spot is extremely convenient because it's a heavy traffic point, however being an heavy traffic point means more bumps than an out of the way place. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Painted Cabinet Knobs

the old cabinet knobs

Problem #1: My cabinets are used. When we moved in, one of the first things we did was clean all the kitchen cabinets we had (we were promised more).  Try as we might, there was odd coloration around all of the gold knobs that we could not get off.  When we finally got the rest of the kitchen cabinets installed (which took a few weeks cuz my landlord is AWESOME), we discovered what the discoloration was.

The previous owners of the cabinets had birdhouse knobs on all of them.

On our new cabinets, we got one birdhouse knob, one gold knob, and one door with nothing on it. This has bothered me for many months now.

Problem #2: We have no closets or coat racks, so our coats most often get thrown over the back of the couch and then fall to the floor when someone sits down.  We also find it hard to keep track of hats.

Solution! Take off all the old gold knobs and buy enough new ones for ALL the doors/drawers that match the kitchen and use the old gold knobs to make a coat hooks.  My first solution was to find old mismatched/vintage type knobs at thrift stores, but after looking for several weeks, I couldn't find any and gave up. 

wood cabinet knobs
Step One: Buy knobs within my budget
Since my budget was "as cheap as possible," I found some $0.85 knobs at a big box home improvement store.  I have lots of paint left over from my college art 101 classes (luckily, they haven't dried out) so I knew I could make these match.  I took an old piece of cardboard and poked some finishing nails through it to give me something to rest the knobs on without smudging paint.

with two coats of paint, no varnish
Step Two: prime, mix, paint
While I've done a fair amount of painting, I wanted to make sure I was using the right products for a kitchen cabinet because it's so heavily used.  I used this how to page as reference.  They suggested sealing/gesso-ing raw wood as a base coat.  My gesso was dried out and unusable, so I used what I had on hand: some of my bookbinders PVA* glue.  I think modge podge would work well too and most crafters have that on hand (and if you don't have any on hand, a 1:1 ratio of white glue and water makes homemade modgepodge!).  I let that dry, lightly sanded, and mixed up a nice red color to match my kitchen. One thing I learned in art classes was to always mix acrylic paints with water to thin it out.  The paint will go on smoother and have less globs and paint stroke lines.  Also, you get a thinner coat, which is actually good because two thin coats will cover better than one thick, globby one. Another tip: add small amounts of white/black to the color you are mixing, don't add color to white/black.  It will take far too long and make waaaay too much paint for pretty much any purpose.  Oh, and I painted all of these in at least two steps: first the curvy part by holding the top and bottom, then the top while holding the curvy part. 

two coats of paint with varnish
Step Three: varnish and wait
After two good coats, I varnished the knobs using a matte varnish I picked up at a craft store (glossy is another option).  Typically things like varnish and paints are cheaper at big box home improvement stores, but when one is doing a project this small, it's not really cost effective.  Same thing if you are buying acrylic paint.  Find a few coupons and go to town at a craft store.  Be sure to varnish the bottoms!  You don't need to paint the bottom, but the varnish will help protect the knobs from any moisture in the kitchen (like wiping down cabinets).  After I varnished these, I waited FULL 24 hours before attempting to put them on the doors.  They were dry within half an hour, but I wanted them to fully cure.  Also, I didn't want to annoy the next owners by having my paint stick to the door like the stupid birdhouses.

the new knobs.  and the paint i can't get off. 
Step Four: install
Then it was install time.  I removed the old hardware and screwed my newly painted knob in its place. 

that birdhouse paint is REALLY tough to get off. Also, aren't my cabinets hung nicely?  Thanks landlord!
Step Five: go to the hardware store to get necessary supplies
I discovered as I was trying to install these that the pilot holes were not big enough for the wood screws that came with my new knobs.  The threads were bigger, the old screws don't work on the new knobs, and I didn't have a big enough drill bit to enlarge the holes to the correct size.  I currently only have new knobs on three doors; the thick drawers gave me a LOT of trouble. 

So now I have Problem #1 solved (pending visit to hardware store).  Problem #2: No Coat Rack, No Problem will be covered in a later post. 

* while Elmer's while glue is a PVA glue, bookbinders PVA is a higher quality PVA.  While high quality PVA can be used in place of Elmers, Elmers is NOT appropriate for bookbinding purposes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Felt Christmas Ornaments

Disclaimer: I know Christmas is over. However, I intentionally did not post this before Christmas because several of the recipients read this blog (and to my brother and sister-in-law whom I still have not sent presents to, surprise!)

Christmas this year was tough.  People tend to show their appreciation and friendship for others through presents, but presents cost money.  Money is tighter than I've ever experienced and while I finally got a part time job mid-way through December, my first paycheck was after Christmas. Not having money to afford things didn't stop the feeling that we needed to buy things for friends and family.  However, I did have time, energy, and pocket change so I tried to find something I could make that wouldn't look cheap and like I had made it. 

I think I mentioned before that I joined pinterest a few months ago.  I am not nearly as into it as it seems everyone else is, but I find it a great place to stash a picture and link of something I want to make and come back to it later when I have time.  Around Christmas, I found some amazing felt ornaments on pinterest linked from etsy and various other places around the web.  I pinned all the ones I found interesting and decided to make ornaments for friends and family for three reasons: first, felt is crazy cheap, second, embroidery thread is super cheap, and third, I wanted to learn more about needlework and embroidery.

tools needed:
- felt
- embroidery thread (or button&craft/heavy/upholstery thread if you have it on hand)
- needles (I don't own embroidery ones; experiment with what you have on hand)
- scissors

tools I found helpful
- disappearing fabric marker - I did half of them without it and broke down and bought one.  love it.
- scrap paper to draw your own patterns
- fiber fill for making plush ornaments
- cookie cutters - I don't own any, but I heard you can trace the interior and exterior to make patterns)
- needle threader for threading several strands of embroidery floss onto tiny needles not made for embroidery

Step one: make a pattern for the shape you want.  For me, this meant drawing it several times until I got the shape I want or printing out a line drawing I made in Illustrator.  Then I cut it out in felt and traced any design I wanted in the disappearing ink.  I used pencil at first, but it doesn't rub out of felt very easily. 
Paper pattern star and felt cutout with disappearing ink

Step Two: Embroider away!  If you're like me and haven't really done it before, I found Sublime Stitching to be helpful in telling me how to do basic stitches.  By the way, I'm fairly certain I do it incorrectly (I knot the ends of the thread together to form a sturdy anchor knot) but I don't particularly care due to my medium of felt.  OH, another thing: it took me several ornaments to develop the sort of skill allowing me to do straight lines and even(ish) stitches, so make sure you start with practice pieces you plan on keeping instead of giving away.     
stitching right along my disappearing lines

Step three: After completing the decorative stitches, I stitched the white felt star onto a slightly larger blue felt star.

Step four: If it's going to be an ornament, add the ribbon to hang it now (I forgot several times)! Also, I suggest stitching your initials and year onto the back piece of felt so both you and everyone else can remember who made it and when.

Step five: I stitched two blue stars together using a blanket stitch (google it).  When I got about 1-2" to closing it up, I stuffed some fiber fill in there to make it poofy and then finished blanket stitching it up. 

Step six: All done!  Stick it in a bag and it's ready to go. By the way, these also make great pin cushions. (I may or may have no used one of my early I-don't-know-how-to-embroider ornaments as a pin cushion for the rest of the project.)
All done!

I ended up making at least six designs just playing around with it (the candy cane has already been given away) and fell in love with the tree in the back.  I made a little forest of them, but since I forgot to add a ribbon, this is the only one I have left.  The two circular ornaments were some of the first ones (the absolute first one never even got stuffed, it was that bad!).  
felt Christmas ornaments

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Best. Cornbread. Ever.

I've had quite a few versions of cornbread. I grew up with the occasional cakey cornbread and delicious honey butter (I know we mixed our own honey butter, but was the cornbread from a box, Mom?) Now that I'm in the South, I've discovered that cornbread or biscuits are served in most Southern diners/restaurants and everybody has their favorite recipe. Most biscuits are delicious but the cornbread can range from corny and bland to super sweet and cakey.

mmm, look at that golden top
I made the best cornbread of my life on New Years Day. I've made corn bread before, but I've always been vaguely disappointed in it- it was too cakey, too thin, or too much "corn" and not enough bread.  This recipe produced a cornbread that was an ideal 1.5"-2" thick, sweet enough to be eaten by itself (but not too sweet I couldn't slather it in butter and honey), and the perfect texture that walks the line between cakey and flakey.  It was so good, I made it two days in a row and only just stopped myself from making it for dinner on the third. 

I thought I'd made this recipe before.  It's from my New Best Recipe Cookbook, but there are two recipes: Northern and Southern cornbread.  Maybe I tried the Northern one and forgot to notate it.  I distinctly remember trying to make cornbread in my 10" square cast iron years ago and it turning out far too thin and consequently a bit too brown on the bottom to be flavorful, so maybe I made the Southern one.  This time I had the suggested 8" cast iron that we picked up at a thrift store and made the Southern Skillet Cornbread.

Cornbread is a quick bread, meaning it gets its rise from baking soda, baking powder, and/or eggs (in this case, all three) instead of yeast. The difference between Northern and Southern cornbread tends to be how cakey it is.  Northern cornbread uses roughly a 50/50 blend of cornmeal and all purpose flour with butter for the fat while Southern styles use all or mostly all cornmeal with oil/bacon drippings as the fat.  This Southern one uses only cornmeal, so it's gluten free.  My dad is gluten intolerant, so I'm always happy to find something gluten free that tastes this amazing.  It comes together pretty quick, so I can quickly mix it up and stick it in the oven, then have 20 minutes to pull together the rest of dinner. 

I don't want to write out the recipe because of copyright restrictions (blogging is a form of publishing), but I will give the basic gist of how it's put together that can be used on other recipes.  The oil (or bacon drippings) is preheated in the cast iron.  The cornmeal is divided and most of it mixed with the dry ingredients.  The remaining cornmeal is whisked with hot water to form a thick paste, then buttermilk and egg is added.  After folding those together, the hot oil from the cast iron is quickly mixed in.  After baking for about 20 minutes, out comes the best cornbread I've ever had.  

An 8" cast iron pan of deliciousness
So why did I made the cornbread?  Well, the South has a tradition on New Years Day: for good luck in the new year, eat black eyed peas, collards, and fat back (or something porky; we did bacon this year).  While I can finish my plate, I don't particularly like any of these traditional Southern dishes and wanted something that I could look forward to in the meal.  It will now be in constant rotation in our meals. 

bacon, collards, cornbread, and black eyed peas

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Grinding Turkey

I've heard turkeys go on sale after Thanksgiving.  I never saw evidence of this in my local stores.  However, I did find turkey on sale for $0.59/lb after Christmas. 

So my parents bought my husband and I an 11lb turkey.

What does one do with an 11lb turkey??  It's just the two of us and while we would like to have parties, we likely wouldn't serve turkey at one.  After a brief discussion on how we would likely use turkey, we decided to grind the whole thing up.  (Actually, our plan was to make sausage, but we wanted to mix beef heart with the turkey and didn't have time to get to the store that sells it).

11lbs of fresh, raw turkey
 First, we portioned it.  We discovered turkey bones are much thicker and tougher than chicken bones.
the turkey meets the cleaver. The cleaver's name is dexter.  no joke. it's engraved.
Then we ground it. I love our grinder attachment for the Kitchenaid. Because turkey meat is so lean, we ended up grinding in some of the skin based on a recipe my husband had read for making sausage.  After seeing it all ground up, I probably would have put in slightly less skin. However, the leanness of ground beef heart will probably balance it out when we make sausage. 
all ground up and lightly salt and peppered

Then we bagged it.
I really need a scale.  I tried, but I know the portions are all over the place.
We got 8 bags of meat with roughly 1lb in each bag.  So far, we're planning on making meatballs and sausage.  We're still thinking about other meals we can do with ground turkey meat. 

vacuum sealed, labeled, and dated

After grinding everything, we took all the bones, sauteed them, and boiled it with leeks to make broth.  We didn't quite have a big enough pot and really we should have made two batches of broth, so we ended up with a super concentrated broth. 

I looked into canning the broth, but I only have a water bath canner.  Due to it's lack of acidity and bacteria that could be present in the meat, I would need a pressure canner to safely can the broth.  My alternative is to just freeze it.  After we refrigerate the broth overnight, we will skim off the solidified fat and pour it into muffin tins (after I measure how much each muffin tin holds!).  After freezing those, I'll vacuum seal them and keep them frozen for future use.

I'm excited.