Decor idea and some sewing I’ve been doing

I’m often mistaken for a creative person – I apparently have the appearance but none of the talent of an artist – but I’m really not creative. So when I do have a creative idea, you guys are gonna hear about it. I’ve been sewing up a storm on the trusty 15-91 this weekend. One of the things I made was napkins. That’s not the creative thing. I’d probably have made napkins sooner or later because I love cloth napkins, but the truth is I had plenty of them to begin with. But I saw Clotilde’s recent post on Chocolate and Zucchini about making napkins from fat quarters and had to make them much sooner than later because I have an ever-growing fat quarter obsession collection.

You see, both my mother, who can actually sew (unlike me), and I agree that the best part about sewing is picking out fabric. Until I bought my 15-91, it was the only part of sewing I liked. There is a lot of really neat fabric out there. The problem is I don’t have anything to do with most of it. I’m not going to wear it; I’ve been wearing black every day since the ’80s and I’m not about to stop now. So I buy fat quarters with hazy plans of making a quilt – the world’s largest quilt at this rate – when I’m 60. (A fat quarter, for those of you who are wondering, is a quarter yard of fabric, but one that’s been cut as a corner of the yard instead of a strip. So say a particular fabric is 44″ wide. If you went to the fabric store and requested a quarter yard of it, they’d cut you a piece that was 9″ x 44″. But a fat quarter, which is a “quilter’s cut”, would be 18″ x 22″. It’s always 18″ wide, but the height will vary. Fabric stores will often have fat quarters for $1, and there are tons of them on etsy, usually for $2 or $2.50.)

Soooo, inspired by Clotilde’s post, I raided my fat quarter stash and made some napkins. Where I got creative was in how to store them. They’re so pretty I want to look at them, so I got the idea to hang them up on a faux clothesline. It’s just some kitchen twine strung between two nails. Might not work for everyone, but our house is very casual. I didn’t need to figure out where the hell to put something else in my over-stuffed kitchen AND I can gaze admiringly at my pretty fabric when I’m not gazing admiringly at my sewing machine!

What do you think? I’m thinking it will be fun to tell guests to choose their own napkin and unpin it.

I could pretty easily be talked into doing a napkin tutorial, by the way, although it would be almost identical to the one Clotilde linked to. They’re just about the easiest possible thing to sew; it’d be a great project for kids, or a really great housewarming gift.

I also made oilcloth placemats although this picture makes them look terribly wrinkly. The oilcloth came all folded up and you can’t iron it so I’m just waiting for it to de-crease. I think maybe the chalkboard-everything craze is a bit 2009 (not that I follow trends very much), but I made these because if left to his own devices after finishing his meal during a dinner party, Mark becomes either very destructive or very creative. I hope to encourage creativity. Unlike me, Mark is extremely creative and very artistic. We do also very occasionally serve children and I suspect they may like them nearly as much as Mark.

One of the cats walked on this placement just after I wiped it clean and Mark chose to immortalize the paw prints. I very quickly found myself questioning the intelligence of this whole placement idea.

This is what the back of the placemats look like. Mark says they are hideous!

Finally, I made an improved lunch bag. Some time ago I made a very basic cloth lunch bag, which has been okay, but I’ve been a bit harder on it than I anticipated. I’ve been putting holes in it by dropping forks and knives into it, I’ve been spilling things in it, and I’ve been putting a heavier load than I thought in it, partially because I switched to a smaller laptop bag and have been putting a book to read during lunch in my lunch bag, and sometimes I read huge books. So I took the same concept but used canvas, which is sturdy, for the exterior and laminated cotton, which wipes clean, for the interior. I made it slightly larger, and I made a small, matching silverware holder to go inside. I managed to find the same exact fabric as the canvas in regular cotton, so I used that to make a matching napkin.

Here it is all packed up:

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Hemp Milk and other things I’ve been making in my Vitamix

I had a Vitamix on my wish list for a few years. Every year when I didn’t get it for my birthday or Christmas, I’d spend the rest of the year telling myself that if I’ve lived this long without one, obviously I don’t NEED one. Then I finally got one this year (thanks, Smark!) and it turns out I DID need it. I use it several times a day. I’ve only had it a month and I don’t know what I’d do without it.

One thing I’ve been doing is making myself a smoothie as soon as I get home from work every day, which is great because it keeps me from binge snacking while I prepare dinner, which I’m prone to do because I come home hungry. And the neurologist I’m seeing for my headaches gave me what I consider the most awesome medical advice in the world: “don’t get hungry”. Hunger is a huge headache trigger, especially for me, so basically she just wants me to avoid the situation. So now I go around shouting, “MUST EAT, DOCTOR’S ORDERS!” whenever I’m even remotely hungry. I’m trying not to gain a million pounds while following those orders, though, so a late afternoon green smoothie is super-awesome for me.

Spinach-Pear Smoothie

3 large handfuls baby spinach
about 1 Tbsp flax seeds
1/2 cup non-dairy milk (I use homemade hemp milk, recipe below)
1 or 2 dates, pitted OR a sweetener like maple or coconut syrup, to taste
1 pear, stem removed
a few pieces of frozen banana
a couple of ice cubes
contents of a probiotic capsule (optional)

Put it all in a Vitamix and blend on high just until completely smooth.

My other current favorite smoothie I call the “Omega Elvis” because it’s full of omega 3s. What I adore about the Vitamix is I don’t even need to have peanut butter on hand. I just use whole peanuts!

Omega Elvis Smoothie

a handful or two of unsalted roasted peanuts
about 1 Tbsp flax seeds
sweetener to taste; for this one I usually use coconut or maple syrup
about 1 cup hemp milk
1 frozen banana
pinch of salt

Again, put it all in the Vitamix and mix on high until thoroughly blended.

If I didn’t have a constant supply of hemp milk on hand, I’d just put some hemp seeds and water in the blender when making the smoothies. We’ve been through many phases of non-dairy milk. I’ve gone through periods of making my own soy milk and almond milk, but I’ve fallen out of those because they are too much effort and require forethought. So I’ve been buying milk, first almond and lately coconut milk for Mark, and hemp milk for myself. I’ll probably never be able to stop buying Mark milk because he doesn’t actually LIKE milk and homemade milk grosses him out for some reason. And he likes it sweeter than I do, and also vanilla-flavored. But I hate all the packaging we are wasting, and hemp milk is pretty expensive. I actually tried to make hemp milk once before I had a Vitamix and it wasn’t very good. It had to be strained and even afterwards, I just didn’t like it. The Vitamix is amazing because there is no need to strain hemp milk! It’s completely smooth without straining. Check it out:

Hemp Milk

1/2 cup shelled hemp seeds
2 1/2 cups water
1 date, pitted
generous pinch of salt

What hemp seeds look like:

Put it all in the Vitamix.

Blend on high until smooth; 30 seconds is probably enough. It will get frothy.

Refrigerate the milk. High-speed blenders add a lot of air to mixtures, so in order to fit the milk into the jar I use, I actually blend in 2 cups of water. Later after it’s settled back down, I’ll add the additional 1/2 cup of water in and shake it up. I guess I’m obsessed with jars, but something about this jar, with fresh homemade hemp milk in it, makes me very happy. It’s one of my many vintage mason jars, which by the way, Vegenaise lids fit perfectly, so if you have a hard time finding screw-on, non-canning lids, save ’em up. (In fact, Vegenaise jars in general are really nice; that’s what I’m drinking the green smoothie above out of.)

Just shake your hemp milk before using; it does separate (another reason I can’t get Mark to drink homemade milks). This is barely sweet, which is how I like it. Add additional sweetener if you must. Sometimes I omit the date entirely. It also tastes kinda hempy, I won’t lie. If your favorite non-dairy milk is chocolate Silk, this may not be the milk for you. I don’t know that I would relish drinking it straight, but I wouldn’t relish drinking ANY milk straight. I only use it on cereal, in smoothies, and occasionally in cooking (though not often because I don’t like milky things any more than Mark does).

I’ve also been making fermented cashew cheese in the Vitamix, but I’m perfecting that, so that’s coming soon to an I Eat Food post near you.

And now for my latest completely off-topic update. Other than Vitamixing it up every day, I haven’t been cooking anything all that amazing because I have a new hobby I’ve been obsessing over. I know I’ve posted a few sewing tutorials over the years, but I’ve always prefaced them by saying I’m a terrible sewer. Which I am. I don’t even LIKE sewing. I usually only do it because there is something I want that I can’t find to buy. So sewing is kind of a chore for me. Also, sewing machines break around me, which subsequently enrages me. Just over a year ago, I mentioned here that during my annual gift bag-making blitz, my sewing machine broke and I had to buy a new one. Well, guess what happened last month while making gift bags? My year-old machine broke. And it would have cost as much as I paid for it to repair it. Now, since I hate sewing, buying a new sewing machine, especially during the holiday season, is NOT fun for me. Buying a new camera: fun. New sewing machine: NOT fun. Who wants to spend a bunch of money on something they don’t like?

So I decided to do something different this time: buy a sewing machine I DO like. One that won’t break, and if it does, won’t cost a fortune to repair, as computerized machines do. I think I’ve stated here before that I don’t trust new things, that I much prefer old things, and therefore do almost all my shopping in antique and thrift stores. It seemed natural to me, then, to buy an old sewing machine instead of a crappy new one. A mechanical sewing machine. One I can open up and see the parts working. One that’s proven its worth over many years. One that is so beautiful to look at I’ve put it on display in my living room instead of cooping it up in the spare room. THIS sewing machine:

It’s a Singer 15-91; it’s cast iron (my favorite substance!), has all-metal parts, and is completely gear driven. It’s from 1949, fully restored, and complete with table it cost me about the same price I would have paid for yet another piece of crap modern sewing machine that would break in a year. You can actually get them for $50 and under – sometimes free – if you’re willing to put some work into it (they almost always require a re-wiring as the original wiring is unsafe today). It’s a thing of beauty. I’m in love with this sewing machine. Which is a weird thing for someone who hates sewing.

But I’m trying to NOT hate sewing, and this baby makes that task MUCH easier, believe me. I trust it far more than my old machines. It will stitch ANYTHING. It’s amazing in action! I’ve made a couple of rag quilts on it and it stitched through 8 layers of fabric – without me changing from a standard 11 needle – without the slightest hesitation. THIS is a sewing machine meant for Renae! Finally! [Funny: I just read the post I linked to above where I mentioned I’d bought a new sewing machine just before Christmas 2010 – I state in that post that my “dream sewing machine” has “long been an antique Singer”…why didn’t I just follow my dream then?!]

Anyway, THAT’s what I’ve been doing. Sewing, of all things! I’m even more surprised than you are. And here is a fat squirrel:

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Shirataki with peanut sauce, and a bag-making extravaganza

I spoiled my appetite for dinner a second time this week, and so wanted something very small and very quick later, and yet also wanted to feed Mark. I had some tofu shirataki in the refrigerator, and decided to go that route. Shirataki noodles were all the rage a year or two ago, with their 20 calories and very low carbs. I don’t make them that often because honestly, they don’t fill me up. But they seemed like the perfect thing when I wanted to eat something small not long before going to bed. I used three packages because I knew Mark would eat two. Here’s what I did.

Tofu Shirataki with Peanut Sauce and Veggies

3 packages tofu shirataki
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets and steamed
1 bell pepper, red, orange, or yellow, chopped
2 cups napa cabbage, chopped
5.5 oz baby corn (Super H sells these adorable 5.5 oz cans of these)

Peanut Sauce
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 oz coconut milk (Super H sells 5.5 oz cans of this too, which is great when you don’t need much)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
1 large clove garlic, grated
squirts of sriracha to your taste
juice of 1 lime

Remove shirataki from package and rinse very, very well in a sieve – this stuff has a funky odor you need to get rid of before using. Place in a pot, cover well with water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Put all of the peanut sauce ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding some water if necessary to thin. Set aside.

Heat some oil in a wok, then add the bell peppers and baby corn, frying for a couple of minutes. Add the broccoli and cabbage and fry another few minutes. Next, drain the noodles and add them to the wok, stirring well and frying another minute or so. Pour the peanut sauce over the noodles and stir well.

I just wish I’d had something red to use for a better presentation!

So in news you probably don’t care about, I’ve been on a bag-making kick this weekend. First, I had this awesome fabric I had been considering using for my lunch bag but didn’t, so I made farmers market totes/grocery bags out of it. I LOVE this fabric. Each of the bags reverses to both green peppers and tomatoes. Adorable!

Next, I needed a tote for the beach. As I mentioned in my last post, Mark’s family lives near Folly Beach in Charleston, so we spend a lot of time there and I need something to lug my towel, books, and sunscreen around. I had a linen/cotton blend fabric leftover from a previous project that I used for this.

The inside is a cute squid and seahorse fabric, but I only had a fat quarter of each of two matching colors, so the lining is two different colors, but I think it ended up being even cooler that way.

I got all crazy and added a pocket to this one. Since I didn’t have any more squid fabric, I used a matching seahorse fat quarter I had to line the pocket. I left the selvage on the linen fabric because I liked the fringe effect.

I’m quite pleased with my beach tote and can’t wait to use it. You can’t really tell, but behind the tote it is STORMING! We’ve gotten so much rain today! (Which is partially why I spent all day making bags.) I’ve been getting alerts about coastal flooding and tornadoes all day. BAD DAY FOR THE BEACH. A girl can dream, though.

Next up, a smaller tote with bats and glow-in-the-dark skulls. You may not know this about me, but I’m a closet goth. I don’t really identify as a goth, but I have loved bats and Halloween and haunted houses and dark things since I was a kid, and I’m not kidding, black has been my favorite color since I was about 3. AND I LOVE BAUHAUS. IT’S TRUE. Oh, and I may have possibly met my husband in a goth club. I guess you could say I have gothic tendencies. I live with snakes and lizards and other things that go bump in the night!

Basically I made this tote just because I loved the fabric. And I DO need a book tote. This will also be good for keeping in the car and using as a bag when I need to run into a store for a couple of things. Lined with a cool red fabric I used for Christmas gift bags.

Yesterday I had to go to the fabric store to pick up nylon webbing for the straps for the retro veggie bags because I didn’t have enough fabric to make the straps. While I was there, I found these fruit fabrics for 50% off. I already have a ton of reusable grocery bags, but they’re getting kind of grungy and they aren’t the kind that launder particularly well. So fruit grocery bags it was! Green apples reverses to red apples, oranges reverses to bananas, and grapes reverses to cherries.

Finally, I declared our house a paper-towel-free zone a long time ago, but I’ve noticed that our cleaning person keeps bringing in contraband paper towels and using them to clean. I bought her cloth paper towels from etsy, but I don’t think they were big enough for her. And then at the opposite side of the spectrum, I have Mark, who thinks nothing of sopping up spilled beverages (and he spills a lot of beverages) with our best bath towels. So I took a yard of cotton flannel that I never used in the rag quilt I’d intended it for, and cut it into 12″ squares. I made a total of 16 cloth paper towels; some were a bit longer on two sides in order to use up all the fabric. Then I had fun trying out every overlocking stitch on my new sewing machine to finish the edges. Good times. I folded them up neatly and put them in a basket. Then, because I think part of Maria’s resistance to the cloth paper towels is she doesn’t feel right leaving soiled items behind her, I found a little pail and labeled it “DIRTY” so the used ones have a set place to go. I stored both the basket and the pail under the kitchen sink with the cleaning supplies, so hopefully they’ll be seen and used by anyone who needs to clean stuff around here. We’ll see if anyone other than me and the cats follow through.

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