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:

Comments (8)

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:

Comments (12)

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.

Comments (4)

How to make a rag quilt

This is still a food blog, I swear! To the uninterested, I’m sorry for the back-to-back sewing posts. I’m going to do the bread bag tutorial sometime in the next month or so because several people said they want to see it, but other than that, I promise this is not going to become the “i sew stuff” blog (maybe “i sew stuff badly”!). But I’ve had this post ready to go for a couple of weeks now and I’m sick of seeing it in there with “Draft” next to it, and as the quilt featured in it has now reached its faraway destination of Australia, I can finally publish it! Food next time, no excuses!

The post…

Okay, this is going to be an incredibly long post and there will be no food and only incidental kittens, so most of you can probably just quietly leave now and return soon for the good stuff. But since I did get some interest in a tutorial for making rag quilts, I photographed the steps when I made a baby quilt for Kylie’s new baby boy, Liam. Here we go:

Rag Quilt

Necessary items
cotton flannel (NOT pre-washed)
cotton or cotton/poly batting (you could also just use more flannel)
thread
sewing machine (unless you are extremely industrious and are willing to sew by hand)
scissors
size 16 sewing machine needle (you can try size 14, but I broke a couple 14s)
pins, quilt pins if you have them

Strongly recommended items
walking foot for sewing machine
rotary cutter and self-healing cutting mat
rag quilt snips
iron

About the fabric

The first thing you need to do is determine the size of the quilt you want to make and the size of the squares you wish to use. This will tell you how much fabric you need to buy. I have made two sizes of quilt: adult, which contained 8″ finished squares, 7 or 8 squares wide by 8 squares tall, plus a border on all or some sides, and crib, which contained 6″ finished squares, 5 squares wide by 8 squares tall, with a border. I’ll be working with the crib size in this tutorial, and I felt 6″ was good for that, but for the adult quilts, I liked the 8″ squares. The smaller your squares, the more sewing and snipping you have to do.

Once you figure out how many squares you will use and their sizes, you need to decide on the number of fabrics you will use. I used a different fabric for each square in each row, so, for example, for the 7-square wide quilt, 7 different fabrics. Then you can do some math and figure out how much of each fabric to buy. For an adult size quilt with finished squares no larger than 8″ (you’ll be cutting 9″ squares), you can just get a yard of each fabric and it will come out perfectly. I would just get a yard for most baby quilts too, although you will probably end up having leftover fabric.

Joann’s has a large selection of cotton flannel, although I can’t stand the place. Hancock’s also has a lot. Locally, I like G Street, although their flannel selection is not nearly as good as their regular cotton selection; it’s mostly kid stuff. My favorite source for flannel is actually Etsy, because the selection available is great, and most sellers send their fabrics out within a day or two, and honestly, I find it easier to have fabric arrive in my mailbox than I do waiting for it to be cut in a store. I’ve had great luck with this method.

Sometimes sellers on Etsy will offer pre-washed fabric. Do NOT buy pre-washed flannel for rag quilts and do NOT wash the fabric before cutting or sewing it. This is opposite of what you usually do; for most sewing you always wash the fabric first. Due to the nature of rag quilts, though, washing is your final step. The quilt won’t work as well if you use washed fabric.

About the batting

I prefer Quilter’s Dream Cotton batting, which comes in easy sizes like “double”, “crib”, “queen”, etc. I say I prefer this brand, although to be honest, it’s the only kind I’ve used. I really liked it though and have no desire to try anything else. When they were out of all-cotton, I bought a package of cotton-poly, but I haven’t used it yet. It’s just a little less soft and I’m sure it won’t be a problem. G Street Fabrics sells Quilter’s Dream. Other fabric stores may have other brands. I’m sure they are all pretty similar. Instead of actual batting, you could also use additional flannel, either one layer or two.

About the thread

Buy a good quality, like Coats & Clark. You need a lot for quilting (probably more than one spool), but you’ll be sewing through many layers at some points and you want something that won’t break. Buy a color or colors that go with your color scheme. I used “winter white” for most of my quilts, which goes with just about everything.

About the walking foot

A walking foot is a special sewing machine foot that has feed dogs on the bottom of it, so the fabric is being gripped and pushed through the needle area evenly from the top and bottom. This is important when you are trying to sew through several layers; it keeps the layers moving in tandem. It’s hard to sew a quilt sandwich without having the layers shift, causing puckers, unless you use a walking foot. I know from experience. Many machines come with a walking foot, but if yours does not have one, you can buy a universal walking foot for about $15-$20, which I think would be money well spent, even for a single rag quilt, as it will save you a lot of frustration.

About the rag quilt snips

Like the walking foot, I feel some of you may feel this is an investment you don’t care to make if only ever make a single rag quilt, and I can’t lie: it is a rather single-purpose tool. But the snipping part is a pain, I’ll be up front about that, and I can’t imagine doing it with regular scissors. The Friskars rag quilt snips are a good price on Amazon, and Joann’s sells them as well, and I know they often send out coupons, so maybe you can get them for even less that way.

About the rotary cutter and self-healing cutting mat

You can certainly cut your fabric and batting with regular fabric scissors. But a rotary cutter makes it much easier, and unlike the snips, you’ll find you use them often for other projects. I’m pretty terrible at sewing, so a lot of what I do is based on straight edges, and the rotary cutter is a huge help. These can be a bit pricey, especially if you get a larger mat, but you don’t want a mat that’s too small.

Okay, now that we’ve discussed the supplies, I think we’re ready to begin!

Once you’ve amassed all of your fabrics and batting, it’s time to cut them into squares. Your flannel squares should be cut 1″ larger all around than the final size, so if you are doing 8″ finished squares, you will be cutting 9″ squares out of the flannel. Your batting squares will be cut the same size as the finished square. I usually put a half-size, solid-color border, either on the top and bottom, or on all four sides of my quilts. These are rectangles; to size them take half of the finished square size and add an inch to get your height. The width is the same size you cut for the squares. So for a border rectangle for a quilt with 8″ finished squares, your border rectangle dimensions would be 9″ x 5″. For 6″ finished squares, they would be 7″ x 4″. I’ll show you this later. For now, lets start with our interior squares.

You need to cut two squares for each block: a front and a back. So if you are making a quilt with 8 rows of 8 squares each, and each square is a different fabric, you need to cut 16 squares of each fabric. If you are using regular scissors, just cut these squares. I’ll demonstrate doing it with a rotary cutter.

If your flannel is very wrinkled, iron it first. I don’t believe you need to be quite as fanatic about perfectly pressed flannel for rag quilts as you do for most sewing, but you definitely do not want heavy creases or big wrinkles.

Fold the fabric selvage to selvage (the selvages are the finished sides), ensuring it is wrinkle-free and smooth. Lay it on the mat so the selvages are on the left and line the folded fabric up so it is straight, using the grid on the mat. Use the rotary cutter and a ruler to cut the selvages off, and also trim the bottom to square it. (I couldn’t take photos of myself cutting, but this is a great tutorial with photos.)

Use the ruler and rotary cutter to cut strips from top to bottom, the width of your flannel squares. (Remember, that’s 1″ more than the finished square size.) If the grid on your mat is ruled (and most are), unless you start at “0”, make sure you are cutting at the right inch mark! If you butt your fabric up against the 1″ mark, you need to cut at the 10″ mark for a 9″ square.

Take one of your strips and put the newly-cut edge to the left again, and square it with the grid. Cut into squares.

You will end up with pairs of squares when you do this, and they will be lined up in the right direction, back to back, just like you need them. Since you are cutting two squares each time, you need to make the same number of squares as need for your quilt (not double, as you would if you were cutting one ply at a time). Make a nice stack.

If you are using a border, those pieces need to be cut in rectangles as described above, but the process is the same:

Next up is the batting. Open the package and unfold the batting a while before you use it, to help it lose any creases. Then cut it like you did the flannel, but make the squares the same size as your finished squares are to be, i.e., 8″ for an 8″ finished square quilt.

Don’t forget to cut batting for the border as well:

Next it’s time to assemble the quilt sandwiches. As I mentioned, if you used the rotary cutter method, you ended up with perfect sandwiches that just need batting stuffed between them, so this step is pretty easy. If you used regular scissors and didn’t cut from folded fabric, make sure the front and back of any fabric with a design that has an orientation match are lined up correctly.

Take the top piece off the sandwich and position a square of batting in the middle. It doesn’t need to be exact, so don’t measure it or anything, but just line it up evenly on all sides.

Then put the top back on. I pin the large squares; not in the center, but a bit above so I can sew them later without removing the pin. Really flannel doesn’t move around on batting, so honestly, the pinning is optional.

Sandwich all of the squares, including the border pieces if you are using them. (See, i didn’t bother pinning the border pieces; they just stay in place.)

Now it’s time to sew! If you’ve never used a walking foot before, consult your machine’s manual on how to install it, but I took this photo because the first time I tried to use one, I didn’t understand where the weird arm went. It grabs onto the screw that holds the needle in. Speaking of the needle, for quilting the sandwiches, you can use a standard size 11, but later I’m going to make you swap it out for a bigger one.

I mentioned in the post where I showed you the quilt I made my mom that I free-motion quilted the squares. I didn’t do that for Liam’s quilt because I didn’t want one of the first things the boy learns to focus on to be my horrible quilting. I can show you how I did my mom’s quilt in a later post if you’d like, but unless you already know how to do free motion quilting (which requires a different presser foot), just sew an X in each square, from corner to corner. This is the traditional, normal way to make rag quilt anyway.

For the border rectangles, just sew a straight line down the middle, lengthwise. Corner squares get an “L” as shown in the picture. Notice that for this quilt I used a decorative stitch, despite my owner’s manual telling me not to, because I don’t follow rules I don’t believe in. DON’T DO THIS. I’m pretty sure I broke my walking foot by using the decorative stitch. Fortunately, I had a backup from my old sewing machine, but using only the special walking foot stitch with the walking foot is now a rule I believe in. It’s also much more obvious when this fancy stitch doesn’t line up from square to square, so until you are an expert (which I am not), I suggest using a straight stitch in a color matching the fabric, with the goal of having the stitching blend in, not stand out.

Closeup of the corner square:

Now the fun part – laying out the design. You probably already have an idea how what you want it to look like, but what I do next is lay the whole quilt out on the floor and make sure I like the order of the squares. The kittens are a huge help with this step (ugh, actually the drive me crazy!!).

Once the quilt looks the way you want it to, it’s time to pin the rows together. When you pin, pin back side to back side, then open the fold open.

Make a chain of each row.

I then roll each row up – be sure to keep them in order!

Although I try to be fairly neat when I pin the squares together, when I’m ready to sew, I unroll two squares, then remove the pin and very carefully line the two pieces up so their edges exactly match.

Then sew together with a 1/2″ seam allowance – that is, so the needle is 1/2″ from the edge of the fabric.

Keep unrolling squares, carefully aligning, and sewing squares until the row is finished. Make sure every seam you stitch is on the same side as the others.

When you have sewn together every row, it’s time to switch your needle to a size 16, which is necessary for sewing rows together as you will be going through many layers in some parts. I was unable to use even a size 14 without it breaking. Size 16 works like a charm, however.

I sew the rows together starting at the bottom and going up. It’s really easy to get confused about orientation when you are pinning rows together, so go slow and check after pinning every time! Place the bottom row in front of you so the quilt top is facing down (that is, the seams are facing the ground), and the designs are oriented correctly as you are looking at them. Take the next row and place it on top of the first, but so that the quilt top (the side with the seams) is facing up and the design is facing away from you.

Pin together, about 2″ from the edge, once in each square. I line each square up, making sure the seams match exactly. If you didn’t cut or sew some of the squares perfectly, you can make small (very small; you do want to be careful with the cutting and sewing) adjustments by bunching one square up slightly to make it fit. Then open the quilt and look at the rows and make sure you pinned them correctly. DO THIS EVERY TIME! Like I said, it’s very easy to get disoriented, and I think it gets easier to get confused the more rows you do. Here I am checking that it’s pinned correctly.

When you are sure it’s pinned correctly, fold it back on itself to be sewn, and again, sew the rows together 1/2″ from the edge. It helps to pull your sewing table away from the wall if it’s against one, so the quilt has somewhere to go.

This starts out relatively easy but gets more challenging to maneuver the more rows you add! But it also gets more exciting because you’re almost done.

When all rows have been sewn, sew a line all around the entire border, 1/2″ from the edge. (Do this even if you didn’t use border rectangles.)

Lay the quilt out on the floor…and get comfortable; you’re going to be there a while.

Get your rag quilt snips if you have them.

Now start snipping all of the seams – all of them – about 1/4″ apart, being very careful not to snip the seam. Don’t do this all in one sitting; you’ll go crazy and your hand and back will be killing you. I usually take at least one meal break and/or try to get out of the house in the middle of it.

Personally, I hate this part, but at least I always have company.

Don’t forget to the do the edges too.

Now, grab a book you’ve been wanting to read and take the quilt to a laundromat. It needs to be washed and dried in commercial machines the first time because it will produce too much lint for home machines. Wash it in cold water (detergent is optional), then dry on medium or high heat. The next time it can be washed in a regular machine, and it should only become softer and more raggedy with each washing, so wash as often as you’d like, but always clean the lint trap afterwards. When I get mine home, I like to tug at each of the seams and make sure I didn’t snip any. I found a little hole in one of my quilts from snipping a seam, so I went and sewed it back together.

Whew! That’s it! Hopefully that helps someone out there. I think rag quilts are great for beginning quilters and others who aren’t great at or lack confidence in sewing – and all of those categories include me. They are fairly easy and don’t take so long you get sick of it or frustrated. (It generally takes me about a week to complete one, though if you were determined, you could do it in a weekend.) My final tip is this: make a practice quilt for yourself before making any for gifts, and be easy on yourself about the practice quilt. Expect to make mistakes. I made my practice quilt for Mark (which is the same as making it for me) before making any others, and I’m very glad I did, as I made a few mistakes. None of them were things he would notice, but I learned a lot from each of them and didn’t make them in subsequent quilts. When I finished the practice quilt, we had a very useful (if not entirely perfect) new blanket (which you can never have too many of), and I felt a lot more confident about my sewing skills. I wouldn’t have wanted to give the first one to anyone but my husband, but I went into my second quilt knowing I could make something I’d feel comfortable giving someone else. And even though I hate sewing in general, I actually had fun making these. So I think it’s a great project.

Comments (30)

How to make a lunch bag tote

I know I keep mentioning that I hate and am terrible at sewing, but then I keep posting sewing tutorials, which I guess may seem odd. One thing I am slightly good at sewing, though, is bags and purses. That’s because I have a terrible time finding purses I like so I have to keep resorting to making my own. Well, I’m set for purses right now, but the other day the bag I’ve been toting my lunches in, some cheap little thing I got at Whole Foods, tore. It wasn’t really big enough to begin with, nor strong enough to carry the Pyrex bowls I take my lunch in (I will only microwave in glass). So this weekend I decided I was going to make a bag to carry my lunch in, and hey, that’s food-related, right? So I made a tutorial. I know several of you are waiting for the new bread bag tutorial I promised, and it’s coming, but I have to go to the fabric store first and I’m just not ready for that yet. (After a positively disastrous visit to JoAnn’s during President’s Day weekend, I sent my parents an email entitled My Black Heart Seethes with a Burning Hatred of JoAnn’s about my experience, which they seemed to find hilarious, but I have yet to recover.) In the meantime here is how I made a lunch bag.

Lunch Tote Bag

1/2 yard cotton fabric
1/2 yard another cotton fabric in a coordinating color
thread
loop turner (optional)

Wash and press your fabrics. Cut two 14″ x 15″ pieces of each fabric (for a total of four squares). I prefer using a rotary cutter but regular scissors work just as well. (I cut both squares at the same time, on folded fabric.)

Cut two 2″ x 17″ strips of each fabric; these will become the handles.

Pin right sides together of one of the fabrics, leaving the top side open.

Sew the three sides, leaving a 1/2″ seam allowance.

Open the seams near one bottom corner, then pull either side of the fabric away from each other and flatten. This is easier to show in a picture than describe:

Take a ruler and find the line that is 4″ across under the point of the corner, where the seam is at exactly 2″; use a pencil or fabric marker to draw this line. Again this is easier to show in a picture:

Sew the line you drew. Don’t forget to lock the stitches by sewing backwards for a few stitches at the beginning and end.

Trim the corner off about half an inch from the new seam.

Repeat with the other corner. You now have an inside-out bag.

Follow the above procedures with the other fabric. Turn the lining fabric right-side out …

… but leave the exterior fabric inside out.

Place the lining inside the exterior; right sides will be facing each other.

Next make the straps. There are two ways to make them. Since I hate ironing and have a loop turner, I will show you that way. I’ll also describe what to do if you don’t have a loop turner. This is what to do if you have a loop turner:

Pin one piece of the lining fabric to one piece of the exterior fabric, right sides together.

Sew both of the long sides, leaving a 1/2″ seam allowance. For the loop turner I have, I also have to sew one of the short sides.

I have a tube that I slid into the open side of the strap …

… and push it all the way to the end.

Then I push the rod through the tube …

… until it comes out the other end. Then pull it all the way through.

If you don’t have a loop turner, fold 1/2″ over on both long sides of all four strap pieces, so you end up with a 1″ wide strip, and press so it holds the creases. Place a pressed lining piece onto a pressed exterior piece, right sides out, so the folds are sandwiches inside. Pin.

Whichever method you used for the straps, edgestitch both sides; if you are using the second method of making the straps, you’ll actually be sewing the two sides together in this step. For turned straps, you are just flattening them and making them neat.

Next you will be attaching the straps to the bag. Position one strap so the exterior fabric is facing up and it makes a U, with the ends meeting the top of the bag. You are just positioning the strap, it will NOT be sewn as it is shown in this picture.

Move this strap INSIDE the top two layers of the bag: between the right side of the exterior fabric and the right side of the lining fabric (which are facing each other). Place each of the ends 2″ from the side seams. Pin.

Again, the strap is caught between the right sides of the inside and outside fabrics:

Pin the other three strap ends as well, then pin the rest of the top edge of the fabric. Most sewing machines have a removable area that makes the sewing surface smaller for sewing sleeves and the like. If yours does, remove this piece. Sew a seam almost all of the way around the top of the bag, sewing the straps in as you go, leaving a 1/2″ seam allowance. DO NOT FINISH THE SEAM! Leave a 3″ gap in the seam, which you will use to turn the bag right side out.

Here is the hole I left:

Pull the bag through the hole so you see the right sides of both fabrics. You’ll also pull the straps through.

Push the lining into the bag.

Pin the hole together, making sure the edges are turned under.

Edge stitch (stitch as close to the edge of the fabric as possible) all the way around the top of the bag, closing the hole in the process.

And that’s it!

Hey guess what – it’s reversible!

These are the Pyrex dishes I use, so the bag was sized to fit them.

Here is a prototype I made using cotton flannel. It’s slightly less wide.

I also made a bigger bag for toting library books and shopping for smaller, non-grocery items. It also has longer straps so I can use it as a shoulder bag.

The library tote was a bit difficult to photograph, even with the assistance of kittens.

Speaking of kittens, they aren’t kittens any longer. 🙁 Their first birthday was March 9 so I guess they are just the boring old cats now, but they’ll always be “the kittens” to me.

Comments (12)

How to make a heavy-duty cat toy

No food tonight, so if you don’t have or don’t like cats, come back in a day or two for an on-topic, food-related post. If you have playful cats that are somewhat destructive, then stick around.

The kittens have a bazillion toys, which is good because they love to play. They are quite capable of amusing themselves, but their favorite game is playing with a human-held toy on a string or stick; usually this is a feather on the end of a string, attached to a stick. They leap around like nuts and are generally extremely amusing. However, they are very hard on their toys and tend to destroy them quickly. They eat through strings, so many toys get tied back together again and again until a string that started out several feet long is suddenly a few inches long. They even break the sticks the strings dangle from. And of course, they destroy any feathers on their toys within seconds. And you don’t usually know if feathers were humanely sourced. So I set out to make a heavy-duty dangle-type toy they would have a harder time destroying.

What you need:

various ribbons
thread
about 1 yard cord elastic

plastic cord/cable cover (for hiding electrical cords along walls), about a yard long

I went to the hardware store and scouted out things to use for my “stick”. I tried several different things and what worked best was this Cordmate Cord Cover:
. I think this is the same thing; it was a little cheaper at Home Depot, where they also had longer lengths you can buy separately and cut to fit, which was even cheaper. I bought the kit with 3 36″ lengths because I wanted 36″ and don’t have a saw. It was $10, but I can make two more toys.

I bought a few different types of red ribbon for the “feather”. They were 55 cents to $3 a yard at the fabric store, although I happened to get 25% off those prices. I chose red because I have a theory that cats see red best, and I know red was definitely Tigger’s favorite color. The color, of course, doesn’t matter, so get what you want. I got one type of ribbon that was lightly wired, to provide a bit of the stiffness you’d find in a feather. I got another one that was more gossamer, like the soft parts of a feather. And I got a heavier velvet one that was strong enough to attach to the string to without tearing. So pick out some ribbons and then cut them into lengths about 6 to 8″ long.

Take two pieces of the sturdiest ribbon you have and line them up, back to back, then sew a buttonhole near the top. (If you don’t have a sewing machine, you can just snip a hole, but sewing a buttonhole will really help reinforce it.)

Put a pin at one end of the buttonhole and use a seam ripper to rip the middle of the hole open. (The pin stops you from ripping too far.)

Arrange the rest of the ribbons in a way that they fan out a bit and then put them between the two you’ve sewn together with the buttonhole. Pin.

Sew all ribbons together just under the buttonhole. I used a zigzag stitch and went back and forth a few times to make it as secure as possible. You can do this by hand if you don’t have a sewing machine.

Cut a length of the elastic. I have found that 30″ the ideal length, so cut 32″ or so. Tie one end through the buttonhole and trim the end. Other than possibly some very sleek, round elastics, most of them will tie a very tight knot that won’t come undone (I had to cut the knots on the prototypes I made that I didn’t like).

The cord cover comes with a self-adhesive strip on it for attaching to a wall. You could leave it on and just not peel the paper off, but eventually it’s going to start coming off as you handle it and get all sticky. So just get rid of it now. It took me about two or three minutes to rub the adhesive off with my thumb. I tried using a razor to scrape it off, but the thumb was a lot faster and easier.

The cord cover is also flat on one side (the side you peeled the adhesive off of), and rounded on the other.

Put the flat side on a table, hanging over by an inch or two, and then drill a hole, about 1/2″ down, through both sides. (I love projects that involve using my grandfather’s drill!)

Push the other end of the elastic through one of the holes, then pull it out through the top of the rod. You may need to use tweezers to pull it up, but I just kept pushing it until it popped up on its own.

Tie the elastic.

And that’s it!

The cats love it! It’s very, very, very hard to take pictures of them playing with it, though. I really need a video camera to properly catch it, and I should, because they can be hilarious. Gomez especially does these bizarre contortions mid-air that are amazing, but I just can’t get them on camera! So these pictures are pretty shoddy, but they’re the best I got at catching them in the air:

Torticia tends to get lazy and starts lying on her back, expecting the toy to come to her, although I always go and pick her back up and make her play properly because she’s getting pudgy!

It’s a bit hard to make Mezzie out in front of the glare on the glass behind him, but here he is leaping from his cat tree.

And doesn’t something look really wrong with the angle of Tort Reform’s head in this one?

Finally, since this is a cat-only post, here is a sequence of pictures I took the other night after giving Gomez catnip. He’s a surly drunk! Mezzie likes the ‘nip, but Tortellini doesn’t do more than just kind of sniff it daintily and look at Mez like he’s crazy for eating it. But just seconds after eating some and rolling around it in, Mezzian always starts beating his poor sister up!

Fortunately, Tort Reform just puts him right back in his place.

Okay, that’s it for tonight – back soon with food, I promise!

Comments (17)

Barbecued Tempeh Sandwich, with Pickled Carrots recipe

Who else is snowed in? We got a mess yesterday, beginning with rain and sleet all afternoon, a slushy mess that washed away all the salt that had been put down to pre-treat the roads, which then turned to a heavy snow, pretty much at the minute they predicted it would – 4 p.m., just in time for the afternoon rush hour – dumping about 5 inches. We’ve still been fortunate so far this year compared to the rest of the East Coast (even to the south!), so I shouldn’t complain, though I probably will because I hate this stuff! I have even less right to complain because from what I’m hearing, I think much of our county is without power right now, and though our lights flickered several times last night, they stayed on.

PLUS, working from home enabled me to bake bread, a treat I don’t usually get mid-week! My lunch today was the Barbecued Tempeh Sandwich Filling from Peter Berley’s The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen on fresh-from-the-oven multi-grain bread, smeared with Berley’s Spicy Sun-Dried Tomato Spread, topped with pickled carrots and a squirt of sriracha. Served with broccoli slaw.

When I sat down to begin this post, I was going to apologize for not having a recipe for you in this post. I have one coming later today, but because it might be photo-heavy, I thought I’d get some other pictures out of the way first. But then I realized I could tell you how I made the carrots and call that a recipe, so I’d feel better about making you look at a bunch of pictures. Berley suggested shredded carrots as a topping for the sandwich, but I’d read Jes‘s Spicy Noodles with Tofu recipe earlier in the day and had been intrigued by the quick pickled carrots it included. I’m looking forward to making that entire dish very soon, but for my sandwich, I decided to make slightly more involved pickled carrots, though they were nearly as quick. So here you go:

Quick Pickled Carrots

2 large carrots, shaved, shredded, julienned, spiralized, or very thinly sliced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed

Whisk together all ingredients except the carrots, then mix in the carrots, cover, and refrigerate for at least half an hour. I put mine in a pickle press just because I have one, but that’s completely unnecessary. I shaved my carrots into long, thin peels using a vegetable peeler, but since I was using them as a sandwich topping, I wish I had used the spiralizer, which would have made them easier to eat on the sandwich. The shavings are good for using as a little side pickle, though. These were even better the next day.

So. Snow. We’re trapped:

Okay, the Canadians are probably politely trying to refrain from laughing. After seeing Zoa‘s pictures of the snow at her house, it does feel a little pathetic to post that one and whine about it. But there’s a thick layer of ice under that snow that’s making it impossible for this Miata driver to even attempt to leave, especially considering I slid into a ditch after hitting an unexpected patch of ice a couple of weeks ago. (Mark, who was drugged up from his root canals, the Miata, and I were all fine; it was mostly just surprising.) I’m fortunate to have the ability to work from home when necessary, so there’s no point in joining the traffic fracas, with downed power lines and trees, unplowed streets, and numerous non-working traffic lights.

I’m not such a curmudgeon I won’t even go outside, though, and the light was nice when I finished breakfast, so I grabbed my camera and looked for photo ops. My favorite was this tiny icicle dangling from a thin tree branch.

It’s shaped like a music note, which I found appropriate because all around me was a symphony of dripping, melting icicles, and weighty snow plopping to the ground from bowed trees. The music note icicle was only about an inch long. It can be difficult to photograph such small things when you are shooting into the air and it is blindingly bright all around you. I was using auto-focus, but a slight breeze was causing that tiny branch to sway, and at the huge aperture I using in order to blur the background, the tiniest movement by either the branch or the camera would cause the lens to focus at a drastically different distance. Would you believe that icicle is actually right smack in the middle of this photograph? It is that blurriness you can almost make out.

Moving on around the house, here is the patio, where you can also see the outside of my sunroom/library.

Here I am peeping into the sunroom from the backdoor. I’m meant to be in that chair, working!

Whilst I was peeping in, Torticia was peeping out:

Gomez has been looking out a lot, too. This is him watching the sleet yesterday:

And no, they aren’t always so placid. They’re actually quite bad. And they wrestle a lot.

In other news, I know I haven’t been posting much, even though I’ve been home quite a bit. The reason is I’ve been doing this really bizarre thing called sewing. If you’ve read the few craft posts I have sprinkled throughout this blog, you know that I hate and am terrible at sewing (although for some reason, I keep doing it). I think I mentioned a few posts ago that I finally broke down and bought a new sewing machine in December after almost having a meltdown while making gift bags this year. It turns out that I hate sewing much less when I have a machine that works. I’m still pretty terrible at it, but I am becoming more confident.

This is a common view from my seat at the sewing table:

He attacks and chews on the thread at the top. He’s very bad! (Both he and Torticia also try attacking the rotary blade when I’m cutting fabric and are thus banned from the sewing room whenever it’s out.) Anyway, my big project was making my mom a rag quilt for her birthday. She just received it in the mail yesterday, so I can post these pictures now. The kittens were very fond of the quilt.

Here’s what the quilt looked like; I couldn’t get any photos that didn’t involve a kitten.

Would you believe I actually free-motion quilted it? I barely can (believe it). I did tell Mom not to look at the quilting too closely, though, since I’m even worse at that than I am sewing in a straight line. It’s a very weird sensation at first, but it’s kind of fun. If there is any interest, I may be talked into writing up a tutorial on making rag quilts. You don’t have to free-motion quilt them, in fact, I haven’t seen any instructions that even recommend that you do (usually you just sew an X through each quilt sandwich). I’m just insane.


This is what happened when I tried to pack the quilt up to mail it. Sigh.

That’s it for now. Stayed tuned for a post with a real recipe later today. I promise no more snow pictures. I can’t promise no more kitten photos, though.

Comments (6)

Bread Bag Tutorial

Bread is sort of my “thing”. I think I’m invited to some parties just because it’s assumed I’ll bring homemade bread. When I go to friends’ houses, I’m often bearing the gift of bread. As I like to give away bread, I bought special paper bread bags from King Arthur Flour a few years ago, to have something to transport the loaves in. They were good bags, with tiny holes to allow air circulation, which is good for crusty breads, and they came in packs of 100. I realized the other day that I was just about out of the paper bags so I went to King Arthur to order some more and was dismayed to find they no longer sell them. Thus began the great hunt for paper bread bags. I can’t find them anywhere in packs of less than 500, and even when I thought maybe I’d just buy 500 and sell half of them on eBay, none of them seemed as good as the kind I had. I was beginning to get very annoyed.

My googling for paper bread bags gave me the idea, however, to make cloth bags. Since I’m already making cloth gift bags, I don’t know why this thought didn’t occur to me earlier. The best part about this idea is the fact that linen tea towels are the perfect size for making bread bags. That’s my favorite part because it means no cutting – I can’t cut in a straight line even with a rotary cutter – and no finishing seams! AND I get to shop for vintage tea towels, which is fun!

This is a very quick, easy, inexpensive, and useful craft item. If you don’t bake your own bread, these bags are good storage for artisan breads you buy in a bakery as well. As I’ve said before, I’m AWFUL at sewing, so if I can do this, you can too.

Bread Bag

1 linen tea towel (14″ – 18″ wide by 30″ – 36″ tall)
string or ribbon
thread
large safety pin

To determine how much string you need for a regular artisan loaf bag, multiply the width of the towel by two and add 10″. So if your towel is 16″ wide, multiply 16 x 2 to get 32, then add 10 to get 42″. If you are making a baguette bag, just add 10″ to the width of the towel, so for a 16″ wide towel, cut 26″ string.

Wash and iron your tea towel. Now, ironing is something I never do. I don’t even know where this iron came from; I found it in the laundry room and I think it’s the landlord’s. But some of my towels were pretty wrinkled and I have a hard enough time trying to sew in a straight line on smooth fabric, so I figured I’d better iron them.

Unfortunately, I made a horrible mistake in deciding to iron on the dining room table (I put a bath towel on it)…when I picked up the bath towel, I discovered I’d done THIS to the table:

Which is bad news because Fortinbras bought and refinished that table for me as a gift. I asked him what I should do and he said, “buy an ironing board like every other American; what’s wrong with you?!” He also said he’d look at the photo I sent him and call me back with advice but I haven’t head from him since so I think he’s plotting ways to strangle me. (Actually, F-dog is extremely busy right now and I shouldn’t have been bothering him in the first place.) So, um, iron your towel some different way than what I did. As for me, I’ve learned my lesson and will never iron anything ever again.

So anyway, here’s my ironed tea towel. This tutorial is for a regular bread bag. I’ll explain the how to make a baguette bag at the end (it’s actually even easier).

Fold the top and bottom edges over (wrong sides together), by about an inch (depending on how wide your string is), and pin. Note that the top of some tea towels is already folded over like this so you can insert a dowel for hanging. If your towel is like this, half your work is done for you: just pin the bottom edge.

Sew close to the original edge.

When you’ve done both the top and the bottom, fold the towel in half, top to bottom, right sides together, and pin.

Sew these two seams, being very careful to start at your first seam, that is, don’t sew the loop you created above closed. Look where my needle is in the picture and start sewing there.

Here is the bag with both sides sewn up:

Here’s a closeup of the top edge, you can see where my side seams start below the top hem:

Stick a large safety pin through one end of your string. It may help to put a bit of tape on the end of the string first so it doesn’t unravel.

Insert the safety pin into one of of the top hems.

Holding the safety pin through the fabric in one hand, scrunch the fabric onto the pin, then pull the pin through a bit.

Keep going until the safety pin comes out the other side.

Then stick it in the other hem and repeat the process.

Pull the string so the ends are even and knot the ends.

Turn the bag right side out, and you’re done!

To close, just pull the strings.

To make a baguette bag, hem just the top of the towel as described above, then fold the towel in half lengthwise (right sides together) and sew the side and the bottom. Insert the string in the same fashion. These bags won’t be long enough for a real French baguette, but they are long enough for baguettes made in most home ovens, and they’d probably be plenty big enough for storing leftovers of store-bought baguettes.

Here are all the bags I made today. My favorite towels are the souvenir travel towels. I just got two map of Scotland towels today, too, that I’m excited to turn into bags.

Here are some loaves of Hamelman’s pain au levain (which is fancy French for sourdough) I baked today:

I finally got an oval brotform:

Let bread cool completely before storing if you can, although linen will breath enough that I’ll feel confident slipping hot loaves in when I’m in a hurry to get somewhere with them, which is often.

Now, my theory of these bags is this: I’ve bought (and am still buying) a bunch of old tea towels for a couple of bucks each, which I’m going to make into bags in batches as I have a chance. I can probably make 5 or 6 in an hour. I plan to make an initial stash of 25 to 30 bags, a few of which I’ll keep for my own use, but most of which I’ll use for transporting bread to other people. The first time I take a bread bag to someone, it will be a gift: they keep it and use it (I hope). There are some people that routinely get bread from me; these people would eventually end up with more bread bags than they can use, so they can just start returning the extras to me to be refilled. Most of the bags will just be given away, though, which is good, because making these bags is the perfect craft for me: it’s cheap, it’s quick, and although it involves the sewing machine (usually a huge no-no in Renae crafts), it’s kind of foolproof. So I’ll just keep an eye out for cute vintage towels, buy them as I see them, and periodically make a bunch of new bags.

I used my two Australia bags today in honor of the fact that one year ago today, I was in Australia.

I think I might also branch out and make potato and onion bags as well.

Bonus Brachtune picture:

Comments (41)

How to make a heavy-duty, steel tofu press

I am often asked where to find non-plastic tofu presses. There are a couple of places you can get wooden ones online, but the really nice ones are stainless steel and seem only available in Japan. I have a wooden one that I got in Japantown in San Francisco, but I’m not even 100% happy with that one because I use such heavy weights I’m afraid it’s going to fall apart. It’s a bit wobbly. So I thought I’d make myself a heavy duty tofu press and show you how to do it at the same time.

Here’s what you need:

2 medium (about 8.5″ x 4.5″) loaf pans: the cheapest you can find; they need to be able to nest
a drill, with 1/8″ and 7/32″ bits (or thereabouts) that are good drilling for metal (the ones I bought said “soft metals” and worked fine)
sand paper

Unless you plan to make more than a pound of tofu at a time, don’t buy large loaf pans. Your tofu curds won’t fill it deeply and you’ll end up with very flat tofu. I usually start with 8 to 10 ounces of soy beans (ending up with about 12 to 14 ounces of tofu) and the medium pans I bought are the perfect size.

I had a helper, by the way:

Optional materials:

hammer
that little pointy thing you tap to make indents so you can center the drill; I don’t know what it’s called
cat

Finding cheap loaf pans was the hardest part of this project, oddly enough. It’s easy to find inexpensive pans – these were $4.99 each at K-Mart – but they are much thicker, heavier, and nicer than the old, cheap tin pans I was trying to find. You can try scouting out thrift stores for old, thinner pans that may be easier to perforate. These worked fine, though, so don’t go nuts looking for something lighter. You also need a matching set so they nest, which may be harder to find in thrift stores.

While I was at K-Mart, I called up ole Fortinbras to confirm with him that drill bits that said good for “soft metals” would work on fairly heavy loaf pans. Fortinbras is in Florida and did not answer the phone. He’s supposed to be my handyman, at my beck and call, ready to answer all of my tool questions at any time. Damn him! I took a chance and bought the bits without his counsel. They were fine.

How awesome is my drill, by the way? It’s older than I am!

It was my grandfather’s. He died when I was very young but I remember him and he was the greatest. I’m very attached to his drill. Even if you can see sparks inside it while you’re operating it and it has big vents my hair could get caught in, getting tangled around the motor and catching fire on those sparks. So I get excited when I have projects that involve drilling. I tried to think of a way to do this without a drill in case some of you don’t have one, but drilling seems to be the fastest, easiest way. Hopefully most of you at least know someone who has a drill you can borrow.

Prepare the drill by inserting the smaller bit. The picture depicts the larger bit. Pretend it’s the smaller one.

I marked where I wanted to put the holes by tapping indents with this doohickey using a hammer. That’s optional, and you could also use a marker of some sort.

Hullo, Brachtune. This was just before I turned the drill on and she ran away, though when Mark came home and flopped down next to me, she decided she loves Mark more than she is scared of the drill.

VERY IMPORTANT! WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES! Or failing that, onion goggles, as I did:

Not only should you wear goggles any time you operate a drill because bits can break during use- it’s happened to me – but drilling metal will cause a lot of metal shavings to fly around and you do NOT want that in your eye.

Drill holes with the smaller bit, using the indents as your guide if you made them …

… then re-drill the holes with the larger bit:

Here I’ve marked all the holes I want to make on the bottom of the pan:

Then I drilled all the small holes …

… including a row around the bottom of the sides of the pan:

Then I drilled my big holes:

At this point in time Fortinbras returned my phone call and upon hearing I was playing with power tools advised me to drink a beer. According to Fortinbras, the operation of any power tool is enhanced by the consumption of beer. Fortinbras knows much more about power tools than I do, so I take his word on these things. I retrieved a beer.

When the holes are all drilled, the next thing to do is sand them smooth, on both sides.

Now, Fortinbras was on the phone with me when I began this step and he started saying something about how I wanted Raymond Burr to clean up the holes but I don’t know what he was talking about. I think it involved me buying some sort of additional power tool. In my opinion, if my grandfather’s drill didn’t come with a Raymond Burr attachment, it can’t be necessary. And sand paper worked just fine. In fact, sanding the holes was much easier than I expected, because the drill removed most of the metal from the hole instead of just pushing it aside. See, here’s the first tofu press I made, a long time ago, before I had the wooden press:

(Wow, it looks so primitive!)

I didn’t use the drill because I was a sissy back then. It’s hard to see, but what I did was hammer nails through the pan, which caused very sharp edges inside the holes. That was annoying. You probably need Raymond Burr to clean those holes up.

Anyway, the drilled holes were pretty smooth to begin with and a brief session with the sandpaper finished them right up in no time. I did start turning into the tin man in the hand area though:

Do any of you watch Black Books? It’s the best show ever so you should. Looking at my hands after sanding my holes, the only thing I could hear in my head was the Cleaner saying, “dirty, dirty. Everything is very dirty.”

Since everything is so dirty, wash the pan (and your hands!) and dry it.

Then vacuum or sweep up all those metal shavings. They’d be no fun to step on barefoot!

And that’s it! The press is done. I’ll show you how to use it in a little bit. Next, if you don’t have one, you’ll want to make a lining for the press. Use a lightweight, cotton or nylon, very porous fabric. Probably not dyed. I like muslin or chiffon. Muslin is easier to finish the edges of. To figure out how large you want the lining to be, measure the length, width, and depth of the pan.

For my 8.5″x4.5″x3″ pan, I multiplied 4.5 by 2 (once for the top and once for the bottom), then multiplied 3 by 2 (once for each side), then added that plus 2 inches for overlap, which gave me 17 inches for the width. For the length, I took 8.5 once (because the width is wide enough to cover the top, this dimension doesn’t need to be doubled), but rounded it up to 9, then added 3 x 2 (for the depth of the top and bottom) and added 2 inches, which also gave me 17 inches. So I made a 17″ x 17″ square. You don’t have to be quite so fancy with your calculations. Just make it large enough that it can wrap the pan neatly without a lot of excess fabric.

It fits in the pan and would completely cover the contents, without too much left over to bunch up:

Then I just zig-zagged the edges to help prevent unraveling.

The finished lining:

Now to use it. You can read my tutorial on making tofu for the details, and I’ll just show you the new press in action with photos.

I set the perforated pan in the sink to drain the whey.

Then I line it; I think it’s easier to wet the fabric so it stays put.

Then fill with the curds:

Fold the fabric up:

Place the non-perforated loaf pan on top:

Then add weights. I use a couple of cans, then my steam pan (the cast iron skillet I didn’t season and use for steaming bread) and a molcajete. I like very firm tofu. For a less firm tofu, just use less weight.

After half an hour or so, remove the weights. You can see how far the top pan has sunk:

The flattened tofu:

I use the edges of the liner to lift the tofu out:

The finished tofu. There are ridges where the curds seeped up into the folds of the liner.

I trim them off and reserve them in case I want to throw them into something.

This vintage glass loaf pan/refrigerator dish is the perfect size and shape for storing the tofu. Just cover the tofu with water:

Place the lid on, and refrigerate!

This tofu turned out better than my tofu has been lately, and is so firm I’ll be able to stir fry it without it falling apart. My tofu press was a success! Total cost: $9.98 for the loaf pans and about $2.50 for the drill bits, which I bought just because I wasn’t sure any of the ones I already had were good for drilling metal. That’s a lot less than I spent on my “real” tofu press and this one will take a lot more abuse. It’s also much easier to apply the weights. This project has saved me a trip to Japan to buy a stainless steel tofu press! Er, wait…that sort of backfired, didn’t it?

Comments (40)

Almond Milk

I’ve switched lately from soy milk to almond milk. At first it was because Mark seems to prefer almond milk (he’s skeptical about milk in general), but now it’s also because almond milk is easier. Almond milk is not cheaper, unfortunately, but I’m willing to pay for the convenience. You do have to soak the almonds, so it requires planning, but if I soak the nuts the night before, I can quickly whip the milk up the next morning before breakfast, whereas with soy milk, because it needs to be cooked and then cooled before using, the only time I could make it during the week is in the evenings and sometimes I’d find myself out of luck at breakfast. It’s so easy to make it barely warrants posting here, but I’ll do so in the interest of anyone who thinks making their own non-dairy milk isn’t worth the effort.

Almond Milk
1 cup raw almonds
4 cups water
vanilla, to taste (optional)
pinch salt (optional)
sweetener, to taste (optional)

Soak the almonds in the water for 8 hours or overnight. I soak them right in the blender and stick it in the refrigerator. That way, when I make it, the almond milk is already cold and ready to use. I also don’t even bother measuring the almonds or the water; I plunk four handfuls of almonds in the blender and fill it with water up to about the 4 1/2 cup mark on the side.

When you are ready to make the milk, prepare the blender.

Blend for two minutes.

Meanwhile, place a strainer or nut (or okara) bag over a container that’s at least a quart.

Pour the almond milk through the strainer.

If you are using a strainer, press and scrape the almond meal with a spoon. If you are using a nut or okara bag, squeeze it tightly.

Remove as much milk from the meal as you can, then discard (read: compost, use for baking, etc.) the meal.

Pour the milk into a serving container that closes tightly enough that you can shake it. Add the optional ingredients if you’d like: salt, sweetener, and/or vanilla. I only use vanilla. Close the serving container and shake.

The only drawback of almond milk as opposed to soy is that it separates. I had to buy this plastic container that I could shake before serving instead of keeping it in my nice glass pitchers because it was too hard to shake it back together. Here’s what it looks like after sitting for a while. Just shake it before serving.

Other than the occasional use in bread baking, the only thing I really use any non-dairy milk for is cold breakfast cereal, which I eat most mornings, not because I love it (breakfast is my least favorite meal), but because I don’t function well enough before noon to make anything else. All bowls of cereal start out with a layer of Grape Nuts. Grape Nuts has been my favorite cereal since I was a child. I loved Grape Nuts and Brussels sprouts as a kid. If I could be guaranteed to have a kid as awesome as I was, I’d consider it!

Then I add a layer of some other hippyish cereal. Mark’s been eating hemp cereal. Once I read the advertising slogan, “Now with more twigs!” on a box of cereal I was eating. No sugary nightmares for me.

Next comes some sliced fruit and/or berries. Bananas and strawberries is a favorite.

To be enjoyed with a glass of orange juice and a book!

On Food and Cooking informs me that almond milk is the easiest-to-thicken nut milk, which has me thinking of other things to do with it. According to McGee, it makes a lovely pudding-type dish.

Did you notice the book stand in the photo above? I use it all the time.

It’s a Book Gem. When I’m traveling for work and eating many of my meals alone in restaurants, it’s my best friend. When Mark’s playing video games instead of eating dinner iwith me, it’s my best friend. When I’m on a plane or train, it’s my best friend. When I’m brushing my teeth, it’s my best friend. (I don’t waste a minute of reading time!) Basically any time you want to read hands-free, this thing is the tops. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where I can’t be bothered to hold my book open at any time, even when I’m just lazing around in my reading chair. In cooler months, I just prop the Book Gem up on my leg, but when it’s warmer and I’m bare-legged, it’s uncomfortable to do so, plus I get weird marks on my legs. I’ve therefore been eying up this Thai Book Rest for a long time now, thinking that in conjunction with my Book Gem, I’d be the most comfortable (and lazy) book reader in the world. However, it’s made of silk and even if silk were a vegan product, it wouldn’t be a practical one for a book rest in my opinion. And it’s $38, which I find a bit extravagant. I tossed around the idea of making myself something like this, but as I have mentioned here, I am really, really bad at sewing.

However, after a brainstorming session with my mom via email this week, I got it into my head I was going to try to make my own book pillow, and when it all went pears (as I fully expected it to do), I planned to say the heck with it and throw away $39 on this non-silk book seat I found. Lo and behold, however, I managed to make a book rest without screaming, without crying, without cussing, without kicking my sewing machine, and without needing to kill anyone. Without, even, going to that horrible hell-on-Earth Jo-Ann’s, as I happen to have a large fabric stash from countless other projects abandoned in frustration and a couple of bags of polyfill from I don’t know what, but there they were. So it was free! I’m so impressed with myself!

I haven’t had much of a chance to use it yet as I just finished it up at 1 am last night (it only took a couple of hours, though), however, I can tell you that Brachtune doesn’t think much of it. She thinks the only thing that should be on my lap is herself. I think it’s going to work out very well despite Brachtune’s disapproval. Now I need to make a waterproof version for the pool! I spent many hours floating around reading last summer and intend to do so in complete comfort this year!

And finally, I think telling Brachtune how beautiful she is a hundred times a day has finally gone to her head. Brachtune is so vain she probably thinks this post is about her.

I came home the other night and found her admiring herself in the mirror, and she didn’t even get up to come greet me; she just went right on staring at herself. Which is unusual because most cats won’t look at themselves in the mirror – and I’ve never seen her do it before. But if I were as pretty as she is, I’d stare at myself in the mirror all day too.

Brachtune’s so pretty, oh so pretty…vacant!

Comments (11)

« Previous entries