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!

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Reusable Fabric Christmas Gift Bags

I swore last Christmas would be the last Christmas I used traditional wrapping paper for my holiday gifts and true to my word, I came up with a much better idea this year. I hate wrapping Christmas presents. I always think it’s only going to take me an hour or so and it ends up taking eight. Eight labor-intensive, boring, back-breaking hours I’d much rather spend cooking or reading, as much as I may love the recipients of those presents. Heck, I could be cooking them something instead. And although when we were kids my mom used to meticulously save wrapping paper to use year after year, we’ve gotten lazy about it in recent years and I hate seeing all that paper go to waste. So this year I decided to make fabric gift bags instead. They are just as pretty as gifts wrapped in paper and didn’t take any more time. And the best part is it will take substantially less time in subsequent years as I have to make fewer and fewer bags as I am able to reuse bags from prior years! I figure in two or three years it’ll take me about ten minutes to wrap all my gifts! Then I’ll kick back with some soy nog and listen to Christmas Wrapping 18,000 times in a row and be very happy.

The first step of making the gift bags was by far the hardest. I went to Jo-Anne Fabrics. Due to childhood trauma, I hate Jo-Anne’s. My mother made all of our clothes when we were kids and we were always being dragged to stupid Jo-Anne’s. It was awful and boring. Mark actually had the exact same trauma, so we commiserate about this. We both agree the only things to do at Jo-Anne’s were 1) hide in the middle of the circular fabric racks and 2) look at the Halloween costume pattern books, but neither of these things were interesting for more than five minutes, and if you’ve ever lived with a serious sewer, you know trips to the fabric store take closer to five hours. Mark’s mom bribed him with trips to the toy store after Jo-Anne’s. I was bribed with trips to the library. You’d think a kid could go the library without having to be tortured first. Anyway, I hate Jo-Anne’s to this day.

I didn’t inherit any of my mother’s sewing skills, unfortunately. Although I hated all the trying on of clothes I had to do as a kid (“walk away from me”, “now turn around and walk towards me”, “turn sideways”, “do a pirouette and then a handstand”), suffering through a thousand pins pricking me at the hemline, much later in life I realized I hate pretty much all manufactured clothing (and I’m small enough that frustratingly little of it fits me) and I wish I could make my own clothes. From time to time I attempt to do so. It generally goes badly very quickly. I have vague plans of either invading my mother’s house one week and forcing her to teach me how to sew (again – she did try when I was younger) or kidnapping my mother-in-law and making her do the same. Most of the times the sewing machine gets lugged out from its storage place, I end up whining to Mark that I hate sewing and that the only thing I’m good at is cooking so I’m going back to that and I stuff the sewing machine back in the closet and console myself with an elaborate feast.

Anyway, the point of all of this is, it is DEAD EASY to make these gift bags, and trust me, you don’t need any sewing skills other than knowing how to thread your sewing machine. I even imagine this would be a really good project for any child that is old enough to use a sewing machine. I, in fact, found myself wishing I had a kid I could task with it!

As I was saying, the worst part about this project is Jo-Anne’s. On those rare occasions I get the misguided notion in my head that I am going to sew something, I usually go to G Street Fabrics which is huge and there are always a myriad of people wanting to measure and cut my fabric for me. However, G Street is more expensive, further away, and closes earlier, so I went to Jo-Anne’s this time. And Jo-Anne’s did have some great deals on holiday fabrics, like 2 yards for $5. Of course there was only one person cutting fabric and despite the fact that I was the second person in line and the one person in front of me only had one fabric, it still took 15 minutes. I had anticipated this and taken a book in, though. Seriously. I really did stand in line and read my book. Jo-Anne’s is dumb.

So anyway, step one: get a bunch of cheap, garish fabric. I bet it will be even cheaper in January. Cotton is definitely best and easiest to work with. Also make sure you have a lot of thread. And some grosgrain ribbon to match the fabric.

Step two is to cut the fabric into rectangles large enough to cover your gift. I find it infinitely easier to use a rotary cutter for this type of project, mostly because I can’t cut in a straight line. What I did was fold the fabric in half, place it on my cutting mat, place a gift on it …

… then cut around it, leaving a few inches on the sides and bottom and a bit more on the top:

Note: At Swim Two-Birds is a decoy gift! Many of my gift recipients read this blog and I can hear them all now thinking, “man, I hope I’m not the poor sap getting that gift”. Their loss, though, it’s a great book.

For many of my bags, including the one I will be depicting here, the fourth side was on the fold of the fabric. This meant I only had to sew up two sides instead of three. If you included the fold in your cut, unfold the fabric and hem the entire top side. If you have two separate pieces, hem the top of each. I just estimated an inch or so, folded it down and started pinning. My mother will surely be appalled by this when she reads this and realizes I didn’t measure and make sure it was uniform. Sorry, Mom. It’s just a gift bag.

After pinning, sew the hem, close to the raw edge. I imagine my mother would instruct you to do a lot of folding the raw edge under, pressing, folding again, pressing again, ad nauseum, but you’re in luck because I hate irons. Also, it’s just a gift bag.

Here is the finished seam. Remember, if you have two halves instead of one folded piece, you will do this for each half.

If you have one piece, fold it in half, right sides together, hemmed seam at the top. If you have two pieces, place right sides together, hemmed seams together at the top.

Pin the two raw sides together for folded bags, or three for two-pieced bags.

Sew the seams. Use whatever you feel comfortable with as a seam allowance. Heck, I can’t even sew in a straight line. It’s just a gift bag. (My mother is probably rolling her eyes at my incompetence and laissez faire attitude by this point.)

Here’s the bag all sewn up:

Turn it right side out.

Slide the gift inside.

Tie the bag closed at the top with a length of ribbon. Ta-da!

As for gift tags, Jo-Anne’s had these wooden ornaments for 49 cents each:

I figured they’d make good reusable gift tags I can save from year to year, although for people outside the family from whom I couldn’t reasonably demand my tags back, they could then double as an ornament after being used as a tag.

Here’s the tag on the bag:

(Would you believe I also made those stripy pillows?! I’m a sewing genius!)

I only bought a limited number of the wooden ornaments, so for other gifts, I’ll use cut-up bits of old Christmas cards or printed photos, or something like that.

As for the bags themselves, if the recipients want to keep them, of course they can, and I hope they’ll use them next year. Then I’ll get some back and use them following year, etc. I figure they’ll just circulate through the family, and I’ll make more each year until we have enough to cover just about every size and shape of gift.

In food news, I’ve been on Fortinbras to get cracking on his holiday baking post. He says he’s started writing it, which means it’ll be done sometime in March. Of 2012. In the meantime, since it probably won’t dawn on Fort to include pictures of the cats, I’ll give you this photo of Tigger, which Fort exclaimed “looks like a heart”. And which therefore sums up my feelings for Tigger.

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