Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dress Shirt Refashion (Finally)

First I will give you the dramatic before and after of this refashion and then you'll get the back story.



The back story: while sifting through my closet for something to refashion I came upon an old dress shirt. It had been well loved in its day but now it was far too dingy to be used for formal occasions. My first thought was that it needed to be dyed but I also realized that once dyed the cut would be too formal to be useful so it also needed some refashioning.

The first thing I tackled was the collar. It was too pointy and extreme so I opened up where the two pieces were attached. I have no idea what they are actually called so let's refer to them as the collar and the base of the collar.

And here is the obligatory help from a cat, they like to hold down fabric for you:

You can see where I seam ripped between the two pieces:

Once I had separated the top piece I was left with a nice little stand up collar. All I had to do was sew the piece that remained back together which I did by hand.

Next I tackled the sleeves. After about 50 false starts I decided just to chop them off (with a lot of experimentation to figure out the angle at which this should be done). I used leftovers from the sleeves to make a cuff (is that what it's called if it doesn't have a button?) for the sleeve. I actually had to piece it out of two different lengths but you can't really tell because the much smaller piece is on the inside of the arm. To gather in the extra material I went with one large tuck. (I only have pictures from after it was dyed.)

Although I liked the shirt a lot better with short sleeves it was still a little boxy so rather than attempt to reshape the entire thing I just added two ties at the sides:

I left them really long so they can actually be tied in several ways; as shown above or tied in front at the waist or as an empire waist.

Finally the shirt needed dying. (Pretend it wasn't already dyed in previous pictures). I did some research and decided after finding much praise for it that Dylon dye was good and widely available. (The "colour" page [I love British spelling] on their homepage has a cool color wheel of all the dyes.) After much mental anguish I went with "ocean blue:"

I was happy with the saturation of the color but disappointed that it came out a little streaky, although that is fading with every wash (and also could have been my fault).

I also had no idea how dying over pin stripes would turn out, whether they'd still be visible or disappear completely. I like that they are subtly still there.

It ended up being way more work then I expected but it was worth it because I really like it now:

P.S.: Total cost: About $3 for some cotton fabric to make the ties out of (I had plenty of white fabric but I wasn't positive any of it was 100% cotton so I had to buy some) and the packet of dye.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just to Tide You Over

My latest refashion took longer than I expected plus I want to get really good photos of it before I post it so in the meantime one of my less awe inspiring creations: a new kind of pizza.

I'm sure you've heard of veggie lover's pizza or meat lover's pizza but how about salt lover's pizza? This is what dad and I invented: it has anchovies, bacon and ham on top. Plus jalapenos and onions just for good measure.

I labeled the picture because it was a little confusing. And for those of you who are connoisseurs of fine china the plate is from Walmart. Fancy isn't it?

P.S. I bet you're wondering if the pizza was actually edible. In fact it was, and quite delicious too. Plus I got my necessary sodium dose for the next week or two.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

First Seed Sprouts

We just got around to starting our first seeds for the garden Friday (alyssum, forget me nots, and both peppermint and spearmint). The flowers were added to our plan at the last minute in an attempt to attract more bees to our vegetables. Apparently our cucumbers just weren't sexy enough for the bees last year because we had quite a few pathetic little ones that never developed and a farmer told me this was because of lack of pollination.

So we picked alyssum and forget me nots in the hopes that they would be nice enough to attract some attention but not so gaudy that they were detract all attention from the vegetables. This is all purely theoretical so I have no idea if it will actually work.

So Friday we planted and by Monday we already had baby plants! These are our baby alyssums:

Very exciting but it also reminds me how much more work we have to do. Oy.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mom's Jacket Refashion

This poor jacket, it just can't catch a break.

When I was in middle school (way back in the 90's) it served me well. Once my arms got too long for the sleeves mom inherited the coat. This may sound backwards to you but sadly there are things that I outgrow that still fit mom. I don't think we've been able to share shoes since like 6th grade. But enough about my ginormous feet.

Mom used the coat for quite a few years before managing to get paint stains on the sleeve AND break the zipper (I blame Land's End, stupid coat only lasted a decade or so!). So she came up with a plan to salvage it.

Like me she has an aversion to replacing zippers so she opted instead to make her own toggles and loops to keep the coat closed. She made everything out of fabric scraps from the stash (including the toggles). She also used coordinating pieces to cover the paint stains on the sleeve.

I told her it's totally 80's and made her promise to only wear it around the yard. Her defense was that she missed out on 80's fashion so she needed to catch up.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Homemade Frozen Burritos

For a household that makes so many things from scratch there are a few dirty secrets lurking in our cabinets and freezer. One of the worst atrocities is Tina's frozen burritos. For those of you not familiar with them they are incredibly inexpensive and not so healthy. Unfortunately they are so deeply ingrained in my Dad's routine that I saw no hope of weaning him off of them.

But since the two of us have so much free time on our hands (unemployed and retired respectively) I figured we could make our own passable substitute. The challenge wasn't making a better tasting burrito but one that worked out to being as cheap.

For cheapness using dry beans is essential. When I am diligent in my bargain hunting I can usually find pinto beans for no more then $1 a pound. Although we could have left them meat free I decided I wanted some pork in them and at $1.99 a pound for pork loin I figured it wouldn't jack up the price too much either.

The first step was to pick through a pound of dry pinto beans. Does everyone else do this with their dry beans?

My parents make me look through for rocks although I don't think I've ever found one. I do however find some pretty funky looking beans with holes that look suspiciously like they were formed by worms. These pathetic looking ones got discarded:

Then I rinsed them and covered them with water. I also added some ground cumin and some epazote. If you are not familiar with epazote it is an herb used in Mexican cooking, often with beans. All I really know is we get it at Mexican markets and I had to pick some twigs out of it:

But wait! Didn't I forget to mention letting the beans soak overnight? It's because I didn't! My parents insist that it works just as well to bring the beans to a boil, let them simmer for a few minutes, turn off the water and let them sit for an hour and then cook them. And that is what I did.

And in the mean time there was the pork loin to deal with:

If you find that awkward to look at you're not the only one. Let's move on to cooking it:

Dad cut off a two and half pound piece (I don't really do meat butchering) and we browned it in my fake Le Creuset dutch oven. We then added some wine (which is totally optional) and a couple cups of water and cooked it in a 200 degree oven for awhile. I say that because I don't remember how long it took. What I do know is that we cooked it until it was all nice and falling apart. (The pork loin we get for $1.99 a pound is kind of tough so stewing it like that is really one of the only options.)

If it sounds like we did this all in one day we didn't. But we can pretend we did. So...later that day (or like two days later) we mashed the cooked beans. Dad has a thing about mashed beans so I wasn't allowed to totally mush them up but I mashed enough that it was kind of like refried but with a few whole beans floating around.

Also that day (yeah right) the meat got shredded up:

This all went together in a big pan with the addition of a few ingredients, one of which was these:

I have only recently been converted to using canned jalapenos when fresh one's aren't available and I've got to say, I'm a true believer now. Although for most things I usually prefer fresh I've got to say that sometimes even when we can get fresh jalapenos they are so crappy (ie they are either scary and wrinkly or they are so mild they might as well be a green pepper) I'd rather just use canned.

So a third of a can of jalapenos went into the mix along with a couple teaspoons of ground cumin, oregano, chili powder, sweet paprika and a touch of hot smoked Spanish paprika. The mix still didn't seem beany enough so in went a can of black beans at the last minute. (I was secretly rooting for black beans all along, they are my favorite.) I also threw in a cup or so (don't really remember) of frozen corn. And then there was more seasoning: garlic powder, black pepper and about 3 tablespoons of lime juice to freshen it up.

Once the mix was done all that was left was to wrap up the burritos. What we actually ended up doing was refrigerating the filling and wrapping them the next day. Although the tortillas need to be heated to make them pliable the filling was actually easier to deal with when cold. I think we did about a half cup of filling each and we ended up with quite a few. The picture below is only about half of them. We froze them quickly on the tray and then later went back and packed them into bags to keep in the freezer.

Since we did this a while ago and have had time to eat most of them I can tell you the results of this experiment. The burritos are delicious, much better than Tina's. But as for price, well they weren't so great. Although they worked out cheaper it was by maybe only 20 cents or so. The disappointing part is that the biggest expense was the tortillas themselves. They ended up being about half the total cost of the finished burritos. This could be avoided by making your own flour tortillas, if you can get them to come out as nice big circles, which I never can.

So is this going to save you a ton of money? Not really, but it will taste so much better and probably be better for you.

P.S. If any of you ever try to follow these as actual cooking directions I apologize in advance.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Sima (not to be confused with Zima, although I suspect there may be a connection) is a sparkling Finnish beverage made by briefly fermenting lemon and sugar.

Now why would we participate in such an obscure cultural tradition? Is it because we are honoring our Finnish ancestors? Or perhaps we were taught the technique by an elderly Finnish neighbor? Nope, nothing as cool as that. Mom got it from a Time Life book. Although to be fair it is from the 1969 Food of the World series which in my humble opinion is fairly badass. I recommend grabbing them if you come across them, especially if you find not only the cookbook but the larger book it came inside of.

Back to the wonders of sima: not only does it fulfill my love of all things sparkly beverage related it also avoids the guilt of buying can after can of seltzer (which is essentially using fossil fuels to ship water).

Here is how it is made: you take a few lemons and peel them and then get rid of the pith (yucky white stuff).

(The batch pictured included ginger which is what is being chopped.)

Then throw the peel and lemon into water with some white and brown sugar. You heat this up to dissolve the sugar. You then let it cool before adding yeast (so the yeast isn't killed) and then let it sit at room temperature for 12 hours. This is the first fermentation.

Then you take sanitized bottles (we use old Grolsch lager swing top bottles, I'm frankly not sure what other kinds would work) and add sugar and two or three raisins before pouring in the liquid.

If you figure out how to do the pouring step without making a total mess feel free to enlighten me.

You then seal them and let them sit at room temperature until a mystical process takes place which results in the raisins rising to the top (some mumbo jumbo about carbon dioxide...I don't believe a word of it). See the raisin at the top!?

Then you chill and it's ready to drink! Now you may wonder, with all that fermentation, wouldn't it possibly be alcoholic? According to my mom the short fermentation and small amount of sugar aren't enough for it to get very alcoholic (probably less than half a percent).

But a word of caution: open these with all the care you would use for a bottle of champagne! There have been a few explosive sima incidents and I wouldn't want anyone to loose an eye.

Now to totally disregard tradition here are some of our variations: we tried adding some ginger with the lemon once, it was good but not really worth the effort, it wasn't nearly as gingery as we expected. We also added lime once which I liked. Lemon lime soda!

And a note on peel: mom will only use the peel of the lemon if we get organic ones (pesticides and all) so if that isn't an option you can always leave the peel off. The sima will come out good but without the hint of bitterness the peel gives it (which may or may not be a good thing in your opinion).

Here are our instructions based on the Time Life ones:

Sima variations
makes 9 - 10 pints

3 small lemons
a chunk of ginger
2 small lemons
1 lime
a couple large lemons

If fruit is organic separate zest so you can remove as much of the white pith as possible. Slice peel and fruit thinly.

Peel ginger and grate or chop.

Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add fruit and 1/2 cup each white and brown sugar.

Let cool to barely warm (100 to 105 F/40 C) on wrist.
Add 1/8 tsp. (baking) yeast

Leave at room temperature for about 12 hours.

To bottle in pints:

Wash the bottles in hot, soapy water. Rinse very well and drain.
Add 2 raisins to each bottle. Using a funnel, add 1/2 tsp. sugar to each bottle.
Then fill with sima, straining out fruit, and cap.

Leave at room temperature until the raisins rise to the top. Check frequently because
the raisins may subsequently fall but the bottles are still ready to refrigerate. Keep
cold until serving time (or else!) and open cautiously.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Seasonal Denial: Make Your Own Seed Starter Pots (With an Attempt at a Tutorial)

There's lots of snow on the ground. But I'm still in denial, convinced that spring is right around the corner.

In the spirit of this we already ordered seeds and they have arrived. We also went through our old seeds and pulled out all the ones we'll try this year:

Not a great picture but it was the last decent one I got. Why you might wonder? Well did you notice a shadow looming in the upper left hand corner of the picture? It foreshadows what happened next:

And then this gesture which was just unnecessary:

You might think I stage this stuff but I swear, I was trying to grab a few quick pics and he interjected himself into the photo shoot totally uninvited.

But back to gardening. Feeling a little overwhelmed this year by all the different seeds that need to be started and the new beds that need to be dug in time for those seeds to be transplanted I printed my own calendar to keep track of it all. It's super boring, I could have made it much fancier.

But what would have been the point of a nice calendar when my horrendous handwriting is going to inevitably ruin it?

If you have denial like me and you want to start preparing you can make your own seed starter pots out of newspaper. Here is my kind of tutorial (this is as close to one as you'll get from me):

Newspaper Seed Starter Pots:

1. Start with some newspaper (discard the sheets that are just a single page, they aren't wide enough.) You will also need a glass bottle (although I suppose any material would work, as long as it's open at one end). Mine was 2 inches across at the bottom and 4.5 inches tall. Another size might work but I haven't experiment enough to be sure. I told you this wouldn't be much of a tutorial!

2. Cut the newspaper into strips across the width. I made mine as wide as the bottle I was using. (And they'll be as long as the newspaper when it's folded open. You need this much length for it to work.)

3. One strip at a time wrap them around your bottle.

4. With the opening of the bottle on top pull the roll about halfway off the bottle.

5. Starting with the seam where your strip ended fold the top part into the opening of the jar.

Do this all the way around.

6. Pull the pot off and flip the jar over and stick the bottom of the jar into the pot to squish down the bottom.

7. Your pot is done!

The bottom may look a little funky but as long as all your dirt doesn't fall out it should be fine.

Now repeat as many times as necessary. Here is what we got done so far:

The advantage of these is that you can put the whole thing right in the ground. But it's probably a good idea to rip off some of the extra paper if possible and make sure the bottom is open for the roots to escape. Despite this it's still better than having to totally uproot the poor little seedling. Much less traumatizing.

And in case you were wondering; those were NOT my hands making the pots. My finger nails are much nicer.

P.S. I'm sure there are other variations of this out there and maybe even this exact same version. My mom has been doing it for years so she doesn't remember where she first learned.

P.P.S. Feel free to tell me anything that isn't clear. I'm still working on the whole tutorial thing.