Sunday, May 31, 2009

Project #143 - Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

I've picked about seven pounds of strawberries from the garden so far this year, not counting the half-chewed ones that the ants and beetles got to first. However, I've discovered that the ducks love strawberries, so there is a place even for the berries not fit for human consumption.

We end up eating a lot of my harvest as is, but I save some every year to make my husband's favorite pie, the strawberry rhubarb pie. I've made one every year for the past five years. I even made one once and carried it with me to Japan, sneaking it through customs so Clark could have his favorite dessert while he lived 13 time zones away. I deserve some sort of pie smuggling award.

I can't find the original recipe that I tweaked to get the one I now make every year. I think it is floating around on right now, but there seem to be a hundred strawberry rhubarb pie variations on just that site. Just trust me that somewhere there is a pie recipe somewhat resembling the one below.

  • 2 cups of strawberries
  • 2 cups of rhubarb (about two medium stalks)
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 cup of tapioca pearls
  • 2 9 inch pie crusts
Pre heat the oven to 400 degrees and slice the rhubarb into .5 inch pieces. Slice strawberries your strawberries into smaller pieces and remove tops. Mix the tapioca, sugar and strawberries and rhubarb; let them stand for 10 minutes. Line a 9 inch pan with one of your crusts and pour the fruit mixture into lined pan, cover it with remaining dough and cut vents. Bake the pie for 20 minutes at 400 degrees, then lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes.


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posted by Alison 5/31/2009 11:56:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Project #142 - Mobile Duck Pen

This was really a two day project, although Clark did most of the work. I need to get over myself and learn some carpentry skills, but it's easy to move that to the bottom of the list when living with someone who is more than happy to do all the sawing and nailing for you.

We weren't sure what to do with the pointy ends of the chicken wire, so we covered them with duct tape. So far the ducks have not tried to eat the tape, which was a legitimate fear...'cause they're kind of dumb...cute, but dumb.

My mom was really nice and bought us a staple gun and chicken wire as early birthday gifts so we could go ahead and finish the whole thing today. I spent a few hours stapling the wire to the wood, but it went much faster after Clark got home and there were two of us to work on it. He is much better at staple gunning than me; I need two hands to push down the trigger and he manages to do it with only one.

The biggest predators we have to worry about in the city are house cats and the peregrine falcon who lives across the street. There might be opossums and raccoons around, but we were faced with making a dig-proof pen to guard against animals that may not even live here, or making a pen that could be moved easily so the ducks would always have access to fresh grass. I hope we chose correctly. The ducks have a temporary shelter inside the pen, but we plan on making a better one that will be more predator proof.

There was one type of predator that I forgot about completely: runaway dogs. Our backyard has a narrow alley running behind it that is popular with neighborhood dog walkers. Some people like to leave their dogs off leash when walking them to give the animal a little more freedom, but I guess those people never expected to run into a tasty-looking pen of ducks.

I was in the kitchen making pie crust when I heard a dog bark and the ducks peep their 'I'm sooo frightened!' peeps. I ran outside and saw a bear-sized German Shepherd taking a great interest in my animals and the ducks going nuts with fear. It was clear that he was big and strong enough to tip the whole pen over, even with bricks weighing it down, and attack the ducks. I yelled at the dog to get it to go away as the dog's owner came running into the yard to claim it.

The ducks were supposed to spend their first night outside in their pen tonight, but we might have to rethink that. I hope that incident was just a fluke, but we are raising some tasty, defenseless morsels and there are lots of creatures who want a piece.

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posted by Alison 5/31/2009 11:55:00 PM : (2) comments : splink

Friday, May 29, 2009

Project #141 - Baaaaby Animal Party

Our poultry adoptees are getting less adorable by the day (though, on the bright side they're getting closer to laying eggs), so I wanted to have a small (< 12 people) party so that our friends could experience some of the remaining cute. Together with free food, baby animals create an irresistible combination.

It was tempting to buy a bucket of chicken to feed everyone, but instead I took the less creepy route and had everyone make their own mini pizzas. I used my olive oil crisp recipe to make the dough for the crust in advance. I'm kind of kicking myself for not getting a picture of the pizzas, but they were tasty and gone immediately.

We served the pizzas along with some homemade salsa with chips, finger veggies, and strawberries with brown sugar whipped cream. Many thanks to my friend Saralinda for the extensive pre-party chopping.

The ducks didn't take to the party atmosphere and squawked at anyone who came near. The chickens, on the other hand, were okay with being handled and seemed to enjoy the attention. They even fought over the best perch on the lip of their laundry basket so they could see what was going on most of the evening.

So cute!

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posted by Alison 5/29/2009 11:53:00 PM : (1) comments : splink

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Project #139 - Mobile Poultry Coop Plans

Our ducks and chickens are quickly outgrowing their current living quarters. The pen that houses the ducks is quickly developing a thick coat of duck poop despite daily cleanings with the hose. The chickens are also getting too big to be comfortable in their overturned laundry basket accommodations. It's been a week and a half and I swear that they have doubled in size.

Clark has promised to help me build more permanent living quarters for the animals, but he needs plans to help him figure out what supplies to purchase. The new duck pen will be open on the bottom to allow them to graze on the grass underneath. We'll be able to move them around the yard to keep them from completely denuding any one area. Ducks need about 4-5 feet of floor space to be comfortable, so we'll need to build something that will have at least 10 square feet, plus a little extra for an enclosed nighttime shelter.

The chickens have a little easier time getting around vertically, so while the first level will be similar to what the ducks will have, they will also get a second story that will serve as their nighttime enclosure and laying area. This box will just be a (near) cube with an opening in the floor for chicken entry and exit. Of course, we will build a ramp to help them get up there.

I hope we build the duck coop soon. They are getting more and more pissy at us for bringing them in at night. The chickens are getting used to being handled, but the ducks act like we are inflicting the greatest indignity by touching them at all. We adopted two duck princesses.

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posted by Alison 5/27/2009 11:34:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Project #138 - Strawberry Veils

I've been eagerly anticipating the first strawberry of spring. Strawberry season for our garden lasts only a few short weeks, but all of the work is worth it for the plentiful, sweet, red-all-the-way-through berries. I check every day for berries once they start to blush. Only this year every time I find a half ripe strawberry the red half has already been eaten away by a nefarious combination of ants and beetles. A liberal application of boric acid (safe for anything the doesn't have an exoskeleton) did nothing to stop them.

I spent three days in a row expecting to find a berry that I could finally eat myself, and only to find each eligible one collapsed and chewed up. I always lose a few every year to pests, the price of not using poisons (but worth it because I get to squat in garden every year eating sun-warmed fruit straight off the plant), but losing 100% of my harvest several days is a row sucks. These are my strawberries! Mine!

Fed up, and unwilling to use meaner chemicals I decided to go low tech. I cut squares of black tulle and spent and hour crawling around the strawberry patch looking for any berries giving the barest hint that they were ready to ripen. I fastened each with a rubber band.

I checked back after a day and I was relieved to see that my solution worked. I wish it was a little less tedious to check and cover each strawberry, but the slight ache in my back was worth it. I was worried about having enough to make my husband's annual rhubarb-strawberry pie, but I think I'll have enough after two days of veiled strawberries.

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posted by Alison 5/27/2009 08:39:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Duck Bathtime

I gave the ducks a bath after they coated themselves in the contents of their food and water dishes overnight. Our ducks are not very good at swimming, though they seem to like it. They're little poop machines so I had to scrub down the tub when they were finished.

Don't adopt ducks if you're averse to dealing with poop and washing your hands 12 times a day.


posted by Alison 5/26/2009 11:28:00 PM : (1) comments : splink

Monday, May 25, 2009

Project #137 - 1950s Vintage Dress with Tie Back Neck

I made my second dress based on a vintage pattern, Simplicity 4341. I'm not sure I'm in love with the styling, but this is why I try out new, complicated-looking patterns in cheap fabric. The cotton dotted fabric used here was $2 a yard on sale. That, along with thread, a side zipper and some interfacing adds up to less than $10 in total.

It's kind of shocking how delicate the pattern pieces are in these 50+ year old copies. I tore multiple ones and had to tape the delicately back together. The instructions, too, are looking worse for the wear.

I really wish that instructions on how to tie the back tie into a bow were included. The interfacing doesn't seem to help; instead of adding structure, its extra thickness makes it nearly impossible to form a neat knot that will stay tied. This is why first drafts are important, I wouldn't want to waste important fabric on something that is less than fabulous. It's nice to have a chance to learn from myb mistakes.

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posted by Alison 5/25/2009 08:34:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Project #136 - Olive Oil Crisps

I made it a whole week without buying any snack foods (yaaay!), though I did break down and eat some stale girl scout cookies (um, boo?).

I've been holding on to this recipe for olive oil crisps for my next foray into the world of cracker making. Oh man, I think these might permanently supplant pita chips in my life. Even the raw dough is crazy tasty!

I made a few changes to the recipe mostly to account for my lack of fancy flours and innate lack of initiative. I replaced the whole wheat and semolina flours with bread flour and used regular salt instead of sea salt. I also just stretched the dough with my hands pizza style instead of getting out the rolling pin or pasta maker. (My pasta maker is for polymer clay only, folks.) My crisps were a little thicker as a result, and the finished product was still crispy, but not crumbly, like a fresh baked pita chip. Mmmm.

I also covered my crisps with chopped herbs from the garden (swiss chard, chervil, thai basil and chives) and covered that with asiago cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Oh yeah, baby. This is why I bother with the weeding.

I think my version of this recipe might also be right for a homemade pizza crust. I'll try it out the next time I make dinner.

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posted by Alison 5/25/2009 08:32:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Japanese Fabric Finds: Nikko Jusco and Momenya Makino

Momenya Makino (Shimokitazawa, Tokyo) - Really, you should just go there because Shimokitazawa is such a great neighborhood. There are a ton of little boutiques and shops to explore even if you don't like fabric shopping.

Plus, the ladies who work at Momenya Makino are the nicest out of all of the places I visited. They were really great at helping me look for alternative colors and patterns. I guess they have to be nice just because the shop is absolutely crammed with fabric. The aisles are just wide enough for a medium sized dog to walk down. Any bit of free space is obliterated with tall stacks of bolts of fabric. Still, I found some rare colors of my favorite fabrics and got some great recommendations from the staff.

Jusco (Nikko City, formerly Imaichi City) - Jusco is essentially a Japanese Wal-Mart. They are in almost every town and carry a variety of products from food, to clothes, to toys, to liquor. Most of them have a small craft section and if you're lucky they'll offer fabric by the yard. This last trip had some good cotton-linen blends, but a year or two earlier there were some even better prints. Still, there was a lot on sale.

ABC crafts (Osaka, Tennoji) - This store is a lot more crowded than what I remembered. This is another store better suited for quilters and crafters rather than dressmakers. There is a good selection of small fabric pieces, though there are a fair number of cotton fabrics that can be bought off of the bolt. I'm also a huge fan of their remnant bin; I just kept reaching in an pulling out gem after gem. They also have a variety of vinyled fabrics pre-cut into 50 cm pieces. This is especially appreciated because this store is very popular and carrying bolts of vinyl through narrow, old lady-filled spaces increases the likelihood of an international incident.

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posted by Alison 5/25/2009 10:47:00 AM : (0) comments : splink


Home made butter is turning into one of my favorite things to make around the kitchen, mostly because there is only one ingredient required. The first time I made my own I had a hard time telling when it was really done. Here are a few pictures showing what happens over the course of the 20 minutes of shaking the heavy cream:

Shaking the cream in a sealed container for the first few minutes will start to work air into the liquid. It will be bubbly and a little thicker than how it started.

Eventually, you'll end up with some thick whipped cream. It will be hard to shake at this stage, but eventually it will start to break down.

The contents of the container will be silent during the whipped cream stage, but after a few more minutes of shaking it will finally make a sloshing sound. This indicates that the cream is separating.

Eventually, fine grained curds of butter will form in the liquid. When this happens it means that you're only a few minutes away from being done.

With a few more shakes bigger clumps form and the liquid separates further. Eventually, it's possible to drain off the buttermilk.

I learned last week that it's the concentration of a particular type vitamin A that gives butter its pale yellow color. Goat's milk has a different form of vitamin A, so butter formed from it stays white.

I used just under 1 cup of heavy cream and in the end it yielded about 1/2 cup of butter and 1/2 cup of buttermilk.


posted by Alison 5/25/2009 09:23:00 AM : (4) comments : splink

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Project #135 - Duck Pen

I found an ad on Craigslist yesterday advertising goslings, ducklings and pullets for sale. I rented ducks for Clark for his birthday right before we got engaged, and he liked them so much that I thought it would be fun to do it again. I called up the owner and arranged to take a few ducks for a week. I'd planned to slip up to the farm while yard sale shopping with a friend and keep the ducklings a surprise, but Clark insisted on coming with us.

Luckily, he didn't figure out where we were going or why until we were at the bird farm and standing in front of the duck pen. Of course, we ended up bringing home more than I'd planned, two ducks home plus three baby Rhode Island Red hens. I had no intention of keeping the birds, but after talking to the owner we were convinced that we might be able to pull it off, even in our postage stamp sized yard. Still, I made him promise to take them back if we find that we can't care for them comfortably. The poles are also a little short, but that just makes it easier for us to climb in and out for cleaning and wrangling the ducks inside to take inside for the night.

Unprepared for our new charges, we went to the hardware store and purchased supplies a quick pen for the ducks. We built the pen along our garage for late afternoon shade, but we also plan to add a duck house so that they can hide from predators. The fencing is plastic poultry fencing that can be cut with a pair of scissors. The poles are made of metal and came with built in notches that we used to hold the fencing without any staples or tying. This will make it extra easy to take down the pen and move it elsewhere in the yard.

Right now their wings are too stubby to fly, so we'll have to revisit our pen design when their flight feathers get in. I don't want them to fly into our neighbors' yards and snack on their grass.

The chickens are much smaller and have their own makeshift lawn tractor underneath an overturned wire basket. We'll move it around the yard and give them a chance to poop on all areas equally. Eventually, we'll build a bigger one with a coop and nests for laying eggs.

While they are cute on their own, our two species are not quite ready to cohabitate.

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posted by Alison 5/24/2009 11:27:00 AM : (2) comments : splink

Friday, May 22, 2009

Project #134 - Metafilter Meetup

I scheduled a last-minute meetup with the Pittsburgh people from Metafilter. We still need to pick a venue for our 10th anniversary meetup, and I'm a big fan of test runs.

If you feel like joining us we'll be at Hough's in Greenfield at 4:00. You'll be able to find us by the pony (seen above) on our table.


posted by Alison 5/22/2009 11:57:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Project #133 - Vintage 1950s Top

Sandritocrat has the best Etsy pattern store. I ordered four vintage 1950s patterns last week and due to a post office mix-up I was a few anxious days late in getting them in my hands. Why won't the mailman leave packages at my door even when I've signed the orange card and marked 'door' as the place I want him to leave it? Arg!

Still, as soon as the patterns entered my possession I knew I would have to make something immediately. The top in the XXX hand corner offered the quickest gratification. I used some linen fabric from Otsukaya in Japan to keep it summer weight.

I don't know if I'm thrilled with the fit, so I might make the next one with a lower neckline in the front.

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posted by Alison 5/21/2009 11:53:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Project #132 - Circuit Board Barrettes

My I bought my iBook in 2001 and it functioned perfectly until I broke the charger port on the side of the computer sometime last year. So, I was left with a functioning laptop, but no way to charge it.

When I had Dustin pose for the Hermit Tarot Card I gave him my broken laptop as a prop. Serendipitously, Dustin knew exactly how to fix the broken part and a few weeks later brought me a chargable laptop and he gave me the broken part as a bonus. We paid him back with beer and fried German meat.

Happily, the piece was easy to break apart and and use as new pieces for my nerd barrette collection. Man, rainbow wire is the best.

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posted by Alison 5/20/2009 11:25:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Project #131 - Cheese Crackers

I'm continuing my month of not buying food in boxes, but I spent most of the day craving Cheeze-Its and looking at the empty box in my trash can. I guess if I'm going to continue to snack I'm going to have to work for it.

After I did my primary voting today I made a fresh batch of butter and grated an entire hunk of cheese into oblivion. My arms are killing me, but if I keep up the 40 minute grating and cream shaking sessions I going to have some guns by summer.

I followed this recipe from Eating Cleveland, but made a few changes: I left out the cayenne pepper, used mild cheddar instead of sharp, and halved the ingredients. Also, I don't have a food processor, so I cut the ingredients together just as I would for a pie crust. The dough is quite loose and crumbly when all of the ingredients are combined. I added a few drops of really cold water to help it stick together during rolling.

I rolled the dough as thin as I could get it and still have the crackers stay intact, which was a little under 1/8 of an inch. The crackers certainly puff up in the oven, so they'll be much thicker after cooking.

I had the perfect cookie cutter for this task.

Now I'm sitting at the dining room table waiting for Clark to get home so I can make him eat some of these. They're like a cross between a flaky biscuit and a cracker and the cheese is quite prominent...

Wait, now he's home. Clark says: "Holy moly! You're amazing! You can make amazing things!"

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posted by Alison 5/19/2009 10:27:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, May 18, 2009

Project #130 - Periodic Table Magnets

I loooove the periodic table. I was hooked as soon as I learned how the shape of the table is dictated almost entirely by atomic orbitals. Just by looking at an element's placement on the table it possible to understand why some elements are magnetic, or how some are completely inert and don't react with anything, or determine which metal would create the biggest explosion when dumped in water. There is just so much information stuffed into this one 2-D chart that I never get tired of looking at it.

Once, when I first moved into my house, I really wanted a tile periodic table grouted into my kitchen back-splash. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough space for the whole thing, so I scrapped the idea and used the sheets of tiles to make periodic table magnets, so my kitchen would have at least a little chemistry.

I've made hundreds of periodic table magnets since, though I sold most of them at my last craft fair. I'm thrilled that there are so many chemistry nerds out there.


posted by Alison 5/18/2009 11:39:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Project #129 - Emergency Frost Protection for Plants

WTF, NATURE? It's going to frost? In the middle of May? WTF is wrong with you? Can't you see that people have already planted their tomatoes and cucumbers, you know, the stuff that dies when it's touched by frost? What do you have against summer squash? Why? WHHHYYYY?

{sigh} Okay, I feel better.

When I head about the frost warning I was not about to let something stupid like four hours of potentially freezing conditions rob me of an entire year of vegetables, so I went on the defensive. I bought a big roll of burlap and took every blanket in the house and covered anything that I thought would be worth saving, which was everything that I planted this season.

Next, I'm going to go on the offensive and burn a tree. Take that, environment! (I kid, I kid. I love trees...when they aren't falling on stuff I like.)

I draped both vegetable beds in the back yard in fabric, as well as the bonus strawberry patch. Vegetables like peas, lettuce, mont, onions, salad greens, and swiss chard can take a little cold and be left uncovered, but varm weather plants like melons, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, and basil will turn black the second they freeze. Even if the plants don't die their yield will be seriously compromised. Strawberries can also usually take the cold, but mine were already fruiting, so I didn't want to take any chances. Anything in a container won a free trip indoors for a few days.

In case of a super crisis where the temperatures dip well below freezing, I sewed together several cloth pouches and filled them with dry rice. Some people heat these bags in the microwave and then use them to relax sore muscles. I will use mine to protect strategically important parts of the garden. I tested them and found that they were still warm after an hour and a half, which might be enough to keep the frost away in their vicinity until morning.


*Update* Crisis averted. It only got down to 39 degrees last night. (I spent the night a work and checked the temperature regularly. Yay, but boo.) Suck it, freezing conditions!

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posted by Alison 5/17/2009 11:02:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Project #128 - Anise Seed Sugar Cookies

Ugh, I'm snacking too much at work. It's gotten to the point where I graze almost the whole day, mostly on packaged stuff that is not good for me. I know myself well enough to know that banning something all together will just make me miserable, however, I am good at sticking to arbitrary rules within an established time frame. I'm a champ at New Year's and Lent. So, for a month I'm not going to buy anything that comes in a box (or carton if it's a cookie), though I can make whatever I want.

There are many reasons why this would be good for me:

  • If I make snacks take more work, I'll have them less often.
  • I just need reason to break a bad habit, even if it is a dumb one.
  • I'll probably learn some new recipes.
  • I'll finally have a reason to finish all those half eaten boxes of stuff in the cupboard.
First up, I need cookies.

I always cheat when making these cookies and use the sugar cookie mix from Betty Crocker. It's the one where you just need to add an egg and an entire stick of butter. I ground up about 2 tablespoons of anise seed using my mortar and pestle and added them to the batter. Otherwise, follow the instructions on the package.

The anise flavor is pretty subtle in the cookie, but it add a complex note the what would other wise be a pretty bland cookie. Even my husband, who hates all things licorice flavored, loves these cookies and prefers to eat them while drinking beer.

I've also made a version of the cookie flavored with ground lavender blossoms. I know it sounds horrible, but thhe lavender has a surprisingly agreeable taste, especially when combined with the buttery taste of the cookie. I make them for camping trips and they rarely survive the first few hours.

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posted by Alison 5/17/2009 07:02:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Project #127 - PHP Image Gallery

I keep most of the images for this website in one folder. This worked well when I posted intermittently, but now with (nearly) daily posts accompanied by multiple pictures it's gotten out of control, especially if I want to reuse older images.

Out of frustration I wrote a quick PHP script that would turn my tangle of pictures into a neat, easily scanned gallery, saving me a ton of time and frustration. There are a lot of images in that folder, so beware that it takes a while to load all the way.

I also added a url parameter so that you can use my script if you have a similar folder content directory. Just type into your browser url bar. Here is an example of the parameter in action.

Here is the code. Use at your own risk:


//get $url from parameter or use default
if (isset($_GET['url'])) $url = $_GET['url'];
else $url = ';O=D';

//load url
$buffer = curl_exec($curl_handle);

if (empty($buffer)) print "Cannot Access Webpage<p>";

//set up gallery table print("<table>");

//remove any parameters from URL
$url_parts = explode("?", $url);
$url_part = $url_parts[0];
//divide by opening html tags
$rows = explode("<", $buffer);
foreach ($rows as $row) { //check for tags containing links
if (ereg("href", $row)) {
$imgs = explode("\">", $row);
foreach ($imgs as $img) {
if ((ereg("JPG", $img))||(ereg("jpg", $img))||(ereg("gif", $img))){
if (!ereg("href", $img)) {
if($counter % 8 == 0) { print "<TR>"; }
print "<TD><a href=\"".$url_part.$img."\"><IMG SRC=\"".$url_part.$img. "\" width=\"100\" height=\"100\" border=\"0\"></a></TD>\n";
if($counter % 8 == 7) { print "</TR>"; }

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posted by Alison 5/16/2009 11:00:00 PM : (1) comments : splink

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Project #126 - Embroidered Handkerchief

Clark is the anti-George H.W. Bush: he eats broccoli almost every single day.

He's also the kind of guy who carries a handkerchief nearly everywhere he goes, though he uses them exclusively for hand drying and not not for blowing his nose. He picked up the habit in Japan where some of the toilet facilities lack hand drying mechanisms. I usually carry one around, too when I'm out of the country, but I don't have enough pocket space to keep one with me on a regular basis.

Clark is also a lot better than me about things like conserving and recycling. Everything that can be recycled in our house is carefully cleaned and sorted. He even collects and drops off things that are not covered by our weekly recycling pickup. That is something I would never take the time to do, so he makes me a better earthling just by living with me and handling my trash.

I embroidered a new hanky to add to his rotating collection emblazoned with his second(?) favorite vegetable (#1 is the Artichoke), and the one he eats the most often. I used crewelwork stitches, and the head of the broccoli is made of hundreds of tiny knots. I spent a lot of time on the broccoli, so it's a little shocking to see how small it is for the total number of stitches. I will probably stick to screen printing for my fabric embellishment needs.


posted by Alison 5/14/2009 10:03:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Project #125 - Alphabet Barrettes

I have very long hair that is very straight and flat against my scalp. I suffered though multiple stinky perms and body waves at the hands of my mother when I was young, and all washed completely out within days. I've learned to go with the flow when it comes to my hair and I use accessories instead to add volume. So, barrettes are tied with underwear as the things that I wear most...that is to say I wear them every day.

The letters are from Paper Valise and the barrettes are from Metalliferous. I colored the metal with permanent markers.

I'm wearing the 'M' barrette right now. I colored it in an alternating pattern of long and short strokes to give it a wood-grain pattern. The coating of permanent marker ink probably won't hold up to much wear and tear, so I'll eventually have to coat them in mod podge or some other fixative.

I can even spell out messages using my hair. I think I'm going to make a matching set that spells out 'NO' for my Ladies' Margarita Night on Friday.


posted by Alison 5/13/2009 10:34:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Project #124 - Charity Candy Box

Karis is one of the best people I've ever met, the closest thing to a Bodhisattva that I've ever seen. She's been in the hospital, and in an out of the transplant ICU, since October, with only a few days of reprieve. She is too ill to travel and can't go back to her hometown, São Paulo, Brazil.

Still, she stays involved even if she's thousands of miles away. When she heard that a school (CEVAP, or "Centro de Valorização da Pessoa") where she volunteered would have to find a new building or shut down, she took advantage of the reader base of her blog to solicit funds. I donated out of pocket, but I need a scheme to acquire further funds. There might just be a source in the one place I spend most of my waking hours.

We got a new snack box yesterday at work after nearly cleaning out the last one (seen above), as we do every month. It's always an event at the office and each of us, one-by-one, will sneak into the kitchen and assess the goods offered. This week there was a near snack box mutiny because there was only one chocolate based candy bar, clearly unacceptable. (Note to snack box company: more peanuts and chocolate, less crackers, or there will be consequences, plzthxbye.)

I decided to take advantage of the chocolate shortage and put together my own chocolatey candy box to raise money for my Karis's school. I purchased candy from Target on my way home, which was more expensive than I had imagined, ~50 cents for a full-sized candy bar. Boo. Still, it is candy for the education of the children.

I made the box itself from two cereal boxes that I spliced together and painted white. The back panel is covered with a collage and a note explaining the charity. I had some springs and little metal clamps that were also put to good use holding the prices of the items. On one side are the full sized candy bars, and on the other are miniatures at a lower price. Multiple price points are good for business.

I prepared a second, smaller display for my husband to take to his workplace, too. I'm going to match any donations I receive, so whoopee.

If you're not around to buy candy, please donate through the CEVAP page. The button is at the bottom; payment should be made c/o Rachel Kornfield (CEVAP). I've met some of the volunteers working with the kids, so you can at least say that there you heard it from someone who knows someone who has a direct hand in this legitimate endeavor, even if they might be a dog on the internet.

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posted by Alison 5/12/2009 11:23:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Monday, May 11, 2009

Project #123 - Japanese Stationary Flickr Set

Clark and I developed a taste for goods emblazoned with ungrammatical/messed up English phrases, a phenomenon often called Engrish. While Americans spent tons of money on clothes, tattoos and home decor items covered with vague and usually incorrect Asian characters during the early late 90's and early 2000's, people in Asia did the same, vice-versa, although there were fewer tattoos involved and much more school supplies. In fact, the trend has persisted up until today and has grown to include goods covering French, German and other Western languages. I guess it's supposed to impart an air of mysterious learnedness around the user, though it's bound to be funny to anyone who actually speaks the languages in question. We tend to collect the weirdest things we can find.

I love the random English stationary the best (it's used for most of our household correspondence), so I decided to make a Flickr set dedicated to our collection. I scanned all I could find for this set, which means that I probably only found half. I'll scan more as I find more, but that will have to wait until a major cleaning day, which is something we probably need in the near future.


posted by Alison 5/11/2009 11:18:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Project #122 - Robot Plates

Yaaay! I've been running home right after work and immediately cranking out robot drawings just to try to get this set done in time for delivery at a friend's pre-wedding party today. Of course, I completely forgot to photograph the plates before handing them over, so I waited until gift opening time and then photographed them on the living room floor of the lovely couple's home; a breach of etiquette perhaps, but everyone seemed to understand that I needed portfolio pictures.

I made four big plates and four smaller ones, as well as matching bowls. Usually I like to source my ceramics from garage sales and thrift stores, but I wanted a pristine set for this project, so I bought these dishes from Ikea. They had a nice, wide lip and held up unmarred to the three hour car ride.

The bride a groom are not traditional people, so I can't imagine them having a china pattern picked out. It would be really cool to have my set of dishes either function as traditional china, or everyday dishes. I any case, I just hope they don't end up gathering dust in a basement somewhere.

I tried not to repeat robot designs, and while I succeeded on each individual plate (I think), I definitely failed over the whole set. Ah, Pigeonhole Principle, we meet again.


posted by Alison 5/10/2009 06:12:00 PM : (3) comments : splink

Friday, May 08, 2009

Project #121 - Butter.

The topic of butter making came up somewhere, I can't even remember where, a few weeks ago. Someone mentioned that it's possible to make butter by just shaking cream in a container for about 20 minutes, which for some reason just sounded wrong to me. Wouldn't you need something besides just cream, like the rennet in cheese, to give butter its taste and color?

I decided to try it for myself. I poured some whipping cream into a little plastic container and shook it for about 20 minutes. To kill time I weeded the garden with one hand and shook the container with the other. Midway through I peeked and saw that the cream had thickened into whipped cream. I shook for another 10 minutes and half expected to see the same whipped cream, but shockingly there was a large nugget of butter sitting in a pool of buttermilk.

I salted the butter slightly and took it with me to the Star Trek movie (which was fantastic, and I hate everything) that evening and Clark and I ate it with our popcorn. I got some funny looks from out friends, but fresh butter really is magically tasty. I don't know if it will replace out regular butter buying, but it might be fun to make some gourmet butters as gifts.

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posted by Alison 5/08/2009 07:53:00 PM : (1) comments : splink

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Project #120 - Interplanetary Space Travel Dress

I never miss out on an opportunity to make a theme dress. The new Star Trek movie is coming out in a few days and despite the fact that I have seen exactly one Star Trek movie in a theater (Though I will admit that I do enjoy some Khaaaaan! when it comes on TV.), I'm going to be there at opening day with my husband and some friends. Well, if you're going to go to a Star Trek movie it might as well be on opening day, because that's when the cosplay geek pageant is in full effect.

I had some really dorky space fabric that I was planning on using for bag linings, but this seemed like a good opportunity to make a nerd dress. Of course, I made the mistake of showing it to my husband, who told all of his friends about it and now everyone is expecting me to show up today in a wacky dress.

In reality, I didn't have quite enough time to get it done and get enough sleep, but I have too much pride when it comes to expectations, so I sewed this dress over the course of one stupid, stressful day. I even had to go to dinner at the home of another couple, which took a few hours that I could have spent sewing. I did get to eat the delicious pile of avocado and sushi tuna pictured above (Thanks, Melissa!), so it was worth it in the end, but I still ran straight to my machine as soon as I got home. I cranked away until about 2:00 in the morning, and I managed to finish with only a few shortcuts.

It looks a little more New-Age than Star Trek, like I should be wearing a crystal or something, but at least it's finished. I guess I'll have something on hand for my next trip to the Science Center.

Yardage Countdown to buying more fabric:

1 yard - Yellow T-shirt
2 yards - Hiking Skirt
1.5 yards - Office Shirt
3.5 yards - Parasol Dress
2.5 yards - Interplanetary Space Travel Dress

Total: 10.5 yards
Remaining: 19.5 yards

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posted by Alison 5/07/2009 05:15:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Project #119 - Parasol Dress

I have four weddings and two high school reunions to attend this year, all out of state, which means that most of our disposable income will be going to pay for plane tickets, gifts, food, and...umm I think there is at least one mandatory bachelor party in there, so yes, some of our money will probably be going to strippers. Sigh. Good bye vacation days and money.

So, this means that I need to spend as little money as possible on clothes, and therefore I need to work with what I've got. Luckily, I've already got a substantial stockpile of silks and prints that are wedding-appropriate and pass the strict no black (Unsupportive!), no white (Upstaging the bride!), no red (Hussy!) wedding dress code. Though I do believe that these rules are outdated and I don't fault anyone else for wearing any of these colors, there is some deep neurosis in me that keeps my brain beeping "MUST. FOLLOW. OLD. TIMEY. WEDDING. RULES!" Though I will tell the bride 'congratulations' because the logic behind not saying it ('Congratulations' is supposed to imply man-trapping.) is just absurd.

The pattern for today's dress is a vintage reprint from 1960, B6582. I've made view B before, but at a size too small as you can probably tell from the picture. This try, of view C, turned out much better, probably because I've learned a lot about fitting in the last year. The fabric is a little loud, but probably appropriate for the (likely wacky) wedding celebration I'll be attending this Saturday.

Yardage Countdown to buying more fabric:

1 yard - Yellow T-shirt
2 yards - Hiking Skirt
1.5 yards - Office Shirt
3.5 yards - Parasol Dress
Total: 8 yards
Remaining: 22 yards

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posted by Alison 5/05/2009 11:10:00 PM : (1) comments : splink

Project #118 - Office Shirt

I've spent the last week wearing nothing but home made clothes just so I could get an idea of what kinds of things I'm missing. I have plenty of skirts and daytime dresses, but I'm definitely short on shirts, especially the kind I can wear to work. I've had a copy of Simplicity 2614 for a few weeks, and a quick shirt without any zippers or buttons sounded good for a shirt that I need to complete in one evening.

Actually, standing with my hands on my hips makes this shirt look a little less boxy than what it is, but what more could I expect from a shirt with no buttons or zippers? Anyway, it all works itself out when stashed under a cardigan.

Okay, my fabric stash is starting to turn into a subject of embarrassment. The corner that it occupies in the living room just grows and grows and grows and it's threatening our furniture. I need to do something about it, so I am banned from buying any fabric until I sew a total of 30 yards, which I'm going to try to adhere to for once. Muuuuust...beeeeee...FRUGAL!

I'm going to count my hiking outfit from yesterday and the day before so here is the current total:

1 yard - Yellow T-shirt
2 yards - Hiking Skirt
1.5 yards - Office Shirt
Total: 4.5 yards
Remaining: 25.5 yards

That's a good start, three garments in three days. I won't be able to hold off from fabric buying forever, so I might try to make a week out of this, though I'll have take a day off in order to complete a wedding gift. I'm going to try hard to get it under 20 by the end of the week.

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posted by Alison 5/05/2009 12:32:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Project #117 - Sunnny Yellow T-Shirt

I made a whole outfit for hiking and then didn't go. At first, we were reluctant to go because it was raining, and then we got too embedded in the afternoon's activities to be much interested in going outside.

Still, I love the bright, sunny color. It's a shade that's bound to be easy to find in the woods, a plus should I take a tumble down a gully. The fabric came from the knits floor in Tokyo's Tomato fabric store. I was a little apprehensive about using the last bits of such a nice cotton interlock. It's going to be a long, long time until I will be able to get more.

The pattern is an old favorite, V2925. It only takes about an hour and a half to sew this shirt, and that's including the time to rethread the serger at least five times. It didn't seem to know what to make of the light, airy cotton knit and broke a thread every time I adjusted the tension.

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posted by Alison 5/03/2009 11:36:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Project #116 - Pattern-Free Hiking Skirt

I believe that skirts shouldn't be saved just for church and the office, and they certainly don't have to be uncomfortable and restrictive. I wear skirts while doing yard work and skirts while helping friends move. It might be a little eccentric, but a good knee-length skirt looks much more flattering on my pear-shaped body (Thanks for the big butt, Cuba!) than a pair or shorts or most pants. Plus, the right skirt is more comfortable than pants. Almost all of my skirts are designed so that I can squat in them, leap in them, and run in them. Usually, my casual skirts are made of tougher materials like denim or corduroy. Of course, I always wear a pair of shorts underneath for modesty's sake and so that I can do all that squatting and lifting without worrying about showing people London or France. I'm happy to say that I haven't worn pants for two weeks, and if I play my cards right I won't wear them at all until October.

So, the plan is to go hiking tomorrow at McConnell's Mill Park. The trails are a little rougher and narrower than most of the state parks around here, but because it is an hour north it is like traveling a week back in time, season wise. I would like another chance to see the tree blooms.

I designed today's skirt to stand up to the terrain, but it was already late so I needed something I could make in an hour or so. I used about 1.5 yards of gray denim. Basically, the skirt is a big trapezoid (two, actually!) with a slightly curved top and bottom. The top is the width of my fanny, plus a few inches, so that I can take it on and off easily. The height is the distance from my waist to my knee, plus a few inches for the casing of the elastic at the top and the hem at the bottom. The bottom can be as wide as you want it; mine is about 1.5 times the length of the top.

The waist is 1 inch elastic. As I've said before, I used to be anti-elastic (too sweatpanty!), but I changed my tune when I realized that I will inevitably get fatter as I age and it would be nice to have clothes on hand that still fit.

Oh, and my skirt also has pockets, which are optional, I talk about how to insert them here. Pockets are the best; you won't regret it if you add some.

After cutting out your pieces, lay your two trapezoids like sides together and sew up the sides, accounting for pockets, if you have any. Next, roll down a casing at the waist a little larger than your elastic and stitch it into place, leaving two inch opening. Insert your elastic and once you have it in place stitch it together and clip the excess. Sew up the opening. Hem. (Confession: I have not hemmed my skirt yet.) Fini!

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posted by Alison 5/02/2009 11:57:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Friday, May 01, 2009

Project #115 - Guacamole for One


  • 1/2 Avocado, cubed
  • 1 good squirt of lemon or lime juice
  • 1 shake, shake, shake of salt
  • 3 tbsp salsa fresca OR
  • 1/4 tomato, diced
  • 1 tbsp onion
  • 1 sprinkle of fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
Put the avocado in a cereal bowl and mash it with a fork. Stir in remaining ingredients. Eat while watching a show that your spouse hates.

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posted by Alison 5/01/2009 06:46:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

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