Monday, December 16, 2013

Make a Draft Stopper and Stop Drafts IN THEIR TRACKS

Was the blog post headline sufficiently terrorizing?  I'm working on that whole "get their attention" thing.

Please enjoy this hazy picture of my dirty front door.  Oh, and the draft stopper.

Several years ago, I made a draft stopper for our front door, because I think drafts are bad, and our front door was a serious offender.

Fast forward to last year, when a certain vicious puppy demolished said draft stopper because apparently it was going to kill our whole family or eat his puppy chow or something equally evil such as that.

December last year.  See what I mean?  He was VICIOUS, I tell you.  Viciously cute, that is.

I mean, COME ON.  Look at him!  Adorbs.  <heart heart heart>

So this year I made a new, better draft stopper and the certain puppy has approved by way of not demolishing it.  Yet.

Pithy instructions:  Get some slick fabric.  Get some pipe insulation.  Wrap insulation with fabric.  Slide under the door.

Wordful instructions:

Do what I described in the link above, but use a longer piece of fabric and fold it over the ends to make it more "finished".

Please enjoy this non-hazy closeup of my dirty carpet.

Pro tip:  You know all those tutorials that tell you to fill a bag with rice?  Don't do that.  A bag of rice is heavy, and you'll have to pick it up every time you want to open the door.  You don't need anything to weigh it down, you just need it to fit tight so there are no air gaps.

Ding-dang it.  I just re-read the old blog post and realized I had had a brilliant idea that I should have used on my new draft stopper:  batting on the bottom section, under the door.  Next time.

Friday, December 6, 2013

How to turn a 30-minute project into a 3-hour tour (a 3-hour tour)

Step 1:  Ask your child what she wants to wear for her visit to Santa.  When she tells you that she wants a red plaid flannel skirt, nod and smile and don't try to persuade her to choose something less "challenging".

Step 2:  Ask her if she wants it lined.  Don't suggest she wear a slip, because then she will know you are a coward.

Step 3:  When she tells you she doesn't want a zipper because she wants to be able to just pull it on, ignore your instincts that say you should make a proper waistband.  Just go ahead and do the easy thing and make a waist casing in that bulky, lined flannel skirt.

Step 4:  When you try it on her and you realize that the waist casing in that bulky, lined flannel was a huge mistake, put the skirt on a hanger, have a lemon cookie, and plan to start fresh the next morning.

Step A (because it is a new day, so we have a new numbering system):  If thy waistband offends thee, cut it off. Make a proper waistband, with some elastic in the back to make the fit more flexible, and pleat that sucker to fit.

When judging the color of the skirt, go by this picture.

Lined like a boss.

Flat front waist.  My, what a nice matching job this is.

Gathered back waist.  My, what a crappy matching job this is.

When you find yourself following a previously-sewn line and
using a stiletto to keep the folds flat and wondering
what kinds of mistakes you are making underneath, think of England.

Behold!  A skirt on a hanger.  You're welcome.

Step B:  Suit up!  Head out!  Make sure her biggest and bestest hair flower is on the camera side of her head.

They had a long conversation about keys.  <3

Step C:  Remind yourself that if it is worth doing, it is worth doing well enough.  Santa is very forgiving, and your child will be thrilled to have a "made" skirt, because "boughten" skirts don't come with love notes inside.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Quick Gift: Lotion Bars

So.  I'm glad you liked the pastry post, because that is the kind of thing I can do on a semi-regular basis:  quick, sloppy, and without editing.

Thus, behold:  blurry pictures of our lotion bars.  Ella and I love these.  LOVE them.  LOVE.  If not for these, I'd probably have to live in a bubble because my hands would be so cracked and damaged that I would be too susceptible to infection to live in the natural world.

The prettiest of the pretty lotion bars, presented for your viewing pleasure on
the prettiest of the pretty dishes that I use to feed the cats.  You're worth the effort.

Ingredients:  weigh them, if possible.  If not possible, do your best to get them to be even amounts:

1 part beeswax, chopped
1 part coconut oil
1 part shea butter

OPTIONAL:  essential oil for fragrance, or Vitamin E oil because your daddy liked it.  YDMV (Your Daddy May Vary).

ALSO OPTIONAL:  colorant.  I never add that, because I'm lazy and forgetful.

Coconut oil:  grocery store.
Vitamin E oil:  beauty supply store.
Shea butter:  Amazon.
Block of beeswax:  beloved friend, but I'm sure you can find it other places.

Pithy instructions:  double boiler.  Melt beeswax.  Add the other stuff.  Stir, pour, let cool/harden.

Wordful instructions:

A double boiler doesn't really do double boiling.  It is a two-tier set up that holds the ingredients one step removed from the heating element.  If you have an actual double boiler, kudos!  You are clearly an advanced kitchen technician.  If you do not have a double boiler, kudos!  You have not spent your hard-earned money on extra equipment.  My double boiler set up is a metal bowl on a pot of water.

"Mrs. Vocational Homemaker, where were you on the afternoon of
Sunday, 1 December, a little after lunchtime?"

Put the beeswax chips in the double boiler and DON'T WALK AWAY.  Hot wax fire bad.  Just stand there stirring and admiring your double boiling prowess.  When the wax is almost completely melted, dump in all the other stuff, GENTLY, because hot wax splatter burn bad.

For some reason, I was surprised that melted beeswax was the color of honey.

How much Vitamin E oil?  As much as you want.
Last time I used a modest squirtful.  This time I used a healthy squeeze.

While it is melting, set up your molds.  I use soap molds because I have them, but you can use anything that can take the heat:  muffin tins, microwave-safe storage containers, etc.  If your mold is too big for your lotion bar taste, you can always cut the bars to size once they cool.

Nothing to use for molds?  OK:  you can pour a solid layer into a rimmed cookie sheet, then use a knife or pizza cutter to cut bars, or use cookie cutters to make all kinds of pretty shapes.  You can re-melt any leftovers and pour again, or you can just dump them in a bowl and use them as is.  Or you can do something else which I'll show you in a sec.

When everything has melted together, pour the mix into your molds and let it completely, utterly, undeniably cool till you have a solid mass that can't be squished when you put your finger in the middle of it to unmold. Or so I've heard.

Pro Tip:  if you hold the stirrer right up against the rim of the vessel,
you can direct the liquid straight down into the container.
This works for pretty much all pourable liquids.
I know, I know:  MIND = BLOWN. 

As they start to cool you will see them harden around the edges,
and in the pretty parts of the mold.  Don't jiggle the tray!
Or you will be sorry.  MARK MY WORDS.

Yeah, watching lotion bars harden is almost exactly as much fun as watching paint dry.

When they are good and cool and hard and solid, pop them out.
That little chip in the corner is special, in a good way.

Alrighty, you're done molding and cutting and you have a little extra--like that little chip in the corner of that picture, which was originally just a few spoonfuls of liquid that I poured into one of the molds.  Remember the cookie cutter leftovers I mentioned?  Here's what you can do with them:  melt them again, then pour them into all the empty lip balm twirly thingies you hoard because you can't bear to throw out a perfectly good twirly thingie.

Pro tip:  make sure to spin the twirly thingie all the way down
before pouring the melted lotion into it.  And use a chopstick for the pouring trick.  

We bag and tag our bars and store them in the freezer, because this is the South and it gets hot enough in the house in the summer for coconut oil to go to liquid.  But the bars are safe at room temperature for least two years without refrigeration, and possibly longer.

What I need now is to figure out a good gift presentation for these bars--suggestions?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Faux Pumpkin Pie Hand Pastries, with Maple Syrup Glaze

So, this is going to be a very lame post with poor-quality pictures, because it is the night before Thanksgiving and all through the house every creature is stirring and nobody is packed yet for the trip tomorrow.

OK--hand pastries, commercially sold as poptarts.  They are basically little flat pies.
They aren't really bluish and weird looking, I promise.

Pithy instructions for those who need to hit and run:
  1. Roll out a pie crust and cut it into even numbers of rectangles.
  2. Put some pie filling on half the rectangles and smooth it out.
  3. Cover these rectangles with the remaining ones, seal the edges with a fork, poke holes in the tops so they vent.
  4. Bake 350ยบ until they are as brown as you prefer.
  5. Cool.  Finish with powdered sugar glaze, or just powdered sugar.  

Overly-wordy instructions with aforementioned poor-quality phone camera pictures:

Pie crust:  Use purchased pre-made, purchased boxed mix, or homemade.  It just doesn't matter.  Use what you like or have.  I make pie crusts by the dozens and stash them in the freezer.  I also keep a container of homemade pie crust mix ready to go on the pantry shelf in case I need a pie crust on short notice.

Anywho, roll it out and make a pretty rectangle with it.  If you use a baking mat, it goes faster but only use plastic or nylon utensils on it or you will have a sad.  Put the rectangles in the fridge to cool and firm up while you make the filling.
Pre-made dough ball, thawed in the fridge.  Baking mat!  Rolling pin (not shown).

Roll out the dough till it is almost at the edge.  See that red thingy?  It's a nylon bench scraper for Dollar-Tree-I-Love-That-Place.  It is even endorsed by my friend and colleague, Betty Crocker.

Trim the dough when it crosses the line.  Show it who's boss.

Put the trimmings wherever they are needed and continue rolling until you get a full sheet of dough.

Use Betty's cute little bench scraper to nudge the edges into shape.

When you have a full sheet, cut it into even numbers of rectangles.

In today’s case, I made faux pumpkin pie filling--faux because I used butternut squash, my BFF in the winter squash kingdom.  I almost always have at least one or two at all times in the fall and winter, whereas i almost never have a pumpkin.

Anywho, roast or pressure cook a squash, scoop it out of the shell, and mash.  To this add one egg, a pinch of salt, some sugar, and as much pumpkin pie spice as you like.  How much do you like?  I go by smell.

Squished squash--egg--salt--spice--"sugar".  You'll see.

BONUS!  When your child begs you for a box of breakfast dessert, justify it as a pantry staple, thusly: when you are at the end of the box, sift the last few spoonsful into a bowl--that is almost pure sugar.  That is what I used tonight to make these pastries.  Tiny flavor boost, and no waste.

Don't judge.

Tuna can sieve makes a dandy bowl-size sifter.

Behold!  Cereal sugar.  Even the bowl likes it.

Back to the filling:  Put a little on half of the rectangles, then smooth it out so it is an even layer.  Leave a margin around the edges.  Cover those rectangles with the remaining rectangles, then seal the edges with a fork.  Be neat, but not anal--if a little leaks out, call it “rustic”.

About 1/4 cup filling per pastry--give or take.

Betty's cute red bench scraper makes a handy little filling smoother.

It also makes a handy little dough flipper.

SEE?  Rustic.  Yum.

Wouldn't it be neat if they made teeny-tiny pie birds, say, the size of a hand pastry?

If you happen to have made two trays of four hand pastries each, you will now have two trays that are only half full.  You will feel the urge to consolidate, but don’t be a hero--moving them will just ruin them.  Put both trays in the oven, side by side, and rotate them halfway thru so they bake evenly.

I'm not saying I've ever tried to be a hero, but I am writing a step-by-step, fully-photographed food tutorial on the night before Thanksgiving.

While they are baking, make the glaze, thusly:  Put some powdered sugar in a bowl and make a well in the middle.  Spill a TINY splash of milk in the well and stir.  Once the sugar is dissolved, add some maple syrup and continue to stir.  GOOD NEWS!  There are no eggs in this, so feel free to taste it and adjust the amount of sugar or maple syrup to suit you.

Should I have blurred the brand names on these ingredients?

"Make a well" sounds so much more photographable than it turned out to be.

SEE?  Tiny splash of milk.  

SEE?  That was enough milk.

Here is where I would I thought to myself, "Hmmm, I wonder if bourbon would work instead?".

This was not enough syrup, but this is where I got tired of taking pictures of glaze.

When the pastries are done, let them cool on the trays for a little while, then when they are cool enough to handle, remove them to racks to finish cooling.  If you are in a hurry, you can do as we often do and use a fan.

Aren't they pretty?

Aren't they pretty?

Pan in sink--tray on pan--fan clipped to shelf under cabinet.  If I lived a truly scenic life, I'd have made them in the afternoon, and put them on the windowsill to cool--you know, where all the flies and cats could get to them.

Bag, tag, and hide these babies until you are ready to serve.  They are delicious warm, or at room temp.

What did I forget to tell you???

Oh, right--the glaze--don’t put it on until the pastries are kind of cool.  If you put it on while they are really hot, it will become very runny, and it will make the crust soggy too.

BONUS!  The above procedure is exactly how you make every single hand pastry known or unknown to man.  Just pick a filling, and pick a glaze.  The next time I make these, I intend to glaze them with chocolate ganache.  You’re welcome.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A reverse cautionary tale for Halloween

This post started as an interior monologue about the dangers of letting your child know you can sew.

I was going to tell you that you should never start cutting fabric after dinner, because that is when the most mistakes happen.
See that purple stuff? Yeah, that would be what I'm talking about.  Twice.

I was going to warn you that you should do everything in your power to prevent your child from discovering that sequins by the yard is a thing.
If possible, just keep the child from knowing there are sequins of any sort.  It's safer that way.

I was going to remind you to just say no to sniffing Sharpie markers right before bedtime.
They won't keep you from getting any sleep but the voices in your head have a bad reaction to them.

I was going to tell you this because, while hand-stitching that strand of sequins onto a piece of felt, the thought occurred to me that just once it would probably be a nice little treat to just go to the store and buy a ding-dang costume and be done with it.

But then, something magic happened.

My child came into the room to inspect my handiwork.  And even though the sequins were wonky and the seam allowances were ragged, she said without a shred of irony in her voice, "I'm glad we never get store-boughten costumes.  Everything you make for me is perfect, and this is the best one yet!"

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I clinched a lifetime contract to spend every October making someone's dream come true.  My work here is done, for now.

If you have a moment, share a picture of your costumes, store-boughten or homemade.

Happy Halloween!  Be safe, have fun, and don't rain on anybody's costume parade.