Archive for 2009

Project #258 – Carved Monster Pumpkin

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

I hosted a pumpkin carving party today. We purchased too many pumpkins and then spent what seemed like forever cleaning out the guts and seeds. Those fancy white pumpkins are especially stubborn about getting cleaned out; I think I’ll stick to orange ones in the future.

I used some of my Lino block carving tools to do a multi-layered pumpkin, using the skin as one color, the exposed flesh as another, and the fully carved through areas as the last one. I learned that you really have keep the exposed flesh in a thin layer just to have the light of the candle make it through.

There was a lot of cursing from me, but few accidental stabbings, so I came out ahead.

It’s not the cleanest space alien pumpkin carving, but not bad for an hour of actual work.

Project #257 – Sukiyaki

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

Sukiyaki is a meal Clark and I like to cook for friends. It’s a good example of a regular meal Japanese people actually eat at home, unlike teriyaki chicken or California rolls.

It’s also one of those meals that guests cook themselves, like fondue, although Sukiyaki is less likely to be a source of high cholesterol. It’s also kosher non-dairy, gluten-free, and not too hard to make vegan, so it’s a good meal if you’re entertaining in a pinch and you don’t know what dietary needs are going to come out of left field.

The most time-consuming part of preparing the food is all the chopping. Our typical version will have cubed tofu, chopped cabbage, mushrooms, sliced carrots, thin wedges of Kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), and chunks of green onion. We’ll buy additional ingredients like yam noodles, sukiyaki sauce, mochi and thinly sliced meat from the Japanese food store, but they don’t need much preparation. The meat is even pretty cheap because it’s in such small slices, so it doesn’t take much money to feed 8-10 people.

We use a camp stove in the middle of the dining room table to cook the food. First we pour in the Sukiyaki sauce* and let it simmer. Then we add veggies and let them start cooking. The meat is so thin that it cooks almost instantly. When things are done cooking, people just grab what they like, adding more from the veggies or meat as needed. After the stock boils down we add the yam noodles and enjoy the rest as a thick soup.

Traditionally, morsels taken from the pot are dipped into individual bowls of raw egg and eaten over rice. It’s optional and often Clark and I are the only ones at the table to eat our Sukiyaki that way, but despite the fear about salmonella, it adds an extra level of tasty.

It’s soooo, good, especially the gooey chunks of mochi and the kabocha once it gets soft. I love eating this dish during the fall and winter. The windows usually fog up from the steam and the temperature in the house rises 5 degrees. It’s just a cozy, friendly meal.

*You can make your own out of 1 cup of soy sauce, 1.5 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 3 tablespoons of mirin

Project #256 – Pillow Case

Friday, October 16th, 2009

There were some very lovely fabric stores in San Diego. I *heart* Rosie’s Calico Cupboard. It’s huge and crammed with lots of designs that I’ve never seen before, all nice 100% cotton. Clark even got into the spirit and purchased a yard of fabric in order to make a new pillow case.

I’m usually bad about mending things or making things he requests in a timely manner, so I made a concerted effort to give him what he wanted.

Pillow cases are one of the easiest things to make, ever. They’re just a rectangle sewn on three sides and then cuffed and hemmed on the remaining side. I made mine in about 20 minutes.

I used one of our old pillow cases to measure out my new one. Unfortunately, one yard is not quite enough to cut out a case with the butterflies flying in the correct directions. Our butterflies look a little disoriented.

When you measure out your fabric make sure to cut a few extra inches on one end for the cuff. After you sew up the three sides, just fold up the extra twice and sew it in place.

Oh, I should note that I used a serger to finish my seam edges. I would recommend using some kind of seam finish so that the case won’t unravel when it gets thrown into the wash.

Project #255 – Canvas Circle Skirt

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

I love making circle skirts when I have fabric that is at least 59 inches across. They can be cut in just one piece if you buy two yards. That means that just the waist and hem need to be finished in order to leave you with a finished garment.

Plus, circle skirts are great. Swish. Swish. Swish.

[I shortsightedly forgot to take pictures of the process of making this skirt. If the directions aren't clear, they're very similar to my illustrated ones for a circle skirt template.]

Cutting out a circle skirt isn’t hard. You’ll just need a yardstick, some chalk and a little patience. First, fold your fabric to find the center point. Mark that.

Now, if you have two yards of fabric, it should be 72 inches long and (ideally) about 59 inches wide. If you want to go for the maximum length*, then mark the edge of the fabric 29.5 inches across the width in one direction and 29.5 inches in the other. Now, mark 29.5 inches from the center across the length at a 90 degree angle from the two width-wise marks. Do that again for the opposite end. Now you will have a center mark and four additional ones laid out in a ‘+’ shaped configuration. Make some more marks to fill in the edge of your circle, pivoting the yardstick around the center mark and going out 29.5 inches. Cut along your marks.

Now you have a giant flat circle that needs the center cut out so you can actually wear it. Measure yourself at your hips. This will be at least how wide the skirt must be so that you can step into it to put it on. To figure out how big it should be I used the circumference equation, circumference = 2πr. I substituted my hip size for the circumference and solved for r and got about 6 inches, so my diameter will be 12 inches. I cut the smaller circle out using the same center point technique as the outer circle.

Fold down the edge of the inner circle to form a casing for elastic. Clip if you need a little give to make the casing lay flat, sort of making shallow sun rays from the inner circle. Sew in place, leaving a 1 inch opening. String narrow elastic through the casing and adjust so that the skirt sits comfortably at your waist; give yourself a little breathing room. Clip the extra elastic and sew the ends together. Tuck the elastic into the casing and sew the 1 inch opening shut.

Finally, just the hem is left. Folding up fabric to make a hem on a circle skirt is always kind of a pain. It’s always annoying tying to ease in the excess fabric from the edge and it’s usually about nine yards of sewing. No thanks. Instead, my edge finish of choice is bias tape. It adds a little contrast and no easing is necessary.

If you’re not familiar with sewing with bias tape I learned how to apply it properly from this tutorial.

*I always recommend going for the maximum length at first. It’s easy to remove excess length, but not vice versa.

Project #254 – Roasted Chestnuts

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

We had a chestnut tree in my childhood backyard. It was by far out best climbing tree as long as you managed not to fall out of it and land on the spiky carpet of dried-out seed-casings. The burrs always had a way of splintering into the skin of our hands and causing all kinds of agony. The family dog gave the tree a wide berth.

Most of the nuts, ~95%, were no good and filled with fuzz. The remaining ones could be collected, but only if you got there before the squirrels. One fall, with a eye towards finally trying our own chestnuts I went out daily and steadily collected an entire bucket-full. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what to do with them and neither did my family. They stayed in the garage for months until they were finally redeposited in the backyard.

I’d never tasted a chestnut until I moved to Japan where they are a common train-station snack. The nuts have a natural slightly sweet taste. In fact, they have little fat compared to other nuts and are considered to be a good diet food for nut lovers.

I found cartons of chestnuts for sale last week at the farmer’s market for cheap. Now, I will finally know what to do with my very own chestnuts.

It turns out that making them edible is a pretty easy task.

Heat an oven to 400 degrees. Slice the tip of each nut with a sharp knife to let steam out while baking and keep it from exploding. Bake the nuts for 10 minutes in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Shake and let them bake for another 10 mintues. Larger nuts will need a little longer, so test one before taking them all out.

The shell should have split further from your knife cut and it should be easy to remove. Fully cooked nuts will be soft and warm all the way through. If the texture resembles a crisp apple when you bit into it, put it back in and bake for a little longer. You can eat them as-is or incorporate them into your favorite nut-meat recipe.

Project #253 – Needle Felted Chicken

Monday, October 12th, 2009

We’re out in sunny, warm San Diego for the wedding of a friend. Is it just me or has Southern California improved a lot since the 1990′s? Maybe I didn’t know about such cultural highlights as the Vietnamese Sandwich or the Hawaiian Crepe, but they are definitely making this trip worthwhile. Magnifique!

I always struggle a little bit to find projects to do while we travel. Clark and I prefer not to check bags and it can be a little difficult to come up with something where at least one of my tools won’t get confiscated by airport security.

Luckily I discovered needle felting. The needles seem to be A-OK for carry-on luggage. Of course, I missed my chickens, so I decided to make a little mini-version of one of them.

I made little puffs of wool and used my barbed needle to mat them together into one solid piece. Unfortunately, it ended up looking like a matted fur-ball. Essentially, that’s what a needle felted sculpture is, but I’d prefer if they didn’t look it so much.

My second try involved wrapping the wool around a little wire scaffolding, which kept all of the fibers laying in the same direction. The result was much improved.