Archive for August, 2009

Project #218 – Chocolate Milk Mix

Monday, August 31st, 2009

The local fancy-schmancy grocery store is only good for one thing: really, really good chocolate milk. Even Mormon missionaries can’t resist when I offer them some*. However, today I made a special trip only to find that the store only had regular milk and regular milk sucks. I prefer to get my calcium only with added flavorings.

However, it is possible that I can do my own flavor magic and step up the chocolate milk to butter-rum chocolate milk. I could have just used real butter and rum, but I have these flavorings and they’re going to get used for something, dammit.

Here is the secret to hot chocolate mixes: they are essentially half sugar and half cocoa. That is all you need to know.

*If anyone knocks on my door in order to evangelize, it is always my policy to offer them something to drink, no matter what religion they are selling. No one has ever taken me up on my offer unless chocolate milk was on the table. BONUS: people tend to leave faster for some reason, hopefully not because they think I’m going to poison them and put them on top of the stack of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the basement.

Project #217 – Metal Barrettes

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Continuing my new found love of epoxy, I made some barrettes out of metal stampings that I bought waaay back in February during MLK weekend. I had plans to make one really complex thing out of all of my leaves, but I couldn’t figure it out aesthetically. I guess that leaves me free to make lots of little things.

To test out the strength of my new favorite glue I wore this barrette to the water park. It survived six water slides, three rounds of the wave pool and one frantic lazy river swim and went home intact.

Project #216 – Test Tube Bud Vases

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

I like being able to put flowers in unexpected places.

I used some science surplus test tubes and neodymium disc magnets to make my bud vases. Whatever magnets you use will need to be strong, so rare earth magnets are a good place to start. I also used some epoxy to hold the two pieces together.

The brand I used had minimal fumes, so I felt comfortable mixing it in small quantities indoors. I also scuffed up the test tubes with a little sandpaper to give the glue a rougher surface to adhere to.

My test tubes are narrow enough so that the water tension doesn’t break when we open the dishwasher. However, we do have to water the flowers at least once a day because even if we fill it to the top, it’s still just a few mL of water.

This kind of arrangement might work for simple wedding or shower decorations. The vases could be attached to a magnetic picture frame or stuck to a metal container holding candles or pens and paper. People could even take them home as party favors.

Project #215 – Toadstool Cake Toppers

Friday, August 28th, 2009

I’ve had a few recent encounters with mushrooms in the park and in the backyard. There’s something really fascinating about how they seem to just appear overnight and don’t bother to blend in with the scenery most of the time. On the one hand, they’re delicious, and on the other they can kill you in pretty horrible ways (liver and kidney failure, for example).

I’m just starting to learn how to identify wild mushrooms. I can usually identify ones that I think are edible, but I lack the confidence to actually pluck, cook and eat ones I find in the wild.

Still, mushrooms are the cutest members of the fungi kingdom. Certainly, they’re one of the few poisonous things I’d consider putting on a wedding cake.

Project #214 – Fall/Winter Fabric Palettes

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

I’ve spent hours going through my (embarrassingly ample) fabric stash to assemble my fall wardrobe this year. I’m already going to enter a wardrobe contest, and I have one palette assembled, but that would only cover part of my fall sewing. It’s ridiculous, but true. Really, I just like to sit on the floor of the living room stacking and re-stacking my favorites in little piles, trying to build a ‘color story’ for what I’m going to wear.

Okay, ‘color story’ sounds a little nuts, but trust me, it’s like the pleasure of organizing all of the crayons in a crayon box into perfect ‘ROY G. BIV’ color order. It’s soothing. Plus, it’s good to have clothes that coordinate, especially if you’re going to take the time to make them yourself.

I came up with two palettes that will cover my fall/winter wardrobe.

I like mixing intermediate colors together, and these greens and purples combine to make the think of a shady grove. There are at least three corduroys packed into this palette, so I think most of the clothes will be business casual and ‘play’ clothes. I also have a beautiful dupioni silk and some lovely silk shangtung that I’ll use to make the dresses for some of my formal occasions this fall and Christmas.

I expanded on my last primary colors palette to add three festive polka dot fabrics that will help make this collection of fabrics look a little less serious. I have some knits for t-shirts and light cotton fabrics to keep me covered up, but not stifle me in the more conservative parts around the Nile.

Project #213 – Japanese-Style Beet Salad

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Clark and I stayed with a friend in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan last fall. She served us the beet salad every morning for breakfast during our stay. While it might sound to some people that beet salad would make for a pretty miserable breakfast, it was actually one of the culinary highlights of our trip. The beets themselves were even grown with love in her own rooftop garden.

Stupidly, I forgot all about that wonderful treat until I purchased a carton of beets from the farmer’s market yesterday. Clark and I had to scrape our respective memories in order to reconstruct the recipe, but I think we did a reasonable job.


  • 1-2 pounds of beets (~10 small ones)
  • 2 tbsp dried wakame
  • 1/8 cup chopped chives
  • 3 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 3 tbsp Ponzu

I scrubbed the dirt off of each beet, chopped them into smaller pieces and placed them on a cookie sheet. I baked them at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until they were nice and soft and then let them cool enough to be handled. Finally, I rubbed off the remaining skin on each beet slice and then diced them into even smaller pieces.

I then added about 1/2 of water to the wakame in a separate bowl and gave it 15 minutes to hydrate.

While waiting on the seaweed I roasted my sesame seeds. I placed them in a thin layer at the bottom of a small pan and ran it over my stove flame on high until the seeds started to turn brown and crackle. You’ll want to keep the pan covered, because the seeds will pop just like pop corn and get all over the kitchen. Shake the pan so that everything cooks uniformly; it will only take about 20-30 seconds to roast them to a golden brown.

I then crushed the roasted seeds into a powder using my mortar and pestle.

The beet salad can be made in a big bowl and dished out in individual portions if you’re feeding more than one person. Otherwise, I like to keep the ingredients separate until I want a bowl for a snack or with dinner. They’ll keep by themselves, covered, for up to a week. Just mix them together at the desired proportions and enjoy.

This is one of the tastiest ‘healthy’ dishes I’ve ever eaten. It’s one of Clark’s favorites and I’ve been giving him stern warnings not to eat it all.

Project #212 – Flower Arrangement

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Oh boy. Oh boy. Today. Today, I deserve a drink. Sadly, it is difficult to do my job and drink at the same time, so I’m settling for the $5 variety bouquet at the Farmer’s market as my pick-me-up. Just carrying the flowers around the market and to my car did a little to lift my spirits.

When I take a new bouquet of flowers home I always prepare them immediately. First, I cut the stem of each flower at an angle underwater so they can easily take in moisture. I keep the cut stems initially in a holding container full of cold water until I’m ready to arrange them. Next, I remove any leaves or buds from the lower part of the stem; they’ll rot underwater. After that, I’ll mix one part Sprite or 7-up with four parts water and pour that into my vase. Finally, I’ll arrange the flowers in the vase starting with the tallest and working my way to the lowest stems, clipping as necessary. The tallest stems are in the middle of the neck of the vase and the shortest ones will be around the rim.

I try to put flowers of the same variety at different levels, and keep the most prominent ones to odd numbers, this makes the arrangement look a little less artificial and more natural and spontaneous.

It’s embarrassing that spending a little money at the market can make me feel better.

Project #211- 10 Minute fence

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Our old backyard fence was never very good. I never really took a picture of it, it was supposed to be temporary, so I had to collect an image of it from one of my video clips. It was far too short and the chickens technically could have flown over it months ago, but chicken psychology being what it is, they never cared to test that boundary until we started pasturing them on the other side. Once they spent a few days grazing from the comfort of their mobile pen, their territory magically expanded to include the land on both sides of the fence and suddenly they realized that they could come and go to either side as they pleased.

Chickens are perfectly legal in Pittsburgh, except when they are “fowl-at-large”. That is, fowl unencumbered by a barrier, free to go where they like. Our chickens never cared to leave our yard, but the fence-hopping had to be curbed immediately.

We built our new one out of wire fencing and metal fence posts, the kind usually used to keep deer out of vegetable patches. The posts can be installed in a few minutes with the application of a shoe to the the flanges and pushing the lower part of the post a foot into the soil. The fencing then be strung across and held in place by built-in hooks on the posts, and finally, cut to size.

I installed our fence using my dainty hands and feet in less than ten minutes. We have plans for a gate, but for now we just unhook and rehook the fencing when we need to get through.


BTW, I never made a formal announcement of it, but our two ducks are now back living at the farm from where we purchased them and the chickens. Their persistent ability to wake up our entire block with loud, echoing quacks everyday precisely at 6:00 am, weekends included, lead us to our decision. This farm is run by someone who won’t eat fowl of any kind and we like to think they are happier now and have lots of boyfriends.

Clark’s Projects – Zuchinni with Ground Lamb

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

A few days ago we received an email from my brother-in-law, Jon, with the subject title “Best. Dinner. Ever.” It included the following recipe:

1 large zucchini – cut about 1/3 off of top (lengthwise) and scooped out seeds until there was only about ½ and inch of flesh all the way around. Sprinkled garlic salt and pepper and some cayenne on the inside of that

Sautéed 3 cloves garlic chopped, about ¼ cup of onion and ¼ cup of green pepper in olive oil for about 4 minutes until cooked, but not soggy. Put in a bowl

In same pan, I browned ½ lb of ground lamb. Drained and seasoned with thyme, paprika, pepper, salt and added sautéed veggies. Cooked for another 3 minutes.

Stuffed inside hollowed zucchini and kind of heaped it up on top.

Baked at 375 for 35 minutes, covered loosely with tin foil.

Removed and sprinkled gorgonzola cheese over the top and baked for another 5-10 mins uncovered.

LET COOL for 5 mins.


Of course, we had to try it for ourselves. As usual, Jon managed to hit foodie gold. The tastes and textures of this dish seem really complex, but after eating a few bites it starts to feel like comfort food, high-class comfort food, but still warm and cozy.

Clark was a little worried that I wouldn’t want to try it because he has been operating under the mistaken notion for years that I dislike lamb. It’s quite the opposite; lamb is one of my favorite meats and I would be happy to add it to the regular dinner rotation. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a terrestrial meat animal that I didn’t enjoy in one way or another.

I was also pleased that we finally had a use for my caveman-club-sized zucchini. I think this is the first time we’ve used a whole one in one sitting.

Project #210 – Picnic Dinner

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Today was a good day. I spend most of my days working from home silent and alone. I love being by myself, but I do find myself anticipating the arrival of my husband home from work starting in the early evening. I was kind of climbing the walls from not leaving the house much this week, so as soon as Clark got home I packed a dinner and dragged him back out of the door almost immediately. I wanted to go somewhere with trees and a place to swim outside of the city limits. South Park fits that description and has a wave pool open until the late hour of 7:30 pm.

We arrived at the wave pool just 30 minutes before closing. Because there was just one wave cycle left we got in for free! I love teenagers who just don’t care that much about enforcing the rules! This was absolutely the best way this scenario could have worked out for my black, cheapskate heart. The pool was huge and nearly empty so I was able to wear myself out diving and swimming around. Clark is still trying to find a way feel comfortable swimming in the deep end, especially when the waves are churning, so I waved a lot to him from the 8′ section. He always seems amazed at how long I can swim without resting, which is funny because I can’t run anywhere near as far as he can. Though it does make me feel like deep down I’m an aquatic mammal.

I’m always ravenous after a good swim.

I packed tomatoes, salami, really good prosciutto, plantain chips, a peach, soft cheese, cuban crackers, baklava, almonds, a bottle of water, and a nice bottle of cherry soda.

I like eating outside.