Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Beginning, ending, starting, losing...

These past few days have been filled with abnormal activity.

To begin with, I sold my car.  It took me a total of two days to do so.  From starting the research, finding a buyer, completing the necessary paper work and receiving a check, I was car-less!  Hell, I even deposited the check in the second day.

Though, I cannot say that parting was quite as easy.  It was silly actually.  Because the moment I shook hands with the buyer and promptly walked out the door with Thom, I turned the block, looked around bewildered and burst into tears.  (Ironically the exact same block I cried at when I fell off of the Vespa.)

I cannot, for the life of me, explain why reasonably.

I really held no emotional attachment to the car itself.  I was quite happy to get rid of it financially.  Living in the city for a year now had made Thom and I both see how silly it was to keep paying for a loan and insurance just to keep a car we rarely used!

It's hard to explain but I will try and just say this.  I have lived my whole life having the convenience and ease of getting around where and when I wanted to.  Losing that car was like losing that freedom and in way, grounding myself to one place for an indefinite amount of time.  That kind of thinking is completely scary and irrational for me, thus the sudden crying.

Secondly, Thom and I are moving out!  We're headed closer in the city (now without a car) and found a nice house that has LOTS of room to spread out in.  Lease begins in February, so for now, no pictures.  :(

During this month long semester break, I was able to finish knitting a pair of gloves...but do not seem to need them as I had previously thought?  (Thank you sunny San Francisco weather!)  I also finished a T-Shirt quilt for a running friend of mine.  I can't wait for her to get it.  K had sent me all the needed materials for this quilt six months ago, so I hope it turned out exactly how she envisioned it!

So, with my last week before school starts and apartment moving, I decided to take some R&R and try some improvisational quilting.  Not too sure where I am going with it but I have an idea.  (To share with you all later, in another post!)  I think it's the best kind of sewing when you needn't follow all the rules.  ;-)

Update:  Check out the beginning all the way through to the end of this T-Shirt Quilt!

New month, new project
T-Shirt Quilt:  Part II, Before the Cut
T-Shirt Quilt:  Part III
T-Shirt Quilt:  Part IV and updates
T-Shirt Quilt:  Part V
Quilting and Binding:  Part VI

Friday, January 20, 2012

DIY Vanilla Extract

I am not a huge Vodka fan. 

It reminds me too much of college parties and this terrible concoction that was made called, "Jungle Juice".  (Buy a Tupperware storage bin.  Buy the cheapest Vodka you can find on the lowest shelf,  add a few gallons of assorted fruit juices and soda.  Mix in bin.  Charge $5 a cup.)

It's hard for me to appreciate Vodka. 

Maybe because it can be made quickly and cheaply.  It doesn't need to mature or age, much like a nice wine or hard bourbon.  Or, maybe because most stories begin with a vodka mixed drink and end with someone clinging to a toilet bowl as if it were the sinking Titanic.

And why?!  Why are all Vodka ads showing sexy bikini clad robot ladies???  Or skin tight latex leather clad ladies.  Or sexy bikini clad spy ladies... 

Nevertheless, I happen to own a full liter of Vodka.  :(

I'm not sure why and I haven't touched it since the purchase.  (About a year ago)  And being stingy, I cannot see getting rid of it.

So I made vanilla extract.

Yes, that stuff you use so parsimoniously in baking.  Used so minimally, that you wonder if you even need it...

But think of that last great cookie, pancake or rich frosting you had ever tasted.  More than likely, the smooth and creamy flavors all came together based off this one key ingredient.

And making vanilla extract is so easy, cheap and sure to last you a very long time...just as long as you have that dusty bottle of Vodka on hand!

To begin with.  You'll need to purchase a vanilla bean.  Do not run to your first local grocery store and pay over $25 for one dried up vanilla bean!  Just buy them online.  Better yet, buy them off of Amazon and get free two day shipping from your Amazon Prime account.  These beans are Madagascar vanilla beans.  They're thick, plump and full of vanilla-y goodness.  I bought two from Beanilla through Amazon for less than $4.  They came vacuum sealed.  When I opened them, they were still moist, (Which is what you want!), and smelled amazing.

You will also need a knife,

A container to make your extract in,

And that cheap Vodka you've been hiding around!

Cut one bean in half.  Slit the bean through the middle.

Scrape out the seeds.

Place the slit bean halves and scraped seeds in your container.

Pour in your cheap Vodka.  (You may also use a rum if you like a rummy-er vanilla extract taste.)

Place the lid on and allow the extract to macerate in a cool and dark place.

And what did I do with the other bean?
I buried it in my sugar jar.  The vanilla aroma will permeate the sugar and make for a "vanilla flavored" sugar.

Your extract can be ready in as little as four weeks.  But like a good wine, with time, the extract will mature with deeper flavors and richness.  Also, shake your Vodka occasionally every few weeks to mix the flavors.  After the initial maceration, you may begin using your extract for cooking and baking.  But save the beans!  You can strain them out and reuse them to make more extract indefinitely.  Or keep them in the jar and keep topping it off with more Vodka.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

DIY Plant bench

After selling our guest bed and rearranging some furniture, I was motivated to continue making an efficient use of our space and create a plant bench in our bedroom.  Thom's desk had taken up a large corner of the room but now that we moved his desk into the spare room, the space was left blank and ineffective.  Plus, most of our house plants stay huddled together in our living room area and I'd have to say that I've grown a small jungle.  It wasn't until Thom commented on the growing amount of foliage, that I really saw the plant-like clutter.  So I decided to create a cheap and DIY project for hosting our plants.

Half way through my Fall semester I was denounced by a professor for shooting still life on faux wood.  To solve the problem, I went to Ikea and bought a pack of two 47"x14" pine boards, some stain, brushes, and semi-gloss all totaling around $25.  I went out to the back area of my apartment complex with heavy tools, hammers and chains and beat the hell out of the boards.  Then I put a few coats of stain and gloss on them.  You might remember these boards from some of my later still life work here:

After using the boards for a few more shoots, I would just store them away in a closet.  Now that the semester is over, I find that they are just taking up space.  Turning them into plant benches was a no-brainer since they were the perfect dimensions.

The first thing I did was make a trip to Home Depot and purchase some classic white spray paint, (8) 16" table legs and (8) flat plate holders.

Next, I went outside in a well ventilated area (away from cars!) and spray painted the legs in a classic white.  I let the paint dry for 24 hours.

Next I measured where to put the plates on the back of the boards.  I measured in 2"x2".  Then I took my power drill  and screwed in the plates.  (Each Waddell package comes with at least 5 1/2" screws.  I only used three screws for each plate and saved the extras.  Make sure to check the width of your board so that you do not pierce through.  These Ikea boards measured 5/8" thick.)

 Flat plates are so easy and convenient.  After screwing in the plates, I simply twisted in the legs.  Instant table!

I'm so happy that my plants have a new home.  Waking up and seeing the plants is nice and having them in the bedroom will keep the air clean.  I added a few decorative touches, an extra blanket for cold nights, and a few small storage bins underneath to keep umbrellas, scarves and miscellaneous out of the way.  Connor(the cat) also seems to approve of the new furniture and I'll find him sun bathing or bird watching from his new perch.

As for the total cost and time?  Here's my breakdown:

Inital wooden board cost and materials:
-(2) 47"x14" Boards:  $12
-Stain, gloss and brushes:  $13

Bench Supplies and materials:
-(8) Waddell 16" Bench Legs:  $40
-(8) Waddell flat plates:  $20
-Rustoleum Classic White Spray Paint:  $4

Total cost:  $89 for two benches and only two days worth of time and effort.  Since I'm satisfied and happy with the outcome, I would have to say that this was a successful DIY project.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Quilting and Binding: Part VI


After basting the quilt together, I was ready to begin quilting.  I kept a 1/2" border inside the t-shirt and quilted each block.  Working with a large piece like this involved me having to roll the piece underneath the sewing arm constantly.  It is definitely a tedious task and it took me over the course of three days to finish quilting.

But it was worth seeing the end result and I'm satisfied to know that I had accomplished quilting such a large piece with my little Brother machine!  Once I had finished quilting each block, I trimmed the outer edges and snipped away any loose threads.

Next I needed to address the top of the quilt.  K had asked me to include a way to hang the piece on her wall at home.  After much thought and online research, I came to the conclusion of adding loops to the top of the piece for her to easily slip a curtain rod through.
 To begin with, I cut out eleven 4"x12" rectangles in the bordering fabric.

 Next I ironed each rectangle in half, right sides together.

I then sewed a 1/4" seam on the open end.

Using a large knitting needle, I turned the loop inside out.

And ta-da!  An instant hanging loop!

I then spaced out the loops to the backside of the quilt and pinned them in place.

Next I turned the quilt over to the front and began sewing the binding on.  You can find a detailed tutorial on how to make biased tape here.

Now that the binding has been sewed all the way in the round from the front, I can now begin to hand-sew the back of the binding onto the quilt. 

I will try and stay diligent on the binding but as many quilters know, this is the most impatient and time consuming part of making the quilt!  I hope you can all bare with me as I finish this last step of the whole process.  All most there!

Update:  Check out more this quilt's progress!
Before this post:
New month, new project
T-Shirt Quilt:  Part II, Before the Cut
T-Shirt Quilt:  Part III
T-Shirt Quilt:  Part IV and updates
T-Shirt Quilt:  Part V

After this post:
Beginning, Ending, Starting, Losing

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Grapefruit and Mint Bourbon Cocktail

I cannot claim much knowledge on the art of mixing, but I do occasionally make a cocktail or two.  Thom and I can together a strong old fashioned or Manhattan, but we rarely venture past old standby's.  Typically I find most cocktails to be a bit too flashy, too complex, too sugary, and too expensive.  When I see those high fructose corn syrup infused rums, or sugary sweet mystery alcoholic concoctions, I cringe.  Conclude that drink with a bar tab equivalent to a weekday lunch bill, and you've found that the modern alcoholic mixed drink has gone mad!

I also carry too much of that Type B personality and refuse skip exact measurements.  This is a must for the perfect mixed drink.

So when I came to find that I wanted something refreshing, bubbly and alcoholic, I looked to see what I had on hand in my refrigerator and fruit bowl...






I added a few sprigs of mint to counter the citrus and I basically followed the same recipe for an old fashioned with a few variations.

Grapefruit and Mint Bourbon Cocktail
Serves 1

-2 oz. Bourbon 
-2 Dashes of Angostura Bitters
-1 tsp simple syrup
-Juice from 1 Pink Grapefruit quarter
-a few leaves of mint
-Club Soda

Wash and dry off the mint.  Chiffonade mint and place in glass.  Add bourbon, bitter and simple syrup.  Squeeze grapefruit quarter into glass.  Mix.  Add a handful of ice.  Top off the drink with club soda.  Chin, chin!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Small changes

This past weekend I got my act together and took the time for a few loose side projects.  I dusted off my juicer and began that familiar New Year's resolution to eat better and get in shape thing.  We've been so fortunate here since the weather has been a lovely 65 degrees with bright sun each day.  Needless to say, many walks and sun bathing have been enjoyed thoroughly by human and cat alike.

Over Christmas break, I was casually gifted a small french press from my parents (somehow they had two!), and I am learning to savor a strong brewed coffee.  While in New York the temperatures had dropped to single digits.  I decided to teach myself to knit with double pointed needles and am making a pair of gloves.  I'm following this tutorial here and seem to have gotten over the initial intimidation of working with four needles.

If you follow me on Twitter, you'd have known of my current interest in letterpress.  After much research and way too much time on Etsy, I finally settled on one.  I just received my 2012 letterpress calendar from 1canoe2 and I absolutely love it!  The design, craftsmanship and of course, the little tree stump to place my months in surely won me over.  :D  (And yes, that is a rather large and gifted graphic novel compendium of the Walking Dead on my coffee table right by Grace Bonney's Design *Sponge.  What can I say?  I love zombie apocalypse stories...)

Finally, our guest room was turning into a "gather-all-dust" room and so we decided to sell the bed.  Now our second room is rightfully a functional workspace.  (Though, mostly for me...sorry Thom!)  I rearranged the desk and brought out my keyboard.  I went through A LOT of past photo work and decided to tape them on the wall as a visual affirmation.  I just couldn't see throwing away all those images when collectively they brought me much inspiration.  I made a clear defined area for working on photography and prints, and another area for sewing.  It's funny how you can rearrange furniture and see the room in a completely new way.

In all, I feel a lot more balanced and satisfied to have begun and finish those small projects.