Thursday, July 28, 2011

Vintage Skills: Hand Embroidery, Basting Stitch

Hand embroidery is an art form that is becoming harder and harder to find since the invention of the embroidery machine. While I am a huge fan of embroidery, whether machine made or not, there is a touch of something sacred in the skills of this centuries old art form. Kings and Queens adorned themselves in elaborate embroidery, but the meek and lowly also had family treasures passed down from generation to generation that were hand embroidered. The stitches marked the time of people who lived and worked long ago. In ages where many people could not read or write, their legacies lived on in the stitches passed down through generations. Tapestries were added to when marking the family tree, and family histories were often stitched to capture important memories, grievances, or victories.

When I look at the underside of an embroidered design, it shows me the time, patience, and attention to minute detail that was all put into the creating of the brilliant design on the front. That doesn't exist with machine embroidery. My Grandmother and my Mother taught me the basic skills of embroidery when I was young. Of course, I had little appreciation or patience for it back then, but I am very grateful for the knowledge that was passed down, now that I am older. My other Grandmother made handmade gifts for me and my sisters, so I feel very sentimental when I embroider anything.

Since I was blessed with learning to hand embroider, I would like to share this treasured skill with my readers. Once the basics are mastered, greater skill levels are easy to obtain. There are books that have simple and complicated stitches to keep up levels of improvement. The materials needed for embroidery are very inexpensive. Embroidery needles, embroidery floss, embroidery hoops, needle threader (if you can't thread the needle easily), scissors, fabric or garment, and stabilizer are necessary equipment for hand embroidery. These items can be purchased at craft stores and fabric stores. *If you are a beginner, avoid fancy metallic or iridescent floss; it is not easy to work with.* Always use fabric that is not important, or the final garment to practice on before starting a major project. Mistakes are part of the learning process.

Now that the materials have been discussed, it is time to learn the most basic stitches, and a few tips that are important for embroidery. Each week, a new video will showcase a new stitch or technique.




Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Grilled Cheese Bento



Right now I am trying to transition my way of cooking and eating to include more organic and local goods as possible. Organic goodies tend to be more expensive, so I have decided to take some time to make the permanent shift. I am a frugal person, so I cannot just waste what I have in my pantry and freezer. The good news is that I have very little processed goods so far. Meals in boxes and freezer bags are not in my house any more. So while my diet and my choices are far from perfect, I am taking some time and making it my goal to get there by January. Wait, not that I think that I can be perfect, but that I think I can give my best effort to be more conscious about where my food comes from and how it is produced.

I give myself kudos for baking my own bread when our last loaf went bad (in Germany the mold grows very fast!). My bread always seems to be smaller than what I get at the store, so it works perfectly for my bento boxes. After I slice my bread, I butter one side of a couple of pieces of bread, slip in a half slice of havarti cheese, and heat it up in my skillet on medium heat. I lightly brown each side, and get it ready to serve my daughter. Since she rarely eats a whole sandwich, I cut it in half, and give her one for dinner, and wrap the other one for her bento box. For my own bento, I cut my sandwich in half and stack the halves on top of each other, keeping the curves together. I wrap my two halves and my daughter's one half in cellophane, then add them to the boxes. My heart-shaped silicone cups hold some cut-up tomatoes, and I cut a plum in half, using cute blue elephant picks to decorate each half. Since the sandwich remains loose, I wedge in a few slices of cucumbers to secure it. My daughter loves hearts, so I add a paper heart with some tape. Cute stuff!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Homemade Mayonnaise: You Can Make That Yourself?!

This started as mayo, and I tried to save it with some extra flavors.


I can't help myself. The inner Curious George creeps out when I learn that there are things that you can make easily, but that I grew up buying in jar or box form. One such product is mayonnaise. To be honest, we were not a mayo eating family growing up. Our loyalties were with Miracle Whip. But, after growing up, my taste buds replenished themselves enough to change my taste preferences. If you didn't know, your taste buds change every 7 years or so. So now instead of being fiercely loyal to one version of condiment, I can enjoy them both.

I first heard about making mayo from scratch on a Martha Stewart show. She was having a sandwich showdown with some famous guy and started to boast about how her mayonnaise was made from scratch. So I tried to search her site for how to do that. I didn't have any luck. Then, as I was reading Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell, she started to talk about her adventures in mayo making. She mentioned how easy it was, so I got even more curious. Now, I stumbled upon an amazing blog (via Tigress in a Pickle) called From Scratch Club, and saw a post about Aioli. I had no idea what aioli was, so I checked it out. That post drove me to take a deep breath and dive into the world of making mayo.

I had some limes on hand, instead of lemons, so I grabbed a lime, two egg yolks, and ground up some fresh salt and pepper. I didn't have any garlic scrapes to make the aioli, so I just went with plain old mayo, which is what Liz, who wrote the amazing piece, said would work just fine. I had heard that if you use straight olive oil, the mayo will taste just like olive oil; I decided to mix in some vegetable oil because I had some on hand. I figured it wouldn't be a strong flavor, and would tone down the olive oil flavor some. (Do not do this!)

My ingredients were all set up, and I started to pour in my thin stream of oil. Then I panicked in my mind because it sounded like water mixing up for a long time. I was beginning to wonder if I made a catastrophic mistake. But slowly, it thickened, and I felt a little brighter. Once I was finished adding the oil, I switched off the food processor and then I tasted it. It was awful! It tasted like vegetable oil, with a slight tang of lime juice. Trying to rescue my mayo, I grabbed some parsley that I had chopped finely, some onion powder, garlic powder, a touch of cayenne pepper, and folded them in. It tasted really great with the new flavors combined, but the dominant taste was still the nasty oil.
Lesson learned: always use really tasty oil when making mayo. I am going to try this again, once I have awesome oil to use.

I used my organic eggs for this. Lime juice, salt & pepper are ready, too.

My super thin stream of oil going into the processor.
This was a tricky picture to take!

This is when I felt relief because it got thicker.

The finished mayo. After I took out the blade,
some oil was pooled underneath. I just folded it in with the rest.
Added ingredients:
Fresh parsley, chopped fine
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Cayenne pepper (dash)

*I feel that it is important to mention that there are raw eggs used in making mayo. When raw eggs are consumed, you can increase your chances of becoming sick with a food borne illness. If you choose to make your own mayo, refrigerate it, and use it within a few days of making it.*

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Charaben Bento Box: Happy Worm

Almost too cute to eat!

I love making bento lunches for my daughter, but haven't tried out the character bento, also known as a charaben bento, until today. I wanted to start out with something simple, and quick, so I went with this cute little worm! He is happy, and why wouldn't he be, with those yummy carrots and that juicy strawberry to tempt his tastebuds?

First off, I made a simple wrap using leftover chicken, mayo, and slices of cheese. I had to tuck in the sides before I rolled it so that it would fit nicely in the box. I just rolled it from the short end to short end of the long rectangle...or top to bottom if you are looking at the picture below.

After I folded it like this I rolled it from top to bottom.
After it was rolled, I cut it into three sections. To make sure the sections would fit the box, I placed the whole roll in, took my knife and made a mark of how tall the bento came on the side of the wrap. I cut that section and then cut the remainder in half as well. If a section is slightly too big, try to put the lid on. If it won't close, then you can cut off however much is necessary to make it fit. Easy as pie! Once I had my wrap spirals, I carefully added them to one side of the box, and cut out my sliced cheese shapes using a little kitchen knife. The black stuff is nori, or seaweed, that was cut with kitchen shears. Nori sticks to the cheese easily. After I put his head on, it looked odd, so I made a wavy cut from the side of the cheese, and put it on the bottom of Mr.Worm. That did the trick! Then I cut up a little carrot into sticks and placed them in the bento box along with a strawberry. This took me about 10 minutes to make. I love easy lunch days!
*Nori can be found in grocery stores in the ethnic food sections. They are used to make sushi as well as other things.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Making Vanilla Extract: Ridiculously Easy!


This stuff smells so good.


I checked out some cool websites on how to make your own vanilla extract, and I just got very Curious George up in my head. Could making real vanilla extract really be as easy as they claim it to be? The answer is yes! Yes, in the sense that I now feel like doing a little facepalm over how much money I have spent on real vanilla extract in the past. As you can see from this blog, I love to cook and to bake. When I visit people, I nearly always end up browsing through the cookbooks they have in their kitchen. I know, I am a bit crazy, but I just can't help myself! I love to try new flavors and new techniques. Well, actually, with the speed cooking that America has come to call home cooked meals, the techniques are more like old ones that are just new to me.


A close-up view of the bean pods in the vanilla extract.

Anyway, I found this cool blog, called Simply Recipes, where there was a recipe for vanilla extract.
How to Make Vanilla Extract. Then I got my butt to the grocery store, where they sell the beans in pairs, and not too cheaply. I got two bottles, leaving me with four bean pods. Naturally, since the recipe calls for 3 beans instead of four, I divided the 1 cup of vodka into three, giving me a 1/3 cup of vodka per bean. With four bean pods, that meant I needed 1 1/3 cups of vodka.

I sliced the pods as per directions and stuck them in my mason jar, then poured on the alcohol, and stuck it in a dark spot for a few months. EASY! Oh, and of course, I took a look at the bottle of vanilla extract that I bought at the store, and lo and behold...there is corn syrup in it! BOOO! I think the best part of making your own is that you can reuse and reuse the bean pods for years by just adding more vodka as you use up the vanilla. You save some money in the long run, and the flavor is really amazing! So now I feel like running outside and shouting "this Curious George has made vanilla extract! Oh yeah, baby!" Hmmm, somehow I bet my town would label me as the crazy lady if I really did, so I'll put that on hold for now.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ice Cream Floats: 50/50 Shakes

Mmm, it looks so yummy!

When I think of summer, I think of one of my favorite treats that my Mom used to make: 50/50 shakes. Basically, if you know how to make a root beer float, you can make a 50/50 shake. The only difference is instead of root beer, you use orange flavored cola. However, I do not recommend Fanta for this. For some reason, it tastes like Kool-aid mixed with sparkling water added to vanilla ice cream. But if you use a rich orange flavored soda, like Crush (which of course ended up getting REM's song stuck in my head) you end up with a shake that tastes like a Dreamsicle, or a 50/50 bar, in drink form. They called them 50/50 bars because they were 50% orange flavored and 50% vanilla ice cream.


We all got to have shakes.

Get the kids out for this, set out your tub of vanilla ice cream, open some orange soda, and get out some tall drinking glasses. Fill the glasses halfway with soda, and add two scoops of ice cream, gently, on top. Make it fun by adding some straws. Make it fancy with an orange peel curl for garnish. Just make it! Heck, it would even be good with some dark chocolate grated on top of the ice cream or garnished with a strawberry, sliced nearly in half. Of course, if you're like me, there is never a bad time to add a little drink umbrella to a drink. Sit back and enjoy your new treat!

Adding the soda pop.
Adding the ice cream. It will foam and fizz.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sandwich Wrap Bento Lunch

I wanted to share the lunch I made for my daughter. I made a of sandwich wraps using leftover chicken, jazzed up sour cream, lettuce, and shredded cheddar. Once they were finished being filled, I rolled it up on both ends to look like a burrito, and cut it in half. The bento box pictured has a heart-shaped silicone cup, so I cut the wrap diagonally, then flipped the top half over the bottom so that the points of the wrap looked like the bottom of a heart. I place the heart cup (just a silicone cupcake cup) in the far end of the bento box, and then slipped in the wrap. There was a little room left inside, so I put in a cherry tomato. The lunches were really yummy, and fit inside the box beautifully.

The silicone cup squished together a bit. Oh well.

Sour cream dressing (taste as you go method)
Sour cream-small container
Minced/crushed garlic in jar (about 1tsp)
Seasoning salt
Extra virgin olive oil (about 1 tsp)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Reading is Sexy

Click photo for the link!

We love reading so much, we thought it would be fun to share a few reading inspired things we love over at cafepress.com. Above, there is a funny magnet with a librarian on it. This one happens to be on sale right now for just $2! This would look super cute on any fridge. The shirt below is adorable, and it shows how sexy reading can be. How cute is this pinup?!

Click the image to find where this can be purchased.
This particular shirt comes in different colors and sizes, and is reasonably priced. There is also a swearshirt and duffle bag with the image on it. Cute stuff!

Up next, there is an adorable Reading Rainbow inspired t-shirt that is fun! It looks like a vintage tee from the 80's!! "Take a look, it's in a book"...

Click the image for the link!
There are even cute kids t-shirts available! This one is great. Oh, and it is made with organic cotton!

Click photo for the link!

These are great ways to reward your kids and yourself for reading books. Enjoy being an appreciative reader!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pizza Dough Toss

I said I would record myself attempting to toss a pizza, so this video is fulfilling that promise. I am really, really bad at properly tossing pizza dough, but it's a start. So far, I have managed to put a lot of holes into the center of my crust, so I am hoping that with practice, I can stop doing that. I've been making pizza from scratch for years, but the crust never seemed to taste the way it does at restaurants until now. When pizza dough is tossed in the air and caught properly, or in my case rudimentarily, the dough is automatically made thinner in the center and slightly thicker on the edges, just like pizza requires. Also, the exposure to air causes the outside to dry out a little, while leaving the inside soft and pliable. This is good for a crunchy outside and chewy inside once the pizza has been baked.



I use a pizza dough recipe from 29 Minute Meals, by Robert T. Teske and Carol R. Guthrie, which is a Working Mother book. Don't ask me what Working Mother is, I have no idea. Other recipes can be found online very easily. I recommend allrecipes.com for finding specific recipes because the recipes are reviewed and are rated by those who try them out. I feel really silly for not attempting the dough toss sooner. When I think about it, I was worried about dropping the dough...which amounts to only a few dollars' worth of supplies. This is what changed my mind, and got me to just give it a try. Heck, if it falls on the floor, it can be picked back up and practiced on again and again until the skill is picked up and simply thrown into the trash! Eventually, I hope to not look like a total idiot while tossing the dough, but for now I am happy with not being afraid to try.

video

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Chicken Quesadilla Bento Lunch



Today I needed to cook up some chicken that was in the fridge, so with the request from my daughter to have tortilla's for lunch, I decided to make some quesadillas. They were super easy to make, so I figured it would be wonderful to have saved myself the trouble of making lunch tomorrow if I made bento box lunches with the leftovers. Since bentos are so small, I decided to play with the shape a little. I sandwiched my cooked chicken (sauteed in olive oil and sprinkled with seasoning salt) and cheddar cheese between two wheat tortillas and carefully placed it into my skillet.



On medium heat, I lightly browned both sides. I pressed them flat before I flipped them because I wanted to make sure the cheese acted as a sort of glue for keeping it together.



Once they were done, I cut out four circles with a biscuit cutter and sat the circles aside for the bentos. My daughter devoured the rest of the pieces.


The bottom tortilla was a bit harder to cut through than the top.

I placed the circles into each bento box and added a container of salsa. These containers were actually easter eggs with neat patterns along the sides. They were food safe and closed decently, keeping the salsa properly contained.

These eggs had enough space for the right amount of salsa.

Next, I added some containers of sour cream. These don't have tops, so I used dividers to top them.


The sour cream on the top edges helps the divider sheets stick on.

I finished the boxes with some sliced cucumbers. Both bento boxes turned out beautifully!

I think my daughter can have the elephant one.

This cute bear one will be mine tomorrow!