Monday, August 29, 2011

Pillow Covers

My sister commissioned me to make pillowcases for her throw pillows.  I told her I’m not exactly a whiz on the sewing machine, but she was willing to take the risk with $7.99 worth of fabric and my limited skills.  How hard can it be, right?  The tutorial on made it look like a cinch, and you know what, it really was.
Ikea fabric laid out.  A little trippy, right?
The article on is pretty clear, but I had to make some adjustments and distinctions.

You will need

Cloth ( $7.99 from Ikea)
Thread: ($2.00 at my local shop)

1.       Cut out your fabric.  They have an easy chart for pillow sizes, but it didn’t have the 20” pillow listed.  I used my amazing math skills to figure out that if I’m adding 2” to the width, I needed to add 4” to the length.  So for a 20” pillow, you’ll need a cloth that measures 20” by 44” (as the author notes, the lack of seam allowance is intentional so you don’t have a saggy pillowcase)
Fabric cut to size.
2.       Measure in from the long sides 12” and mark it on the wrong side of the fabric (this is where you’ll be folding the ends later).
3.       Press a ¼ “ seam on each of the long sides.  The easiest way I found to do this is to draw a line in pencil on the right side of the fabric, then just folding it and ironing it at the same time.  I started by pinning it, but it was unnecessary.  Then fold it over again, press it, and sew it.  These are the hems at the opening of the pocket.
Really, just marked and press.
4.       Fold the pillow ends in where you marked it earlier, with the wrong side facing out.  Pin it in place. 
5.       Sew a seam ½ “ in from the edge on both sides.  Then use a seam finishing stitch like a zigzag very close to the edge of the fabric to keep the fabric from fraying.
This is to show what the finishing stitch looks like.
6.       Turn it inside out and voila!  Done.

Front and back shot.

 I was very pleased with how it came out, and all in all I only worked on it for about 2 hours. The 2 hours of work took me a whole day due to unforeseen complications like power outages and having the wrong thread, but hands on time was 2 hours. 
Finished product.

Try It:

$9.99 for 2 pillowcases, or $4.99 each

Buy It:

There’s a big range, but $24.00 to $54.00 per cover seems to be the basic range on Amazon.


Try It!  It was simple and quick, and would be a cheap way to add a little pizzazz into your living room.  Now that I know just how simple and cheap, I’ll have to make some for the brown microfiber hideousness that are my own throw pillows!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


(Oddly enough, a few days after I originally wrote this, I saw this post on Dangerous Crayon on my Google Reader. I had no idea it was national s'mores day on the 10th, and I was surprised that we happened to use the same recipe and had such different opinions of the outcome.)
My sister Margs and I love s’mores.  I mean we don’t reserve them for special campfire moments, we will make them over the gas range, or in a pinch we’ll make them in the microwave.  We have been known to make them with fudge frosting when the chocolate bars run out, that’s how much we love s’mores.  So now that we can make our own graham crackers, the next logical step was to give marshmallows a try, right?
I did a fair amount of searching for a recipe.  There are a few ways to go on this one- your standard gelatin and corn syrup variety, corn free, gelatin free, and corn and gelatin free.  I thought for my first attempt, I’d go the conventional route with the gross gelatin and corn syrup.  I found a decent recipe from Alton Brown on the food network website. We made a half batch.
 1 ½ packets unflavored gelatin ($1.79 per 4 packets, 1.5 x $.45 per packet = $.67)
½ cup ice cold water, divided (free)
6 ounces granulated sugar, approximately ¾ cup ($2.99 per 5 lb, or $.598 per lb, $.598 x .375 lb = $.22)
½ cup light corn syrup ($2.99 per 16 oz, $2.99/4 = $.75)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt  ($2.75 per 48 oz, $2.75/ 2266 1/8 tsp servings = less than $.01)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract  ($3.77 per 2oz, $3.77/24 ½ tsp servings = $.16)
2 Tbsp confectioners' sugar  ($1.47 per 32oz, $1.47/ 60 2 Tbsp servings = $.02)
2 Tbsp cornstarch ($1.17 per 16 oz, rough estimate = $.04)
Marshmallow is a sticky mess!
Well, I had a few issues with these.  My biggest problem was the distinctly barnyard smell to the mixing mallow.  I know what gelatin is, but I didn’t expect my confection to smell like hooves (which I guess is silly of me).  I also added the recommended amount of vanilla, and they were way too vanillay.   Lastly, I thought they were too soft tasting them alone. 

In the end, we ended up toasting the marshmallows over a candle flame in the middle of a power outage.  I expected them to fall apart and taste terrible, but toasted, the vanilla flavor was tempered a bit, and the soft texture actually worked well in a s’more, especially one that was toasted on a fork over a candle! We also used our homemade graham crackers for this, which was very tasty, though it was very messy, just as I had speculated in the graham cracker post.  So messy, in fact, that we had to eat them over the sink!
Finished, ready for cutting
Honestly, I thought they were a pain in the bottom, and weren’t that great.  I’ll try out a gelatin free recipe and see if I feel the same.
Gross shot of the gelatin awaiting the sugar mixture.  Gross!
Try It:
$1.86 for a half batch, 12 oz, or $.16/oz
Buy It:
$.97 per 10 oz, or $.09/oz
Eew.  Just Buy It.  The homemade are twice the price and not good. 

Anyone have a recipe for marshmallows they love?  Please let me know, I'm still looking!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Vanilla Extract, Part 1

I was searching for something on Allrecipes when I came across a recipe for homemade vanilla extract.  I was intrigued, so I did a little more looking, and found this entry on The Simple Dollar, which led me to this entry on Dangerous Crayon.  Everyone seemed to say the same thing:  Vanilla Extract is insanely easy to make.  Don’t ever buy it again, and while you’re at it, you might as well make some as Christmas gifts.  So that’s what I’m doing.  I’m telling you about it now because it won’t be ready for 3 months! 

 To make vanilla extract, you will need:
1 1.75 liter bottle mid range vodka (I went with Smirnoff because it was the cheapest mid range, and there was even a $5 rebate attached) ($20.95 before rebate)

12 vanilla beans (27.69 per ½ lb (70 beans), $27.69/70 = $.3956 x 12 = $4.75)(everyone gives a different amount of beans needed, I'm going middle of the road with 12, feel free to add more or less!)

Splitting the beans
Split the beans length wise, leaving one end intact.  Divide the beans between 2 quart mason jars.  Divide the vodka between the jars (alternatively, pour a little vodka out of the bottle and put the beans directly into the bottle). Allow to sit for about 3 months, gently shaking periodically.  

I read that you can pour off ¼ of the vodka after that time and replace it without diluting the strength.  My plan is to have these ready for Christmas.  The Simple Dollar suggests pouring the extract through a coffee filter and bottling it, but I don’t own filters, so I’ll use some cloth.  I’ll update you in a few months with how it’s looking!
A note on buying vanilla beans: The grocery store sells beans for about $3.50 per bean.  Don’t do it.  If you have a co op nearby that sells them in bulk, that’s a great option.  Otherwise, take to the internet!  I got mine on Amazon from Spicy World.  There was a vendor selling the same amount for less, and I originally ordered them, but he said he wasn’t pleased with his stock, so he couldn’t feel good about sending them.  That’s my kind of sales person!  I bought a LOT of beans, you do not need this many.  However, there are plenty of other uses for vanilla beans, and you could go in on a ½ pound with a friend. 

Now it just has to sit for a few months!
Try It:
$25.70 for 1.75 liters, or $.01/ml

Buy It:

$3.77 for 59 ml, or $.06/ml

Looking good numbers wise, but I’ll have to wait till it’s ready to give me final verdict!

Added 11/28/11:
Come on over to Vanilla Extract, Part 2 for the exciting conclusion!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


A good five years ago I tried to make hummus.  I thought, how hard can it be?  Throw some chickpeas and tahini in the food processor, and done, right?  Wrong.  It was inedible- thick and pasty and bland, and sadly we ended up throwing the whole batch in the compost.  I finally decided a week ago to give it another shot.  I used this recipe from Allrecipes with only minor adjustments-
1.       The recipe called for canned chickpeas, and I used dried.  If you decide to go this route, soak a little over a cup of dried chickpeas in a bowl of water in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight (or when you leave for work).  Dump out the soaking water, rinse the beans, then throw them in a pot with plenty of water for 60 – 90 minutes.  The chickpeas should be nice and tender.  Allow them to cool for a bit before making the hummus.  You will need 3 cups of cooked chickpeas for the hummus.
2.       This recipe also has no olive oil in it.  Probably because I used dried beans, the hummus was really dry, so I ended up adding a good ½ cup of water and 1/3 cup olive oil to the recipe to get it to the consistency I liked.
3.       I added an extra clove of garlic, but regretted it.  2 cloves are plenty unless you’re a garlic nut.  I should have tasted it before adding the third!
Soaked Chickpeas, ready for blending.
It couldn't be easier, just throw everything in at once.
Way too dry without added water and oil.
For some reason, this was the last picture I took, I don't have one of the finished hummus!
You will need:

3 cups cooked organic chickpeas ($1.99 per lb, $1.99 x .44lb = $.87 for dried, $1.50 per can, $1.50 x 2 = $3.00 for canned)

½ cup organic tahini ($3.99 per lb, $3.99 x .26lb = $1.04)

 ¼ cup lemon juice (2 lemons) ($.50 each, $.50 x 2 = $1.00)

1 tsp grated lemon zest (inc. in lemon juice cost)

2 cloves organic garlic ($.50 per bulb, $.50/ 5 = $.10)

¼ cup packed organic flat leaf parsley ($1.99 per bunch, $1.99/4 = $.49)

¼ chopped organic green onions ($.99 per bunch, $.99/3 = $.33)

pepper to taste (about 1 tsp) ($3.79 per 4 oz, $3.79/20 (rough estimate) = $.19)

salt to taste (about 1 tsp) ($.79 per 26 oz, $.79/ 122.75 tsp = $.01)

Organic olive oil (optional) ($4.99 per 17 oz, $4.99/6.37 (number of 1/3 cups) = $.78)

It was great.  It took a little tasting, seeing what was lacking, adding more water and oil incrementally, but in the end, we really liked it.  I won’t say that I was blown away, it was good hummus, as good as store bought, but nothing compared to the gold standard of Sticks Kebob Shop hummus.  Next time we might try it with roasted garlic and no parsley just to mix it up.

Try It:
$4.81 for about 3 ½ cups of hummus, or $.17/oz.

Buy It:
$4.49 for 8oz Tribe Organic Hummus, or $.56/oz.

Try it.  It was much cheaper, even if you use canned beans, and it was tasty.  We will still get Sticks hummus for a treat now and then, but this is our new everyday hummus!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


My mother in law mentioned to me last time she visited that many years ago she used to make fantastic butter in her Kitchen aid mixer with cream from her neighbor’s cow.  Once she said that I recalled the time I tried to whip cream in my blender and I let it go too long and it clumped up.  Aha moment- I had inadvertently made butter!
1 cup organic whipping cream ($2.35)
Pinch of salt (optional)(less than $.01)
Using the paddle attachment, whip the cream, scraping the sides of the bowl periodically.  Continue whipping till it clumps and separates.  Add a little salt and beat it a little longer if you’d like. 
Scrape the sides of the bowl, and squeeze all the solids together into a big blob.  Strain the remaining liquid through a mesh strainer, putting the remaining solids with the rest. 
Separated cream
Butter and buttermilk
You have now made two products- Butter, and Buttermilk.  This buttermilk doesn’t have the distinctive sour smell because it hasn’t fermented like commercial buttermilk.  I didn’t know if it would taste any good in a recipe, so I decided to make some biscuits with both products using the recipe from How To Cook Everything.  Ooooh goodness.  They looked like biscuits, they tasted like straight up rich buttery deliciousness! 
Best Biscuits EVER, look how yellow they are!
Try It:
$2.35 for ½ cup organic butter and ½ cup organic buttermilk
Buy It:
$4.99 for 2 cups organic butter, or $1.25 per ½ cup, and $.79 for 2 cups non organic buttermilk, or $.19 per ½ cup, coming to $1.44 together.
Buy It.  It wasn’t a hard process, but it wasn’t any cheaper.  I also rarely use buttermilk so that wasn’t a great bonus.  The two products together made the best biscuits of my life,though!  I may Try It again if a special biscuit need arises.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sisal Bath Scrubber

Gross old mitt
I have an ancient bath mitt that I had a hard time replacing, so I kept using it even though it’s gross.  I tried switching to a luffa, but it’s not coarse enough for me.  I thought this should be a really easy fix.  After a quick internet search to find out what a bath mitt is knit from (sisal twine) and a trip to Lowes, I was ready.  I also looked around for some tips on knitting twine, and found advice that included wearing cotton gloves, and using large needles.  My first attempt, I used size 10 ½ needles, and cast on 14 stitches sans gloves ( gloves, really?).  I knitted something resembling a square, and cast off.   It took no time, and worked great!  It did look a little sad though.  I thought maybe I ought to make one that looked like I actually tried.  For my second attempt I used size 9 needles, and cast on 16 stitches, and made a lop-sided near-square.  It looked a little nicer, but honestly it worked just the same, used more twine for no good reason, and I was the only person who was ever going to see the thing.  I prefer the funky 10 ½ needle version, though if I were giving it as a gift, I'd do a 9 needle.
10 1/2 model
For the 10 ½ needle version, I estimate 22 ft.  For the 9 needle version, I estimate 32 feet  (width of the finished product x the number of rows x 3, rounded up = the amount of twine used).
Twine: $4.21 for 525 ft at Lowes ($.008 (per foot) x 22 = $.18 for 10 ½ model, $.008 x 32 = $.26 for 9 model)
Needles: I already had some, but they’re easy to find.  I prefer the Boyle metal ones because I like the clicking of metal needles (don’t laugh at me!) and Boyles are all metal in very minimal packaging.  They’re $2.99 at Michael’s.
9 model, pretty similar
Time: about 45 minutes for the 10 ½ model, and 1 hour for the 9 model.
Try it:  It cost me between $.18 and $.26, and I still have a ton of twine to, say, tie a Christmas tree on my car, or make a kitchen scrubber, or stake out a horse shoe pit in my yard.  If you had to buy new needles, the most it would cost you would be $3.25, which is still a deal.
Buy it: $5.95 for a body scrubber glove on Amazon
Verdict:  Try it!  It’s really easy, and it’s a great exfoliater!