Friday, September 20, 2013

Drawstring Backpack - Super Easy

My little one needed a new bag to use for dance and gymnastics.  We had been using a cute little pink drawstring backpack she got at certain boutique run by fairy-godmothers-in-training but it has gone missing.  After looking at the price to purchase a basic drawstring backpack I wondered if I could make one myself for less.  I did a little internet research and behold, this is a very simple and inexpensive project.

This project took me about 30 minutes.  If you want to embroider, appliqué, or stencil words, a name, or a design on the backpack, this is the time to do it just because it will be easier to do it now than after the backpack is sewn together.

You will need the following:
Fabric; one rectangle 36"x14" (or two smaller rectangles both 18"x14")
4 yards of cord, cut into two equal pieces (2 pieces of 2-yards each)
One large safety pin (a large paper clip can work in a pinch too)
Sewing machine, although this would be simple to hand sew

One other note.  I have put 21 photos in this tutorial because I do not apparently have the vocabulary I need to easily describe sewing techniques.  Don't let the number of photos scare you off.  This really is a very simple project.

I am using one large rectangle for this tutorial which I cut from a half-yard piece.

If you have an abundance of fat quarters (which I also have) use two fat quarters and cut two of the small 18"x14"rectangles.  If you make two smaller rectangles, they do not need to match, just coordinate.  Actually that would look really cool.  I might need to try that next.

If you are starting with two smaller rectangles, put them right sides together and sew them together along one of the short (14") sides using a 5/8" seam allowance.  This seams is the bottom of the backpack so you may want to sew a second seam right next to the first seam you sewed to reinforce the bottom seam.  Now you have one large rectangle of fabric.  Press the seam.

Fold the long sides of the fabric in at 1/4 inch and iron the fold in place.

 Stitch down the 1/4 inch fold on each long side.

Now we are going to make the tube through which the cording runs through.  At each short side of your fabric rectangle fold over about 1/2 inch of fabric and iron in place.   
Fold that same side over another inch and iron in place.  Do this for both short sides.

Stich the bottom of the tubes in place.  The bottom of the tube is about an inch down from the edge of the fabric.  For both tubes, stich close to this fold so that the tube you have ironed in place stays put. If that sentence made no since at all, look at this picture.

Now fold the fabric in half, right sides together.  Match up the tubes at the top. 

We are now going to stitch along each of the long sides of the folded fabric to make the side seams of the backpack.  Start stitching about one inch from the bottom of the backpack. Yes this leaves a little hole in the side seam.  Trust me, this will be important in a few minutes.
Leave about a one inch gap at the bottom of the side seam.  It will be sewn closed in a later step.

Run the seam from one inch from the bottom to just the edge of the tubes.  Do not stitch the tubes shut. 
End the side seam at the bottom of the tube.  Don't sew the tubes closed.

Make sure you reinforce the place you started and stopped stitching along the sides of the bag. 

Now we are going to run the cord through the tubes.  Take one of the 2 yard cords and attach the large safety pin to one end. 

You are using the safety pin to push through the tubes (because it is so much easier to push the ridged pin through rather than try to feed the cord through the tubes). 

Thread the safety pin/cord through one tube, then run it back through the other tub so that it has essentially made a U-turn through both tubes. 

Remove the safety pin.  Even up the ends of the cord and knot them together.

Take the second 2-yard piece of cord and do the same thing you did above but starting from the opposite side. 

Now you have cord threaded through both tubes, one entering/exiting from the right and one entering/exiting from the left. 

Remember that little gap in the side seams we left, well this is where it becomes helpful.  Leaving the backpack inside out, take the cord on the left and put it inside the backpack. Reach inside the backpack and push the knot you tied in the cord through the whole in the left side seam.  Now do the same thing with the cord on the right and the gap in the right side seam.

When you look at your inside out backpack, the cord knots are pushed through the side seams at the bottom corners. 

The last step is to sew shut the gap at the bottom of each side seam, sewing the cord in place at the same time.  Reinforce this seem because it is going to take a lot of stress. 

Turn the backpack inside out and pull the cords to close it.  See how simple that was.

There you have it.  Your basic drawstring backpack. 

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dehydrating Apples

Here in the northland we are in the odd time of year where the weather is still mostly warm, punctuated by random cool days as fall approaches.  That means abundant tomatoes and other garden vegetables along with the early apple harvest.

We do not have our own apple trees.  If we had planned on staying in this house we would have planted two or three apple varieties this spring.

But even without trees we have an abundance of apple orchards nearby.  So this morning we went on our first apple picking of the season.  My little girl loves riding around on her daddy's shoulders so she can pick from the top of the apple trees.  She makes us run through the orchard while she chooses what apples she thinks we should bring home.  She actually does a pretty good job of picking apples.

Today's adventure was to bring home apples to be dehydrated into apple chips.  Apple chips are a staple winter snack for us.  Sour apples keep the best dried flavor so we tend to choose sour varieties and under-ripe sweet varieties.  However, not all rows of trees in the orchard are labeled so the variety picked it is often a mystery to us.

Today we picked a peck of apples.  Sounds like a nursery rhyme I know.  A peck of apples is right about 30 apples, give or take, depending on the size of the apples.
The first thing I do is soak the apples in a clean kitchen sink filled with water and a couple of cups of vinegar.  This washes off the outside of the apples not only field dirt but any chemicals that may have been applied directly to the orchard or that have drifted on to the apples from nearby corn and bean fields. 

After the apples have had a good vinegar bath, one by one I peel the apples with a vegetable peeler then slice them with my apple slicer and corer gadget. 

I used to have one of those gizmos that would peel, slice and core the apples but it was so hard to keep in alignment it usually ended up mangling the apples which frustrated me to no end.  So I unceremoniously dropped it into the recycling bin and got this little baby instead.  Yes it makes me peel the apples by hand but frankly it takes less than a minute to peel an apple so it really isn't a big deal.
Next I center my apple corer slicer gadget over the top of the apple then cut through giving me nice neat slices.

Next I trim off any left over apple peel.  The apple peels make eating the dried apple chips unpleasant to me.  It is the texture of the peel that I really do not like so I make sure to take all the peel off before drying.  After that I arrange the slices on the dehydrator screens fitting them tightly but without touching.  I get about two apples worth of slices per level of my dehydrator.

Lastly I close up the dehydrator and plug it in.  I usually let it run in the garage so the sound of the fan motor doesn't drive me crazy.  I will let the dehydrator run overnight.  It will take about 8 to 10 hours to dry the apple slices depending upon how thick the slices are and the humidity at the time (also depending a lot on your dehydrator).  I like my dried apples to be bendable and a little chewy.  Letting the slices continue to dehydrate beyond that point gives a very crisp dried chip that will easily break in half.  They taste about the same but I like the chewy texture better.

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Humming Bird Nectar

In my Projects, Projects, and More post I promised to write a post about the humming bird nectar I make.  For the northern states this post is coming too late as most of the humming birds have or are about to migrate south.  But for the southern states who have humming birds year round this is still relevant information.

If you buy humming bird nectar, just stop.  It is expensive, full of preservatives and dyes, and is super simple to make at home.  Humming bird nectar consists of sugar and water.  Nothing more is needed.  In the past I have added red food coloring to the nectar but it really isn't needed because the humming bird feeders are red.  Humming birds are of course attracted to the color red.  As you can see from the photo above, our house just sitting there attracts a lot of humming birds.

Humming bird feeder and wasp trap.
The nectar recipe is simply:

3 parts water (filtered is best)
1 part sugar (white granulated is best)

Usually I use 2 cups of water and 2/3 cups water. 

Heat the water to a boil then add the sugar, stir to dissolve.  Let cool and use.

Now heating the water is not so much about dissolving the sugar, although it does speed up the process.  Heating the water is more about driving chlorine out of the water.  If you use city water this is a big deal.  If you have unbleached well water then it isn't.  You can heat the water in a pan on the stove top or you can heat it in a microwave. 

I often use a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup to heat the water to boiling.  Usually I tell people to stay away from using the microwave as it destroys so much of the nutritional content of food. But in this case, heating water to boiling is exactly what a microwave does best (not to get technical but that is how it heats things up by stimulating the atomic bonds in water molecules). 

Remember humming birds are tiny little creatures.  Anything extra in the water like dyes, preservatives, chlorine, fluoride can have a major impact on the health of our little friends.  So keeping as little extra out of their nectar as possible should be your goal. 

Also, do not use a sugar substitute.  Serious, the birds are drinking the nectar for its calorie content, they do not need to be on a diet.

You need to change the nectar out and clean the inside of the feeder every day when the temperature is 90 degreed F or above.  Every other day for 80 degrees or above. And at least once a week for temperatures in the 70s.  Also change the nectar if the nectar gets fouled by bugs (wasps still find their way into the tiny opening of our feeder) or if you see any mold.  Mold has a sever impact on a humming bird's ability to navigate so make sure your feeder is always clean inside and out.  If you cannot get a mold stain out of the feeder, toss the feeder and get a new one. 

Happy birding!

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fire Roasted Peppers How To and Recipe

So this year while most of our crops are floundering... still... mid-august... our peppers are having a fabulous year.  The reason for this is simple; we grow our peppers in large pots.  Peppers, like tomatoes and cucumbers require warm soil to produce well.  Here in the great northern plains the soil takes forever to warm up.  This year in particular. 

However, the soil in a pot heats up very fast because there just isn't a lot of soil to heat compared to an entire garden.  We have four large pots we grow in, two in the front yard and two in the back. The pots are sitting on the paver patios in full sun so they soak in a lot of heat. 

This year we are growing a number of different bell and banana peppers as well as some jalapeño and Serrano peppers.  I have stuffed them, sautéed them, pickled them, hot sauced them, and added them to everything I can think of.  I have also given so many away the neighbors are no longer willing to take any.

Which leads me to this post.  Today I decided to fire roast a number of them.  Fire roasting brings out a wonderful flavor in the peppers as well as add a little smokiness.  All you need is a flame, some peppers, tongs, and a paper bag.  This time I have chosen to use the flame on my gas cooktop.  A gas grill or even a camp stove would work... of course do those outside.  Since I am still in my PJ's in the middle of the day, I opted for my cooktop. 

Turn on the flame and drop a pepper or two into the fire.  You will probably want to turn your hood fan on to high and maybe even open a window; this can get a little smoky. 

You are trying to blister and blacken the peppers' skin.  You do not need to turn the skin into a dark grey ash as I have seen some people do.  As the peppers blacken you may notice them popping a bit.  Do not panic, the pepper is not going to explode.

As each side of the pepper blackens, turn to reach all sides.  Don't walk away during this process.  Once a pepper is blacken, drop it into a paper bag and close the bag up.  Keep adding peppers to the bag until they are all fire roasted.  Let the peppers cool in the bag with the top closed.  This allows the peppers to steam and the skin to loosen.

Once cool, you will remove the blackened skin.  Rubbing the peppers with your fingers or a paper towel works well.  If you roasted hot peppers you will want to wear gloves for this.  You also may want to keep a bowl of water handy to clean off your fingers.  Try to resist the urge to wash off the peppers.

Once the skin is removed, half the pepper and carefully remove the seeds and veins.  Voilà fire roasted peppers.
Skins removed ready to use
Now what?  There are a huge number of things you can do with these fire roasted pepper filets.  Use them in salsa or in bruschetta. Add them to a salad or to top a pizza.  They make a yummy soup too.
I plan on marinating some of mine. 

Marinated fire roasted peppers:

Fire roasted peppers
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
pinch of kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, crushed then diced
1 teaspoon prepared mustard (it helps keep the oil and vinegar mixed together longer)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or basil (optional), if you use fresh make it 1 Tbls finely chopped

In a glass jar mix all the ingredients together well.  Close lid and shake until combined.  Store in refrigerator for at least an hour shaking occasionally. I used the roasted bell peppers in the marinade.  They were soooooo good.  You need to try this!
Marinated roasted peppers
You can eat these as a side dish or use them in any of the ways I listed above.  Use your imagination and let me know what you come up with.  We ate them as a stand alone side dish.
Fire roasted pepper filets in wax paper
With the fire roasted banana peppers and the jalapeños I laid the filets on wax paper making a stack with the wax paper between them.  I wrapped the wax paper in plastic wrap then put the whole package in a ziptop bag to be stored in the freezer.  Whenever my tomatoes decide to ripen, I will add the fire roasted peppers to salsa I will make with the peppers.

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Wasp Traps

I have a wasp and hornet problem.  Every year at this time I have a wasp and hornet problem.  The wasps and hornets are fueling up for winter or migration or something.  Frankly I have never bothered to look it up.  But whatever it is, they are in my bird feeders chasing off all my birds and making my patio a no-go-zone for us too.

Of course I could just move the bird feeders farther away from the house but what is the point of having bird feeders if the birds cannot use them.  The wasps and hornets are mostly a problem for the humming birds and Orioles who will be migrating away to warmer climates very soon.  And that is why it is very important that the migrating birds are able to get to the feeders they have been relying on all summer.  Which is why I need to do something about the wasps and hornets.

I use a very simple trap made of what you see below.  You need an empty water bottle.  Any plastic bottle will do but water bottles are easier to cut through. You also need some string or twine or something similar from which the trap will hang (I have even raided my daughters art supplies for pipe cleaners in years past).  For tools you need scissors, a single hole punch, and a stapler.  Lastly you need something to bait the trap. More on that later.
The first thing I do is remove the wrapper from the bottle.  You do not need to do this but I prefer to not leave the labels out there swaying in the breeze on my patio.  Oh and you do not need caps for the bottles. 
Next you cut the top of the bottles off.  It works best if you cut just above where the top of the bottle finishes tapering off to the full shape of the bottle's main cylinder (the part you hold in your hand).  I just squish the bottle in my hand and cut through with scissors.  You are not going for looks here so quick and dirty works fine.
With the tops cut off the bottles look like this.
Next invert the top back into the bottle so it looks like a funnel sitting in the top of the bottle.  Then staple the inverted top into the water bottle.  Three staples is enough. 
Next punch two holes in the top of the bottle.  You want the holes to be pretty much directly across from each other since these are where you are going to tie the string (or other hanging material).
Now tie your string, yarn, ribbon, pipe cleaners, or what-have-you to the bottle through the two holes you just punched. Ta da!  You have made a wasp trap.
Now you need to put some bait into the trap or, well, it just isn't going to trap anything.  I have tried sugary soda, pancake syrup, humming bird nectar, jelly, and many other sweet sticky things.  And what I find works the best is orange juice.  The amount of sugar in orange juice is alarming.  But the wasps like it.  Put about an inch of so of orange juice in each trap.  The sugary sweet smell of the juice will attract the wasps away from the bird feeders.  The wasps have to climb down into the inverted bottle opening.  Then they have some juice.  But when they try to leave they can't.  Actually if they had bigger brains they could.  But they have tiny wasp brains so they try to fly out and can't so they are trapped in the trap.  Eventually they fall into the juice and die.  Not how I would wish them to die but if it comes to the wasps verses, me, or my little girl, or my birds, the wasps are gonna get it. 
The last step is to hand the traps near where they are already congregating.  I find the wasps are more attracted to the orange juice than the feeders so the birds can get to the feeders in relative peace.  OF course there are still some wasps and hornets buzzing around but a few don't bother the birds much.  It is when they swarm 15 or 20 at a time around the feeders that the birds give up.

If you try this, let me know how it works for you and if you find a better bait than orange juice.

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Homemade Pancake Syrup

In my Pancake Sausage Muffin post I urged you all to not by syrup unless it is real maple syrup because store bought syrups are essentially poison.  Seriously, read the label.  Real maple syrup is full of nutrients your body needs and even the sugar make up is not nearly as problematic for your body as other sugars.

But, if you don't want to pay something like $50 a gallon for maple syrup then make your own syrup.  No pictures here in this post but making homemade syrup is super easy.

Here is what you need:

1 cup water
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put the water in a pan over medium heat.  Add both white and brown sugar.  Stir.  Bring to a boil then turn down heat to get a nice simmer.  Continue to stir until you get a thick syrup.  If you have a candy thermometer cook the syrup to about 225 degrees.

Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.  Some people like to add both vanilla extract and maple flavoring (1/2 teaspoon of each).

You can use the syrup hot right away on your pancakes or waffles.  Once cool store in a jar in the refrigerator.

This recipe doubles and triples nicely so make as much as you will need for the next couple of weeks.

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