Crafts · Holiday · quilting

Show Off Saturday: Halloween Mini-Quilt

It’s finally fall! Or rather, it has been for a while, but here in North Carolina the temperatures are just now dipping below “Why Does The Air Feel Like Soup” and we are heading into the weeks where it is mild and golden and lovely.

I only have about one thousand quilting WIPs, including some that are overdue by several years, so naturally I decided that I needed a new project – a Halloween quilt. In a tremendous show of self-control, I chose to only make a wall quilt, or mini quilt, so I pulled out all my spookiest fabric and trolled my pins to figure out what the blocks might want to be. I wanted a kind of hard-edged cutesyness, a sort of twee goth, if you’re following me, and I wanted a color palette that was dark, bold, and scrappy with splashes of brights.

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I first settled on this adorable traditional patchwork by Amy Smart from Diary of a Quilter. I am a tremendous sucker for a free tutorial. I’d first pinned this charmer in the year of our Lord two thousand and twelve with the wistful comment, “too late for this year… maybe for next!” WELL THE TIME HAS COME, TINY PUMPKIN.

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Emboldened, I decided I wanted to make a skull. I fooled around for a bit and discovered the paper pieced creations by Annarocky (hey name twin) of SoCalSewStudio. This block is a “confident beginner” sort of paper piecing, and I was humming right along and managing to squeak out the very last of the green fabric when – at quite literally the very last cut – I chopped off the seam allowance for the left eye. I briefly considered setting fire to the house and leaving to start a new life in Mexico. Instead, I slid in a solid piece to make up for what I’d cut off, and I think the result is rather rakish, like the skull has an incredulous look on its – um – face. I finished the skull with a rainbow border based on a modified courthouse steps block.

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crappy lighting on this one – finished at night and was too excited to wait for natural light

I took inspiration for the next block from a pinned image that I finally tracked back to this post by Z Any Mouse from the Quilting Board. Look at all the cute bats! My bats are appliquéd onto a sunset-esque improv pieced background. I was going to embroider tiny vampire fangs onto them but then I got lazy. It’s the bitter truth. But sometimes you have to decide whether you’re going to keep pushing to finish a project, or set it aside for days because you don’t feel like adding a detail that would take five minutes to accomplish.

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The final block is loosely inspired by the Wicked Mummy block by Julie of That’s Sew Julie. Julie’s block is adorbs, but a big empty space wouldn’t have balanced out the other blocks in my quilt, and neither would the white color have meshed well with my dark blocks. Instead, I went for a creepiness of my own design, a block that my daughter calls “Night Animals”. (That’s a pretty cool name. Anyone interested in a tutorial / pattern??) The words and the eyes are reverse appliqué.

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100% of the fabric came from my stash, including the backing, batting, and binding, which was already cut and folded, left over from another project. It is machine quilted in a spiderweb pattern using Sulky’s shiny rainbow thread. I didn’t intend for it to be a skills showcase, but I am of course exceedingly pleased with myself that each block ended up featuring a different technique.

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And doesn’t it look nice and spooky over my fireplace!?

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Of all the many crafty things I pursue, quilting is definitely my area of greatest expertise, and I am nearly 100% self-taught. There are a myriad of great free tutorials out there on the internet, so if quilting is something you’ve always wanted to try, go for it!

 

 

Products · self care

Weighted Blanket

Why should my dog get all the fun of an eternal impersonal hug?

No matter how I try,* I just can’t make pictures of me sleeping under a gray blanket very blog-worthy, so this is going to be short on images. Just imagine this lovely picture is of me; as I, too, sleep with full makeup and perfect winged eyeliner.

weighted

Weighted blankets are a relatively new sleep health fad. Touted as treatments for anxiety, depression, and insomnia, and even as replacements for medication, these blankets and similar “deep touch” items have long been used in occupational therapy. Studies of weighted blankets and vests are often targeted towards neurodiverse individuals including Autistic folks and people with ADHD. There aren’t very many studies (yet) on neurotypical people, particularly adults. Existing studies on all populations have been small, and preliminary results do not appear to be earth-shattering in terms of the efficacy of deep touch on reducing stress or increasing concentration. (This article has some science-y breakdown for anyone who is interested in details.)

In short: weighted blankets aren’t a miracle cure and won’t help everyone. But many people, particular among the neurodiversity community, report positive results from deep touch therapy, and there is a reason why it is a staple among occupational therapy tools. Temple Grandin’s experience and research into this subject was published in this 1992 article, where she concludes:

At present, the squeeze machine [a deep touch apparatus] should be considered a novel treatment that has not been subjected to careful evaluation of clinical efficacy or safety. Preliminary observations in humans are encouraging, but the data are inadequate to recommend routine use in clinical care. However, a calming response to deep touch stimulation appears to be characteristic of a diversity of animals, and may represent a relatively “physiological” approach to sedation that has been overlooked by psychiatry researchers.

(See how you can tell when actual scientists are reporting results, because they’re honest in a gray-area kind of way where they admit limitations??? Refreshing.)

I’m a pretty good sleeper, but the recent cavalcade of cartoonishly horrifying current events has led to something I call the 4am Freakout. That’s when I wake up at 4am and then my anxiety brain decides to spin out all of the worst scenarios it can conjure until I manage to finally fall back to sleep, usually about twenty minutes before my alarm goes off. The prospect of my country veering off an authoritarian cliff isn’t the first time I’ve experienced the Freakout – previous incarnations occurred in the depths of postpartum anxiety and OCD, and during the soul-crushing rounds of job applications after graduating from college.

Jia Tolentino, former Jezebel editor, writer for the New York Times, and someone I’m pretty sure I could be best friends with, describes her own descent into politically induced “anti-self care” and her positive experience with the weighted blanket here, which I would tell you that I read months ago, but that would be a lie, because I just found it after googling “weighted blankets science”. I am so good at research you guys.

Not only do I have the anxiety (√) and insomnia (√) going for me, I’m also always cold and love nothing better than to sleep under what others might consider to be an unreasonable number of blankets. I will actually get up to get another blanket even if I am warm enough because there isn’t enough weight on my body. I am basically the target market for this product, is what I’m saying to you.

Now, weighted blankets can be homemade, but the project looked boring and expensive, even more expensive than the already expensive mass-produced blankets. So, with a birthday coming up, I prevailed upon my in-laws and husband to pool their funds and gift me a small grey blanket filled with plastic pellets. Wheee, adulthood. If anyone’s curious, I got this blanket and this cover – a cover is technically unnecessary, but it’s hard to wash the blanket. I selected these through my deeply scientific process of finding the cheapest option with the best reviews. As suggested for an adult, I ordered a blanket that is roughly 10% of my body weight. (For children, 10% + 1-2 pounds. Blankets are not recommended for children under the age of two due to risk of injury or death.)

blah blah blah, but does it work?

Yes.

Yes it does.

The biggest difference I notice with this blanket is how deeply I sleep. It’s like dropping into a mild coma. I can sleep for two hours and wake up convinced it must be morning, yet I can then roll over and go back to sleep almost immediately. My brain doesn’t even have time to get started on the Freakout before it’s smothered back into unconsciousness by the mindless soothing embrace of the weighted blanket. You know when you wake up ten minutes before your alarm and then just lay there drowsing unhappily with your eyes closed, waiting for the buzzer to go off? Well I don’t know what you are talking about, friend, not anymore, because I am asleep for those ten minutes.

Another positive difference in my sleep is in the content and quality of my dreams. I have extraordinarily vivid and fantastical dreams, and often they are downright disturbing, particularly if viewed as a mirror into my subconscious. For example, I once dreamed that my child’s soul/spirit had somehow become unconnected from her unconscious body, and I was trying to comfort the panicking, crying spirit of my child but I could not touch her because my hands would go right through her, and also I did not know whether she was dead and how or even if I could get her soul back into her body.

I also sometimes experience hypnopompic hallucinations, or dream remnants that persist into my waking moments. These are usually intense and nightmarish, and if I didn’t have a convincing scientific explanation for them, I would tell you without hesitation that I was having supernatural experiences – black shadows scurrying across my ceiling, old women staring at me from dark corners, coal-eyed demons huddled at the foot of my bed. When I’m stressed, episodes occur more frequently.

Welcome to my blog; my brain is a terrifying place.

Before I started using the weighted blanket, I would have 2-3 dreams each night that I could recount the next morning. Now, I barely remember my dreams, and the most recent one I can recall was about a new embroidery piece I wanted to try. (Insert joke about how adding another piece to my tottering mountain of WIPs is indeed frightening, har har har.)

I not only do not get tired during the day, I have actually started getting up an hour early to write at 5am (yes, I am one of those people). Because of the blanket, I can get to sleep half an hour earlier than my usual and not even miss the half hour of sleep I have been shorted.

The weighted blanket has made a huge difference in the quality of my sleep, and therefore, my life in general. Is it placebo? I don’t really care, because I am asleep.

 

 

 

*Knowing it was impossible, I didn’t try.

baking

Alexandra’s Mother’s Peasant Bread

How does a no-knead bread stack up to the traditional method?

The Source:

Alexandra’s Kitchen

The Promise:

The best easiest bread you will ever make… This bread might just change your life.

My relationship with baked goods is complicated. Oh, not in a consumption kind of way. No no, there’s no complexity there, it’s TRU LUV. As far as actually making them goes, my attempts can be less than expert. However, I’ve made homemade white bread dozens of times – I used to make it every week – usually my mother’s tried and true recipe which nourished our family for decades and is a traditional kneaded recipe that takes not a minute less than four hours start to finish.

Mine is always too dry.

I was intrigued by Alexandra’s recipe, which cuts the time down to three hours and does not require kneading. The bread is baked in a glass bowl, which is adorable. And the recipe has garnered positive reviews and even yielded a book. In short, this did not seem like a gimmick.

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look at that lovely yeast

Alexandra suggests instant yeast. I’ve always used active dry and that’s what I had on hand, so I went with that. (As far as brands of yeast go, I’ve used Red Star and Fleischmann’s without an issue.) I liked the tip from the recipe to mix boiling water with cold water to achieve the right temperature to effectively bloom the yeast – I’ve been taught to estimate the right temperature by touch, using water that feels very warm but not hot. But if you’re a bread newbie, Alexandra’s technique will get you just-right water without having to fiddle with a thermometer or follow some dippy blogger’s suggestion to get your water “very warm but not hot”, whatever that means. (Note that if you use instant yeast, it does not have to be bloomed – but don’t be scared off from active dry by that, it’s one more little step and it’s really not that big of a deal.)

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I was surprised as this came together that there is no oil in the recipe, which has been a standard in every other bread recipe I’ve used. Perhaps the heavily buttered bowls in which the bread is baked help impart some oil? Anyway, the dough mixed nicely and I achieved a decent first rise, and then a decent second rise. Into the oven!

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first rise

Then I made a boo-boo. I pulled the bread a little too early. It was baked inside, but needed another couple of minutes to brown the crust. Whoops.

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This bread features a soft crust and definitely does not suffer from a dry interior. One technique for superior bread is to work with a very wet dough, and not having to handle the dough in kneading ensures the dough will remain wet and sticky. Alexandra describes the bread as “spongy”, which is a good adjective for it. The texture was definitely not quite the same as my regular homemade bread, but there were air pockets throughout. Overall I was fairly satisfied with the crumb.

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I’ve Never Baked Bread Before, Shut Up About the “Crumb” and Tell Me If I Should Make This

You should definitely make this if you’ve been wary about taking the dive into a fullscale bread recipe. This is such a good introduction to how easy breadmaking can be – and, my grumbles about my dry bread aside, it’s not hard to make a serviceable loaf! I promise! And also the ingredients are cheap, so if you truly muck it up, that’s only like two dollars you’re having to chuck.

However…

If I have to be totally, brutally honest, this bread wasn’t better to me than the stuff that my bread machine produces. So is it worth it to spend three hours making something, even if it’s easy, when I can achieve the same thing with the push of a button? And to be clear, I prefer my usual loaf to the bread machine’s version, so it’s worth it to me to put in that time. I also like the rhythm of the traditional recipe. I don’t mind kneading bread. Having longer rising and baking times makes it easier to get other stuff done while you’re waiting for the next step in the process. Plus it’s just the way I always do it, it’s the recipe I was taught on. Never underestimate the way that comfort and tradition can influence the way we feel about something, particularly food.

Personally, if I’m going to bake bread from scratch, I’m going to use my old recipe. But you who have been eyeing up bread recipes but feel nervous to jump in, you might want to give this one a try. I was raised in a world where baking bread was just something you did when you felt like eating bread. I realize that’s a tremendous privilege, and that lots of people may not feel comfortable without their mother at their elbow, explaining how to tell that the yeast is alive. Alexandra’s mother can help you feel confident about the steps – yeast, rising, how to tell if the bread is done.

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Plus it makes yummy nutella sandwiches.

 

Crafts · Holiday

Tutorialish: Grapevine Wreath

I have Opinions about seasonal decorations.

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My entire Facebook feed beginning in mid-August. Calm down, Karen, we live in North Carolina and there won’t be any hoodie-wearing weather until December.

Now let me just say, if you want to keep your Halloween decor up all year around because that’s one of the few ways you can wring a drop of joy from this dismal world, then you do you. But am I the only one who thinks things are more special when they’re Limited Time Only? Hanging up Christmas stuff in August is like eating peaches in December – just really leaves you wishing it was time for the real thing. In our house, Halloween decorations don’t go up until October and the Christmas season doesn’t start until December.

Yes, I said DECEMBER.

That being said, I did find myself strolling through the fall stuff at the craft store. I’m only human. And it was all 40% off.

You will be shocked to learn, I also have Opinions about fall/Halloween decorations. I’m a pretty big horror fan, but I trend towards Gothic horror – give me that haunted mansion, dripping with cobwebs and freaking infested with Gray Ladies…

And dark birds shrieking harbingers of doom…

And the giggling ghosts of children whose tiny skeletal hands trail through your hair as you pass through an ornately carved doorway into a shadowed library with a guttering fire struggling to emit just the barest breath of warmth…

Where a mysterious group of attractive people has gathered in secret because this time, it’s all going to be different. This time, the curse will finally be broken.

*cough* Anyway, it happens that we are in the market for a fall wreath. I surveyed my options, looking for a festive wreath that really celebrated the death and decay of autumn, but, like, in a pretty way, and I landed on the one below. However, it was $40. “I could make that,” I muttered to myself, which is how I get myself into so many situations. I’m the kind of cheap where I won’t spend $40 on a wreath but I will drop $60 on supplies to make a wreath.

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My inspiration photo. I’m not crazy about cotton as a decorative element, though.

This was supposed to be a tutorial, wasn’t it?

The first thing you need to make a grapevine wreath is, well, a grapevine wreath. These are nice decorations all by themselves in a kind of Scandinavian rustic way, and they’re fairly cheap. You’re also going to need thin wire (there will be lots of colors to coordinate with your project), wire snips, pliers, and a hot glue gun.

Then you need stuff. This is where it starts to get overwhelming, because the average craft store is going to have a lot of stuff. That’s kind of their whole deal. I like to start with an inspiration photo, or a color palette, or even one special item around which I want to build the wreath. Keep the colors of your door/entryway/wherever you’re planning to hang the wreath in mind as well. We have a black front door, so dark wreaths don’t work.

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When I’m mixing colors, no matter whether fabric or in another medium, I like to plug in my earbuds and go into a kind of craft store reverie. This will seriously annoy your partner and/or children, so bribe them with whatever will get them to go away and let you wander in peace for a while. Then just start putting stuff in your cart. Mix and match. Hold up things together. Put stuff back. Stand away from your cart and observe it from a distance. Take a picture with your phone and look at that – it will give you a different perspective. People will think you’re weird. So what.

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I ended up with two floral swags (these are great; you can remove the flowers from the swag or just wrap the whole thing around the wreath, and they’re often cheaper than purchasing the same amount of individual fake floral items) and a cartful of other odds and ends. But it wasn’t until I found the string of outdoor-safe twinkle lights that I really started to giggle to myself. Note that these were nowhere near the floral section of the craft store! Wandering is essential. Do a lap around the store before you start making your selections.

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And do keep an eye on prices to avoid serious register shock. In all honesty, even with sales and coupons, the pre-made wreaths are probably going to be cheaper because you will need to buy so many individual elements to make your own. As you build up wreath supplies, you’ll be able to shop your stash a bit more (I already had the wreath base and the dark purple gingko (?) leaves), but this is, sadly, not a cheap craft. Sorry.

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To make the wreath, I twisted the two swags together and wrapped the lights around that, secured all three with the wire, then wired it to the wreath base. Remember it needs to resist gravity, so don’t be shy with the wire. I usually make my wreaths somewhat asymmetrical, so I liked that the swags were a bit larger than the base as it gave me a neat little overlapping fullness at the bottom, but I also could have trimmed them to fit the wreath.

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After adding the initial background elements to the wreath, stand back and assess. Just because something isn’t symmetrical doesn’t mean it can’t be balanced. Where is it too full? Where is it too sparse? Time to break out the glue gun – smaller elements can balance out the wreath while adding depth with coordinating colors. Let it sit again. Tszuj it a little bit.

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Then… stop. Knowing when to stop is just as important – if not more so! – than knowing when to add more. I think it’s a common impulse to keep jamming more crap onto a project, but at some point, especially with something like a wreath, it all gets to be too much. I like a little negative space on a wreath, a little trailing element here or there. Find your own balance based on your aesthetic.

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Making a grapevine wreath is not difficult. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t really need a tutorial so much as permission to just start wiring and gluing. These are not time-intensive (actually making the wreath took about an hour), and it’s so satisfying to see your own handiwork on your front door.

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Try it!

 

baking

Tried and True: World’s Best Banana Bread

World’s Best Banana Bread

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups oil
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 overripe bananas, mashed
  • 3 tsp baking soda dissolved in 3 Tbsp hot water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • (optional) 1 cup chocolate chips

Mix ingredients in large bowl. Place in two greased and floured 9×5 loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 60 – 90 minutes. Loaves are done when an inserted toothpick comes out clean. The tops will get very dark.

Bake 15 minutes for mini-muffins, 20 minutes for regular muffins, 40 minutes for small loaves.


 

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This blog is devoted to investigating (and gently mocking) the hyperbole of the standard diy blog. This is the greatest recipe OF ALL TIME you need to make this NOW it will CHANGE YOUR LIFE are we thinking mimosas with this????? YUM!!!!! STOP READING AND GO MAKE THIS NOW NOW NOW!!!!!1!

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That’s a whole nutmeg because I am FANCY.

Ok, but this really is the world’s best banana bread. Next to this recipe, other banana breads don’t even look like they’re trying.

This may also be the world’s most calorically dense banana bread. I don’t think those two things are unrelated.

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The key to this recipe is to get a lot of really nasty bananas. Every time we have a sad banana orphan left on the counter until well past its prime, I chuck it into the freezer, still in its skin. The frozen bananas can be thawed on the counter or in a bowl of warm water. The best way I’ve found to handle the unfrozen bananas is to cut the top off the skin and squeeze out the insides. It’s… fairly gross.

But the final product is worth it. I highly recommend including the chocolate chips just to really elevate the obscenity of the final result.

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I know. It looks burned. But it’s fine.

When baking this, the key is patience. This sucker is dense. It’s gonna be a while. My recipe card says to bake for 60 minutes, but I’ve never had a loaf come even close to doneness in that time. This last bake was 87 minutes to perfection. I’m leaving that 60 minutes as the basement time, but you’re just going to have to keep checking. The tops of the loaves will get very dark, and the edges might even look a little over-done. Don’t panic, it’s all the sugar getting nice and caramelized.

I’m still experimenting with some slightly less egregious versions of this recipe. Up to half of the oil can be replaced by applesauce without a large difference in taste, and I’d like to play with reducing the sugar and substituting some whole wheat flour. But this time, with a hurricane bearing down on us, I went for the full-fat original. We might have to live on this banana bread for weeks.

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And we could.

 

 

Cooking

Ramen Roundup

I just consumed a LOT of sodium.

The Promise:

A 15-cent grocery store staple can be elevated into transcendence – or, at least, a reasonable analog of a home-cooked meal.

The Source:

Serious Eats, The New York Times

The east coast of the US is having a little weather event – perhaps you heard – and with all the wind and rain, it seemed like a perfect time to try out some of the numerous ramen hacks plastered across Pinterest. Once we were confident that we were among the lucky few who weren’t going to lose power – we weren’t in a mandatory evacuation zone, but were in the outer bands of the storm – we busted into our emergency ramen stock and got to work. There are tons of ramen hacks out there, but anything that merely uses the noodles from the ramen, eschewing the seasoning packet, was automatically disqualified. I could throw ramen noodles into chili but I’m not “hacking ramen”, I’m just using pasta.

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Are you ready for some terribly lit pictures due to the lack of natural light??

Ready? Let’s do this.

Perfect Instant Ramen

Courtesy of the New York Times Cooking section. According to the NYT,

[D]octored instant ramen is a taste of Korean-American straight-from-the-bag soul food. The butter, egg and cheese help coat the ramen noodles and deepen their flavor. “It’s our snack, it’s our peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it’s our bowl of cereal,” [chef Roy] Choi said. “It’s something that has been a part of my life forever.”

The comment section is predictably hilarious, between hipsters tripping all over themselves to praise an authentic Korean-American fusion recipe featuring throwback ingredients so square that they’ve circled back around to being cool, and pretentious home cooks turning up their noses at the sodium and MSG while touting their own tweak of the recipe containing a handy 25-ingredient spice mix made with herbs from their own organic pocket gardens.

Result – I was underwhelmed. I’ve mixed a raw egg into my ramen before and it’s pretty good, so I was feeling that. But we questioned the amount of butter (half a teaspoon? Really? That’s only 1/6 of a pat of butter). The soup was creamier than regular ramen and the cheese was nice. It didn’t inspire me to the ecstasies in the recipe’s comment section.

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If this is your soul snack, I’m happy that you have food in your life to bring you that kind of deep-down caloric joy, particularly something with cultural roots. But, while I’d absolutely throw in some cheese and an egg if I had that stuff on hand, I can’t say this ramen remake has changed my life forever. Perhaps it’s one of those foods that has to be consumed during childhood in order for it to really stick.

Faux Pho

Along with the remaining two, this is from the Serious Eats mega-ramen hack post. (By the way, I’m going to need someone to convince this extremely white white girl that it is ok for me to pronounce pho without the long o sound on the end. Please. I just feel awkward.)

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Result – there’s something there, but half a seasoning packet and some fish sauce can’t compete with the depths of a true pho broth. It comes together to make a new whole, as my husband said, but there is too much fish sauce and way too much lime (and that’s coming from people who love both). Our suggestions? Reduce the fish sauce to 1tsp and the lime juice to half a lime, replace the sugar with hoisin and the pepper flakes with sriracha.

Tom Kha Goong

Actually, it’s only goong if you add the shrimp. With chicken, it’s Tom Kha Gai. Without, as far as my research determined, it’s just Tom Kha. And really it’s not that either without kha, which is a type of ginger although not exactly the same as what we get in the regular Western grocery store. So I guess this is just Tom, which, according to Google Translate, means tom.

The recipe for this one leaves something to be desired. How much of everything? And really, one or two cups of coconut milk? Which is it? We used one can of coconut milk which made way too much broth.

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Result – not half bad! Coconut milk and Thai curry paste is going to be a winner every time (and I would absolutely recommend curry paste rather than sriracha). But it was odd with the noodles. I’ve never had a Thai curry with noodles in it, and they sort of sucked up the flavor of the broth in a weird way. The broth was better on its own, and we saved the remainder of what the recipe produced – about two-thirds – to use for another dinner. I’m thinking rice and tofu. Ramen not required.

Pad Thai

My god, I love Pad Thai.

Sorry, I can’t think of a clever intro for this one. All of the sodium has crystalized in my brain.

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Result – the best of the four! It actually felt like a real, intentional dish rather than a concoction borne of the need to invent a Pinterest-worthy “life-hack” to drive traffic to one’s blog. Tossing the egg in with the water and then draining it produced an interesting texture, and the ingredients were well-balanced against the blandness of the noodles. But would I make it again? Probably not.

Overall?

My husband said it best: “this is too much work to make such mediocre food”. Here’s the thing. If recipes like this allow a hesitant cook to experiment with some unfamiliar ingredients like fish sauce or curry paste, that’s awesome. But much better versions of these dishes are well within the grasp of the home chef, and for the time and money involved, you might as well learn how to make the actual dish. Do some googling to figure out which favorite dishes outside your cultural sphere of comfort can be easily made at home, and remember that you can usually get all the ingredients required in a local ethnicity-specific grocery store or online.

When delving into an unfamiliar cuisine, be curious and humble. Pick up that odd-looking fruit in the grocery store. Ask the guy behind the meat counter how to prepare an unfamiliar cut. Let the old ladies make fun of you a little bit for asking what is, to them, a pretty foolish question. It’s ok to be new at something. Approach your attempts like the late, great Anthony Bourdain, never forgetting that you are not discovering these dishes, but rather bumbling your way through a centuries-old tradition.

And if that fails, just order takeout.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to break into these cases of water to help my kidneys process all the salt.

Major thanks to my husband for cooking all the dishes – he’s probably annoyed it’s taken me this long to mention it. Thanks honey!

kids

Fluffy Rainbow Unicorn Slime

I’m fairly sure it wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.

The Source: Living Locurto

The Promise: 

An easy slime recipe for homemade fluffy slime that kids will love. It’s really the perfect kids craft!

My experience with slime is limited to the classic cornstarch-and-water recipe (I’m not trying to brag, but I did my 5th grade science project on non-Newtonian fluids so I’m basically an expert), but I’m willing to branch out, particularly in the service of things that are 1) not that messy 2) capable of occupying a four-year-old for at least long enough to me to get into an argument on Facebook clean the kitchen. I even watched the video on the website this time. Of course, I watched it only after our attempt went pretty much entirely wrong, but I am, even retrospectively, still confused as to why this failed to turn into a non-sticky fluffy ball but instead resolutely continued to resemble the Blob That Ate My Toddler.

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Also apparently Borax is dangerous? There are an awful lot of disclaimers about the Borax and statements about its safety which almost made me a little worried to use it, even though I’ve used it before in homemade laundry soap*. As the site states, this can take trial and error, so I very carefully measured out the glue and the shaving cream, then ordered my child to a safe distance behind our home blast screen and carefully added the tiny amount of Borax specified by the recipe.

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And it was a sticky mess.

I added a little bit more Borax.

Still sticky.

I added the barest whisper of additional Borax, a soupçon of Borax if you will.

“It’s getting everywhere, Mommy!” my kid shrieked.

I dumped in the rest of the Borax.

AND IT WAS STILL STICKY, WHAT THE HECK, FOLKS.

Well, whatever, I added the food coloring and just let her get it all over herself while I played on my phone cleaned the kitchen. She still had a great time.

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I am thinking that I needed more shaving cream. Half a cup of glue is a whole medium-sized bottle, half a cup of shaving cream is less than one squirt. So my stickiness ratio may have been skewed right from the jump.

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At this point the mixture is probably 85% borax, like it’s just straight borax

Another thing I didn’t like about this slime recipe is that it was really hard to clean up. I had to scrub to get it off both skin and furniture, and I can still see, as we speak, a bit of the “gooby” (as coined by my daughter) permanently embedded in the woodgrain of our kitchen table. If I were a more fastidious housekeeper, I’d probably be pretty perturbed by that.

All I’m saying is, cornstarch-and-water is easy, has cheaper materials, and it wipes up clean from the countertop.

That’s all I’m saying.

 

 

 

*Short answer: it works fine and is super cheap, but the clothes don’t smell as fresh and I stopped making it because it can clog your washer, although maybe that’s just what the cleaner industrial complex wants us to think.

baking

Cake Pops

Cake Pops, destroyer of kitchens…

The Source:

Simply Home Cooked

The Promise:

If you follow these instructions, you too can make a perfect cake pop.

The Result: Partial Success

Before we start, I’m going to bring out a huge caveat: I didn’t follow the instructions. And this is because I am both cheap and lazy. Because I am cheap, I didn’t buy a special unitasking cake pop former, and because I am lazy, I didn’t get any styrofoam to hold the pops while they dried. I’d apologize, but I’m of the opinion that you should only apologize if you’re also going to take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and I assure you I am fairly unremorseful.

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Did my own actions impact my final product? Yes, which is why I’m absolutely taking the blame for the pops being… less than professional-looking. (Also I’m going to blame my four-year-old assistant for the haphazard placement of the sprinkles. COME ON KID THIS IS GOING ON MY BLOG STEP IT UP.)

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I started off with the kind of bold optimism typical of the early stages of my endeavors, deciding to make three kinds of cake pops. In time for dinner at a friend’s house. In four hours. Basically creating my own self-imposed version of one of those baking shows where they give the contestants exactly twenty minutes less than the actual time it takes to make a product so the audience can laugh at them flopping about in a panic. My only audience was my cat but I think he enjoyed the spectacle.

TO MY CREDIT, I failed not because I ran out of time, exactly, but by the time I made two kinds of pops, my motivation flagged. “Why should I take the time to jam these peanut butter balls inside a brownie ball when I can just frost the brownies with the peanut butter icing?” I asked myself, thereby calling into question the central tenet of cake pops: Why should I do all this extra work when I can just eat the cake?

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Already cracking… eeek

In addition to the vanilla pops, I also grabbed a box of lemon cake to make lemon pops. When I mixed the lemon pops, I added lemon curd and poppyseeds to the vanilla icing. The lemon poppyseed pops were more moist than the vanilla ones, but also seemed to crack more easily when I pushed in the sticks, and fell off the stick more easily when I dipped them into the chocolate. I only lost one vanilla pop, but half of my lemon pops were decapitated by the weight of the chocolate coating.

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Most of the tips in the Simply Home Cooked post are actually great – dipping the sticks in the chocolate before pushing them into the pop helps the sticks remain embedded, the addition of the crisco thins the dipping chocolate, and tapping the wrist to shake off the excess chocolate, once I figured out what that meant, worked very well. My product certainly would have benefitted from the cake pop former. This device not only creates a smooth and circular finish, but it also compresses the cake so that it is more apt to stay on the stick. However, I just couldn’t see purchasing what is in the end an optional device that I would use maybe once a year, if that.

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How are you going to get them off of the pan, genius?

And it would have been nice to have a styrofoam block instead of thinking, “I’ll figure something out”, and then running around the kitchen in a panic, holding a drying cake pop, having completely failed to figure something out. My wonky pops were still a hit at my friend’s dinner. They’re pretty cute, lumps and all.

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How did they taste? Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to actually tasting these. After all, they’re made of boxed cake mix, canned frosting, and chocolate whose quality is dubious even before sitting for months on the shelf at Big Box Craft Store. And in the end, this cake is basically performative. The appearance is the point, not the taste. These tasted like they were made from boxed cake mix, canned frosting, and bad chocolate, and the crisco didn’t help the chocolate taste any better.

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Children are easily swayed by anything that is their favorite color

But at some point, I’d like to try making these from scratch. Because I bet these could be fantastic – cute and delicious.

And for that, I might even buy a cake pop former.

pets

Peanut Butter Dog Bath

Let’s see what weird Google search results I get from that title, huh?

The Promise:

Smear peanut butter on the wall of your tub or shower and bathing your filthy dog will be simple!

The Source:

YouTube, Reddit

My dog likes to roll in dead stuff, what about yours? Especially dead cicadas. My lovable nitwit just loves a dead cicada. My dog is also very twitchy. No really, she’s on doggie Prozac. Which no one is shaming her about! Take your meds, everyone.

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The filter I used to make my dog look cuter is making my bathroom floor look filthy. That’s just the tile, I swear!

The last time I needed to bathe her, I decided to try out this life hack. Willow doesn’t try to get away, but she tries her best to condense her body into a single point of energy, and I’m a little concerned she might create a black hole in the portion of spacetime that is my bathroom, and eventually then drag after her all of our known universe across the event horizon where my vanity used to be.

Peanut butter was applied. At first, Willow was ok with this.

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But after the water was turned on, the licking stopped and the trembling began. And then when I was done I had to clean the bathroom.*

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I always knew you’d try to eat me one day, hooman

I suspect this trick works best with the sort of big doofy dog who a) likes to jump out of the tub and distribute suds around the house and b) is food-motivated enough that all other stimuli vanishes in the face of delicious wall treats.

Promise kept? Kinda.

Even peanut butter can’t overcome my poor doggie’s lack of trust in my good intentions. It might work for you, though.

 

 

*By bathroom, I mean the square foot of space that contained peanut butter. Clean the whole bathroom? Ha ha, surely you jest!

Beauty, Skin, and Hair · Crafts · self care

Bath Bombs

The Source: A Beautiful Mess

The Promise:

They are SO fun to use and pretty easy to make.

My kid loves bath bombs. And I love my kid. But I hate paying $5 (at least!) for something that’s going to literally dissolve within moments. And so like all good crafty people, I began to wonder if maybe homemade ones might be cheaper.

Pinterest, with its siren song, assured me that bath bombs are a feasible DIY enterprise, and then I came across a recipe (is that the right word for something you can’t eat?) I’d pinned from one of my favorite blogs.

I struggled to find a way to say this without a) being mean and b) being an enormous hypocrite but let’s be frank: sometimes bloggers can be… a little much. I’ve eye-rolled through my share of “lifestyle” blogs. But when it comes to A Beautiful Mess, I am a Constant Reader. For more than five years I have read every post, and I admire Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman, the sisters who own the site, for their business savvy as well as their crafty talents.

ANYWAY, fangirling aside…

There are a few bath bomb varieties listed on the Beautiful Mess site, and I chose the lemon and green tea because it sounded fancy. I got bath bomb molds, citric acid, and essential oils online, and the rest of the ingredients at the grocery store.

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Also I learned that epsom salt is not regular salt, so thank you for sharing your knowledge, incredulous store employee!

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Also it is a laxative; who knew?

Basically the dry ingredients get mixed together and the wet ingredients get mixed together and then the wet is added to the dry. The mixture is pressed into the molds and the two halves of the mold are removed as the bomb dries.

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It was pretty easy!

Tips:

  • The directions stress that you want the wet mixture to fizz as little as possible when it lands in the dry mixture –  I assume it uses up the chemical reaction that allows the bombs to fizz in the bath – and to avoid this by pouring very slowly. Look. I poured slowly. I poured a single drop at a time. Still fizzed. I have no idea how to avoid this. It took me a solid five minutes to add the wet to the dry and it fizzed all over the dang place.
  • Don’t put a lot of green tea in the bottom of the mold because it’s not actually sticky like the remainder of the mixture, and it will fall off the bomb as soon as it is tipped. I feel like I should have figured this out before it happened to me. The leaves feel more like a cute garnish than a central ingredient. Emma recommends using matcha powder if you don’t want to have to rinse the leaves out of your tub, but I feel like this might also be a good idea to ensure there is a significant amount of actual green tea in the bomb.
  • Pack the mixture in each half (like packing brown sugar into a measuring cup) so that it is slightly mounded above the mold before pressing the halves together. If the mold isn’t packed tightly, it increases the chance that the ball will collapse once the mold is removed.
  • Pack tightly. On my first attempt, the bombs came out kind of crumbly. On a second try, where I packed the bejeezus out of each side, the results were far more professional.

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Extremely pleased with my results, I texted a picture to my husband who was less effusive in his praise.

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thanks for your support honey

A few days later, my daughter helped me make some with orange oil, which I’m calling creamsicle. She was so excited to help and this is a craft a toddler can actually help with.

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First try (left) vs second try (right). The difference? The second try was more firmly packed in the mold.

Of course, I had to try one. I know, the things I do for you guys. Really, I’m a martyr. I filled the tub, turned on my current murder podcast (spoiler alert: the husband did it), and pitched in a bomb. I was concerned that all the fizzing during the mixing process was going to keep it from fizzing appropriately, but nope! Worked fine!

Promise Kept? Yes!

This recipe was easy to follow and my resulting product not only looked professional, but worked just like the store-bought version. It tinted the water a pretty green and made it smell all nice. I did have to jump into the shower afterwards to rinse the tea flecks off my skin, so I might either omit that next time or use the matcha powder instead. I also felt that the homemade bomb left more residue behind in the bath water after it was drained.

So with just a few fairly cheap supplies, it’s on! Bath bombs for everyone!