Monthly Archives: March 2010

Memory Book

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After viewing an earlier post here about my black kitchen re-do, an old friend made this wonderful gift for me. I haven’t seen Monique in a very long time and was really touched that she took the time to do this for me. What a lucky girl I am!

Believe it or not, the envelopes here are made of sections of paper towel tubes flattened and covered with gorgeous papers that are nearly identical to the fabrics I used in my dining area (how’d she do that?). Into each envelope she slid a card stock tag punched with a hole and tied with a ribbon pull. The four envelopes are held together with two rings, also tied with pretty ribbons. I can’t wait to fill this with special pictures of my kids and grandson.

And I think I’ll have to make some as little give-aways myself.  What a quick and beautiful gift idea!

Monique said she found the project on YouTube. I took a very quick look, but wasn’t able to locate it for you. I’m betting you can figure this one out for yourself.

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Grandma’s Pot Roast Redux

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I knew I had made it in the kitchen when my kids proclaimed that my pot roast tasted “just like Grandma Schmidt’s”. O, happy day!
Grandma Schmidt made the ultimate pot roast. I’m sure it wasn’t present at every Sunday dinner, but it still feels that way to me.
Until I was interested enough to watch how she concocted this homey delicacy, I assumed that it involved some magical fresh ingredients and a great deal of work, after all, she started it before church and we didn’t eat until 4:00. Boy, was I wrong.

Rather than some handed-down-through-the-generations-with-no-exact-measurements recipe, Grandma related these brief instructions: “Buy a good sized bottom round or chuck roast, put it in the pressure cooker with the lid on loosely  ( a dutch oven or any heavy-bottomed pot will do), almost cover it with water and add a pouch of Lipton onion soup mix. When the meat’s tender (6 to 8 hours) add a teaspoon or so of Gravy Master and a can of Cream of Mushroom soup”.

That’s it? That’s the secret family recipe? A can of this and a pouch of that? You can actually find this version if you google slow cooker pot roast. Ugh. Terribly disappointing, but it didn’t change the delish factor. Served with mashed potatoes, it was my favorite meal as a child. OK, well into adulthood. The over-boiled vegetables I did my best to pass right on to the person next to me.

Now while this brings back all kinds of happy memories and still tastes terrific to me, I can’t, in good conscience, feed it to my family. Did you see the ingredients? There’s got to be enough sodium in there to raise the blood pressure of a small village. So, what to do?

Let’s try using real food!

Saute a sliced onion or two until it starts to caramelize in a little olive oil. Chop up some mushrooms, about 1/2 pound,  really fine and add them to the pan. Add black pepper to taste, a tablespoon or so of tomato paste and a couple teaspoons of Better Than Bullion® beef base (it really is better). It is high in sodium, but this is all the salt that’s added. Plop all this in a crock pot in which you have placed your cut of cheap meat and a cup or so of water. Let it bubble away for 6 hours. You could add some chunked-up carrots if you like, but then you’re blurring the line between pot roast and stew; simply not done in our Irish family. When ready to serve, thicken things up with a teaspoon of cornstarch mixed with a teaspoon of cold water or, as I do, put the crockpot lid ajar for the last hour or more and let things reduce on their own.

I recommend some smashed potatoes to go with. Maybe a salad in place of the boiled-to-death veggies.

It’s what’s for dinner at my house tonight.

And they all think it’s Grandma Schmidt’s recipe.

Yoga Mat Tote Tutorial

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A few weeks ago I made a commitment to myself to get my flabby self off the couch where I’ve been holed up all winter and start moving again. After consulting with Google maps I was able to find my way back to the gym and this time decided to take some classes as well as using all the usual instruments of torture.

I always enjoyed yoga classes, so that was a low stress way to start. Except I didn’t have really chic yoga clothes and I was the only one clutching my mat under my arm while it threatened to unroll itself rather than carrying it in a specially made bag.

Since I recently bought yards and yards of wonderful double-faced quilted batiks, I figured it couldn’t be too hard to whip up a bag to be proud of. And it wasnt.

Here’s how:

Using a double-faced quilted cotton, cut:

one 30×21 piece for the body of the bag

one 36×3 piece for the strap

one 6×8 piece for the pocket

one 6×4 piece for the pocket flap

one 7 inch diameter circle for the bag bottom

Yes, the circle is missing in the picture. I forgot about it until it was time to apply it.

Decide now which side you’ll use for the outside. I used one side for the body and the contrasting side as the outside of the pocket and strap.

Prepare the pocket by finishing the top edge, then pressing it under an inch ( a 6″ side) and pressing under a half inch on the other three sides. Press under a half inch on 3 sides of the pocket flap, but finish one 6 inch edge and leave it unpressed.

pocket and flap

Position the pocket and flap on the body. I placed mine about an inch above the long edge  and about 8 inches from the top (the short edge, where the drawstring will be).  Topstitch the pocket in place. Position the pocket flap just above the pocket, wrong side up with the finished (unpressed) edge closest to the top of the pocket. Stitch across that edge of the flap, then turn the flap down and topstitch along the same line. This helps the flap to lie flat. I used a couple sticky velcro dots to keep the flap closed, but a button, snaps or your closure of choice will work.

flap topstitching

Now for the strap. Right sides together, sew across one end and down the long side. Turn  and press the seam to the middle.

press strap seam

Baste the unfinished end of the strap to the center of the short edge where the bag bottom will be applied.

strap placement

Put the body right sides together and stitch to within 4 inches of the top edge, using a half inch seam. Press seam allowances open and stitch them down. I serged this one, so there are no seam allowances; I just trimmed and finished the last few inches.

Finish the top edge by turning under a quarter inch and pressing or serging.

Turn under an inch and a half on the top edge and stitch down. This is the drawstring casing.

top edge finishing

Now for the bottom. Divide the circle bottom piece in fourths, marking with pins. Do the same for the bag body. Pin evenly, right sides together and baste, then stitch in a half inch seam, trim and finish or serge seam.

apply the bottom

Turn right side out and attach the other end of the strap just below the drawstring casing. Fold under an inch and a half and stitch it around all four sides, then make an X through the square.

Thread a yard of cording through the casing and there you have it!

Zentangles: Doodling your way to Enlightenment

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You don’t know Zentangles? You must be living under your pet rock.

What the bleep is a Zentangle you ask? Here’s the official answer from Zentangle.com:

Zentangle is an easy to learn method of creating beautiful images from repetitive patterns. It is a fascinating new art form that is fun and relaxing. It increases focus and creativity. Zentangle provides artistic satisfaction and an increased sense of personal well being. Zentangle is enjoyed by a wide range of skills and ages and is used in many fields of interest.

Wow, sounds great.  Right up my alley. Fun, imaginative, relaxing, satisfying. Let me put down my pencil, stop doodling and learn how to Zentangle. Oh, wait, I already know. I’m doing it now. I’ve been doing it since I put graphite to paper all those years ago and began to doodle.

OK, well maybe there’s something special about a Zentangle, maybe it’s not just a doodle. Let’s compare.  Here is a Zentangle by someone named Tim, which I lifted from the Zentangle.com gallery section.

And now, here is a doodle taken from the page of a notebook I use to record important thoughts during work meetings. This was not created specifically for this posting. Please keep in mind that though I have no formal doodle training, I am a very experienced practitioner and like to think I’ve learned a few things through the years.

Hmmph. I’m just not seeing a big difference. Well, let’s look at the characteristics of Zentangles, maybe this will help uncover the extra-specialness of Zentangles. These characteristics are taken directly from the pages of the creators.

Intuitive Artform

With Zentangle, anyone can create beautiful images from repetitive patterns. This method is easy to learn and easy to do. And even though it is a specified series of steps, it results in a creative expression that transcends its own rules.

Zentangle  
Doodle     

Fun and Relaxing

Zentangle provides a fun and lighthearted way to relax and intentionally facilitate a shift in focus and perspective. Zentangle is unencumbered by dogma and cost which can weigh on other approaches. Nevertheless, Zentangle is sufficiently structured and organized so you can enjoy and benefit from an activity that otherwise might be considered whimsical.

Zentangle  
Doodle     

Abstract

You cannot fail to create a Zentangle. That is because a Zentangle is meant to look like a Zentangle. It does not need to look like anything else and has no up or down.

Zentangle  
Doodle     

Unexpected Results

Zentangle is an unusual approach to art because you have no idea what its result will be when you begin. Your creation is not restricted by your expectations.

Zentangle  
Doodle     

Ceremonial

Zentangle is an artistic meditation that supports relaxation, focus and inspiration and can be a wonderful daily ritual. Zentangle’s philosophy, symbolism and metaphor is elegant and profound. There is much to discover about life and one’s self through this simple act.

Zentangle  
Doodle     

Timeless

Creating designs, manipulating symbols and putting pen to paper is part of our human heritage. In a time of keyboards, computer mice, and cell phones, Zentangle allows a return to a comfort and familiarity of timeless, basic creativity.

Zentangle  
Doodle     

Portable

Zentangle provides an easy to learn method of relaxed focus which can be done almost anywhere, alone or in groups, without any special abilities or costly equipment.

Zentangle  
Doodle     

Quality

Zentangle is elegantly designed, crafted and presented. If you are going to do something, then do it with the finest tools and materials available. We use the best paper and pens available to ensure your Zentangles will be a respected and treasured work of art. Unlike other methods of relaxation and focus, Zentangle yields a fruit which is beautiful and can be appreciated, collected, chronicled and reflected upon for years to come. Using fine materials is an act of respect for yourself and respect for your art.

Zentangle  
Doodle     eh, maybe

Non Technical

Zentangle is not limited by technology. Your creativity is not directed by how someone else wrote a particular program, nor does it need batteries or electricity. Zentangle provides a counterbalance to our increasing use of computers, mice, screens and keyboards. It returns us to that fundamentally human behavior of manipulating symbols and putting marks on paper. Zentangle is not pre-programmed. Your creativity is your only limit and Zentangle has a way of increasing and inspiring expression of your personal creativity.

Zentangle  
Doodle     

Empowering

To learn that you can deliberately relax and intentionally direct your attention while creating beautiful works of art is an empowering and uplifting experience.

Zentangle  
Doodle     

The only real difference I can find is that in order to properly Zentangle, you need to purchase a kit which includes paper tiles, Micron pens, a pencil and sharpener (woo-hoo!), an instruction book and DVD and an icosahedron. An icosahedron is a twenty-sided polyhedron die with numbers on each face. The numbers correspond to 20 “named” tangles, so in case you’re not feeling very Zen-like , you can start with something pre-created. All this for only $49.00

And that’s not all! You can attend a Zentangle Seminar, work through a series of lesson plans and, for the serious devotee, become a Certified Zentangle Instructor. There’s my next career move. The lesson plans are designed for grades 3-6. Do we really need to teach our kids how to doodle? Do they need to understand the “rules”?

Seriously, fifty bucks to doodle? In a few years, when this really catches on, only the wealthy will be able to doodle, er, “tangle”! The rest of us poor slobs will have to be content with a golf pencil on the back of a used envelope. What chance do you have of achieving Zen with THAT?

To be honest with you, I wish I had thought to market the most mundane of pastimes in this very lucrative way. I could stop buying lottery tickets and doodling my way through interminable, mind-numbing corporate meetings

Sheesh, people  really will buy anything.

Risotto-Style Pasta

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I read about this method of cooking pasta in the NY Times a few months ago  and will never go back to boiling pasta in a vat of water again. The idea is to cook the pasta slowly, barely covered in stock or the liquid of your choice until said liquid is absorbed, then add more liquid, repeat until pasta is al dente. You end up with a one pot pasta meal that makes its own really tasty sauce as it cooks.  Ok, that’s the basic stuff, but here’s how to make it a great meal.

Start by sauteing your flavors du jour. I used onion, garlic, sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives and roasted red peppers, but use whatever you have on hand, whatever flavor combos float your boat. Artichokes, mushrooms, whatever.  This meal came about because I didn’t want to make a trip to the grocery store and started rummaging around in the pantry and freezer. I love a well stocked pantry.

OK, now let the onions get all translucent, then add dry pasta. Where I might usually boil a pound, I use a little over a half pound; the stuff really absorbs the liquid this way. I  added enough chicken broth to cover the pasta and let it simmer away, stirring often, adding more stock/broth when it started to look a  bit dry. The pics below were taken just after I added liquid; you don’t want this to be too soupy. At times during this process I  seasoned  with black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes ( my man likes things to bite back some) and some finely grated Parmesan cheese, which also helps to thicken things up. Remember, we  started with some great flavor makers, so not much doctoring necessary. When the pasta is about 5 minutes from being done, I added a couple chunked-up chicken breasts. Bite size. Yep, raw, just dump them right in. Some broccoli at this point adds a veggie boost if you like. They cook up in a few minutes and things are ready to serve.

Add a loaf of homemade crusty bread and a salad and you’ve got yourself a fantastic meal.

I added apple pie for dessert. we don’t indulge often.

Why can’t every day be Sunday?

Laptop Bag/Portfolio

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Got some new fun double-faced quilted batiks yesterday.  Fabrics.com has to be loving me. I’m sure I pay for at least one full time employee.

This bag is (again) part of Simplicity 5025; I guess that was a good buy. Especially since I only buy patterns when they are ridiculously on sale, like 99 cents. Hey, for a buck why not let someone else do the work.

So this one has pockets inside and out, one  interior pocket is zippered and runs the full length and height of the bag. The main zipper has two pulls and opens the bag on three sides which would be great for portfolio type things. It also fits my MacBook with room to spare. Also made a little checkbook/notebook cover to go with.

I’ve gone overboard with bags this month and must get rid of some inventory! I do love a new bag, but (dare I say it) I have too many right now! See my Etsy shop for some of the things I’ve featured here recently at http://www.etsy.com/shop/oohpretty

PDA Case and Wallet

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Often when I’m traveling to my NYC office, I bring a bag large enough for my laptop and the contents of my purse divvied up into smaller pouches so I don’t have to carry around a computer bag and a purse.

I don’t need to tote around my entire wallet and frankly prefer not to carry around all my credit cards and such.  I do, however, need quick access to my Crackberry,  Metro card, AmEx and some cash. Look at this! They can all be in the same place now!

This is more of Simplicity 5025.  It happens to fit nicely into the outside pockets of the duffel.

The pattern called for the PDA pocket to be clear vinyl, but I didn’t happen to have any around and was really just as happy to have it all covered up. Also, think I’ll add a couple snap closures for security’s sake.