Sorry about the long absence. Our household manage to contrive to have company or to be on vacation for nearly every weekend in the month of May. As a result we got almost nothing crafty or home-related done for the entire month. So to feed your withdrawals, here’s a quick look at carbonating your own homemade soda.

The first thing you need is a flavored simple syrup. We made a pineapple mint syrup by macerating pineapple with sugar overnight and then cooking the syrup with mint. We had also made a blueberry lemon syrup through a similar method. Once you have your syrup, you want to funnel it into a clean glass jar.

This shows just the syrup in the jar. You want to dilute the syrup 1:2 with water, so your soda isn’t overly sweet. I had about 3/4 C syrup, so I added about 1 1/2 C water.

This is with the water added. As you can see, we didn’t have enough syrup to make a full bottle of liquid. You can leave the rest as open air space, it will not hurt the soda. Once you’ve done that, you want to add a TINY pinch of active dry yeast. This will react with the sugars and cause the carbonation. The next part is patience. It has to sit in a room temperature place for at least 24 hours, and up to 3 days. The yeast will keep reacting, so you shouldn’t leave it longer than that. We learned this the hard way. We left ours about 4 days, and it was kind of off the radar. Rachel went down to the kitchen, heard a funny hissing noise, and not thinking, opened the blueberry over the sink. She then spent the rest of the morning cleaning up blueberry soda off the ceiling, walls and floors. So really, don’t leave it longer than 3 days.

Once your three days are up, you can pop your soda in the fridge. This will slow down the yeast reaction, but not stop it entirely, so you still need to drink the soda you’ve made within a few days. The amount shown above is probably 2-3 standard glasses.

Also, if you want to look fancy, but not mess with your own carbonation, you can always make your syrup and add it to carbonated water. This is actually the method we use much more often as we usually have soda water around, and it’s less likely to make a mess if you forget about it.

 

Cracker Redux

April 2, 2012

Okay so we all saw what happened with the last cracker challenge and ultimately we were not super satisfied with the end result. They were too puffy and doughy. Katie and I both like super crispy crackers, so we tried something new.

Our basic recipe was flour, salt, and enough warm water to bring it together in to a dough. Like other doughs (think biscuits), you need a soft hand with it – work it too hard and it will get gluten-y and tough. Instead work it gently until it just pulls together. It should be springy to the touch and look about like this:

As you can see, I have some flour left over, but it came together with the right consistency without being too sticky. I let it be at this point. If it is still sticky and you’re out of flour, sprinkle in a tablespoon at a time and work it until it feels good. If it’s dry, do the same but with water instead of flour. Also for fun, we added sesame seeds to the dough, which added a nice toasty flavor.

Once your dough is ready, roll it out to whatever thickness you want. Because this has no leavening in it, they will be about as thick as you roll them with a very very slight increase in size maybe.  So roll roll roll.

You can see in the top corner I have a small bowl of flour for sprinkling, and a square-shaped cookie cutter. We did our crackers two ways: One was to cut out individual squares. The other was to roll a large slab and throw it on the pizza stone. Both ways worked equally well, although the pizza stone was faster.

Each cracker or cracker-slab was docked (poked with a fork – this lets the steam out), brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with crushed rosemary and a little salt.

Also because we had more space on the big slab cracker, we added cheese to see how that would work. Turns out it’s flippin DELICIOUS. Once the slab cracker is done, break it up in to shards. A pizza cutter worked okay too if you want more uniform pieces, but I’m impatient so ripping them up worked as well for me.

These crackers turned out to be delicious, crisp, salty, and amazing. I’m NEVER paying $4 a box of crackers again.

Fancy Soup

February 28, 2012

My New Year’s Resolution this year was to cook one new recipe every week. I haven’t necessarily posted lots of this here, because, frankly, reading about someone making fish sticks just isn’t that interesting (I didn’t say it had to be a fancy or exciting recipe, just something I’d never made before). However, I did get a little fancier a couple of weeks ago and made french onion soup. Now soup is generally just not that interesting of a food to talk about. You stick some stuff in a pot, usually with some broth, and let it cook for awhile. French onion soup, however, is like a alchemical transformation. Also, it’s something that had never occurred to me to make at home-it just seems like a restaurant thing, with cute oven-proof ceramic soup bowls. To tackle this challenge, I more or less used Alton Brown’s recipe, available on the Food Network website here.

To start with, you need lots of onions. The recipe says 5 onions, but I modified this recipe slightly based on comments from the website. So we had 5 lbs of onions, which was about 6-7, I think. You slice the onions into thin rings, which is the most labor-intensive part of the whole process, and start to brown them in a little butter. 5 lbs of onions is a lot. It looks like this:

This is the first time I thought maybe I had read a number wrong. This looks like a lot of onions. But you just cook them, and cook them, and cook them. And then you get this:

After that you keep cooking the onions down until they’re brown and caramelized. You then add in some wine, broth and some herbs in a bouquet garni. You’ll see that I didn’t actually have whole stems of herbs or cheesecloth for a traditional bouquet garni, so I just stuffed some herbs in a metal tea ball and winged it.

 

While all that is going on, you make some toast. Rachel cut our toast into fancy rounds, but as long as it  fits into your bowl it’s fine.

 

When your soup is done, you put the toasts in the soup, crunchy side down.

 

Top it with cheese (we used gruyere) and stick it under the broiler for a few seconds. It’s important to make sure that your bowls are heat-proof. If not, they can explode when you heat them under the broiler.

 

Delicious!

Homecoming

February 11, 2012

With the addition of Twirly to my tool cavalry, I decided it was time to build them a home. I have to throw out there that I LOVE playing with my tools and building things. This doesn’t mean that I’m good at it in any capacity. This is a basic recipe for a toolbox that I’m sure you can do better than I did.

I started with a 24″ wide piece of 1/4″ plywood. I cut two long-side pieces 24″x10″ and two side pieces 10″x8″. Finally, I cut 1/2″ strips to create a stop, so that I could add a set-in shelf to the box. The shelf was the same dimensions but 3″ tall.

As you can see, I cut the tops of the side pieces to a point. This was so that I could insert a dowel later to create a handle. I’ll also admit now that I didn’t account for edge and what that would add to widths, so there are places that I had to re-measure and re-cut to account for that. Oops. Live and learn I guess.

Next step was to glue the stops on to the sides. I did this so that I could secure them with prior to assembling my box.

I used wood glue and clams to hold the stops in place until they dried.

Once the stops were in place, I began assembling the edges, to get the basic shape of my box.

As you can see, everything is together. I forgot to mention that I made a bottom to the box and the shelf. Just measure your frame and tack it in with finishing nails. I’ll also note that the plywood is hard and prone to splintering, so don’t get discouraged.

Once it was all together, I went ahead and gave her a pretty coat of paint. Red for the outside, white for the shelf. The tools fit in perfectly.

I haven’t put the dowel in yet because a) I’m not sure I left enough room at the pointy parts to do it and b) I don’t have a paddle bit for my drill with which to make the holes. We’ll see if that ever happens, but that is the intention.

For now, my tools have a home. Oh! And here’s a picture of Twirly, since this project was brought to you by the letter T.

Please Be Seated

January 18, 2012

This here, is a bench.

Not only a bench, but an ugly bench. We picked it up because we always need more seating and such and figured we’d do something with it eventually. Well, eventually finally came, after the inspiration of our new bed pillows. We picked up a new bench fabric at the same time and figured now was good. The bench was about $5, and the fabric I’d guess is around $10, and the trim another $5 maybe. Of course, Katie could say differently if she wanted.

Anyway, reupholstering is another thing that makes a piece of furniture look pretty snazzy and it can be simple to do. This bench required unscrewing 11 screws, removing staples, stapling new fabric, cutting said fabric, and hot glue. Not bad.

First, take your object and disassemble it. This was a pretty straightforward project, but if you are doing something a bit more complicated, be sure to track your parts and order so that you know how to get it back together at the end.

Once the top was off, we removed the staples holding the black fabric and the mustard fabrics on. The black fabric is basically to keep the raw edges from showing underneath. Remove your staples carefully if you want to preserve this piece of fabric. I find a flat-head screwdriver or needle-nose pliers are best for removing staples.

Once all the staples are pulled out, you should be able to lift the top fabric off.

Underneath, hopefully you find foam or padding that is in good shape. If your foam is in tough shape, you can get new padding, glue it down, and you’re good to go. Ours was in good shape so we just recovered over the existing padding. The white in the corner is some extra padding to help fill out the foam, which was missing a chunk in the corner. We also were left with the frame. I’d like to paint our frame at some point but we didn’t have a good color at the time.

Next, take your new fabric, lay it out right-side-down and place the bench top on it upside down. Staple one edge with a staple gun, starting at the corners and middle, and filling in the in-betweens.

Next, pull your fabric under so that it is tight. You want it to be tight so that you don’t get loose fabric on your cover. It may take a buddy to help keep it tight while you staple.

Now, there are a couple ways to go about the corners, which I think is the trickiest part. You can measure and cut your corners ahead of time, and sew them in to the right shape (Make a cut from the corner in, then fold together and sew), as was done on the old cover. You can ease the corner around like fondant and avoid a crease, or you can miter the corner by folding it. We chose to miter it.

Once stapled, you can clean up your fabric edges if you want, or place your backing (old or new) on the bottom and staple it. Then, reassemble!

Our final touch was to add a decorative trim around the bottom. In our “final pictures” it hadn’t been glued on yet, but I basically took a glue gun and glued it to the bottom of the top piece (not the frame!).

Voila!

LET THERE BE LIGHT

January 16, 2012

So yeah. One of the things that annoys me the most about being a homeowner is that we inherited all the bad taste of the previous owners. Let’s just say they liked wood. A lot. Anyway, one of the small things we’ve been doing to really spruce things up and give it our flare is to replace the lighting. SO much of it was so tacky, it’s awful…and the top of my priority list was to remove the fugly fan that lived downstairs.

To set the stage, I’ll say that we probably have seven foot ceilings, so it’s kind of low to begin with. Then there was a giant monstrosity of a fan, with wicker inlay and flower-shaped glass shades. Teh awesome to be sure.

Halsey

Kind of like this one.

So we decided to get a nice and compact light that would provide plenty of brightness but MUCH less visual space.

Zoomed: Style Selections 4-Light Chrome Flush Mount Fixed Track Light Kit

Now, I kind of like replacing our lighting fixtures because it makes me feel like a badass. The first step was to shut off the breaker. ALWAYS do this. It hurts to get shocked. Once you’ve had someone else touch the wire to make sure its off (just kidding..kind of), start taking pieces off. We started with the blades, then shades then the fixture, then the ring, then the remaining pieces.

After removing all the pieces, you should be left with an inset box with two to three wires. One black one, one white one, and one that is usually the ground, and is often green.

It’s a little hard to tell in this picture because the plate is in the way, but the far right wire is black, the middle is white, and the third is a copper wire on the left.

We removed the plate because it was a right pain in the ass.

Next we removed the components of the new light. We put up the initial bracket-

The dust ring is disgusting. I’m also not sure why I look so concerned. Don’t worry, I didn’t cry.

Next twist your wires from the fixture to the wires in the box. White to white, black to black. Make sure they’re secured, then twist a nut on to the end to secure it. You can also wrap it with electrical tape.

Next the ground wire, or green wire should be either screwed under a green screw (as in this case) or wrapped around part of the metal framework.

Our screw was green and said GRND so we knew where to go. The wire was wrapped underthe screw, which was then secured.

Then the fixture goes on to the bracket. Screw it on, place the shades on, the bulbs, and voila!

We wound up with a light I wasn’t embarrassed to own. I chose the moveable track lighting to spread the love since this one light covers a large space. It’s a nice way to spruce up a drab looking area.

This weekend I popped out a quick project that is cute, functional, and cute. I guess I said that already. A friend of mine got married this weekend, and I decided she’d love nothing better than to get some hand-made placemats with matching coasters and napkins, held together of course, with napkin rings. The project cost was a little higher since I went for cute oil cloth, which runs about $17/yard. I think I got a half yard of everything, and a yard of the napkin fabric.

Here were my two choices. I went for a double-sided placemat set so that either side could be used. A set of four would be ideal but I didn’t quite have enough fabric, so I did two double-sided.

I went with oil cloth because it resists water, liquid, and yuckies. One side is green with a yellow and blue motif (even though it looks aqua) and the other a natural color with purple, blue, and orange. They totally didn’t go! I love it.

Decide how big you want your placemats to be, cut them out, and then pin right sides together.

I did the same for the coasters, making them 5×5″

 

You have a couple options for how you put these together. One option is to surge the edges together, in which case you’ll want to put wrong sides together. I went with a turned set, so I sewed wrong sides together on three and a half sides, then pulled it inside out. To get a nice edge, I pinned the open section and sewed a second seam around the edge to finish it off. You can’t even tell where the turn was.

For the napkins, I went with two double-sided lunch-sized napkins, so with wrong sides together, we surged the edges, so they looked like this:

The result is a nice clean edge.

Of course I forgot to take pictures of the final set before it was packed off to my friend. Oh well.

The napkin rings I did similarly to those in a previous post:

I picked felts to go with my placemats, embroidered the yellow, sewed on the button, glued it all together and hand stitched them up.

The entire project took two to three hours start to finish, and cost about $40.

 

It’s that time of year

December 5, 2011

Winter. Holidays.

I hate snow. I kind of hate winter generally. However, I do get sucked in to the holidays. Now, my parents stopped celebrating Christmas as a corporate abomination when I was pretty young. It was something like. There’s no Santa, p.s. there’s no Christmas either.

I grew up loathing all things Christmas and was righteously offended by anything Christmas. You’d think it was eating children or something. However, it eventually became the doorway through which I became part of Katie’s family, so it now holds a lot of meaning for me. I love their traditions. I love the visiting and the food. I love being a part of something bigger, and welcomed so thoroughly.

And of course, I love presents.

Last year we started what might become a new tradition for us – our friends introduced us to the idea of acquiring a permit to go cut our own tree down from the National Forest. Given our love of doing things on the cheap, $10 for a permit and an adventure sounds like a good deal.

It starts by meeting up for breakfast and ridiculously fancy coffee. We then drive in and tromple around up a mountainside looking for just the perfect tree.  It’s harder than you might think.

First off, there are several requirements about size, there is shape and density to consider, and then you cut it down. Mountainside forest trees are just not lot trees. They’re a little more Charlie Brown. Anyhoo, once you cut it down, you then have to drag it back out the half mile, hopefully without falling, and strap it up to the car.

This year, we decided to lop down a 19′ tree for our 6′ ceiling room. Since you can’t “top” trees and leave the stumps, we cut it in two and dragged both pieces out. It was heavy. And hard. And there were several inches of snow on the ground. All in all, a good time, if you like noodley appendages.

However, we got the tree out and it was graciously driven home by our friends’ parents. It was during this time that I realized the tree was about 6′ across at the bottom and still about 13′ tall.  More lopping. Then I had to get it through the door, downstairs, and manage to fit under our lower-than-average basement ceiling. I knew I shouldn’t have bought the 18″ tree topper.

Anyway, it’s all set up now and I find that lots of lights and dangley things help take up the CB space, but really, it’s about the best tree you could ask for.

Privacy, Please!

May 3, 2011

So we’ve been living in our house for about a year and a half with no curtains in our bedroom. That’s not actually as racy as in might sound, our bedroom is on the second floor and it faces away from the street, so we’re not really giving a peep show to the neighbors. However, I did think it might be nice to have a little something other than bare windows, and to block the summer sunshine a little when you’re trying to sleep in. So the first step we’ve taken in this direction is to make some sheer curtains for our windows. To start with, I used pre-fab window scarves that I acquired for free at a home goods exchange we participated in. I also bought sheer curtain rods (the kind that hang inside your regular curtain rods), so I can add some more decorative curtains at a later date. I got the sheer rods at Habitat for Humanity’s Re-store, a great thrift type store if you’re into building or fixing things around your house. I paid a dollar a piece for them. This is my favorite part about this project-my total time and money investment is about $3 and an hour and a half.

As you can see from the price sticker on the scarf, even if you buy them, rather than acquiring them by other means, they’re still not expensive. This is a great way to go because there is an enormous amount of fabric here, and it’s already hemmed on three sides, cutting down on your work and expense. If you’ve ever priced home decor fabric you already know that even the stuff that looks like your grandmother’s couch can easily run $20 a yard or more.

The first step in this process was installing the sheer rods. Even though we didn’t have curtains, we did have curtain rods that the previous owners had left behind (judging from the curtains in the other parts of the house, we’re probably happier that they didn’t leave their curtains). Sheer rods have a small bracket that screws into the track on the traditional curtain rods, setting up the rod behind the original.

After that installation, I turned my attention to the curtain itself. The scarves I had were about ten yards long and probably a little more than a yard wide. That means you need a big open space to work with that much fabric. For me the only place I have that’s anywhere near that big is the floor. So I spread the fabric out, folded it in half, and cut it into two curtains.

You can see that the length of fabric was actually longer than the distance from my curtain rod to the floor, so I actually cut about a foot of fabric off the top to make a curtain that wouldn’t trail on the ground.

After your fabric is cut, the hard part starts. Then you have to sew your casing for the rod. This kind of sheer fabric is pretty much miserable to sew. It’s slippery, thin, and at least in the scarf I had, prone to snagging individual threads. The easiest way to get a clean edge on your cut side would be to serge it if you have a serger. I have a broken serger, so I had to make do with my sewing machine. I turned the raw edge under and sewed that down.

Because I have plenty of length and this is a tricky fabric I didn’t particularly worry about having a small seam allowance. It’s going to end up behind the curtain rod anyway.

After I turned the edge over, I turned the top three inches of the fabric down and sewed a casing for the rod.

Sewing this seam is actually much easier than sewing the previous seam. You have several layers of fabric, as well as the previous seam that all work together to give you a little more bulk and stability in your fabric.

Once you’re done with this seam, the sewing is done. You then take your shear rod, thread the curtains on, and bunch them up in the middle to keep them from getting in the way while you re-hang the rod in the brackets.

Then you just reinsert the rods in the brackets, trying not to break anything or step on your trailing length of fabric while you do so. Our final product looks like this.

As evidenced by the terrible quality of the second picture, they make the room feel a little more private without making it feel completely blocked off from the outside world. And for someone like me who is a fairly frequent napper, due to a lot of 4 am mornings at work, they really do help take the edge of the brightness, and help me sleep a little better.

Two-Level Table

March 29, 2011

One of the things that we’re trying to do here at Suburban Experiment is accumulate some furniture that doesn’t look like it belongs to a college apartment or dorm room. For me, that means trying to stay away from things made out of particle board. Unfortunately, real furniture, the kind made out of wood, is expensive. This has led me into the land of thrift store furniture and refinishing. My first project was this nice little two-level table:

Two-Level Table, before

Our lovely little table, direct from the thrift shop.

This isn’t a great picture, but you can get an idea of what it looked like. A pretty standard, medium-tone finish, that was pretty badly scratched on the table surfaces. That upper level of the table is covered in what I originally thought might be a formica in a avocado green-harvest yellow gradient, with a gold greek key pattern stamped around the edges.

So I stripped the original finish, and went after the ugly finish on the upper level, only to realize that it was not formica at all, but actually a piece of finished and stamped leather. Then I painted:

Two-level Table, stripped and painted

This shows the paint job without any embellishments. Or drawer pulls.

This paint color is called “cantaloupe smile,” which is just a fantastic name, and it’s a great sunny, cheerful name. Which is good, because a section of my garage floor is now also this color. Just a note: never set your paint can on the surface you’re actually painting. Especially if you’re inclined to lift the object you’re working on.

After painting, I went in and added a piece of fabric to the top level to mimic the effect of the original table decoration. I just glued it on with decoupage paste, and am trusting to the varnish to help make it stay in place.

Two-level table with fabric

This gives a better idea of the color, and shows the fabric on top.

Two-level table, inside of drawer

I also used the same fabric to line the inside of the drawer. After that was all said and done, I put a layer of varnish over the whole thing, and I used some Brasso on the drawer pulls and the wire lattice in the side to reveal that they are actually made out of metal, and not just oddly shaped tarnish. The finished result looks like this:

Two-level table finished


Two-level table finished, front


Two-level table finished