Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tea Towels - Make your Own!

Here’s a quick and easy project you can make for yourself or to give as a gift. Following are the instructions for the two different types that I’ve made.

Method 1 - Using purchased terry towels

I purchased plain white waffle-weave cloth towels in the kitchen department of the local “big box” store. They came in a pack of three for less than $6. Prewash and dry the towels and press. Do the same for the fabric unless you buy quilting cotton, in which case it’s already preshrunk.

Using the width of the purchased towel as a guide, cut a band of fabric the width of the towel plus 1” (the seam allowances will be ½”). Make the band as long or as short as you want, this is just the decorative band which will be at the bottom of your finished towel. This is where you can use scraps left over from other projects. In this case I used a band about 5” long so that I ended up with a 4” strip at the bottom of the towel.

Cut off the hem from the bottom only of the purchased towel.

With the right side of the band to the wrong side of the towel, and raw edges even, stitch or serge using ½” seam allowance.

Press, folding band to the right side of the towel. Then press under your seam allowances on all raw edges of the band – 1/2” on each side of the band and ½” at the top of the band. Press well.

If you want to add any embellishment, such as ric-rac, this is the time to do it. I inserted jumbo ric-rac just under the band so the top of the ric-rac shows after it’s all assembled. You could also add piping or a coordinating strip of fabric. If you’re using any embellishment, stitch it in place before proceeding to stitch the sides. You can also add a decorative stitch here. I used the featherstitch.

Then stitch along each edge of the band using a regular straight stitch to secure the edges of the band to the towel. That’s it!

Finished Towels, to be given as Christmas Gifts!

Method 2 - Creating your towel from fabric

This method is a little more work. You’ll need a fabric that’s 100% cotton for absorbency. I used an interesting heavy fabric that I found at the quilt store for the “towel” part and a pretty green and red paisley for the decorative band.

Decide what size you want to make your towel. The best way to do that is look at some towels you already have and measure them. I wanted mine about 18 x 28 inches, finished size. Be sure to add ½ inch seam allowances to all edges before cutting.

So, I cut the "towel" fabric 19” wide by 25” long and the decorative band fabric 19” wide by 9” long.

With right sides together, having raw edges even, stitch or serge the decorative band to the towel.

Press, pressing seam toward band.

If you have a serger, serge all edges then turn under ½” and press. If you don't have a serger, press under 1/4" then press under 1/4" again (basically you're making a 1/4" hem on all sides).

Fold the decorative band wrong sides together so that the pressed edge meets the seam on the back of the towel. Press well then “stitch in the ditch” on the right side, catching the pressed edge of the band on the back of the towel.

Finished Towels!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Favorite Small Kitchen Appliance

I'm always finding new ways to use my Kitchen Aid Mixer - it's my favorite, most useful small kitchen appliance (thanks Caroline!). I have a food grinder attachment and buy roasts on sale and grind them into hamburger for a fraction of the cost of lean ground beef. Now even Marc has learned to do this! We've made sausage too as you can see from a previous post and bread. I made pizza dough two nights ago, using our home made Italian sausage and it was delicious! If you want the dough recipe let me know.

So, I have this attachment that I think they call the Roto Slicer Shredder or something weird like that. It comes with four "drums" about 4 inches across on the front. I inherited it from Mom. I'm not sure what exactly she did with it - I think I recall her shredding cabbage to make coleslaw. It's stainless and aluminum but the new ones are made of plastic.

It's my new favorite toy in the kitchen. I used to have it squirreled away in the closet under the stairs and had to move 25 things to get it out so I rarely used it. I wasn't sure what I'd do with it anyway.

But now, in my quest to save money I found a fabulous use for it - grating cheese in bulk. I quit using pre-grated cheese a while back, not because of the cost, which is staggering if you do the math, but because they add something to keep the cheese from sticking together, and I can taste and feel it when I eat it. I used a hand grater which gets old fast. So now I buy cheese in bulk and if you pay attention you will find that it's on sale quite often. I just got several types for $2.99 per pound recently. I grate a whole block (1-2 pounds at a time) with the Roto Slicer Shredder thingy and it takes about 5 seconds! I store the cheese in a Pyrex refrigerator dish.

I remember Dad making potato chips when I was a kid and he used this gizmo. He was always making some really weird dish like potato chips or donuts. He never made run of the mill meals. So last night I wanted sweet potato oven fries but I got a wild idea that we'd have sweet potato chips! The potato I used was huge, so I had to cut it in half and I used the thin slicer drum and even though sweet potatoes are hard to slice it worked great! Most of the slices were paper thin, a few were a little thicker. I fried them in 350 degree oil in a cast iron pot until they were golden then drained them and sprinkled coarse (kosher) salt on them. We snacked on them while dinner was cooking - they were great with a beer... Even Marc, who does not like sweet potatoes, liked them.

So I wondered if the chips would be good today and they're still crisp so I will be having some with lunch.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The High Price of Convenience

When we lived in the camper while building the house we used lots of disposable products for convenience's sake. Not only are disposable items expensive but then you have to deal with the trash. Living in the country you don't have city trash service so you have to figure out how to get rid of it. It's a lot easier to reduce the amount of "stuff" that comes into the household than it is to get rid of it once you're done with it.

I've been trying to whittle down the amount of disposable items we consume in our household. We've eliminated paper towels for the most part (every now and then Marc buys some cause he likes them). I use only dish cloths, cloth kitchen towels, cloth napkins. I wash them all separately in hot water so I know they're clean. I have lots of them so I always have fresh ones.

I love using the Swiffer Sweeper but I was cleaning yesterday and didn't have any of the mop refills... what to do? I figured I could make some reusable ones out of old towels. I had some towels destined to become rags (some would say they've been rags for a long time) so I measured, cut and serged them up into cleaning cloths which fit the Swiffer Sweeper perfectly.

To make your own, measure and cut old towels into pieces 8 inches by 10 inches. Be sure to cut off the selvedges and hems. Serge the edges. Either tie off the threads or apply Fray Chek (which is what I used).
Other ways to reduce your consumption of disposable items include:
  • using old-fashioned glass refrigerator dishes (Pyrex, Corning Ware) and jars (canning jars or repurposed mayo jars, etc.) instead of plastic baggies and plastic wrap. I have a turquoise Pyrex refrigerator dish of Mom's that must be at least 40+ years old and still going strong
  • sew or buy cloth or recycled plastic grocery bags to eliminate those plastic or paper grocery bags from the store
  • get a "commuter mug" for coffee or other drinks such as water
  • OK, if you're squeamish or a guy don't read this one - cloth "pads". After all, what do you think women used 50 years ago??
  • cloth diapers (see Stephanie's by clicking on her blog link above) and baby wipes. Stephanie made wipes using 8x8 inch squares of cotton velour, serged the edges together using a complimentary thread color. Not only do cloth diapers save tons of money but the amount of waste in the landfill is staggering.
  • A friend gave me a hand-knitted cotton dish cloth. It's almost too pretty to use, but it really works well. She also gave me crocheted pads that look a lot like Brillo Pads - they're crocheted out of tulle or net. Hard to believe that they're hand made and they go in the washer (but not the dryer) and they don't scratch.

Got any good ideas? Please post them!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sausage Making

We FINALLY had the pig "processed". Josh came with a trailer to load him one freezing morning. We lost track of how long we had him. Savanah got him to show in a fair, but he developed a limp early on which made him unacceptable as a show prospect so that's how we got him. We think we had him about 7 or so months. He got a large amount of cracked corn each day but he preferred table scraps. His favorite food of all was home-grown ripe cantaloupe.

Josh estimated his weight to be around 350. His hanging weight was 250 pounds. I could write an entire post about raising animals for slaughter, processing, humane treatment, etc., but I'll save that for another time.

We're not sure exactly how much meat we ended up with, but it was a lot! We didn't have room in the chest freezer for all of it - some had to go in the fridge freezer and some (the head and the fat) in the fridge in the shed. We gave the head to some people who make tamales. We're going to render the lard (more on that exciting project in another post....)
Since we weren't sure how much sausage we wanted to have, we just had the trimmings ground and put all the roasts in the freezer. In the future we can always grind up some roasts if necessary to make more sausage. We had 25 pounds of trimmings, which is a good bit to work with when you're making the sausage yourself. It was really nice having the meat ground by the butcher. What a timesaver! All we had to do was season, stuff if desired, and smoke (which comes a little later).
I researched home sausage making on the internet and found recipes using 45 and 90 pounds of meat!! I finally found recipes that used 5 or 10 pounds, which is just about right for us. The recipes can be found at

The first batch of sausage we made was breakfast sausage. This was very easy. It's basically ground pork, salt and spices. A note on the spice jars shown in the picture - I wanted a spice rack and looked all over the internet but couldn't find one I liked for less than $50. I happened upon one at a yard sale for $2. It included a wooden rack and about 20 or so jars. I cleaned it up, wiped a little stain on the rack to shine it up, and made labels on my ink jet printer. What a good deal!

Ok, so back to the sausage. We made some links and some bulk. The links are somewhat difficult and practice makes perfect. After making all the links I realized you can make one long tube THEN twist the individual links. You want to try to get the links all a uniform size and it's pretty tricky trying to make sure the meat is pushed down into the grinder, you support the casings as the meat is filling it and so on. Of course just about the time you start to get the hang of it you're done. Marc had to handle feeding the grinder while I was in charge of the casings. After a while we got tired of doing that so we finished with bulk sausage. I got supplies from Eldon's Jerky and Sausage Supply. I bought casings and poly storage bags which I used for the breakfast sausage. We packaged the sausage in Foodsaver bags and vacuum sealed them.

For the breakfast sauage, I carefully measured the salt and spices according to the recipe and made a small tester patty, which tasted really good. However, the finished sausage tastes a little salty. Again in hindsight I realize I didn't follow the directions exactly - you're supposed to mix all the salt and spices in the water before you add to the meat. I initially sprinkled the first tablespoon of salt over the meat before I remembered! For 10 pounds of ground trimmings, I added 2 Tbsp. table salt, 1-1/2 Tbsp. sage, 1-1/2 tsp. thyme, 1/2 tsp. ginger, 3/4 tsp. nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper and 1/2 cup water. Caroline and Stephanie said it needed more sage.

Since the meat was already ground all I had to do was stuff the casings using the food grinder attachment to my Kitchen Aid mixer. I use it quite often to grind roasts I find on sale into hamburger. I bought the sausage stuffer attachment set (the tube thing that comes out the front) on Ebay for about $8 including postage. The grey plastic bin in the photo is a food grade storage tote that I got from the restaurant supply store. It really came in handy for mixing the 10 pounds of pork that we used for the breakfast sausage recipe.
After making the breakfast sausage we made a batch of Beer Brats. I substituted beer for the water in the Bratwurst recipe. Don't they look good?! Marc likes to grill brats but I've never really liked them. I'm hoping that homemade sausages will taste better than store-bought.

Next, we made bulk Italian Sausage. I used our home raised dried cayenne peppers in this to add a little kick. We packaged this in 1 pound packages. I plan to use this for lasagna, spaghetti, pizza, etc. The ground pork is fairly lean - it has less fat than ground chuck.

Next weekend we plan to make Polska Kilebasa, which will be smoked.

We have 12 pounds of bacon curing right now. This weekend when it's done we'll smoke it and I'll post some pics of that process!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Easy Christmas Stocking Tutorial

Journey came before Christmas and we couldn't find a Baby's First Christmas stocking anywhere. Her Mom is planning to make her a felt embroidered stocking for next Christmas, but what would we do this year?? Grandma made her a quick and simple stocking. If only Grandma had an embroidery machine... think what I could do! Here's a tutorial if you'd like to try it out yourself.


Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Sisters
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Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Caroline
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Tipping the Scales

Journey is up to 10-1/2 pounds now!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The 2010 Homemade Christmas Challenge is Under Way!

OK folks, I've threatened it for years .... and now 2010 is the year for the first Annual Homemade Christmas! Call it "Homemade Christmas From the Heart" or something along those lines. Out with commercialism, in with Homemade from the Heart!

There are a lot of reasons why 2010 is a good year to plan for homemade gifts: I don't want to see gifts I've bought and paid for end up in a yard sale; the national economy is grim; I will probably lose my job; we really don't need as much as we want; etc.

Some of my best Christmas memories didn't involve expensive gifts.

Grandma Gray had scads of grandchildren and great-grandchildren and yet she managed to give everyone a gift at Christmas on a low fixed income. I asked her how she did it and she said she shopped throughout the year, buying items on sale and stockpiling them and making handmade gifts throughout the year as well. One of my all-time favorite gifts that I ever received and that I used for years, literally until it fell apart, was a "tote bag" for lack of a better term. She used the base of a plastic sherbet container and punched holes around the top edge and crocheted a "tube" about 6-8 inches up with a drawstring to close the tube. Thus, a tote. I loved that thing! I think she made a bunch of them. Mary says she thinks hers was made from a plastic milk jug. Grandma Gray made Christmas tree skirts, tablecloths (Dana has a beautiful one she made with net/tulle and felt and cardinals sewed on it if I recall correctly), dolls, Barbie doll clothes, Christmas stockings, embroidered felt door knob thingys, and so on. I particularly loved the topsy-turvy" doll that she made me. I found a pattern for it on Ebay and plan to make it for one or more granddaughters!

These gifts could not be bought with money and they are the ones I remember so well. I'd like to leave those memories with my children and grandchildren.

Even if you're not "crafty" there are LOTS of things that can be made. Here's a quick list of things that come to mind:

1. Christmas Decorations, such as wreaths, stockings, ornaments, etc. The great thing about this type of gift is that if the recipient doesn't love it, they only have to drag it out once a year!!
2. Aprons - they are so IN right now and very practical. Make them with Christmas fabric that will be on clearance soon.
3. Kitchen or "Tea" Towels. Everyone needs them. Make them to match the recipient's kitchen theme/color or make Christmas theme towels. I made some this past year and I will post a "tutorial" soon.
4. Slippers. Who doesn't always need slippers?? They can be made pretty much with scraps leftover from other projects. I scoured the internet and found free patterns. Watch for a tutorial coming soon.
5. Other sewing gifts that are fairly "safe" - meaning the recipient is likely to actually use them - and would be appreciated would be a robe, nightgown, after-bath wrap, bath pillow.
6. Food gifts are always great to receive and anyone can put them together. You could make something like cookies, bread, jelly, pickles, etc. or make up "mixes". There are lots of mix recipes on the internet for free. It's all in the presentation. Use canning jars and layer the ingredients, or use a cute gift box and put the ingredients in zip-lock bags. Look for decorative plates or other containers throughout the year at yard sales.
7. Bath products. The ingredients are available everywhere and recipes are available on the internet for free. Look for jars and containers at yard sales throughout the year.
8. Lap Robe or Throw Blanket. I saw instructions to make a lap robe out of fleece on the internet. The pattern included a "pocket" in which the blanket is folded up and tucked into so that when not used it looks like a pillow. If you leave off the pocket no sewing is involved at all.
9. How about a set of handmade cards or stationery along with a calendar with family member's birthdays and anniversary's already jotted down?
10. Search the internet - especially people's blogs - to find more inspiration! Martha Stewart's website has tons of ideas too.

The gifts that can be made are only limited by your imagination!

So, anyone want to join in the challenge?? Don't wait till December! Start now by making a list of the people to whom you want to give gifts and jot down notes about what you could make for them. Start looking for materials in that pile of stuff that's destined for the next yard sale (maybe repurpose fabric from some old clothes?), go to the Christmas clearance sales at the craft stores now and shop at yard sales throughout the year. Just get started!

Finding the Time

How many times have you said "I just don't have the time to..."

Did you know that if you eliminated just 30 minutes of television watching per day you'd have 182.5 hours each year to do something more productive. 182.5 hours equates to 7.6 FULL DAYS or 22.8 WORK DAYS (based on an 8-hour work day).

What could you do with that much time??