Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thursday Feature: Coveted Crafts

Every Thursday, Dexter & Dinah will feature a new crafter/artisan whose works are handmade.

Plastic bags are presently the bane of my existence.  I hate throwing them away, so they keep piling up - I've forgotten my canvas totes the last few times at the grocery store, and the pile of plastic bags keeps getting higher (though I'm hoping to do something clever like what Alyse did with her bag rag rug).  I also keep sending my man to work with his lunch in a plastic sandwich bag.  Etsy seller Torilynn123 has the solution with these cute, reusable, and washable sandwich or snack bags:

ItsAWrap reusable snack bag
The backs are lined with water-resistant nylon and a strip of velcro holds your sandwich in place.  They come in several fun and colorful patterns.  Alyse and I saw some of these in the store the other day for an outrageous price, but Torilynn123 brings this handmade good to you at an affordable $6.  What a great idea!

Happy Thursday Crafters!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Project: Autumn Inspired Table Setting, Part 1

Autumn is my favorite season, no contest. I love pumpkin lattes, pumpkin pies, pumpkin scented candles, carving pumpkins, really anything to do with that cute orange squash! I also love the smell of the rain, the changing of the leaves, apple cider... Words really cannot express the way I feel in the fall, so I must show my love through crafts! 

This post is the first of two projects, a tablecloth and placemats, so watch for the second installment!

Tablecloth Ingredients:
  • A piece of linen large enough to cover your table and hang over the side.  Make sure you get a piece a few inches larger than you want, for the hem.
  • Thread.   I used embroidery thread in a shimmery gold color
  • Sewing machine
  • Scissors/ rotary cutter & cutting mat
  • Sewing needle
  • measuring tape
  • Straight pins

  To make the tablecloth, cut your material to a size a few inches larger than you wish the final tablecloth to be. Try to cut as straight as possible. 

  Fold all edges over approximately one inch, and pin in place, letting the corners pop up as shown in the first photo.

When all sides have been folded and pinned, cut the excess fabric from each corner, as shown in photo two.

Carefully unpin the two pins holding a corner in place, and fold that corner in again, overlapping the original fold as in photo three. 

While holding the corner in place, fold each side of the hem in to meet in the center of your corner. Pin as shown in photo four. This may take a few tries to come out even, so don't worry if you don't get it the first time!

Once you have a corner folded, go around the tablecloth again, removing your pins one at a time, folding the hem over itself and re-pinning it. Fold and pin each corner the same way as the first one. 

Now that the hem is folded over twice, and no cut edges are showing, you are ready to sew. I used a double zigzag stitch, for durability and decoration. Sew around the tablecloth, making sure to sew through both folds in the hem and to maintain an equal distance from the edge. 

Tip: When you get to a corner, make sure the needle is through the fabric, then lift the presser foot and turn the fabric around the needle 90 degrees. This ensures that your stitches will line up, and lets you keep sewing with little time wasted.

After you have finished sewing, use your hand sewing needle to pull any loose ends to the back (folded) side, tie them off, and cut them away. 

Iron the tablecloth to remove any wrinkles, and to create crisp edges. 


Friday, September 24, 2010

Green Beans and Sugar Snap Peas with Candied Ham

I find that a new kitchen makes me hesitant to improvise in my cooking.  While I have tried recipes which were new to me, including Martha Stewart's Macaroni and Cheese (scrumptious!) and a Morrocan Chicken Tagine (flavorful and exotic!), I hadn't really created any new recipes of my own, until tonight.  And while it is just a side dish, and a fairly simple one on that, it's tasty, and it's nice to be able to call this one mine.

Necessity was the mother of this invention, as the amount of fresh vegetables in the fridge were dwindling and a full dinner should always have something from the veggie family in my mind.  I originally thought, "Roasted carrots!"  But then remembered that my boyfriend doesn't like them (sigh).  I wanted something hearty, that would taste like the beginnings of fall, which is what we are experiencing in Seattle these days.  (Do you ever suddenly look up near the end of September and realize the leaves are changing colors?  Even if it has been happening right in front of me for some time, there's usually a moment where I think, "Wow!  What lovely leaves!").  This recipe combines some of the flavors of holiday ham and the crispness of fresh green beans.  Since we had some sugar snap peas I threw them in as well, though just green beans would be fine.  Served with baked risotto and some roasted chicken, this is a great side dish to welcome in the fall.  Since my significant other has never been one to turn down a meal with pork, this was a hit.  

Green Beans and Sugar Snap Peas with Candied Ham

1/2 ham steak, diced
1 large handful green beans, ends      trimmed
1 small handful sugar snap peas, ends  trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil.  While it is reaching the boil, prepare another bowl with an ice bath.  When the water is boiling, add salt liberally, then throw in the green beans and sugar snap peas.  Blanche for about 1 minute, just to increase the green color and remove the squeakiness of the beans; remove with a strainer and place immediately in the ice bath.  Remove from the ice bath and dry completely (this is important so that the water doesn't splash when it hits the hot oil later).

2.  In a good-size skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil.  When the olive oil is shimmering, add the ham; the ham should sizzle when it hits the pan (you want it to be good and crispy).  Sprinkle the brown sugar over the ham and stir to coat.

3.  Once the ham has cooked for a minute or two and has that wonderful golden-brown look to it, add the green beans.  The heat will essentially sear the green beans, and this will happen very quickly, so don't walk away, lest they burn.  Stir the green beans, let sit a very brief moment, then stir again.  Once the green beans have a little color to them from the searing (as Anne Burrell says, "Brown food tastes good!") remove the green beans from the heat; taste a bean, season with salt accordingly, and serve immediately to your pork-obsessed significant other.  

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday Feature: Coveted Crafts

Every Thursday, Dexter & Dinah will feature a new crafter/artisan whose works are handmade.

This Thursday's Coveted Crafts is a short one, as we have a lot of fun projects/recipes coming your way this weekend.  One ordinary object that I am forever looking for new ways to turn into something extraordinary is the common t-shirt.  My boyfriend has about a thousand t-shirts stained with bike grease that I'm finding new ways to repurpose - I hate throwing anything away!  While I'm working on a t-shirt rug, I also find this t-shirt tote bag from SquirrelProductions quite charming:

Upcyled t-shirt yarn farmer's market tote bag

It is made entirely from upcycled t-shirts!  It looks roomy enough for quite a few groceries or picnic supplies.  While I've long known how to knit, I think it is high time for me to learn how to crochet, so I too can create things as innovative as this.

Happy Thursday Crafters!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Project: Bag Rag Rug

A bag rag rug is a quick and easy project that makes use of some of those pesky plastic bags full of plastic bags that you may have around. It takes the simple old technique for making a rag rug, and puts it to use on a modern problem- too many plastic bags.


  • a big bag full of plastic bags
  • rotary cutter/scissors
  • cutting mat
  • sewing machine (or more patience than I have)

A quick note: in this tutorial I used several thicknesses of bags, because I wanted the different colors. However, the changes in thickness made the rug bunch up a bit during sewing, and I had to set it under my cutting mat with a heavy toolbox on top for a day or so to make it flatten out. I would recommend only using one type of bag, preferably the thin grocery store kind.

First, cut the bags as shown, removing the handles and the bottom, then cutting strips across the width of the bag so they make loops. You can make the strips whatever width you want. Mine were around 3" on these thin bags and about 1 1/2 on the thicker bags.

You do not have to cut all of your bags at the beginning. It does get tedious. I cut a big batch, then would take breaks when I ran out to do another batch.

Take three strips, and clip or tie them together at the end. I chose not to tie them so there would not be an extra bump in the rug. Try to make the ends staggered, so they are slightly different lengths.

Braid the three strips together as if braiding hair, leaving an inch or two at the end.

You will need to attach the next strips as follows:

Pull the new strip through the loop of an original strip

Pull the second end of the new strip through the end which is sticking out of the original strip

Carefully pull tight. These strips of plastic are very fine and will easily rip if you apply too much pressure.

Repeat these steps for all three strips and continue to braid, adding on each time you reach the end.

If you staggered the lengths of the strips in the beginning, each knot will be in a different spot, avoiding a large bump in a single location.

Once you get into the rhythm you will find a way to keep the rope tight. Some people will tie the end to a chair or something, but this may not work well due to the length of the rope.

I began by stepping on the rope as I went, and when it got really long I just sat back on the couch and used my toes to feed the rope along! My fiancĂ©e thought this was hilarious.

When you feel like you have enough rope to make a rug, or you get bored with braiding, you can start to sew your rug. Of course you can do it by hand, but I chose to use my sewing machine.

Lay the beginning end of your rope down flat with the clip removed. I made this initial section of rope about 7" but it doesn't really matter. Curve the rope back closely beside the initial section, covering the loose ends when you wrap it around.

Continue to wrap the rope around itself, being sure it is laying flat at all times, and sew it to itself with a zigzag stitch.

If the rug is not big enough, remove it from the sewing machine and keep adding more strips until it is!

When the rug is the size you want, and you have almost sewed to the end, wrap the loose ends under (on the same side the loose ends from the beginning are on) and sew straight across them with a straight stitch, to the edge of the rug. Then, back stitch over it again for strength.

You can cut off any remaining loose ends, and your rug is complete!

Remember, if the rug bunches up at first you can put it under something flat and heavy to flatten it out more.

Finally, submit your project for inspection! This project is Dinah inspected and approved.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Table Has Arrived!

Remember the dining room chairs?  Well, the dining room table has arrived!

The table ended up matching the chairs perfectly (they're all teak, after all).  There's a lot of wood going on in there!  I'm in the process of exploring ideas for wall decor, table runners and mats, et cetera to give the room a little more light and personality - there are some great craft projects in store!  I also need to rehabilitate the table itself.  This is the table I grew up with, so it's had plenty of water, hot, homemade food, and a couple of forks thrown at it over the years (little brothers will throw tantrums).  With a little steel wool and some teak oil I ought to be able to restore the table to something of its former glory.  This will also be the site of future crafting - I'm very excited!

Just to prove the table is already getting some use, here's a few pictures of our very first meal in the dining room, complete with, um, temporary place mats.

A big salad, some smoked salmon, and lots of warm, crusty bread - a great inaugural meal.  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thursday Feature: Coveted Crafts

Every Thursday, Dexter & Dinah will feature a new crafter/artisan whose works are handmade.

Part of the inspiration for this blog was the idea of creating useful and aesthetically pleasing crafts and works of art out of ordinary objects.  I particularly like the idea of using objects that would be thrown away or otherwise disposed off if they weren't turned into something new and beautiful.  Etsy seller Bottlehood features upcycled glasses, tumblers, and pendant lamps out of liquor, beer, and wine bottles that would otherwise be destined for the recycling plant or a landfill.  How striking is this pendant lamp, made from a leftover bottle of Skyy Vodka?

Upcycled Skyy Vodka Pendant Lamp
I also like the graphic feel of this pendant lamp with the text of the original bottle prominently featured:

Absolut Mandarin hanging light pendant with canopy
While I already have glasses coming out of my ears, I still rather fancy these charming amber-colored tumblers, which highlight the French beer company's logo printed in the glass:

Amber recycled bottle glass tumbler

Bottlehood is based out of San Diego and emphasizes that its bottles are all sourced from local restaurants to reduce its carbon footprint.  Hmm, maybe I could find someone who would be willing to help me turn my own love for bottles into usable art a little bit closer to home...

Happy Thursday crafters!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bringing the outdoors in...

...with forest murals!  Or forest photo walls!  Or some tree/forest inspired project.  At least, that's the idea I'm currently exploring for the area in the living room behind my couch.  It is currently a broad expanse of wood paneling, which looks like this:

My goodness, that's a lot of wood paneling...

I'd love to have a DIY project that was big, bold, and reflects my love of nature and the forests of the Pacific Northwest (and to tie in with the cabin theme, naturally.  Perhaps I should blow up some of the photos I've taken while hiking?  It might look like something along these lines:

Check out CatsMeowArt's Etsy Shop!

The photo below features what could be a neat idea in white string on the wood-paneled wall, but I'm not sure I'm willing to put that many holes in the wall...

Original post at Re-Nest

Because we can't paint the walls, something like this (in a lighter color scheme) might work, and would be a fun DIY art project:

Original post also at Re-Nest

Hmm...fellow crafters, any ideas?  Stay tuned for what ends up going on the wall!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pantry Staple Recipe: Vegetarian Beer Chili

Alyse and I were talking recently about cooking more vegetarian food at home.  It's hard to find healthy, tasty vegetarian recipes that have enough protein without tofu, since a certain man (ahem) won't eat it (unless he doesn't know it's there).  My mom made chili a lot while my brother and I were growing up, always served over rice.  We come from German stock in my family, and we ate a lot of meat - I can't remember ever having a chili which wasn't based on ground beef.  Mom's chili was a tomato based chili with black and kidney beans in addition to the ground beef.  And lots of tasty spices.  (Hi, Mom!)

Once I struck out on my own, though, and learned a little more about the impact of meat on the environment, I decided to cut some meat out of my diet.  (I really like meat so I didn't cut it all, I just decided to eat less).

For a long time my standard kitchen-sink chili was just a vegetarian version of my mom's, except I served it with cornbread.  It was a good, but a smidge on the watery side.  Then I tried my friend Josh's chili.  Josh's chili featured ground chuck and beer.  There were onions, bell peppers, and chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce.  The beer enhanced the umami flavors of the beef, so the chili was earthy and spicy.  The beer added something that plain old tomatoes don't.  Josh's chili was also rich.  Very rich.  The reason the chili was so rich was that Josh finished it off with a roux, which is a mixture of butter and flour which has been roasted/toasted/cooked to bring out the nuttiness of the flour and the butter.  I knew what my vegetarian chili was missing.

After a little bit of experimentation, I came up with the recipe below.  It is a marriage of my mother's chili (black and kidney beans, a can of stewed or crushed tomatoes) and Josh's chili (different kinds of peppers and a bottle of beer).  And I don't even miss the meat.  This chili simmers for a few hours and is finished off with a fairly young roux to thicken it right at the end.  It's best made on a lazy Sunday when you have time to throw together some skillet cornbread while the chili is simmering.   And it's even better for lunch the next day.  Just don't let your significant other have it all.

Vegetarian Beer Chili

This recipe is quite flexible and can be tweaked in any way you would like, which is why I'm fairly unspecific regarding the weight of each can.  If you like things really spicy, add more chipotle peppers, but be careful - when the chili cooks down these flavors will be concentrated.  If you like it really spicy, you could add some cayenne, though it really isn't necessary.  A teaspoon of ground coriander may also be a nice addition.

Note on the peppers: while fresh peppers would be nice, I really don't think you'll need them, due to the amount of time the chili is simmered.  Your budget will thank you - this bag of frozen bell pepper strips costs a fraction of the price of fresh peppers, clocking in at a $1.69 at Albertson's.

For the chili:

1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 bag frozen pepper strips
2-3 tablespoons chili powder (about a full palm full)
1 1/2-2 tablespoons cumin (about 2/3s of a palm full)
1/2 can chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can stewed or crushed tomatoes, no seasonings added
1 beer - any beer you happen to have in the house is fine, but the darker the better
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the roux:

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour

1. In a large stockpot (I'm pretty partial to my pride and joy, my Le Creuset stock pot) over medium heat, coat the bottom of the pan with a tablespoon or two of olive oil.  Add the onions and sweat them.  While they are cooking, open the package of  peppers, drain the liquid (reserving it for later), and run your knife through the peppers on the cutting board a few times so they are in bite-size pieces.  Add to the onions and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions are  no longer opaque.

2. Add the chili powder and cumin; sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.  Let the spices cook with the onions and peppers for 2-3 minutes so the spices can toast a little.

3. Run your knife through the chipotle peppers (careful about how many!  See note above) and add to the peppers and onions with what sauce is on the cutting board.

4. Add the beans, tomatoes, and beer.  Bring to a boil briefly and then reduce to a low simmer.  Cook for 1-2 hours, until the beer has cooked off and the chili has thickened to your desired consistency.

5. In a small saucepan over medium low heat, melt the butter.  (If you are feeling really indulgent, throw an extra tablespoon in there).  Let the butter melt fully and add the flour.  Stirring constantly, watch the flour and the butter to make sure they do not burn - the roux will turn a golden brown (or a deep golden brown if you have the patience).  Add the roux to the chili immediately and stir.

6. Serve the chili hot with cornbread and fixings of your choice, including sour cream (I use yogurt), shredded cheddar cheese, onion, and/or cilantro leaves.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Water Bottle Project

Hello there!
This is Alyse, and I love hiking as well as crafting. When I can find a project to combine the two, that is pure joy.

On the trail these days everyone is toting metal water bottles, which is great, but I get tired of seeing that third or fourth person with the exact same one I have. Today I would like to share with you a simple and fun way to give your bottle some character.

metal water bottle
Contact paper (any color, I used clear)
craft knife
spray paint (I used two colors)
cardboard to cut on

Start with a metal water bottle, such as Kleen Kanteen. Mine was this orange one.

Wrap the contact paper around the bottle (with backing still on) to cut a piece which will wrap all the way around, but not overlap much. Keep the top and bottom long, to cover the cap and base.

Decide on a design! I drew polka dots with leaves, flowers, and mushrooms in them on a sheet of paper.

Trace your design onto the Contact paper with a Sharpie.

Lay down a thick piece of cardboard and place your Contact paper over it, then begin cutting out your shapes, being sure to keep all the pieces.

Decide which portions of the design you wish to remain the original bottle color. The background should remain the original color, to avoid painting the lip where you drink and the cap.

Wrap the corresponding pieces of contact paper around the bottle, being sure to leave excess to cover the cap.

I wanted the stems and flower centers to stay orange, so I masked those areas as well.

Tie your length of string to the cap, and hang somewhere outside, away from anything you don't want paint on!

With spray paint, cover the entire bottle. Follow the directions on the can for technique and drying time.

I wanted the background of each dot to be white, so that was my first color.

When the first color is dry, apply the pieces of Contact paper which cover the areas to remain that color.

In my case, I wanted the dots to stay white, but the flowers to be purple. At this step I applied the circle shapes back into their places like puzzle pieces, with the flower shapes cut out of the middle of them.

(At this point those pieces covering the orange parts are still attached. Do not remove any stickers yet.)

Once you have your stickers in place, paint the next color and allow to fully dry.

Once dry, carefully remove all stickers.

The spray paint patterns will hold up quite well with use. The few little chips in the paint you see here have only just begun to appear after many hiking trips with this bottle.

Thursday Feature: Coveted Crafts

Every Thursday, Dexter & Dinah will feature a new crafter/artisan whose work is handmade.

I'm really having fun trying to figure out how to incorporate our existing furniture (a hodge-podge of Ikea, family hand-me-downs, mid-century modern and Danish modern) into our new, mostly wood-paneled house.  As I mentioned, I'm going for mod cabin - I'm thinking cuckoo clocks, ceramic antlers, a faux Flokati rug, and other knickknackery.  The result is that I've spent more time than I'd like to admit on Etsy.  This week, Dexter & Dinah is featuring etsy seller SewEnglish, whose handmade pillows, like her shop name, are firmly tongue-in-cheek.  I mean, who can resist a fun throw pillow like this one, which features one of life's most important lessons:

Bacon!  It makes everything better...

 How cute is this next one?  It ties in perfectly with the mod cabin theme:

Who!  Who!
But what I particularly fell in love with was this deer silhouette:

Oh dear!  A deer!
I loves me a play on words.  She also has some naughtier pillows which I admire for their playfulness but fear I would forget to take off the bed when the parents came to visit...hmmm...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Saga of the Dining Room Chairs

Our new house has a dining room.  I haven't had a dining room since I moved out of my parent's house.  Naturally, as someone who loves to cook for others, I was excited.  As a result of my parent's downsizing, I've inherited the teak dining room table that I grew up with, but I wanted new dining room chairs.  I've always been drawn to the idea of having modern chairs around a traditional table, like in this apartment therapy post:

Contemporary Chairs at Traditional Tables (and Vice Versa)

As soon as we moved in I started hunting for modern-looking dining chairs (which would hopefully stand out against the wood paneling.  Part of the quirky thing about this new house is that about 70% of is covered in wood paneling.  I'm slowly adjusting to this world of wood - it has given me the new project of creating a mod cabin style to fit our furniture.  I may have just made that term up.).

Er, anyway.  I liked several different kinds of chairs, all of them white.  I particularly had a crush on these white leather chairs from Crate and Barrel (more as inspiration than anything else since they were way out of our price range if we bought them new):

Crate and Barrel Folio Oyster Leather Side Chair

Alyse and I swung by Crate and Barrel to try these out and we both agreed they were very comfotable.  Trouble was, Ryan hated them.  And any other white, mildly modern-looking chair.  I must have shown him 15 chairs and he turned them all down - and I didn't want to buy furniture that my significant other was going to detest.  I was really hoping to buy second-hand, though, because I like the idea of buying what's already out there.  When I stumbled upon a set of chairs on craiglist that we both actually agreed on, I snatched them up immediately.

I am now the proud new owner of these dining room chairs, a fine example of vintage Danish Modern.

Photo Credit: simple huis
These are a complete departure from what I had originally intended, but I absolutely love them.  I'm also very pleased with the fact that they are unique, crafty, and vintage, which any of the other chairs would not have been.  They qualify as my first real furniture purchase (at least, my first real purchase which was not from Goodwill in order to furnish a less-than-immaculate college apartment).  Once I brought them home I did a little more googling about them (the craigslist post described them as Kosuga Dining Chairs) and discovered they were already famous!  Traci over at simple huis restored these chairs from their former paint-encrusted tackiness to the gleaming, tasteful example you see before you.  When she found them, they looked like this:

Photo credit: simple huis

 What an amazing difference!  Traci did an excellent job.  Her work was even featured on Design Sponge as an example of the value of a great makeunder.  Stay tuned for pics of my (hopefully fab) dining room, which will feature wood on wood on wood on wood (wood chairs, wood table, wood floors, wood paneling!).  Alyse and I have now been inspired to do our own makeunder/over furniture project in the near future.  To Goodwill!
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