Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I Did It! My Very First Thrift Store Refashion Project: Dress to Skirt

So, I have some very exciting news. I was the lucky winner (highest bidder) on a used Necchi 535FA sewing machine. I picked my sewing machine up for under $60.00 with shipping. If you had read my earlier blogs I had purchased a new Singer about a year ago with terrible results. The tension was a mess and the plastic reverse lever stripped off on my very first attempt to sew. I promptly returned it for a refund, dreaming of the very expensive Husqvarna Viking that would one day be mine. I finally go tired of hand sewing and set about finding a machine. This baby is all metal, solid and purrs like a kitten. It worked perfect out of the box and even though I have no idea what I'm doing is super easy to use. I'm not stoked abuot the 4 step button hole, but hey, at least it makes one! So, for my very first sewing project I made my stepfather a bag to cover his birthday gift out of the discarded sweat pant legs that I had laying around in my scrap pile. But tonight I have finished my very first sewing refashion. I recently went thrifting at Goodwill and bought enough close to supplement my wardrobe for the entire year for the cost of one jacket at Nordstrom's. A few of them fit right off the rack and a few were even new with tags from New York & Co. and Target. The best though were my works of art waiting to be realized. For about $4.00 a piece I bought some beautiful dresses that were all too big. Lucky for me I dislike dresses anyway, so I wouldn't feel bad about cutting them up and making them look much cooler. My very first project that I completed tonight was to take a rather boring 80's light cotton dress and turn it into a skirt. This was super easy, even for a total novice like myself. It took me about an hour (yes, mom I should be doing my finance homework, but a girl needs a little fun sometimes!), but that's because I am super slow on the machine and I had to craft a drawstring belt. Luckily the dress had two ties, so I cut them off and then cut the dress off at the armpits. I folded the waist down to make the skirt the lenght that I liked (about 2") and then I sewed a medium zigzag stich all the way around to form my casing. Finally, I noted that the two strings weren't quite long enough to give me the length that I needed for a belt. However, I took a t-shirt from the scrap bin, cut the bottom hem off and sewed into the middle of my two matching strings. This way,the tshirt part is in the casing where no one will see it anyway, and my belt is now the perfect length. I used a safety pin and ran it through the end of the string, snipped a little hole in the front of my casing and inched the safety pin dragging the belt through and out the other side. My new green and purple paisley skirt is adorable and fits like a dream. Best of all, the drawstring waist hides all of my newbie sewing sins. My husband joked that I looked like a hippie, but when this summer's 90 degree weather hits and I'm rocking my new featherweight cotton skirt I think I'll get the last laugh.

*I don't have a working camera yet, but as soon as I do I'll post pictures of how the skirt would look as a dress and how it looks now.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Oh No! What's left?

I just read a Discovery News article about how Lobsters and Crabs feel pain...I'm so depressed. I love seafood and thought that I was being a good human being by helping the environment and living a pescatarian diet. Then I go and read this: crustaceans possess "high cognitive ability and sentience." I watched Alton Brown tell me that they had the same nervous system and intelligence as a cock roach, and who would feel bad about eating them...if they weren't so icky. I'm a good Southern Maryland girl who loves her crustaceans and can't envision a summer without some tasty Maryland crabs. I've often wondered about the little noises I hear emmanating from the pot that sounded a little like tiny, crabby screams. I shudder just thinking back on how awful the experience of being tempted with a tasty chicken leg, rammed into a crate with a bushel of your enemies trying to rip your legs off, then dusted with pepper and salt, and tossed into boiling water. I can't promise to give them totally up just yet, but I'll try to eat fewer and be quicker about their dispatch. If I find out that my chocolate can feel pain I'm giving up on all of this and going straight back to raw cow.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I'm very concerned about growing a bountiful harvest of veggies and conserving water at the same time this season. My seedlings are doing well and I'll be preparing to plant in the next week or so, so I've been reviwing multiple container types. Raised beds, planters, feed troughs and many other options exist that are pretty and will grace my front yard, but they do waste a lot of water and aren't ideal for vegetables. Herbs will do wonderfully in these, but tomatoes suck up a lot of H2O and that is both expensive and wasteful. I encountered a very interesting article on something called the EarthTainer. This was developed by Ray Newstead as a self-watering vegetable container that can be made by anyone using his free designs and purchasing inexpensive items from big box stores. Gary Ibsen's Tomato Fest covered a great story on Ray's planters and includes a link to the plans and videos on installation. I'll be purchasing enough to make several of these to put in my unused and full-sun driveway space so that I can put my little seedlings out so that I can begin to literally enjoy the fruits of my labor as soon as possible.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Interesting Article : Mark Bittman's "Putting Meat Back in it's Place"

This is a great article in the New York Times by Mark Bittman who encourages everyone to help save the planet, by eating at least a little less meat.

June 11, 2008
The Minimalist
Putting Meat Back in Its Place
LET’S suppose you’ve decided to eat less meat, or are considering it. And let’s ignore your reasons for doing so. They may be economic, ethical, altruistic, nutritional or even irrational. The arguments for eating less meat are myriad and well-publicized, but at the moment they’re irrelevant, because what I want to address here is (almost) purely pragmatic: How do you do it?
I’m not talking about eating no meat; I’m talking about cutting back, which in some ways is harder than quitting. Vegetarian recipes and traditions are everywhere. But in the American style of eating — with meat usually at the center of the plate — it can be difficult to eat two ounces of beef and call it dinner.
Cutting back on meat is not an isolated process. Unlike, say, taking up meditation or exercise, it usually has consequences for others.
The keys are to keep at least some of your decisions personal so they affect no one but yourself and, when they do affect others, minimize the pain and don’t preach. (No one likes a proselytizer.)
On the other hand, don’t apologize; by serving your friends or family less meat you’re certainly doing them no harm, and may be doing them good — as long as what you serve is delicious, and that’s easy enough.
Reducing the meat habit can be done, and it doesn’t have to make you crazy. Although there will undoubtedly be times you’ll have cravings, they’ll never give you the shakes. So, in no particular order, here are some suggestions to ease your path to eating less meat.
1. Forget the protein thing. Roughly simultaneously with your declaration that you’re cutting back on meat, someone will ask “How are you going to get enough protein?” The answer is “by being omnivorous.” Plants have protein, too; in fact, per calorie, many plants have more protein than meat. (For example, a cheeseburger contains 14.57 grams of protein in 286 calories, or about .05 grams of protein per calorie; a serving of spinach has 2.97 grams of protein in 23 calories, or .12 grams of protein per calorie; lentils have .07 grams per calorie.) By eating a variety, you can get all essential amino acids.
You also don’t have to eat the national average of a half-pound of meat a day to get enough protein. On average, Americans eat about twice as much as the 56 grams of daily protein recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (a guideline that some nutritionists think is too high). For anyone eating a well-balanced diet, protein is probably not an issue.
2. Buy less meat. How many ounces of meat is a serving? For years, the U.S.D.A.’s recommendation has been four ounces a person, yet most of us have long figured one-and-a-half to two pounds of meat is the right amount for four people. (Our per capita consumption of meat hasn’t changed much over the years, and remains at about a half-pound a day.) Change that amount, and both your cooking style and the way the plate looks will change, and quickly.
Remember that most traditional styles of cooking use meat as a condiment or a treat. This is true in American frontier cooking, where salt pork and bacon were used to season beans; in Italy, where a small piece of meat is served as a secondo (rarely more than a few ounces, even in restaurants); and around the world, where bits of meat are added to stir-fries and salads, as well as bean, rice and noodle dishes. In all of these cases, meat is seen as a treasure, not as something to be gobbled up as if it were air.
For many of us who grew up in the United States in the last 60 years, this is the toughest hurdle. The message (remember “Beef: it’s what’s for dinner”?) was in our psyche from before we could hold a fork. We may have vegetarian nights, or seafood nights, but when we have meat nights, there’s often a big piece of meat (or poultry) on the plate, with starch and vegetable to the side.
3. Get it out of the center of the plate.
You don’t have to jump into utterly unfamiliar territory; just try tweaking the proportions a bit. You might start by buying skinnier pork chops, or doling out smaller slices of steak .
Build the meal around what you used to consider side dishes — not only vegetables, but also grains, beans, salads and even dessert, if you consider fruit a dessert — rather than the meat. Nearly every culture has dishes in which meat is used to season rice or another grain. Consider dirty rice, fried rice, pilaf, biryani, arroz con pollo: the list is almost endless.
Similarly, there isn’t a country in the world that cooks legumes that doesn’t toss a little meat in now and then. And mentioning stir-fries and pasta dishes here seems almost too obvious.
But you need not go transcultural. When you make stew, soup or another dish with many ingredients, you make a decision about its main ingredient and about the quantity of that ingredient. If you think of meat stews or soups, chicken pot pie, even lasagna, you’ll quickly recognize that the decision to load them up with meat or to use meat as an ingredient of equal importance to the others is entirely yours.
The same is true when you’re grilling. Compare these statements: “We’re grilling a leg of lamb and throwing a few vegetables on there,” and “We’re grilling vegetables and breads, and will throw a few chunks of lamb on there.” Again, if you see the meat as a treasure, things change.
4. Buy more vegetables, and learn new ways to cook them.
If you’re a good cook, you already know you can make a meal out of pretty much anything. If you open your refrigerator and it’s stocked with vegetables, that’s what you’re going to cook. You’ll augment the vegetables with pantry items: pasta, rice, beans, cheese, eggs, good canned fish, bacon, even a small amount of meat. We’re not discussing vegetarianism, remember?
If you’re not a good cook, you have the opportunity to learn how to cook in what could turn out to be the style of the future.
5. Make nonmeat items as convenient as meat. There is a myth, even among experienced cooks, that few things are as convenient as meat. And while there’s no arguing that grilling, broiling or pan-grilling a steak or chop is fast, it’s equally true that almost no one considers such a preparation a one-dish meal.
By thinking ahead, and working ahead, you can make cooking vegetables as convenient as what in India is often called “non-veg.” Spend an hour or two during the course of the week precooking all the nonmeat foods you think take too long for fast dinners.
Store cooked beans in the refrigerator or freezer and reheat as needed, with seasonings. Keeping precooked beans in the freezer will change your cooking habits more easily than any other simple strategy.
Reheat cooked whole grains (the microwave is good for this) for breakfast with milk or dinner with savory seasonings. Wash tender greens and store in a salad spinner, covered bowl, or plastic bag. Most other vegetables can be poached, shocked in ice water, drained, and served cold or reheated in any fashion you like — sautéed quickly in butter, steamed, grilled or made into a gratin or something equally substantial.
6. Make some rules. Depending on your habits, it may be no bacon at breakfast; it may be no burgers at lunch; it may be no fast food, ever; it may be “eat a salad instead of a sandwich three times a week,” or “eat a vegetarian dinner three times a week.” It may mean meatless Fridays. It may mean (this is essentially what I do) meatless breakfasts and lunches and all-bets-are-off dinners.
7. Look at restaurant menus differently. If you’re cutting back on meat, there are three restaurant strategies. Two are easy, and one is hard, but probably the most important.
The first: go to restaurants that don’t feature meat-heavy dishes. It’s harder to go overboard eating at most Asian restaurants, and traditional Italian is fairly safe also.
The second: Once in a while, forget the rules and pledges, and eat like a real American; obviously you can’t do this every time, but it’s an option.
The third is the tricky one: Remember you’re doing this voluntarily, for whatever reasons seem important to you (or at least seemed, until you were confronted with the lamb shanks on the menu). Then order from the parts of the menu that contain little or no meat: salads, sides, soups and (often, anyway) appetizers. If all else fails, offer to share a meat course among two or even three or four people; many restaurant entrees are too big anyway.
I distinctly remember (no great feat; it was just over a year ago), the first time I was in a restaurant and ordered two salads and a bowl of soup.
My companion, who had long known me as a meat-first kind of guy, asked, “Really?”
The waiter asked, “How would you like that served?” And then life went on as usual. Wasn’t bad at all.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Blue, Green Garden?

It's seedling time again, but this year I wanted to use grow lights. However, traditional grow lights use a lot of energy that is wasted in the form of heat. Also, it's difficult to grow seedlings in a small home or apartment with these lights because of the high heat that they put out. Luckily, I stumbled across L.E.D. grow lights designed for all stages of plant growing. Blue bulbs for seedlings, red for flowering, and a cool cube of mixed red and blue for all-purpose indoor gardening. I've read a few reviews that sound promising, so I contacted EarthLED for their recommendations on the type and number of bulbs I'll need for my flats. He recommended the EarthLED GrowLED 38. He also indicated, "When the GrowLEDs are hung 3 to 12 Inches above plants each GrowLED 38 Illuminates 1-2 Square Feet of growing Area." I am going to order three bulbs so that I can be sure to illuminate all of my flats. I'll update with photos and progress as I go. If you have experience with L.E.D. grow lights; please comment!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Twice Baked Potato: Easy and Nutritious

Potatoes are super easy to make and a tasty snack or meal. Potatoes are high in vitamin c, minerals like potassium, are high in iron, protein and fiber. In short, potatoes are very good for you. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to put a lot of unhealthy things in our potatoes. Still, even if eaten with addition of a small amount of unhealthy foods, if replacing something even less healthy (empty, sugary caolories for example) potatoes can be good for you. I've been facing a tough semester and have had far less time to prepare food than I would like, but rather than turning to pre-packaged processed foods, I've tried to find comforting low-maintenance foods and twice baked potatoes fit the bill. You can use lot of ingredients to fill your twice-baked potatoes, but here is what I made tonight.

4 potatoes (russet)
2 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp chives
1 clove of garlic (smashed and finely chopped)
salt + pepper (to taste)

Simply scrub your potatoes and pop them in the oven (pre-heated to 350 degrees). I prefer my toaster oven for this task because it uses less energy and takes less time to heat up. Bake your potatoes for about 60 minutes (70 if you like really crisp skins). About half-way through, flip and poke a few holes in your potatoes with a fork. Remove the cooked potatoes with a pot holder and slice off the tops. Scoop out the tender flesh with a teaspoon, leaving enough to help the skins hold their shape. Put into the bowl and mash with your butter, milk, cream, olive oil, etc. and then add additional ingredients and mix. Scoop the fluffy mixture back into the potatoes and up the temperature to 375 degrees and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until the tops begin to brown. I enjoy mine topped with a bit of sour cream. Enjoy!

Mark Bittman: What's wrong with what we eat

Charles Moore: Sailing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Chronicling my adventures in proving that less is more. I'll learn to refashion/recycle clothes, prepare gourmet meals using as many natural/basic/raw ingredients as possible. I'll learn to spend less, live more, and reclaim those things that are truly valuable in my life.


Below are feeds from websites that I find to be interesting and from a similar vein.


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