Friday, February 28, 2014

Fruit Fly Trap

Sorry for the rather gross photo!  But -- have you ever had a fruit fly infestation?  We get them occasionally in the summer, but we've had a bad one over the past few weeks, despite the fact that it's WINTER and I don't have any fruit or other produce sitting out in my kitchen!  So this post is really just a quick tip about what to do if you find your self in the same boat that I was in.

The first thing is to find the source of the infestation.  You might think there isn't anything, but there is.  In our case, my son apparently threw away a banana peel in his bathroom wastebasket two weeks or so ago.  (He's supposed to empty that wastebasket, too -- yeah, didn't get done.)  So we got rid of the banana peel, but we still had fruit flies in the house.

To get rid of them, I filled a shallow container about a third full with apple cider vinegar.  To that I added a few drops of dishwashing liquid.  Then I covered the container very tightly with plastic wrap, and poked some holes in the top.  The holes need to be big enough for the fruit flies to find, so they can't be too small.  Then I set the container out on the counter.

Twenty-four hours later, there were 22 dead fruit flies in the vinegar, and I'd killed 3 more that were hanging around nearby and were apparently drugged by the scent.  Now, if you'd asked me how many fruit flies I thought there were in the house after the banana peel had been tossed, I'd have said 3 or 4.  I had NO IDEA we had this many!  Gross, just gross.  And yeah, it's really gross seeing their dead bodies in that container.  But, it had to be done.

After twenty-four hours, I tossed the old mixture and set out a new container.  You have to keep a dish of the mixture out for a few days to make sure you catch any fruit flies that have just hatched.  I'd have sworn there weren't any more of those suckers in the house, but after a few hours, there were 3 flies in the solution.

Again, sorry for the gross picture, but I wanted to show you that this fruit fly trap really works!  Apparently, fruit flies are really dumb, and after they fly into the container through one of the holes, they can't figure out how to get back out again, and eventually they drown.  So, yeah, very gross, but very effective.  Just a quick tip from my kitchen to yours!   

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

WIPocalypse 2014: February Report

It's the middle(ish) of February, so that means it's time for a monthly report on the progress I've made on the various cross-stitch projects that I've committed to working on this year.  I've been stitching quite a bit lately, and have made pretty good progress on some of my WIPs.  First up is Tyler's Lion, my huge, historically-based, one-color sampler.  This was designed by Long Dog Samplers.  I've gotten the entire border down the left side completed, and I decided to start on the large center panel next.  This is my favorite thing to stitch on while watching TV.          

Next is Albero Felice, an AAN design.  The name translates from Italian as "Happy Tree," and I can't tell you how much I love this piece!  I love the design, the cheery colors, the wonderful curliques -- all of it.  I love this pattern so much that I've been looking through all of AAN's tree designs (and there are a TON of them) and I've found one that I may stitch at a later point as a sort of companion piece to this one.

Next is Little House Needlework's Little Sheep Virtues 12-part series.  I decided to stitch these all on one piece of fabric, and my goal is to do one each month.  I've completed the first two virtues, with February's "Love" shown below.

One project I haven't worked on yet this year is Mirabilia's Spring Queen.  Below is my most recent progress photo on this one.  She is all finished except for the metallic thread stitches, and the beading.  I just haven't been in the mood to start those beads, but I'm sure I'll get back to this pretty lady soon!

Measi suggested that for this month, we talk about how many projects we like to keep going.  It's funny.  I used to be a strict one-at-a-time stitcher, but now I enjoy having several projects going at the same time.  I don't do any sort of formal "rotation," but sometimes I just don't feel like working on a certain project, so I'll take something else out of the basket.  I've found that my interest in all of my projects stays pretty high when I have several going at one time.

Also, I think I may have to change my proposed WIP list for this year.  I realized the other day that I have a milestone wedding anniversary coming up in August.  I am thinking of stitching an anniversary sampler to commemorate the occasion.  While it wouldn't really be "for" my husband (i.e., not really a gift), I know he would love it.  I have my eye on a beautiful design, and if I decide to buy the pattern and start on it, I'll post the update here.

In the meantime, happy stitching!! 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Ham and Navy Bean Soup (Slow Cooker Sunday)

I've mentioned on this blog before that Sunday is my favorite day of the week to use my slow cooker.  I love getting up in the morning, getting a hearty soup or stew started in the slow cooker, and then not having to think about dinner until it's time to toss some biscuits into the oven.  I use my slow cooker during the week sometimes too, of course, but something about using it on a weekend day gives me a delicious sense of freedom.  So much so that I make it a point to use the slow cooker on Sunday -- hence the subtitle of this post.

Today I'm featuring a hearty and delicious Ham and Navy Bean Soup.  It's easy, has a wonderful flavor, is reasonably healthy (I mean, the soup has ham in it, no getting around that), and very economical.  It also tastes great left over, so no problem making a BIG batch!

Before I start, though, I have to share a funny tidbit.  Many years ago, I bought a great little cookbook (before the internet, when people bought cookbooks) that featured bread and soup recipes.  There was a recipe in there for navy bean soup that I made several times, and the other soup recipes in the book were good, too.  But what I will never forget is the illustration accompanying the recipe for navy bean soup.  It featured a simply-drawn bean-shaped figure wearing a sailor's cap and saluting.  So, now, all these years later, I still can't make navy bean soup without thinking of that little enlisted bean saluting me.

My current recipe for ham and navy bean soup is actually a combination of a few different recipes, including one that claims to be one of the soups they serve in the cafeteria of the U.S. Senate.  In any case, I found that taking a little from each of the recipes produced a really great soup.  So, let's get started.

Armour Cure 81 is a great ham to use for soup.  It has a nice smoky flavor, without being too salty.  And have you ever noticed that some hams don't really have much ham flavor?  This one does.  I like to buy the spiral-sliced type so I have a bone to use for a later pot of soup.  And, of course, you don't have to buy a ham JUST for this recipe.  I usually make the ham for dinner (Easter, anyone?) and then freeze portions of the leftovers to use in soups.

The first step is to par-boil the navy beans.  You could soak them overnight, but I've found par-boiling them is much faster and produces perfect result.  All that par-boiling means is that you're going to pre-cook the beans a little bit before putting them into the pot.  This recipe calls for 1 lb. of dried navy beans to be boiled for about 10 minutes, then drained and rinsed.

After tossing the par-boiled beans in a large slow cooker (mine is 6 qt.), chop up and add in the ham, carrots, onions, and celery.  Add one of the big (about 32 oz.) paper containers of chicken broth or chicken stock.  Then add in the herbs and spices:

A quick word about those.  It might seem odd to put sage in the soup, since most people use it about once a year, in their Thanksgiving stuffing.  But, although it's known for going well with poultry, sage adds a perfect note to this soup.  So even if you're thinking "what the heck?" go ahead and add it in.  Here's what your pot will look like with everything in it, ready to be stirred up:


Cook the soup all day, but at least 9 hours.  I usually start the cooking time with an hour or two using the "high" setting, and then I turn it down to "low" until the soup is done.  Sometimes if I don't do this, the beans will be a little bit hard, and I've found that a couple of hours on "high" ensures that they'll be done to my liking.  One really important note:  the soup does not call for salt because of the salty ham and the salt in the chicken broth.  However, if you need to add in some salt, do NOT add it in until AFTER the soup is finished cooking, as it will inhibit the beans from getting as soft as they should.  And, the same is true for the tomato puree -- you want to add it in at the END only, or the soup won't come out right.  Here's what the pot should look like after the cooking time, but before you've added in the tomatoes (which, by the way, just give a mice touch of color and a little additional flavor to the soup):


Add in the tomatoes and let them heat through for just  few minutes, preferably while you slice a nice, warm baguette of crusty bread.  (Just a note -- biscuits or cornbread go great with this soup, too.)  Taste for seasonings, and then dish it up and enjoy!

Ham and Navy Bean Soup

1 lb. dried navy beans
32 oz. container chicken broth or stock
2 cups ham, cut into small cubes
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
2-3 stalks of celery, sliced
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp. dried sage
1 tsp. dried crushed thyme
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 can (about 14 oz.) pureed tomatoes (or tomato sauce)

In a large saucepan, bring the navy beans and about 6 cups water to a boil; boil for 10 minutes, then drain and rinse the beans.  Turn the beans into a large slow cooker, then add the carrots, celery, onion and ham.  Add the chicken broth to cover, then stir in the sage, thyme, red pepper and black pepper.  Cook on high for an hour or two, then turn setting to low and continue cooking until beans and vegetables are tender.  Add in tomato puree and taste to determine if additional salt and pepper are needed.  Allow tomatoes to heat through for a minute or two before serving.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Tutorial: Lace-Trimmed Pincushion

A couple of months ago, I posted about the cute pincushion that I made for my sister for her birthday.  That's it in the photo above.  I liked the finished pincushion so much that I ended up making four more of them for Christmas gifts!  So, I decided I might as well show you all how to make them.  By the way, although I started off with a cross-stitched design, this same technique would work to make a small pincushion from most anything made out of fabric.  The design could be embroidered, sewn, painted, or it could be a quilt-block type design (pieced).  As long as you have a fabric front and back, you can make the design into a pincushion.

First draw two borders around your design, as I've shown below.  The outer border is going to be the cutting line, and the inner border will be the stitching line.  My design was intended to fill up the fabric, so I simply measured 1/2" from the outer edges of the stitching for the inner border, and then I added another 1/4" to get the outer border.  I marked the inner border with pencil and the outer border with pen.  If you are working with a small, centered design, just figure out the size that you want the finished pincushion to be.  That measurement will be your stitching line, then add the seam allowance to that to get your cutting line.

Next, on the piece of fabric that you want to use for the back, draw a rectangle that is the measurement of the cutting line. 

Cut out the two rectangles, then head to the ironing board. Cut two pieces of fusible interfacing a little larger than your fabric pieces.  Fuse the interfacing to the WRONG sides of your fabric.  (The purpose of the interfacing is to make sure the filler material stays inside the pincushion -- especially important if you're using a fabric like linen as I did.)  Trim the interfacing so it's even with the edges of the fabric pieces.

Next, place the front of the pincushion face up on a work surface.  Starting at the bottom center, pin lace or other trim into place, aligning the edge of the trim with the stitching line.  This is somewhat counter-intuitive, but the trim has to be pinned with the ruffled edge facing INWARD.  If your trim isn't pre-ruffled, add a long basting stitch along the edge of the trim with your sewing machine, and pull up the basting thread to gather the trim a bit as you go along.  As you go around the corners, add some extra gathers into the trim, so that it doesn't pull when the pincushion is turned right side out after it's sewn.  Overlap the trim a little as you come to the end.  FULL DISCLOSURE:  This step is the hardest part.  You have to gently force the trim to do what you want it to do.  Go slowly and pin carefully, especially at the corners.  Make sure the trim is right on that sewing line that you drew in earlier.  Use lots of pins.  

Once the trim is pinned in place, using a normal length straight stitch (not a basting stitch), machine sew right along the sewing line, being certain to catch the edge of the trim. 

Below is what the front of the pincushion should look like once the trim is stitched into position.

Now pin the front of the pincushion to the back, right sides together.  It's important to have the pincushion front ON TOP, so that you can see the stitching line where the trim was stitched down.

Starting in the middle of one of the long sides, machine stitch right along or just barely inside the trim stitching line, using a somewhat short stitch length.  Follow the line of stitching especially carefully at the corners.  Go all the way around the pincushion, stopping a couple of inches before you reach the beginning of your seam.  You need to leave an opening to turn the pincushion, and to fill it.  Here's the stitched pincushion, with the opening for turning.

Carefully turn the pincushion right side out.  This will take a bit of effort and coaxing.  Pull on the trim at the corners to be sure the corners are turned out the whole way.

Ground walnut shells make a great filling for your pincushion, and give it some weight.  You can get ground walnut shells at the pet store -- it's used as "litter" for lizards and some types of birds.  The bag I bought looked like this:

Scoop some of the filler into a shallow bowl, so that you have a nice big area to work over. 

Using a small spoon (a baby food spoon works great), fill the pincushion with the ground walnut shells through the opening that you left.  You want the pincushion to be fairly full, but not completely stuffed.

Once the pincushion is filled, carefully tuck the seam allowances in along the opening, and hand sew the edges of the opening closed, using very small stitches.  You can use a blanket stitch or any type of stitch that will overcast the edge. If you like, you can also tack the pieces of trim together along the bottom where they overlap (this is optional).

That's it -- your pincushion is finished, ready to give as a gift or to take its place next to your sewing machine.

I promise that once you've made one  of these pincushions, you'll want to make more, both because they're cute, and also because the ground walnut shells come in something like a 5 lb. bag.  (By the way, if  you know of another craft use for ground walnut shells, I'd love to know about it!)  Happy stitching!!