Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Does This Shirt Make Me Look Like A Transvestite?

So, I've done refashioning before, and this is something that has been in the back of my mind for awhile since I've gotten so hooked on cardigans here in this unending winter. The thing I've never really done is taking a piece of clothing from my kids and making it my own. I have all boys, after all! But when it got cold last year (way too early, in October), I had them each go through their closet and drawers and pull out stuff that they'd outgrown or didn't like anymore. On the chopping block was this sweater that I'd bought for my oldest son when he was seven.

And he was still wearing it two years later at age 9. 

But by age 10 and after a growth spurt brought him up to five foot four, it wasn't going to cut it anymore. But It's argyle! I have such a weakness for argyle. So I stuck it in my closet of stuff I don't like enough to wear, but can't part with just yet. As this dreary weather drags on into late March, I've gotten pretty sick of all of my winter clothing, so it seemed like a good time to tackle this project. First, I tried on the sweater to see if I could just wear it as-is:

Well, I guess I COULD have just worn it, but I like my tops a bit longer, and the sleeves are too short. Plus how exciting is a plain old sweater? Instead I wanted to make it a cardigan that I could layer over other shirts because I have been all about cardis this winter.

I looked through the notions I already had on hand and found some gray ribbon and some target-like buttons from a big plastic bin my mother-in-law gave me. 

I just cut straight down the front of the sweater, using the diamonds as a guide. Then I pinned ribbon along the right side of the fabric and stitched it down, then flipped it around to the wrong side, tucking in the top and bottom to enclose all raw edges, pinned that and stitched close to the edge of the ribbon, like so:

See my Pfaff? I really love this sewing machine. The problem is that every time I use it I just want to use it more and more. This might be the fact that I just watched Fatal Attraction for the first time last weekend talking, but I might have to steal its pet bunny and boil it. It's just been sitting in the bottom of the pressboard case that it was in when I got it, but last night I tried it out in a sewing machine table I'd picked up a few months ago and it fit well enough. Not I just need to refinish that case, get a new handle and some set screws for it and I'll be in serious sewing business! Of course, it's going to have to warm up enough for me to spend time in the garage stripping and sanding it. 

Since I didn't want to have to put button holes on an unstabilized knit, I decided just to sew on snaps with buttons on the outside as decoration. That took a million years (six two-piece snaps and six buttons), but it was ready to wear the next day!

I pushed up the sleeves and put it over a striped T-shirt I've had forever with a black corduroy skirt that I made last month or so. And of course tights since it's still, unfortunately, tights weather. I know my iPhone is in the way. One of these days I'll get around to buying a proper camera and maybe a tripod so these pictures aren't so sad. But probably not any time soon. Regardless, I'm happy with the results. You really can't have too many layering pieces, and on fat days I can put it on and tell myself that I'm wearing a shirt made for a 7 year old. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Falafel? More like FalAWESOME!

Being a vegetarian in 21st century America is probably a much different beast than in years and cultures past. If you miss hamburgers you can get something made of chemicals and bits of soy nearly identical to the real thing. Vegan but love cheese? Have some more soy that defies all logic by approximating real dairy goodness. Want some Kung Pao chicken, but without the dead bird in it? You can do that, but (spoiler alert) it's also made of soy.

Not that there's anything wrong with that! I love edamame, tofu, and even the processed stuff, but at a certain point you have to ask yourself, "Should I REALLY be eating this much soy?" Especially with the scary reports of GMO and Round-Up Ready soy strains crossing into the non-GMO population even when you do buy organic.

Luckily there are lots of veggie-friendly cuisines out there that branch out a little. Like most middle eastern food which, instead of being almost entirely soy, is almost entirely chickpeas! And boy do I love chickpeas. For several years now I've been trying to figure out how to make that classic vegetarian dish from the middle east - Falafel!

Personally, I love falafel. My husband loves falafel. Most sane and rational people love falafel. My kids, on the other hand, took one bite and said, "OF COURSE IT'S BAD, "AWFUL" IS RIGHT THERE IN THE NAME!" And after that falafel became the ultimate super villian around here. Not just at meal time, but in their play - "The Evil Dr. Whatever turns all your food into falafel. OHHHH NOOOOOO!" etc. The antidote for this was for someone to turn the food into "fal-awesome" instead. But now that I've finally gotten the technique down, two out of three kids will eat it. The third will probably puke it out on the table, but that's still pretty good odds in this house.

You can buy a box of mix, and that's pretty good (to me; that's what the kids hated so much), but it's nothing like the nice green, fragrant falafel you get at a good restaurant. You can try all the recipes on the internet that start with a can of chickpeas, but I've never had one turn out quite right. And even when you find a good recipe that starts with soaked dried chickpeas, the instructions often leave out one of the most important steps to ensure that the falafel doesn't just fall apart as soon as it hits the oil. But finally, after much trial and error, I have mastered falafel!

The best recipe I found came from food writer/cookbook author Mark Bittman, who is a great source for recipes of all sorts, but particularly vegetarian ones. His recipe can be found here, and it's a great starting point for anyone who likes a mild flavored falafel. When I followed the recipe initially I thought they were a bit lacking in flavor (for my taste! I like things bold!), and they did what most falafel do - fall apart as soon as they hit the oil. But the flavor was so much better than the previous few experiments that we were satisfied to just eat the batter pan fried in a large pancake-like thing that we ate as wedges; similar to cornbread. In the next attempt, I figured out what I needed to do. So here is my PERFECT falafel recipe:

Falafel (or Fal-Awesome if You're Trying to Feed it to Kids)

  • 1 bag dried chickpeas
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled (or just however many are in a whole head, I don't believe there's any such thing as too much garlic)
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 3 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder (again, I just really like garlic)
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 bunch green onions, ends trimmed 
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • oil for frying
  • 1. Soak beans overnight if you remember. 8 hours is really long enough, but more certainly doesn't hurt. 
  • 2. Drain and rinse beans. I always find bean-soaking water to be a bit too funky to use for anything. Transfer them to a food processor.  Add all of the other ingredients, starting with only half the salt and lemon juice so you can adjust the flavor as needed.  Blend it all together; it will be a bit grainy, not smooth like hummus since the chickpeas aren't cooked. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.  You could really play around with any spices you like.  Anything you'd put in a dhal or curry would probably taste great. 
  • 3. Spray a cookie sheet small enough to fit in your freezer with cooking spray (or use parchment or a silpat). Shape the mixture into balls about 1 1/4" in diameter, or the size of a meatball. I just scoop out a glob with a teaspoon and then roll it between my palms to give it the right shape. This recipe will probably make three dozen falafel balls at least, so you might need a couple of cookie sheets. When you fill one, put it in the freezer for at least 15 minutes before moving to the next step. You can leave them much longer before they will actually freeze, so you could do this a couple of hours in advance.
  • 4. Heat oil in a pot or fryer to 350 degrees. An electric fryer with a thermostat will make this a million times easier.  Drop falafel, three or four at a time, into the hot oil. If it's deep enough to cover, cook them for 3 or four minutes until deep brown on the outside, and cooked through inside. If they aren't submerged, turn them about halfway through to make sure they cook evenly. 
  • 5. Remove with a spider or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

You can serve these with whatever other middle eastern dishes you like,  but my favorite way is to eat them on a home made whole wheat pita with hummus, tabbouleh, Israeli salad, maybe some lettuce or balela if we have beans in the freezer. Which sounds like a lot of work, but the nice thing is that all you have to do is chop onion, parsley, tomato, and cucumber and then you can pretty much throw all of that together pretty fast.

Oh, and don't forget the sriracha! Is it traditional? Probably not. Does it make everything better? Obviously. 

Since this recipe makes a lot, you can freeze them and have falafel ready for a quick lunch anytime. I've tried both freezing the dough balls and freezing the cooked falafel. Personally I prefer the latter. Freezing the dough and then frying it when ready made them drier and not as tasty. If you pop a couple of the frozen cooked falafel in the microwave for 30 seconds you can barely tell the difference from fresh. Which makes me wonder, in this veggie burger, soy cheese world, why doesn't anyone make frozen falafel?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

One Man's Trash is Another Man's Sewing Machine

Although I don't blog about it all that much anymore, sewing is one of my favorite hobbies. I make things for the house as needed such as pillows, window treatments, and alterations to kids' clothes, mostly I make clothing for myself. It has been years since I shopped retail for clothing. Everything I wear is either hand made, thrifted, or both (as in refashions). So I am a big enthusiast of sewing machines, and I have amassed quite a collection of both modern and vintage machines that each shine in their own way. The truly amazing thing about vintage sewing machines is just how well made and really powerful they are. Sure they don't have automatic threaders or fancy stitches, but hit the right yard sale and you can get all sorts of cool vintage attachments like ruffler feet, narrow hem feet, and, well, frankly I haven't figured out what half the feet are even for.

Last year I was venturing out on my own one weekend and I spotted a big piece of plywood spray painted with FREE on it. I slowed down and decided to pass on the 80s era coffee tables and lamps, but then I saw a sewing machine and did a U-turn to snatch it up. Which isn't exactly the right description since the thing weighed about 40 lbs, but I tossed it in the car as best I could, and then excitedly called my husband even though I'd only been gone five minutes and we likely hadn't been out of each other's sight in weeks. You can call it co-dependent, but I call it teamwork!It;s just that an awesome discovery doesn't really mean anything without an appreciative audience!

My real hope for the thing was that I could use the table to hold my beloved vintage Pfaff that is currently residing in the lower part of the original carrying case (which has seen better days). But after getting it home and checking it out, I realized that the White Rotary machine was actually in a lot better shape than I'd initially thought. It was manufactured in 1917, but had been converted with a motor and installed in a new cabinet at some point probably in the 50s (based on the motor assembly). Still, it was worth salvaging, and although the cabinet was gross, I had faith that it could be beautiful once again!

This was after I'd started to take it apart and with a bit of sanding done. It was mildew-y, as if it had sat in a shed or wet basement for awhile, but it wasn't peeling apart like the last sewing machine cabinet I dealt with.

Unfortunately, the top did have some damage, so it seemed like painting would be better than stripping and staining it. The thingie on the left is a cool slide out mechanism that transfers the weight of the top when open back down through the case into the legs. I like that much better than the kind that rely on the front panel to be opened in order to support the weight of the top.

The little plug box was wired through the cabinet, so it must have come with it and was added at the same time as the external motor. There was no pedal with the machine, so I scavenged one from an old, broken Singer machine and rewired everything to get the machine up and running. Much to my surprise, the lightbulb still worked!

The machine itself was a good bit more work. I had to clean it all up, but also ended up taking most of it apart so that I could get inside and oil the appropriate bits and pieces. It took awhile, but eventually I got it all cleaned up (when I say "I", I mean that Neal helped a lot. This thing is HEAVY!) and working with only the addition of a new belt.

Interesting fact about White Rotary machines? They run backward.You have to spin the wheel away from you instead of  toward you as on most modern machines. There's a threaded hole to add a handle so that this machine can be worked manually with only the upper body. Also, they thread sideways - from left to right.

Once it was working, I was really excited to get the cabinet finished. I sanded it by hand with 100-, 150- and then 220-grit sandpaper, and then went over it again with 0000 steel wool. Honestly I didn't do that great a job since I was planning to prime and paint it. When we went to buy the spray paint, Neal talked me into trying Krylon Dual Paint + Primer in Glossy Black. This stuff is AMAZING! I've spray painted a lot of things in my life, but I'm not sure any have turned out as well. I sprayed on probably three coats, maybe four in some spots, just to make sure it had good coverage.

And voila!

I wish I had a picture of the whole thing when I first grabbed it, but I assure you, it looked nothing close to this. The machine cleaned up pretty nicely, too.

And of course there's the additional fact that now it works. 

Look how shiny! Although the handles and hinges are brass, no amount of steel wool or Brasso was helping, so I primed them, painted them with chrome spray paint, and then used antique gold Rub and Buff, followed by a coat of clear acrylic to seal it in.

When it's closed, I can shove the pedal into that little shelf on the door so that it just looks like a table.

I'm very very happy with this restoration, now I just have to think of something to make with the crazy, backwards sewing machine!