Thursday, January 26, 2012

Repurpose a Pipe Cleaner as a Knitting "Bookmark" for Unfinished Projects

For the past week I've been practicing my knit stitch (over...and over...and over) in preparation for an upcoming, top-secret project tutorial for all of YOU lovely people.

Here's the conundrum: I'm not done yet with the practice project I started (and I don't want to unravel/shelf it), BUT I'm ready to start another one from scratch to start teaching y'all with. Aaaaand I only have one set of needles.

What to do?

Well, if you have more common sense than I do, you'll just borrow your mom's needles for your new project. But that was way too conventional and uncreative for me (small print: the thought never entered my pretty little head), so I had the brilliant idea to use a pipe cleaner as a sort of bookmark to hold my row until I come back to the project.

All you need is a pipe cleaner.
Feed the pipe cleaner through the row that's on the needle. My stitches were pretty tight, so I could only get one on at a time and had to transfer the stitches really close to the end of the needle.
Once all the stitches are on the pipe cleaner, they might be bunched up, so spread them out a bit just like they'd be on the needle.
The great thing about using a pipe cleaner is you can then twist the ends together to make sure the stitches won't fall off!
Now I realize that experienced knitters probably have some contraption (or just extra needles!) to handle situations like this, but for me, this was a quick and easy solution. Part of being a contemporary farm girl is making do with what you've got at hand and not being afraid to try things different ways (and potentially look silly doing so!).

Experienced knitters, are there any other strategies besides extra needles and pipe cleaners for "bookmarking" projects?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sweeten Up Your Wardrobe: Simple DIY Doily Stencil T-Shirt

Whether you're a Valentine's Day person or not, this T-shirt craft is too cute and quick to pass up!
Make this sweet shirt in less than 10 minutes!
I admit it, I'm one of those perpetually festive people who takes advantage of any and every opportunity to dress all matchy-matchy and accessorize on a theme. When my husband and I first started dating, he told me one of the things he loved most about me was how cute it was that I had a color-coded outfit to go along with every holiday.

Although I do have a fair number of red shirts (it's our school color, and every Friday is school spirit day), I don't have any Valentine's-specific ones. So when I saw this craft idea in the February issue of Disney's Family Fun magazine, I knew I had to try it and share it with you all!
This is all you'll need!
You'll need:
*A shirt (I got mine on clearance for $3.60 at Target!)
*Fabric paint (I used Tulip Soft in Scarlet Pearl)
*A paper doily; browse here on Amazon (I used an 8" heart, you can choose your own shape and size to suit your taste)
*A foam stencil brush (the Family Fun instructions called for a plunger-shaped one, but at Michael's the kind I bought was way cheaper, and it worked fine)
*A glue stick
*Newspaper or cardboard to put under the shirt when painting
*A dish or plate to squeeze the paint out on to
*A paper clip or toothpick
*Little nail scissors are helpful, but not completely necessary

See those little bits of paper still stuck in the doily?
Start out by using the paper clip or toothpick to poke out all the paper bits. 
My doily had some little blocks that weren't punched out at all, so that's where the nail scissors came in handy to cut them out.
Once the doily's ready, put the newspaper or cardboard inside the shirt, under where you're going to put the design. This is to protect the shirt from paint soaking through on to the back. 
Dab some glue on to the back of the doily. BE CAREFUL, just put on a bit. I made my first mistake here by really layering it on, which made for a lot of frustration later (you'll see what I mean in a minute).
Place the doily on the shirt and smooth down. I lined the top of the heart up with the armpits of the shirt, but I would suggest doing it a bit higher; I think mine came out looking a little too low.
Squeeze some paint on to the container or plate.
Get paint on your brush and dab it all over the doily to fill in every white space. Make sure you use an up-and-down dabbing motion. I brushed back and forth in some spots, and that made it harder to pull the doily off later.
Use just a corner of the brush on the edges of the doily, where you have to be really careful that you don't go out of the design.
Check your design to make sure you covered all the white spots with paint.
Once you've made sure you've filled the design, pull off the doily. DON'T wait until the paint is dry. I did wait, and look what happened!
I attribute this slight disaster to three mistakes: putting on too much glue, brushing instead of dabbing the paint, and letting the paint dry before I took off the doily. It took nearly an hour to pick every little bit of doily paper out of the dried paint.
At this point I actually gave up and called it a failed project, but some you-can-do-it-and-for-God's-sake-stop-whining talk from my parents and husband got me to take a second look and realize I could salvage it. It was really annoying, though.
Also, my sweater was a mess after having to pick off all that paper. So I say again, pull off the paper doily as soon as you're finished painting. The alternative is a real bizznatch.
In the end, you'll end up with this ADORABLE design! Let it dry and set according to the instructions for your particular fabric paint. I let mine dry flat all day, and I'm going to heat set it tomorrow with an iron. Also, be sure to wash cold, inside out.
Isn't it pretty? The design looks kind of Scandinavian to me, which is one of my favorite winter styles!
If red and hearts isn't your thing, try it out with a round doily and a different colored shirt and paint to suit your style. Whatever you do, let us know how it goes by commenting below!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lunch, Olé! How to Make Authentic Tortilla de Patatas (Spanish Omelette)

Nothing hits the spot like comfort food, especially on a snowy weekend day like we're having here in Pennsylvania. Whether you're holed up inside like me, or soaking up a hot sunny day in one of those warmer climates I've been told exist out there somewhere (jealous!), today's recipe is intended to fill your belly and your heart.
Tortilla de Patatas...mmm, ¡qué rica!
This isn't your grandmother's comfort food, though (unless your granny is a sweet Spanish señora who continually insists that you eat "¡Más, más!"). Today's recipe is straight from the heart of sunny Andalucía and is brought to you thanks to my guapísimo husband Tomás, 100% Spaniard and 99% momma's boy (hence the awesome cooking skills).
My man and his momma, two awesome
Spanish cooks, on our wedding day
Tortilla de Patatas, or Tortilla Española, is a very typical Spanish dish that is basically an omelette stuffed with fried potatoes and onions. You can eat it hot or cold, which makes it versatile as a classic dinner on a cold night or the perfect dish to bring along on a summer picnic.

So, ¡vamos!; let's get at it!

You're going to make one tortilla, which will serve 4 people as a main dish or 8 people as a side dish. We actually made ours as two smaller omelettes because we only had a small skillet. Whether you do one big one or two smaller ones, the instructions are the same, just use your egg mixture accordingly when it's time to pour it in the skillet.
My supplies, minus a couple things I didn't realize I'd need
(but everything's on the list below!)
You'll need:
*8 large eggs
*4 medium-sized potatoes
*1 onion
*Salt
*Olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
*2 skillets (one for the onions and one for the potatoes, and later, the actual omelette)
*A strainer or bowl to rinse the potatoes in
*A mixing bowl
*A plate for flipping the omelette
*A knife and/or potato peeler for peeling and cutting the potatoes and onion
*A spatula
*A whisk
*One sexy Spanish guy (if you don't have one readily available, just borrow mine via this post)

First, peel the potatoes and chop them up into chunks. Don't make them too small-they're supposed to be chunky in the omelette.
Rinse the potatoes. Might seem obvious, but I've been known to overlook seemingly apparent details, so I don't assume.
Pour a generous amount of olive oil into one of the skillets, enough that a layer of the potatoes are going to be covered by olive oil.
Let the olive oil warm up on a medium heat setting (we put it on 6 by our stove's setting).
The olive oil is ready when you can hold your hand over the skillet and feel the heat rising off the oil. Don't wait for it to be boiling. Once it's ready, put in the potatoes. (Note: if you're using a small skillet like we did, only about half of the potatoes will fit in the skillet. Once these are done, repeat with the second half of the potatoes.) 
While the potatoes begin to fry, get your onion ready. Tomás taught me to first slice off the ends-this makes it easier to peel off all those papery layers. 
Once the onion is peeled, chop it up. These pieces should be smaller than the potato ones.
Get your second skillet on the stove, but this time, only put in enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Warm it up on a medium setting and wait for it to warm up just like we did with the potatoes. 
 Once the skillet's ready, put in the onions. You should be able to fit all the onions in the one skillet.
Now we wait for the potatoes and onions to fry up. Keep moving them both around to keep them from sticking to the bottom and to make sure they get evenly cooked.
 The potatoes are done when they are starting to turn golden.
 Same for the onions; just get them a bit golden.
Once the potatoes and onions are golden, take them off the burner. Remember, you may have to go through the potato steps twice if they didn't all fit in the one skillet. We moved our potatoes to a plate so we could brown the second batch in the same skillet. In the meantime, just set the onions aside.
Golden and soon-to-be delicious
 Now you can crack the eggs into the mixing bowl and whisk them up.
 Make sure to whisk them really well so the mixture isn't stringy at all.
 Add in all of the potatoes and onions.

 Add just a few quick shakes of salt. A dash, if you will.
 Stir the egg mixture to make sure everything's evenly mixed.
Take one of the skillets you already used and put it back on the burner. Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom, and warm on a medium setting.
Once the oil is warm, pour in the egg mixture. It'll be the whole mixture or just half, depending on what size skillet you used. When the egg is in, turn the heat down a bit.
Use your spatula to push the omelette away from the edge to allow the egg to fill in that space and cook. Do this all the way around the edge to make sure no egg pools on top.
Keep pulling up the side of the omelette to peek underneath. As soon as the bottom is starting to look golden, it's time to flip it. This is a crucial step where the omelette could get burned if you wait to long to flip it, so be sure to do this as soon as it starts to look golden.
It's time to flip! Tomás has a very scientific method which involved covering the skillet with a plate, flipping it over fast as lighting, and sliding the omelette from the plate back in to the skillet. Allow him to demonstrate:
Now that the omelette is flipped, do the same thing again, keeping an eye on the underside and taking it from the skillet as soon as it's looking golden. Go ahead and do the second omelette if you were making two smaller ones.
Ya está, ¡muy bien! When you're ready to serve, cut the tortilla into sections like a pie. Enjoy warm or cold. Tomás wants me to add that most Spanish people prefer it cold!
If you make this recipe, come back and let us know how you liked it! I find that Americans tend to be a bit wary at the idea of an omelette that's made with potatoes and not eaten for breakfast (especially if it's served cold), so I'm very interested to see what you think! I'm a very picky American eater, and I love it, so it can't be tooooo exotic.

¡Qué aproveche!