sharpening tools

For today’s lesson, we will venture to the Knight in Shining Armor’s workshop, where he loves to hang out when he’s in between dragon slayings.

The Knight says that rusty tools are bad. If not taken care of, they’ll just keep rusting. Rust is more than just nasty looking red stuff. It actually eats away at the metal itself. So he de-rustifies his tools, sharpens them, and then paints them to keep them from rusting again. The following tutorial uses a hoe, but most garden tools can be taken care of in the same way.

A nice sharp hoe is a good thing to have, especially if you are a kid that has been told to hoe five acres of beans. The Damsel shudders to think how daunting that task would be and suddenly understands why fighting dragons seems like no big deal to her Knight.

First, you must remove the rust from the surface of the tool. A kitchen scrub pad will work, or steel wool. Make it wet, and add a little dish soap.

Scrub the metal until the red rusty evilness is gone, and you’re down to bare metal. Rinse.

Next, if you’re the Knight, you sharpen the hoe on your bench grinder, because you have pretty much every power tool known to mankind and you might as well use them. Plus it makes pretty sparkles.

If you don’t have a bench grinder, you do it the old school way, which is to stroke a metal file at an angle across the edge of the hoe. Create a sloping knife edge along the front side of the hoe’s edge, then turn it and file it on the back side too, just a bit.

Here’s how that edge might look after you finish sharpening it:

Now git yourself some nice rust-inhibiting spray paint…choose a color that scares weeds…

and masking tape.

Mask off the hoe where the wood meets the tool’s business end.

Spray the metal in nice, even strokes. When it’s dry, remove the masking tape, and you’re done! The Knight in Shining Armor would like to mention that hoeing weeds is all about cutting the weeds’ tops from their roots, and you don’t have to cultivate the ground. You can if it makes you feel happy, but that’s sort of a different task. Take it from the boy who hoed 5 acres of beans and lived to tell about it.

freezing bananas

Y’all know about this, right?

“This” being putting whole bananas in the freezer?

Sometimes the Damsel is enticed by banana displays at the grocery store. They look so perfectly perfect, and the Damsel buys them for her sprog.

Who sometimes eat them. And sometimes the bananas get looking, well, less pristine. And no matter how much better a very ripe banana might taste, her sprog aren’t likely to eat one that looks a little freckled.

Ever hopeful, the Damsel tells herself she’ll make banana bread. Her purchase is not a waste. But the day gets busy, and then another, and the bananas get blacker. The Damsel will console herself by recalling someone said bananas can never be too ripe for banana bread: the riper the better.

The Damsel is here to sadly inform you that there is indeed a point where bananas are too ripe. When they are liquidy and the buzzards fruit flies are circling, you’ll know that time has come.

Once upon a time, the Damsel thought she’d rescue some bananas about to go around the corner by peeling them and putting them in freezer bags. These could then be used for smoothies…or yes, thawed for the banana bread that never seems to happen.

But it doesn’t have to be even that hard. You can just Put Them In The Freezer. In their skins, as is. The skins may darken or even turn totally black, but the flesh inside is fine.

The best part about this is the guilt that is taken away.

wiggily carrot? there’s still hope

Sometimes tragedy occurs and vegetables lose their crispness.

This carrot was pulled rudely from the ground and left on a hot patio, and well, it’s not what it once was. A bit droopy. Carrots will do that, especially if they still have their green tops. The Damsel believes it has something to do with the tops pulling the moisture out of the carrot root.

It’s hard to love a wiggily carrot. You can’t really peel them. Eating them is a sad proposition. But is there hope?

Put the topless carrot in a glass of ice water. Leave it for a few hours, maybe a day.

After the carrot is all nicely rehydrated, it’s just like new. Now you can peel it and eat it in whatever way seems best. The carrot lives again!


patching jeans–“cute” method

Here are two ways for patching jeans when the objective is “cute” rather than “wow, you can hardly tell.”

The first is a type of applique, which is a fancy French word for “sewing a piece of material on top of another.” You can put a patch on just for decoration, or to actually cover up a real hole.

Cut a shape from some scrap fabric. Use pinking shears if you have them, but don’t stress if you don’t. Nothing terrible will happen.

If you’re covering a hole, use strateegery to position the shape over the hole. Or if the patch is for decoration, put it wherever you’d like. Are you the kind that likes straight lines? Or are you the type to put your patch at a rakish angle? Pin the patch to hold it in place.

Sew the patch on by covering the cut edge with zigzag stitching. The Damsel likes to set the sewing machine to a relaxed satin stitch. For this, you set the zigzag wide and the stitch length short. The shorter the stitch length, the closer the zigs and zags will be to each other, and thus will be more satin-stitch-like. Please leave a comment if you need help figuring that out. Or if you just want to chat about zigzag stitches. It’s a fascinating topic.

The hardest part is maneuvering the item under the sewing machine. If it’s a pants leg, it can be hard to reach all the way around the patch. The Damsel sewed half way around and then started back at the top to do the other side. Some items will be impossible to do on the machine and would have to be patched by hand. The Damsel quails at the thought.

The second method is the similar, except that it is “reverse applique,” which means you have a larger piece underneath the hole, and the hole itself is cut into the decorative shape instead of the patch.

Draw a shape around the offending hole, and cut out. Don’t stress. We’re going for the “rustic look.”

Cut out a rectangle of scrap fabric that is plenty bigger than the cutout and pin it in place behind the cutout. The jeans are right side out at this point.

Zigzag the cut edge as before. Take that pin out before you run over it, Sally!

Turn to the wrong side, and trim the extra scrap fabric outside the sewing line.

Aw, now, who doesn’t want a giant heart on their knee?

Extra points to the reader who notices that the “reverse applique” patch is essentially the same method that was used here, except the hole wasn’t cut into a decorative shape, but was just zigzagged all over for strength.

buttermilk pancakes

Some things are better the newfangled way. For example, flush toilets.

But some things are better the old-fashioned way. The Damsel is here to tell you that after using up many a Costco bag of Krusteaz pancake mix, she has seen the light.

Don’t misunderstand. The pancake mix-type pancake is not “awful.” Those pancakes are completely edible. And if the Damsel had never tried this particular recipe for old school pancakes, she might have lived years in oblivious happiness, never knowing what she could have had.

But. After making old school buttermilk here, she thought she might like to use some of it up. She’d heard her sister bragging about her buttermilk pancakes, so the Damsel wrested the recipe from her. All for you, dear readers.

Measure 2 1/2 cups of buttermilk into a mixing bowl. Yes, it’s supposed to be thick and gloppy. Now’s a good time to refill the container with fresh milk and put it on the countertop for a day, so you have buttermilk ready for next time.

Add two eggs. Don’t worry. It’ll all be over soon.

1/4 cup oil next, and then mix well. Get your stirring yearnings satisfied now, because this is your only chance. You’ll see why.

Sift the dry ingredients (2 cups flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. soda)  into another bowl. Okay, look. The Damsel doesn’t want to hear it. Just do it. She used to be the Anti-Sifter herself, and she understands when you say you don’t want all that fuss. But just this once, do it.

You’ll see an exceedingly light, fluffy cloud of dry ingredients. It’s a beautiful thing.

Pour this slowly into the milk-egg-oil mixture and GENTLY incorporate it, without beating or whacking or stirring excessively. The Damsel would prefer if you wouldn’t even raise your voice. Stop stirring when the dry stuff is barely mixed in. You’ll have to force yourself to stop, but please. Yes, it’s lumpy and quite thick.

Here’s the tricky part. Sometimes when the Damsel has made this, it’s turned out Too Thick. Too Thick is when the mixture has 0% Pourability. She has folded in a little more buttermilk from time to time. You’ll have to use your best judgement, and yes,  the Damsel understands if you feel nervous. It’s okay. Go for Slightly Pourable, and remember, next time will be perfect.

The Damsel cooks hers on a ridiculously big electric griddle. Please recall she has seven sprogs. She sets it on 350 degrees. If you use a stovetop pan, it needs to be on the hot side. Butter the pan if you don’t have a nonstick, and please correct that shortfall at the soonest convenience.

In the above picture, the batter was Quite Thick, thick enough that she spread the glob out a bit with the whisk. Your mileage may vary.

Now, there should be a picture of the ridiculously light and tender pancakes, dripping with butter and syrup. But the sprogs were standing in the kitchen, holding their plates out in a hopeful way as each pancake came off the griddle, and the picture didn’t happen.

Make these, and you’ll see.

peppermint oil…a month later

A month ago, the Damsel made peppermint oil and put it in a dark cupboard for the specified time. The Damsel hates waiting, but the time has come. Click here for the original post.

The Damsel was excited.. She’s not the kind of girl who opens presents early. So this morning she anxiously looked to see what had transpired inside that pint jar.

Ew! The leaves on top were yucky and smooshy looking. They were well-saturated with oil but not submerged. It had a strong minty, earthy odor.

She lifted off the top layer with a fork. Underneath the leaves looked more normal-colored. (Epic fail on the photo capturing that nice green color)

Now we need to strain this. Put some cheesecloth over a container (the Damsel used another pint jar). Instead of cheesecloth, you could use any small mesh strainer.

Pour it all in and let it drain. It’ll drip a while.

The liquid looks dark in the jar, but if you pour a little onto a spoon, you’ll see a deep golden color.

So now what do you do with the stuff?

The Damsel doesn’t feel good about tasting this or using it internally in any way, because it wasn’t made in a sterile environment, like canning peaches or something. So what can you do with it?

1. Put a few drops in the stream of water when you’re running a bath. The scent will invigorate you.

2. Ants seem to hate it. Fill a spray bottle with water and add 15 or so drops, and spray anywhere you don’t want ants. This is not to kill them, but to keep them away. They won’t cross the line. You can wipe down surfaces you don’t want ants on as well, like windowsills or counters.

3. For headaches, dab it on your forehead and temples, and have a nice lie-down. Is it the peppermint or is it the rest? Who knows? Who cares, if it works? Alternatively, sprinkle a few drops on a cold, damp cloth (not dripping) and lay across your eyes. Careful not to get it in your eyes, though.

4. Some folks say rubbing it on your feet will break a fever, especially in children. Or, put some in your footbath to add to its restorative action.

5. Mice. Yes. Dampen cotton balls with the oil and put where you think the mice are coming in. Spraying it on mouse-ridden areas will also help repel them for as long as the scent lasts.

6. 10 drops of oil per 2 ounces of water in a spray will keep you cool on a hot day outside, and will also repel insects. Spray at will, but don’t get it in your eyes.

7. And yes, it’s supposed to repel deer as well. Spray liberally and hope for the best. According to the internets, it works almost as well as tiger urine. The Damsel doesn’t want to think about acquiring tiger urine.

8. Make your own massage oil by adding as much as you like to skin-approved vegetable oil. Start with 5 drops per ounce.

What uses have you heard of? Leave a comment and get extra love from the Damsel.

unraveling a sweater

The Damsel is bemused by the word “unravel.” So what’s “ravel” then? They seem to mean the same thing–to untwist, pull or rip out some yarn work. (by the way, the current term for pulling out knitting is “frogging” because you rip-it, rip-it, rip-it. Don’t be a hater. The Damsel did not make this up.)

Why would you want to unravel a sweater?

Grandma might have for a number of reasons. Maybe the sweater didn’t fit any more, and she wouldn’t want to waste the yarn. So she’d pull out all that hard work and re-knit it into something else. Waste not want not and so on. Maybe there was a man’s sweater that could become two kids’ sweaters. You get the idea.

Nowadays, three things have come together, like an alignment of the planets, to make unraveling a sweater something worth doing.

1. Yarn work has become more and more popular, even among young folks.

2.  Purchasing nice yarn is so expensive, but who wants to spend hours on a project that uses crappy yarn?

3. Sweaters made of expensive materials can be bought CHEAP at thrift stores.

When the Damsel first heard about doing this, she got excited because she loves yarn and it sounded easy. And it is easy, but there are a couple of tricks to it.

First, choose the right sweater. (of course it doesn’t have to be a sweater…any knitted/crocheted thingy) Look at the tag. If it’s made of 100% acrylic, it’s probably not worth it. You can buy that kind of yarn very cheaply, brand new. Is it made of a nice natural fiber (wools, cashmere, silk blends, alpaca, etc.) ? This kind of yarn can cost $20/skein and up, and there will be multiple skeins in one sweater. Good deal!

Now examine the seams. Are the pieces sewed together the way a hand knitter would, or are they serged? Here’s what that means:

With a regular seam, you’ll be able to part the two edges. This is the kind you’re looking for. This means the sweater was knit in individual pieces and then assembled, the way a hand-knitter would. That doesn’t mean the sweater was hand-knit, or that it needs to be. It means the yarn will unravel in one long piece.

This is a serged seam. The Damsel drew an arrow and little black lines over the serging hoping you could see it better on this crazy yarn. You’ve seen this stitching a hundred times on tee-shirts, etc.

Here’s how serging looks on a tee-shirt, so you can clearly see the kind of looping stitches we’re talking about. If the sweater is put together with this kind of stitching, you can’t unravel it, because it was made from one huge piece of knitted fabric and then serged together…a process that cuts and sews at the same time. If you try to unravel a serged sweater, you’ll end up with hundreds of pieces of yarn a couple of feet long. Not worth it.

Now once you have the right kind of sweater, you have to take the pieces apart. Pull the seam apart and look for the thread that was used to sew it together. It’s sometimes hard to see…often the exact color of the yarn…but usually thinner, more thread-like.

Cut this thread with a seam ripper, being careful not to cut the knitting itself. Take all the pieces apart, including any ribbing that has been sewed on, rather than knitted as part of the piece.

Once all the pieces are apart, the fun starts. Snip the yarn in a corner of one piece and see if the yarn will pull. If it simply knots, you are at the wrong end. Go to the opposite side and try again. Most sweaters are knit from the top down, so they will pull out from the top down in most cases.

Once you get the yarn pulling out freely, away you go. You can roll it into a ball as you go or loosely pile it and then roll. Pile method not recommended if there are sprog or pets about.

The yarn will be crinkly. That’s okay…the crinkles won’t show when it’s reknit. Many unravelers like to wrap it around upside-down chair rungs or something, make the yarn into hanks, and then wash it…and sometimes dye it. Washing the yarn after unraveling it will often make it nice and fluffy and non-crinkly. Warning: Wash the yarn the same way you’d wash something knitted from it. For example, don’t wash wool yarn in hot water with a lot of agitation; use cool water and gentle swishes.

If you’re interested in learning more about this, the Damsel highly recommends the Yahoo group Recycledyarn. The people there are very nice and knowledgeable about recycling yarn.

making yogurt from powdered milk

The Damsel hopes you will forgive her if she confesses she has tried to make yogurt many times. It worked occasionally, but most of the time, it turned out pretty runny.

She tried to convince the husband it was “drinking yogurt” like he had when he lived in Denmark but he had a crush on Miss Yoplait. Besides, it was super complicated, involving thermometers and doing things at precise moments. Even when she hovered over the project like a vulture, sometimes it didn’t set. She was left to second-guess whether she was quite precise ENOUGH, and just got frustrated with the whole thing. Even when it did work, the sprog didn’t lap it up willingly, and the husband had his nose in the air.

She gave up years ago and completely forgot she ever used to cry over runny yogurt. Then last week she bumped into a different method on the internets, and she wondered if perhaps her wounds had healed enough to try again. It didn’t involve thermometers or turning three times under the light of the waning moon, so she said, well, okay.

Preheat your oven to 275 F. Mix 6 cups cold water and 4 cups non-instant powdered milk. It has been a long time, because the Damsel forgot that mixing it this way doesn’t work.  Ha ha! This way equals lumpy disaster. Use the blender, please.

Add three tablespoons of yogurt. It doesn’t have to be the mistress Yoplait. Any kind with active cultures. You can put it right into the blender. Pour into an ovenproof container/bowl/thingy.

Loosely cover the container in whatever way seemeth you best. Put in the oven and then turn the oven off. Walk away. Don’t come back for 8-12 hours.

The Damsel was exceedingly skeptical but felt she wasn’t risking much. Just some powdered milk, and she hates powdered milk, although she uses a ton of it in baking. Still, she hoped.

In the morning the blasted stuff was perfectly liquidy. Not even KIND OF set up. She noticed the instructions she was using said if the product was “a little soupy” to repeat the process by heating the oven to 275 F again and putting the container back in for a few more hours. The Damsel had no expectations.

But…there was a glimmer of hope. Because the Damsel has a convection oven, she routinely sets her temperatures 50 F less than the recipe calls for, according to the manufacturer’s direction. But she suspected perhaps that wasn’t hot enough for this purpose. So she set the oven, put the stuff back in and went about her business.

Four hours later the stuff was set. The Damsel was shocked, to say the least. It was set even more than she wanted it to be. Very, very firm. Success at last!

The Damsel feels her yogurt demons have now been vanquished. Thanks for coming along.

Oh, and don’t forget to save a little back for the next batch’s starter.

term research project–buttermilk and other cultured thingies

When the Damsel ponders things Grandma used to make from scratch, a few dairy items come to mind.

The sour cream we made, for example. There’s yogurt. There are also a few soft/farmer style cheeses we could learn. But in order to do that, there’s a couple of things to be clear on.

Some of these things require buttermilk, and apparently there’s two kinds of buttermilk. There’s “old-fashioned,” which is the liquid left over after making butter, and there’s “cultured,” which is something completely different. The Damsel is annoyed they named the cultured kind “buttermilk” because she is easily confused.

Okay, “buttermilk” sounds nicer than “milk left out on the counter until it’s thick and sour” but it’s still confusing.

The Damsel will go as far as to say if a recipe calls for buttermilk, they mean cultured buttermilk. But to make it more confusing, unless there is going to be microbial stuff going on, it doesn’t matter. So if you’re making something that will be baked or cooked, thereby killing said microbes, you could use either type–like in bread or chocolate cake.

But if you are trying to make anything that requires little organisms to grow, like the sour cream thing, it’s gotta be cultured buttermilk. And yes, you can make your own, but it takes some to make some, unless you have access to an unpasteurized milk-beast.

1. Put one part cultured buttermilk in a container, like a quart jar with a lid.

2. Add three parts fresh milk. It can be store bought, pastuerized, right out of the jug. It has no microbes yet, because the pasteurization killed them all, but you’re adding them by mixing in the cultured buttermilk. Bwahaha!

3. Shake or stir.

4. Countertop it. Wait 24 hours or so, but not longer than 36. If it isn’t thick like cream by 36 hours, your bugs were dead. Start over.

5. Refrigerate. It’ll keep well. But don’t use it all…save some back to start the next batch. You can create a never-ending supply of buttermilk throughout the years to come. Just knowing that makes you feel cozy inside, doesn’t it?

Fluffy pancakes will not be denied you.

rose petal sachet

The Damsel has a few rose bushes at her cottage. She loves her pink one, and her yellow one, and her minature rose, and her old-fashioned rambling rose.

Of course she loves the old-fashioned one.

But her red one, an Abraham Lincoln, is the only one that really has a nice rose scent. Apparently, when rose growers hybrid the plants to get beautiful colors, it breeds out the scent. So if you’re in the market for a rose bush, keep that in mind. Do you want color or scent? Check the label…sometimes you can have both.

The Damsel cries when she deadheads her red roses, because they smell so, so, so wonderful and she can’t bear to throw the petals in the trash. So she thought back about what Grandma would do with rose petals. One thing she’d do is make sachets.

So what’s a sachet? Sachets are little pillows filled with dried flowers. Lavender is popular along with roses. Say “Sa-shay,” as in, “I’m going to sa-shay out to the rose garden and pick some flowers.” The usual use for them is to stick them in drawers, to make everything smell nice.

Gather some past-their-prime roses, pull the petals from the flower heads, and set them out to dry.

IMG_2990There are ways to hurry this process along, but if you don’t have an immediate pressing need, you could just put them out on the counter in a pretty dish, taking whiffs whenever necessary. Stir them with your fingers a couple of times a day. Feel fancy while stirring rose petals with your fingers.

IMG_3086After a few days (four or so) the roses will be dry and a bit sad looking. But they still smell wonderful.

To make a sachet, you need some sort of loose weave cloth, so the scent can escape. The Damsel first tried cheesecloth, because it’s the loosest weave cloth she has. UGLY WARNING: cheesecloth will work but oh my ugly.

Next she found a hunk of lace fabric in the bottom of the scrap box. It’s open enough for our purposes.

IMG_3094Cut a rectangle from the lace. It doesn’t matter what size, but remember that sachets are usually on the small side, so they don’t crowd your drawer.

IMG_3095Fold in half, trimming the edges if necessary to straighten. Don’t fuss.

IMG_3096Put right sides together, if there is a right and wrong side to the material. With lace fabric, there often isn’t. Sew up two sides. With the fold, you will have one side remaining open.

IMG_3097Turn right side out. Now you have a little bag.

IMG_3100Stuff it with petals. Don’t be shy.

Now all that remains is to sew up the remaining side. You could handstitch this to make it extra nice, or do it this way on the machine:

IMG_3101Hold the bag with the open side at the top, and settle the petals to give you room. Fold a half inch or so of the cut edges to the inside. Pin it if you’d like.

IMG_3102Topstitch across the open end of the bag.

IMG_3103Add a ribbon if you like. Sachets make sweet little gifts. Tie one on top of your next present to a rose-loving friend.