Saturday, June 29, 2013

Embroidery Project for the Day (or Two)

I have this pair of hand-me-down cropped jeans that I didn't think I liked, but now I love. Trouble is, they are the fake-ripped-up style, not too bad, but every time I wash them, I'm thinking that any moment they're going to become the ACTUAL ripped-up style. So I started out by taking an old pillowcase and cutting up patches and ironing them onto the wrong side with Stitch Witchery. I made a few reinforcing stitches around the edges, then I decided I should have some fun with it. So I started embroidering:
The middle, solid part is a piece of corded trim, embellished with some iridescent white delica glass beads. Then the embroidery was done in double-stranded white tatting thread (didn't actually have any embroidery floss in white, wasn't going to let that stop me), and the center jewels are iron on gems. Once I got that far, I thought it needed a few extra little bits, so I started looking up embroidery stitches on the web (since I haven't done this since I was a kid). That's where I happened upon this instructional video of Wendy from Knitter's Brewing (socalknitgirl on YouTube):

Her instructions are clear and easy to follow, plus her nails look fabulous! I started watching so that I could add a few little French knots to the design, and I wound up watching the whole thing, and now I want to try doing a bullion rose or two someplace else on the jeans! I'll post pictures of my results!
If you are a knitter, Wendy has a whole channel on YouTube full of vids for knitters! Check them out--they've got to be good!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

An American Girl's Interpretation of Venezuelan Pabellon Criollo

When I was a Senior in college at what is now St. Andrews University, I got to go to Venezuela for a month during our January term. It was technically a class in Marine Biology, and I was a Chemistry Major. I'd love to say that I had the absolute time of my life, especially since I saved up all my summer money to go on this trip, but in the end, it was just okay. I had wanted to go so badly because so many of my friends were Biology majors and they had gone in years past and had the time of their lives. They were all friends beforehand, so they had gotten to go as a bunch of friends. My problem was that all of my friends had already gone in years past, so the folks I went with I can barely remember the names of to this day. But I made the best of it, got to enjoy someone else's culture, music, lifestyle, and food.
The food was probably the best part. We stayed in a small town and rented out their houses and went to the local restaurant for all of our meals. We had Cafe con Leche with breakfast (probably instant coffee, but it was damn good, nonetheless), white bread toast (I hate white bread, but this stuff was great), and arepas (little cornmeal fried patties with butter). Lunch would be any old thing, but after going out into the icy cold water all morning, tasted mighty good. Dinners were often chicken (especially tasty thinking it might have been the one that woke us up that morning) with more arepas, fried plantains (starchy banana-like thing), and lots of black beans and white rice. For special occasions, we'd have our black beans and rice with this amazing slow-cooked beef. I still feel like I remember the taste, but have never really come across a recipe that really did it justice.
Someone else's picture: Served like this (with plantains) I'm told is called Pabellon con Barandas, where baranda means "guard rail"; so the plantains are there to keep the rest of the food from falling off the plate!
Then the other day, I was in the nail salon waiting, and I started talking to the woman next to me. As it turns out, she was Venezuelan, so I told her how I had gotten to go there twenty-some years ago and what a lovely country it was (despite my own youthful angst, it was a lovely country). Then I asked her about that beef, as it is considered by many to be the national dish of Venezuela. Never having learned Spanish, I could never remember the name of it, which she reminded me, was Pabellon Criollo (I'd like to say I remembered that name until I sat down here, but, no, I still had to go look it up). She told me it was simply onions, garlic and peppers (mostly sweet peppers, not spicy), then you brown the beef and stew it for a long time and eat it with black beans and rice.
When I got home, I was inspired. I got out my new obsession, the Slow Cooker, and defrosted some stew beef, threw in some Knorr Homestyle Stock, some carrots, garlic, a little squeeze of agave syrup for sweetness, some Bueno Autumn Roast Green Chile, and two cans of black beans (I don't care how easy you try and make it, I hate preparing dried beans.). While the original dish keeps the beans and meat separate, I decided to slow-cook them together so that the beans would sauce up the stew and all the flavors would meld together.  All in all, I think I did a pretty good job of reproducing the flavor I remember. Mine was spicy, though, whereas the original was not; nonetheless, I wanted that pepper taste to it, so I made the concession. I suppose if you wanted to, you could simply substitute mild green chile or even fry up some sweet bell peppers with some onion instead. I have excluded the onion from my recipe as my husband doesn't care for it--I could hardly tell the difference.
Since this is now my second try, I thought I'd record it this time!
What mine looks like so far--it's only been cooking for a couple hours.

Pabellon Criollo

1 lb. (or more) stew beef, cut into cubes
1 pod Knorr Homestyle Stock--Beef
2 cups (or so, if more beef is used) hot/boiling water
3 carrots, cut into bite-sized chunks
3/4 c. Bueno Autumn Roast Green Chile (or peppers of your choice)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 - 15 oz. cans black beans
2 T agave syrup
pepper to taste

Note: While most recipes would have you salt the beef, the Knorr stock is salty enough, so I let it go. Please check the taste before you go adding any salt to it.

Place the beef chunks into the bottom of the Slow Cooker. Dissolve the pod of Knorr stock in 2 cups or so of boiling water (this is less water than is recommended by Knorr, but the Slow Cooker doesn't allow for much evaporation, so I started with less liquid). Add the carrots to the Slow Cooker, then pour the stock over it all, which will allow you to judge if you have enough liquid so far to cover the ingredients. Add all the remaining ingredients. I added the black beans last in order to judge whether I should drain any of the liquid out. Overall, you should have enough liquid to cover everything, but not so much that it's all swimming.
Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. If desired, towards the end of the cooking time, use a slotted spoon to remove the pieces of meat, let them cool a little, then shred them with your fingers. Add the shredded meat back in for at least a half hour or so.
If you get into a crunch for time, or don't get started on it until late morning, cook on low for 4 or 5 hours, then crank it up to high for a couple more hours. The meat might not be as meltingly tender, but that's when I'd recommend the shredding especially, as it breaks it up and allows the meat to soften for the last little bit of cooking time.
Serve it with white or brown rice of your choice.  I suppose if you wanted to make it a little Peruvian, you could serve it with quinoa instead!
Please let me know how it turns out!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Not Just a Word Nerd--A Word Warrior!

I'm not sure if anyone has noticed from reading this blog, but I'm a little wordy. Chalk it up to having a Ph.D.,  being the child and grandchild of journalists, and carrying the spelling and grammatical correctness gene. I may take some liberties here on my blog because A) it's my damn blog, and 2) nobody reads it anyway. I suppose, like every other blogger, I just like to see my own thoughts and ideas spewed out there for all to see and criticize, yet, unlike every other blogger, I realistically understand that nobody cares. Nobody is going to pay me for my opinion, no matter how profound.
Something I do get inexplicably paid to do is edit and proofread other people's writing. I work for a fine online editing company called Scribendi. People from all over the world send in their documents to be edited--everything from poetry to graduate dissertations to just about any other written thing you can think of. I have personally edited self-published books, textbooks, scientific papers, song lyrics, resumes, and much, much more. I've had the privilege of reading some fascinating work and making sure the message got through, as well as the burden of trying to make dreadful things readable. The coolest part, I think, is that I got such a nice gig despite having any sort of degree in writing or English (my Bachelor's is in Chemistry, my Ph.D. is in Biochemistry). I actually demonstrated my skills and got hired based on that--cool, huh?
So, as a confirmed Word Nerd (sorry, Word Warrior) and Ultimate Nitpicker, I salute the fine folks at Scribendi, and repost this adorable video they have created in order to get more work for their existing editors, and perhaps recruit some new editors! Word Warriors Unite!
My only criticism is that there are far too many trees in the "shootout" scene for it to be authentically Wild West-style. Since the company headquarters is in Chatham, Ontario, I understand they had to work with what they had, but next time, you guys are all invited down to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to shoot your shootout!  We've got tumbleweeds and desert and dust--it's so dry and brown here, you won't even have to sepia-tint it later!  It's not THAT long of a it?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fume-Free Cleaning (If You Don't Count Cussing)

I don't know what the water quality is like where you live, but here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we have exceedingly HARD water. In fact, I never fully appreciated the very definition of hard water until I moved here. Calcified water deposits get all over everything and never come off. As in never. As in, every couple of years, I simply THROW OUT my steam iron because it gets so clogged with hard water chunks it randomly spews them onto my husband's shirts, and no amount of country wisdom seems to be adequate to clean it.
This being said, today I walked into our family bathroom and decided (mostly since I'm getting over a cold and can't smell the fumes) I would clean the stains from the sink and toilet. To give you an idea of what I started out with, here's my less-than-a-year-old toilet:
New toilet: A whole 'nother DIY adventure I shan't trouble you with.
As well as my old-as-the-house-itself (about 35 years old) marble/something bathroom sink:

 No, really, the stains on the sink just look like a little grubby dirt, but they are, in actual fact, now part of the rock itself:
Oh, and I took these pictures after scrubbing it with steel wool and Comet powder for 20 minutes.
 So because I had already tried traditional cleansers and elbow grease, I thought I'd take a step back and consult that repository of all human knowledge (no, not Wikipedia; the other repository of all human knowledge) Pinterest. Now, for anyone out there reading this who is not a bored homemaker or gay man, Pinterest is a highly addictive social media site where one can go to find clever snapshots with links to recipes, pictures of other people's pets, cat memes, helpful hints, and pretty much anything one can imagine to enable the reader to waste time in the guise of compiling useful information.  Among the multitudes of helpful posts about how to clean everything in the world using common household goods are more than a few variations on the wonders of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and white vinegar. I started out with the simplest suggestion, mixing a paste of baking soda and peroxide and slathered this all over my target areas:
For the toilet, I got all the water out of the bowl first. If you've never had to fix your own toilet, how you do that is to turn off the water behind the tank, flush a couple of times until the tank is mostly empty, then scoop, bail, or sponge out the water in the bowl.  I needed that icky brown ring to be dryish, so the paste wouldn't all just slide down to Goldfish Heaven.  I let it sit (read, went back to look at pictures of dogs on Pinterest) then went back and started scrubbing, first, with a scrubby sponge, then with damn steel wool (the chemist in me saw this part as folly, as steel wool is probably pretty reactive with peroxide and/or bicarbonate), and after about ten more minutes of hard scrubbing, started to see the tiniest little bits of toilet ring coming off.
F**K THIS, I thought to myself, and also out loud, but without the asterisks. Then I figured out what the missing element from all of these helpful hints was. 
But seriously, it worked, so, there's that. 
Once you've got your paste all soaked in and scrubbed up to no avail, get out your reading glasses and an X-Acto knife, and scrape it off by hand. 
The clever bit.
Here's my breathtaking before and after pic; I bet you can hardly believe it's the same potty:
It has been five minutes, so it undoubtedly no longer looks like this.
Now the sink seemed to be another, wholly less satisfying matter. I pasted, I scrubbed, and I X-Acto-scraped, but that nonsense just wasn't coming off of there.  Plus, if you compare before and after (below), you'll notice that the rim around the sink isn't just dark because it's in shadows, but because it is the most stained of any of it. So one last internet tip to go--I doused it all (enough to wet the paste, but not wash it away) in white vinegar. For those of you who have forgotten, here's what I just did (excluding the peroxide, which I figured called it quits a while ago):
CH3COOH + NaHCO3 ===> NaCH3COO + H2CO3
Sodium bicarbonate and acetic acid react to form sodium acetate salt and carbonic acid. Carbonic acid is the weak acid in soda pop, which quickly breaks down into carbon dioxide and water.
H2CO3 ===> CO2 + H2O
Sorry, the chemist in me had to share that part with you. Just pretend like you already knew it.  
So, as much as I'd like to say that this reaction enabled me to simply wipe off the hard water stains with the side of my hand, there was still some more X-Acto knife action, plus a little bit of paint-scraper work after that, but at least it came off. 
Still not good as new, but certainly much better.  Don't know what that stain is in the drain, but it should be the part of the house that survives the nuclear apocalypse (are we still having that?).
 I hope that all three of my blog readers found that helpful, and I certainly feel as if I've gotten it off of my chest, which is, after all, the primary purpose of having a blog.
Not to let you think that my efforts went unnoticed, I was under the constant supervision and unwavering moral support of my entire family.
Not shown: Actual unwavering support.