Monthly Archives: September 2009

Crafty Picnic Kit

Over the weekend, I finally got around to something I have meant to do for quite some time. I got back into crafting. Several months ago, I posted a note on Facebook promising crafty goods to the first five respondents. I ultimately agreed to make things for more than five, and then, as is my wont, I put the plan on a far back burner and basically pretended the note never happened. Until last Saturday, that is.

Here is what I made for some friends who are great at organizing picnics, bringing lunch from home, and generally exploring food options wherever they may be, friends who also might be the most eco-savvy people I know:


Cutlery roll-ups! Depicted here with one rolled and one not. The idea is to be picnic-ready at all times and to reduce the need for and subsequent use and disposal of disposable cutlery. I had never sewn with batting before, though I’ve been longing to quilt for some time (on a related note, I finally signed up for a quilting class that starts in a couple of weeks, and I’m over the moon), and it was definitely a learning experience. I hope that the various imperfections were deemed part of the charm. Isn’t that really the best that any of us can hope for?

Here is what I did (after procuring fabric and batting and ridiculously affordable cutlery from Fish’s Eddy).

Step 1: Lay silverware out on fabric to determine appropriate size. You could make one more narrow than mine, but you want it to be high enough to cover the cutlery. Cut rectangles of pretty fabric, batting, and any old plain fabric you have. Muslin? Great. Scraps? Whatever. Nobody will see it. Make a sandwich with the plain fabric on the bottom, batting in the middle and pretty fabric on top with the right side out. Then quilt it! I sewed through the layers in zig zaggy lines like so:


Here is a closer look at the zigs and the zags:


Note: If you have never quilted anything before, you should maybe either sew straight lines or make sure your fabric is oversized. I was still playing around with the tension on my machine and not really knowing what I was doing, and the first one I made came out pretty wobbledy. The second one worked out much better. Practice helps.

Step 2: Trim up the edges of your fabric and batting sandwich. If you have managed to keep things in order, trimming slightly will simply ensure that all your edges match up fairly neatly. If you have not kept things in order and have some crazy warping going on, you might have to do some more serious trimming to make it into a rectangle again. That’s fine. Just go with it. Use your newly trimmed rectangle as a guide to cut another piece of pretty cloth. (There are undoubtedly many ways to do this. One could, for instance, make a pattern ahead of time to use for various pieces. I was clearly winging it.) Lay another piece of fabric on top of your new pretty fabric. I didn’t get into hemming edges, just folded it neatly in half, laid it on top (right sides of both facing up) and stitched three little vertical rows into it to make pockets. Like so:


Step 3: Make another sandwich, this time with your quilted pretty cloth and your pocketed pretty cloth, pretty sides face to face, and stitch around the edges, making sure to leave an opening on one side to flip it inside out. I also added a loop of elastic at this stage to close the little picnic bundles for travel. If you have nice ribbon and want to keep things simple, add a few strips of ribbon instead. Like so:

…well, not quite like so…


What’s wrong with this picture? I will tell you what’s wrong with this picture. I realized after stitching up my sandwich that the elastic would now be inside the sandwich once it was finished. Not helpful. Make sure your elastic or ribbon or similar closure mechanism is inside the sandwich before you sew, its little ends sticking out to anchor it. That way, it will be on the outside when you flip the whole thing right side out.

Step 4: Flip the whole thing right side out, push out the corners as much as you can (I used scissors), and stitch up your opening. I used a zig zag stitch. Then I ironed the whole thing, sewed a button onto the outside of the bundle right at the elastic, slipped the silverware into its pockets, and rolled up the bundles, fastening by slipping the elastic loop around the button.


Easy peasy, picnic ready, and infinitely reusable!


Bath Salts and Cayenne Tea: How to kick a cold

I have not posted for a while. First there was vacation: wedding in Boston, then visiting a friend who just moved to the midwest, patriotism stirring in my breast as I wandered alongside fields and fields of corn and soy, marveling at their vastness, wishing I didn’t find their beauty a bit deceptive in light of what I know about industrial food. But there is no questioning the fertility of the land, the ability to feed and nurture, and my oh my was it beautiful out there.


Then there was the start of school and the onset of Craft Beer Week. Having visited several establishments in the midwest where my food options as a vegetarian consisted entirely of fried things (even the salads were loaded with meat, but who needs salad when there are fried pickles?), I was feeling eager to dive into my CSA head first and get back on a healthy track. After Craft Beer Week.

I love craft beer, and I loved beer week last year, and I was psyched to participate in the Second Annual NYC celebration of craft breweries, many of them local, some of them a bit farther afield. I wanted to patronize establishments that have chosen to support the small breweries that really drive innovation in the beer world, that appreciate all the wonderful things that beer can be. Mostly, I wanted to drink some old favorites at a discount, revel in the opportunity to drink beers on cask that are not usually available that way, and try new beers and new bars that serve up the good stuff.

 Alas, my body had other plans. We had a great first weekend of Beer Week, really. We visited two of the cask festival venues, had great conversations with strangers, tried some new beers. Then Shawn got a stomach bug. I managed to keep it at bay by living on toast and yogurt and miso soup, and Shawn recovered just fine by midweek, in time for us to squeeze in a Wednesday trip to Bar Great Harry. Then, about an hour before leaving class on Thursday, I got that feeling. You know: that sticky feeling in the back of the throat that says, “I am a cold, and I am coming to get you.” Were it not Craft Beer Week, and had I not made plans to meet some friends who are moving away all too soon, and had said friends not whipped up an incredible feast for us to share, I quite likely would have crawled home, slinked into the bath tub, passed out, and worked on nipping it in the bud.

But these friends are moving away, and we had to help them not waste their CSA goodies, and I wasn’t sick yet, and there were craft beer-serving bars in their neighborhood. So I made an enjoyable social decision, but a poor health decision.

In examining how to kick a cold, let’s start with how not to: Do not insist on drinking beers, sitting outside in the cool autumn air. Do not depend on the acidity in your friend’s delicious home-pickled beets to singlehandedly eradicate any bug that may be creeping into your system. Do not proclaim raisin mead delicious and have a second glass that is slightly larger than the first because your friends need to clean out their liquor cabinet before the move. Do not stay out until past your bedtime and then cross your fingers, hoping the raw garlic you down at past-bedtime will work magic overnight (I am pro-raw garlic for colds, but it was too little too late). No regrets, but it’s no way to kick a cold.

Needless to say, I felt bad the next day. That sticky-throated feeling does not lie. Fortunately, I am the most self-indulgent sick person on the planet, so I did what I always do when I get a cold: sleep, use neti pot, drink honey-lemon-cayenne, watch bad TV, bathe, repeat. If there’s a way to clear out a cold in just one day, I have yet to find it, but I swear by this method for kicking colds sooner rather than later and for generally treating yourself right. There’s also garlic chopped and soup consumed and various other tricks, but here are the main components in greater detail:

Sleep: Self-explanatory. Get as comfy as possible. I recommend an eye mask to block the light. If you nap all day and have a hard time bedding down at night, sip a toddy and get under the covers immediately, while you’re still warm and woozy.

Use neti pot: This is helpful when sick, but I highly recommend using this daily for allergies and keeping bugs at bay. I cannot remember the last cold I caught when using the neti pot consistently. Did I mention that I skipped three days last week? My bad.

Drink honey-lemon-cayenne:Any hot tea will do in a pinch. Ginger is an old favorite, regular honey-lemon is great, but I cannot recommend the honey-lemon-cayenne highly enough. The honey is soothing, the lemon astringent and vitamin-packed, and the sprinkle of cayenne provides heat that starts moving nasties out of your system right away.

Watch bad TV: Also self-explanatory. I need not reveal exactly what garbage I have been taking in. That won’t help anyone.

Bathe: Here is where the artistry comes in. I love nothing more than a hot bath when I am sick. The body’s natural response to many sicknesses is to raise its temperature with a fever. If you have a fever, a hot bath is most likely ill-advised (your body is already doing the heating, and you don’t want to get cooked). If, however, you do not have a fever, there’s nothing like getting toasty in the bath, breathing in some essential oils, sweating out some toxins, and savoring those quiet moments with ears underwater, listening to your own heart to provide relief and make you feel like you’re conquering that pesky cold. I have spent years perfecting my cold season bath salts. It is a work in progress, but here is the basic recipe for the latest incarnation:

 Bath Salts for Sickos:

  • 2 cups epsom salts
  • 1 tsp – 2 tbsp. ground dried mustard, however much you want (start low, go higher if you want)
  • 2 tbsp. ground ginger (or make a tea from fresh ginger and add directly to the bath water)
  • Essential oils. These days, I like a combination of lemon, eucalyptus and thyme for a cold, but there are many combinations that work wonders. Just remember that lots and lots of plants go into these essential oils, and they are powerful. Most of them are too potent to be applied directly on the skin, and you should go easy in your bath, too. I usually use 5-8 drops in the tub, and I wouldn’t go higher than that.

Put these things in a tupperware container or jar, put the lid on and shake until everything is combined. Sprinkle into a hot tub and get in. The mustard and ginger will help get you sweating, so skip these ingredients if you’re planning on, say, leaving the house or engaging in any kind of social activity immediately following your bath. If you have time to lie down in jammies or sweats, cozy and out of sight, throw them in.

Either way, take lots of baths, sip your fluids, get lots of sleep, and good luck kicking any colds that come your way.