Thursday, June 30, 2011

Patio Furniture Slipcovers

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Every year I think I'm going to turn my backyard into an amazing oasis, but somehow it never happens (I'm still on the lookout for Ahmed Hassan from Yard Crashers, it could happen right?)

I have a patio table and chairs that are great, but not particularly fashionable. I looked at new cushions, but most of them start at over $30 each. So, I thought perhaps a slipcover would be a good solution. I started at Home Fabrics and found several good choices of fabrics that I liked. I love green and brown, so this harlequin pattern was perfect (and at less than $2 a yard, it made the decision easy). I toyed with making the slipcovers more fancy, adding ties etc..., but in the end went with simple instead.

I laid out the cushion and measured around giving myself a 2" allowance around each side. I used the fold to help make things go faster. Turns out I needed 1 yard per cushion since I had 54" wide fabric.

I used the iron to fold and press along the open edge, then pinned the slipcover inside out. I sewed along the top and bottom as well as part of the long side (but I left a very long opening to slide the cushion in). Be sure to really back-stitch the edges of the cushion opening really well so that the seam doesn't tear out while you are stuffing the cushion in.

Sew the opening shut (or use some stick-on velcro or snaps).

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Baby Back Ribs

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To celebrate Father's Day, I did one of my dad's favorites, ribs. My brother Brian taught me how to do this never-fail method of getting tasty, tender ribs. I like them so well, that I don't even add bbq sauce.

I used half a package of ribs from Costco, which was about 3.5 pounds of meat and it was enough for 4 adults. We served it with corn on the cob and potato casserole (aka: funeral potatoes). I could have made these today, but I did it last night and just put the pot back in the oven to warm them up this afternoon.

Dry Rub

3-4 T. cajun spice mix
1 T. cumin
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

Mix up the spices and set aside. (I'll be honest, I don't really measure any of these ingredients, I just mix until it seems right, the cajun mix makes it a bit spicy, which I like...or you could use a rub that you just buy at the store)

Take the meat out of the package and pat it dry with a paper towel. If your ribs still have the silver membrane on the back (my Costco ones did not), you'll need to pull that off.

Sprinkle the spice mix all over the top and press into the meat (both the top and the bottom). I was in a bit of a rush, so I let it "marinate" on the counter while I let the meat come to room temperature and while I waited for the oven to pre-heat. You could do this overnight or a few hours in advance and just put in the fridge.

Cut the meat into 4-rib pieces and place in a dutch oven (or other heavy covered baking dish). I like to put about 1 tablespoon of oil in the bottom of the dutch oven first. Be sure to arrange the pieces of meat so that some of them curve up and others curve down, giving air lots of room to circulate around the pieces. (According to the cooking shows, meat should be room temp before you throw it into a super hot oven, so I let mine come to room temp first..which was about 20 minutes).

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. With the lid OFF, put the meat into the oven for 30 minutes. Don't open the oven and check on it during these 30 minutes. When the buzzer goes off, open the oven, put the lid on and turn the oven temperature down to 200 degrees-and then don't open the oven again until you are done. Continue cooking at 200 degrees for 20 minutes per pound (so I ended up cooking my 3.5 pounds of meat for another 1 hour 10 minutes, for a grand total of 1 hour 40 minutes).

I cannot believe that I forgot to take a picture of the done ribs...guess we were hungry :) The high temp cook at the beginning helps sear the meat and develop a nice crust. The low temp cooking renders the fat and make the meat nice and tender. I have on other occasions (when it isn't pouring rain outside) fired up the grill and put the already-baked ribs on a hot grill for a minute or two on each side to crispy up the edges or add bbq sauce.

I figure that for 4 servings of ribs, corn, potatoes and huckleberry ice cream (bought that at the store, Tillamook brand, my dad's favorite) I spent less than $4 per person. Take that pricey rib joints!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

iPad, Handbrake and DVDs

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I realize I've been very un-projecty lately. I've been really swamped trying to wrap up the school year at work and getting ready for a choir trip next week. Speaking of my trip, I finally got my iPad (I had ordered one from a store here in town who said it would be a couple weeks...which turned into 8...which led me to the actual Apple store where I bought one 10 minutes after walking in the door). Ha. So, for my trip, I of course want to have my new iPad loaded up with lots of movies. I have several already in my iTunes, but I've seen all of those LOTS of times since I use my iPod while on the treadmill.

I thought I'd share some of the tricks I've learned about taking discs I already own and converting them into digital files for my iPad. First, I have a Mac laptop, but I think the software works on PCs too. I downloaded the program Handbrake (here) first.

Put in a dvd (not a blu ray) and let the Mac's DVD player get started and get into the actual movie (not just the previews or the menu, but the actual movie).

Right click on the movie screen and look for the Title menu, look to see which title has a check mark next to it.

You see, it is important to know which title on the disc has the actual movie and not the title that has the extra features or the fake-out movie version (Ah-ha, perhaps you've tried Handbrake before and ended up with a movie that skips the chapters all out of order? That is because Handbrake will default to the longest title, and sometimes the DVD maker puts fake long titles on the disc that are all scrambled).

OK, now you know exactly what Title you need, stop the movie and open up Handbrake.

Click on the File menu and choose "Open Source (Title Specific). Do not use the movie-clapper icon that says "source"--otherwise it will scan all the titles on the disc (which takes a LONG time, sometimes stalls and sometimes chooses the wrong title).

Click on the DVD icon and then on the video file

A window will pop up asking which title, so type it in (in my case, title 21...this can vary from dvd to dvd)

Now the program will scan just the correct title (instead of all 98 extra fake ones).

Be sure to click the type of output device (iPhone, iPad, etc...) over on the right side.

There is also a line to tell the computer where you want the finished file to be saved. I change it to my external hard drive so that I don't slow down my computer with lots of large movie files (each about 1 gig), but you can put it wherever you want.

Click the green start icon near the top of the window. Should take between 30-45 minutes.

When its done, I open up iTunes, click Add to Library and browse to where I saved the movie file. I then right click on the movie in iTunes and choose Get Info so that I can add in the cover artwork--which I have previously found online and saved in the album art file of iTunes (note: if you are buying stuff directly from iTunes, or a have a free digital code that came with your movie, the artwork will show up automatically).

So, now you can start moving your giant collection of DVDs to your computer. Hours of entertainment await :)