Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Yu Choy/Chinese broccoli... Preparing what very well might be the best steamed veggie ever.

1. Purchase!
A delicious bunch of fresh Yu Choy from Super H Mart.
2. Cook!
Rinse, then steam it.

3. Consume!
Good alone or mixed with Japanese Tofu and rice
No added anything necessary.  It tastes like butter all by itself!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Craft Project: Make your own homemade dining chair pads

My parents have had cane seat dining room chairs since they got married a few decades ago.  Great chairs, very nice, but they have one major drawback.  The cane seats are not super comfortable and not super strong so eventually they break.  Ours broke.  My parents were thinking that they would simply get the chairs re-caned, but I convinced them that I could do one better and make built-in padded seats for them instead.  Thus, the project was born.

First, I looked online to find some instructions and I found them at ehow.com.  

I essentially followed these instructions, and I give you my photos of my process:
1. Original Cane Chair

2. Removing the cane and spline.
First, I cut a square hole in the middle (notice the piece on the floor).  I used a hammer, chisel and needle nosed pliers to *carefully* remove the spline that anchors the cane into the groove.  Then, I slid the chisel in between the cane and the top surface and gently tapped it, doing this all the way around the chair to loosen the cane from the glue that holds it in the groove. When I had all the cane out, I used a chisel, flat head screw driver and rough grit sand paper to clean out the inside of the groove. 
3. Caning cut and removed.
4. 3/8" plywood boards cut and sanded
I traced the opening with newspaper, which was not easy and not recommended, and then cut out my template.  I originally had 4 templates, but ended up just using one of them four times because they were trivially different.  I bought the plywood from home depot in two 2'x4' boards along with some 1/2" mounting brackets.  I cut the boards into 4 squares using a table saw, and then traced my template onto the squares and cut that template using an old (like 20+ years) Sears electric reciprocating saw.  I then used an electric sander with 100+ grit sandpaper to smooth the edges and the top and bottom surfaces.
5. Plywood seat

6. Staining, sealing the boards.  Optional.
I used some leftover Minwax stuff that would pretty closely match the color of the chair. 
7. Board with mounting brackets attached to 2" batting.
I set each board on a chair, trying to line up the edges so that they covered as much of the groove as possible.  With the board in place, I marked where I wanted each bracket then drilled small pilot holes and attached each bracket.  Make sure you mark which plywood board goes with which chair, which side of the board goes up and which side matches to the back of the chair, otherwise you'll have a hard time matching them up later on, especially after the fabric is attached!  I used a can of spray-on adhesive to attach the 2" batting (15" x 17" x 2" Nu-Foam, $11/ea. from Jo-Ann Fabrics) to the plywood.  I had to wait a while to get a day above 65 degrees so that I could do this outside.  In hind-sight, the adhesive step seems completely unnecessary and I would skip it next time.
8. Batting trimmed
I used some standard Fiskars multipurpose scissors to trim the batting.  Ouch.  This was very difficult as they were not fabric shears designed to cut through 2" batting.  Next time I would try this with fabric shears or something that is better able to cut through very thick material.  I wore a mask to avoid breathing the loose fibers (just in case). 
9. Attaching the fabric with staple gun.
We picked out our fabric, 2 yards of a soft green/brown fabric to match the chairs and the green paint scheme we have in the room ($15.99/yard, from Jo-Ann's as well but we used a 40% off any single item coupon).  My method for attaching fabric:
1. place the fabric good side down, place batting on top of that, and the plywood board with brackets on top of that.
2. Choose a bracket to start.  Staple about 1/2" in from the edge of the fabric and 1/2" away from the bracket.
3. Move the the bracket directly opposite the one you just stapled.  Pull the fabric as tight as you want it, staple that one.
4. Move to one of the remaining two sides, repeat 1 & 2.
5. Staple once on either side of the original staples so that each side has 3 staples about 3 inches apart. Make sure to pull the fabric as tight as you want it, and check how it looks from the  opposite side often!
6. Now pull a corner directly towards the center of the board, check the tension and staple it.  Go to the corner opposite and repeat.  Repeat for the remaining two corners.
7. Now if you want a smooth corner (i did), you have to make several folds (rather like a chinese fan) and staple each. (wing it, that's what I did).
8. Trim any excess fabric that is sticking out at the corners, but don't cut it too close to the staples, you don't want the fabric to pull through the staple!
9. My pads did not completely cover the grooves that the spline had been in, so I used some long 1" wide scrap strips of the new fabric, folded them long ways and stuck them into the groove before attaching the pad.  This way, the groove wouldn't show and it would simply look like an extension of the pad.
10.  Final step, attach the pad to the chair.  Put the pad into the chair, mark the holes in the bracket, take out the pad, drill pilot holes, put the pad back into the chair, screw in the screws to attach the pad.  If you are having a hard time screwing in the screws, either drill a slightly bigger pilot hole, or try rubbing the screws on a bar of (cheap!) soap, or both.
10. Finished chairs with pads!  Comfy!

Original cane chair again (for comparison)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring flower quiz

What are these flowers?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Epic Snow Blizzard '11

Woke up to 3-4 foot snow drifts at 9am today.

Helped Mom & Dad clear snow in front of the house.

...and helped clear our neighbors' driveways.



Now time for hot chocolate and a hot bath.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cookies for the Blizzard of 2011

In honor of the thundersnow blizzard of 2011 that we are currently experiencing in Chicago, we have made one of Mia's favorite recipes:

Pumpkin Ginger Pecan Cookies


1 cup canned pumpkin puree

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar (or 50% white sugar, 50% dark brown sugar)

1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek-style yogurt

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups sifted cake flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

pecans for topping


Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat it to 350 degrees. Coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray or line with parchment.

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, sugar, yogurt, oil and vanilla. Whisk until smooth.

In a medium-size bowl, stir together the flour, cinnamon, ground ginger, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, mixing until just blended. Top with pecans.

Drop tablespoons of the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake, in 2 batches if necessary, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Eat! Yum!

Turtle Maki

Now that I have a proper phone camera, I am back to blogging.

I give you... Turtle Maki. From Dozika restaurant in Evanston.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

We're still alive!

Here in the Chicago area, both going to school and working part-time jobs (Mia's is very very part-time). Happy to be home, but still missing Japan.

Mia wants a bunny. Brian wants Shinkansens. Both want winter to be over. We miss all our Japanese friends and students. Hope you all are doing well!!