A Tale of Two Suburbans

Our family of five people, two dogs, one cat and a chicken is in need of something larger than our car. Sure, it’s fine for everyday driving, but for long trips or anytime even one of our pets needs to come along, things get a bit…snug.

This guy takes up a lot of room.

So, we bought this at an auction:

The Zombie truck.

It’s a little rough, but it runs and can haul people, pets and supplies from Home Depot. It’s missing the third row seat and needs a few other parts to be perfect. Instead of buying them piece by piece, we found a parts donor for it for less than the parts would be individually. The problem with that is, minus needing a paint job, the donor is in excellent shape. The interior is spotless, and the transmission was recently rebuilt. It just won’t start.

Beckett approves of Suburban number two.

Because Suburban number two was obviously well cared for, we’re attempting to diagnose the problem and repair it. That would allow us to retire my car completely. Which is good, because, as of yesterday it’s broken down in my driveway. Luckily it’s not too difficult of a problem to fix this time. It’s more expensive to maintain, though, and I’m not so sure a major repair isn’t in it’s near future.

Replacing ground wires on Suburban number two.

Our first attempt at troubleshooting involved replacing the ground wires. We had high hopes, since a faulty ground left us stranded in a previous Chevy truck, and it’s one of those easy to overlook problems. Alas, either that’s not it or my mechanic skills aren’t up to par. Luckily we have a few more relatively simple fixes to try before we get to the hard stuff.

Why I Love my Electric Pressure Cooker, aka Knockoff Instant Pot

Last Christmas my lovely parents bought us an 8 qt. GoWise Pressure cooker that I have used almost daily ever since. This is the exact one I have: 

With all the sales happening, and the Instant Pot craze still going strong, I know lots of people will be getting an electric pressure cooker and then wondering what to do with it. At least that’s what I did. Now that I’ve used mine for a while, I have some favorite uses for it to share with newbies. I have never used an official Instant Pot, so I can’t say how they compare. They should work about the same, though, so if you have an Instant Pot or other similar electric pressure cooker you should be able to enjoy all this awesomeness, too. 

Boiled eggs: Boiled eggs on the stovetop are easy, unless you’re getting ready for work or school or have young children or are otherwise easily distracted. Then you either burn them or undercook them. Peeling them also is hit or miss. Sometimes the shell comes off easily, other times it takes half the egg white with it. 

In the electric pressure cooker, I can put a dozen eggs in the steamer basket with a little water, push the button for eggs (mine has 1,3, and 5 minute settings for soft, medium and hard), and forget about it. The end result is perfectly cooked eggs that peel so easily my two year old can do it.

Potatoes: Even in the microwave, I have a hard time getting potatoes and sweet potatoes to cook properly. It seems like I always have to restart it a few times to finally get them done. With the pressure cooker, I set it for 15-17 minutes depending on how soft I want them, and they are always done. I’m trying to quit using my microwave all together, too, so the pressure cooker is definitely the faster option compares to the oven.

Slow cooker recipes: Anything you’d make in a crockpot can be cooked in the pressure cooker. You can either use the slow cooker setting, or, if you forgot about cooking dinner until after lunch, you can cook it under pressure and have it done in an hour or less.

Not only that, but, unlike with a slow cooker, you can use the sauté setting to brown meats or anything that needs browning first. That means more flavor with fewer dirty dishes.

Beans: If I forget to presoak dry beans, I’ll put them in my pressure cooker for five minutes to do a quick presoak, drain, and add back to the pot along with the seasonings and broth or cooking water, then cook using the bean setting. It’s possible to skip the presoak entirely and go straight to cooking, if I’m short on time, but I prefer to presoak when I can. 

If I get them cooking early enough in the day, I’ll switch to the slow cooker setting after they’ve cooked with pressure. That gives them the super yummy, second day flavor on day one.

Stews, soups and curries: Browning meats and onions in the pot add flavor, and you can use the pressure then slow cook trick to further develop the flavor.

Bone broth: Normally I would simmer bones all day on the stove for broth. With the pressure cooker, I set it to the two hour maximum time and get yummy bone broth.

Stackable foods: Smaller meats like chicken breasts, vegetables and rice can be put into separate heat-proof containers and steam cooked at the same time. I usually cook too much at once to do that, but when it works out, it is handy and doesn’t heat up the kitchen like using the oven.

Rice: It cooks rice even better than my little rice cooker, and I don’t risk burning it like I do on the stovetop. (There’s lots of distractions here, people.) I don’t use it much for rice, though, since I usually cook curries and things I serve with rice in the pressure cooker. Whenever my rice cooker dies, though, I’m seriously considering a second, smaller pressure cooker as a replacement. 

Yogurt: I haven’t quite perfected yogurt with any method yet, but so far, the best I’ve made is in jars on the trivet in the pressure cooker. It is still a little runny, but it works well for smoothies.

Baking: I’ve only done this once, but thought I’d mention it. You can bake cakes and breads in it by setting the bread or cake pan on the trivet and adding water to the pot for steam. This helps keep the bread or cake moist, which is especially handy for baking with gluten or grain-free flours.

Bath Towel Redo

Last Christmas we received a new set of bath towels. Many of our old ones had worn through in places and were ready to be retired. I hate to throw out something that still has some life left in it, so here’s what I did:

I cut the towels to salvage the most usable material possible. Then, I serged the edge with my serger. You could also use a wide zig-zag, fold and hem, or use bias binding to finish the edges and prevent fraying.

The white towels were cut down to about half-size. This makes them perfect for wiping up big spills or as a bath mat. The green towels on the right are smaller sized for kitchen and cleaning towels. The stack of squares in the middle can be used in place of disposable cotton squares for toner, make-up remover, etc.

The small squares are also handy for DIY dryer sheets. I keep a few in a small tub on the dryer soaking in diluted white vinegar and lavender essential oil. I wring one out slightly and toss it into the dryer to add a fresh, lavender scent to our laundry.

All made from two large, worn out bath towels.

Cozy Weather

Just in time for soup weather I have introduced bowl cozies at SubEarthan Cottage.

Strawberry Bandana Red Microwaveable Soup Bowl Cozy
Strawberry Bandana Red Microwaveable Soup Bowl Cozy

My cozies are 100% cotton, so they can go in the microwave if you like.

Vegetable Print Microwaveable Soup Bowl Cozy
Vegetable Print Microwaveable Soup Bowl Cozy

There are tons of cute 100% cotton quilting fabrics available, so if you’d like one or a set customized to your tastes, let me know.

Sewing Machines

I’m a bit of a sewing machine hoarder. If you don’t count the one that is Finn’s, I have four. That includes my sewing and embroidery machine combo, but not my two sergers. Also not including the knitting machine, because it knits.

While I’m certainly not an expert, I do have my preferences. I would take a well-built, old metal machine over a new machine any day. Mainly because when they break, I tend to do this:

That is my first sewing machine. It is a Montgomery Ward’s Signature sewing machine from the 60s, I think. I got it from my mom who got it from my grandma. I can’t remember what was wrong with it that time, but it sews nicely now.

The Signatures at that time were made by a Japanese company that specialized in industrial machines, I think for sewing feed sacks. That translates to a heavy duty, domestic sewing machine that will sew through anything. It also has a set of cams. Cams are interchangeable disks that allow it to sew pretty embroidery stitches.

My next sewing machine is another, slightly older Montgomery Ward’s Signature. This one was rescued from a lot of machines that were destined for the junk heap.

I love the blue color! It reminds me of cars from that era.

Like the other Signature, it uses cams. You can see them in the little accessory box. I actually like this one a little better than the other. It sews the prettiest straight stitch out of all my machines and has a cam that stitches a row of teeny tiny hearts!

I’ve never actually made anything on it, though. Unlike the other, this one is in a portable case, which is hilarious. I carry/wrestle a 31 lb. two year old every day and lifting that machine is a struggle. Since I don’t have a dedicated place for it, I don’t have the motivation to lug it out.

My workhorse is a 90s model Kenmore, made by Janome. The case is plastic, but all the internal workings are metal. I know, because I had to open it up when my walking foot vibrated the needle loose and messed up the timing. Photographic evidence on Instagram.

That is the best photo I could find of it. I love that machine because it isn’t as quirky as the Signatures. It also tells me how to thread it right on the machine, and when it comes to sewing machines, threading is half the battle.

My final machine is the Brother SE400 embroidery combo. I keep it set up as an embroidery machine because I have three other sewing machines. Also, it scares me, so I want to risk messing it up as little as possible. I haven’t had it opened up beyond the bobbin area, but I’m guessing there’s some plastic, and I know there is scary electronic components. With the other machines, I am freer to play because I know that if something happens, it’s not likely to be catastrophic. With this, something like a timing issue would definitely mean a big repair bill.

Playing with fonts on my new toy.

A post shared by Charity Maas Sloan (@subearthancottage) on

But, it makes pretty embroidery, has loads of decorative and utility stitches as a sewing machine, and has the most awesome needle threader I have ever seen. Seriously. Finn’s machine has a needle threader that I will never use, because it is complicated and I stabbed myself with it one time. Brother’s needle threader is like magic. It is especially handy when embroidering with multiple colors. Color changes take mere seconds.

Just to show I’m not as much of a hoarder as I could be, here is a photo of the White machine I couldn’t get working and sold on craigslist.

Then, while I was waiting for the buyers to show up, I decided to play with it a bit and figured out what was wrong. I hope they love it, or at least open it up to look at from time to time. Sigh.