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Tips for Going Gluten Free

Many people eat gluten free (g-free), either by choice or need. For those with celiac, eliminating gluten is an absolute necessity. Others find that, for one reason or another, they feel better when they avoid it. In my case, I kind of accidentally discovered that joint pain in my hands and feet go away and I’m less brain foggy when I avoid gluten. Other family members suffer from breakouts and rashes that flare whenever they eat something with gluten. I strongly believe that if you feel bad after eating something, you should probably stop eating it, so we do our best to avoid gluten all together.

Eliminating something that is such a big part of your diet is daunting at first, but there are a few things that can make the transition easier and less expensive. These tips focus on gluten, but many will also help if you need to eliminate other foods.

Start with real foods

Processed foods often have hidden fillers and ingredients, and specialty gluten free foods are expensive. In contrast, fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts, beans, eggs and dairy are naturally gluten free in their pure forms. Rice is a grain that does not contain gluten. Starting from scratch with real food ingredients that you know naturally don’t have gluten is often easier and definitely cheaper than scrutinizing food labels and buying special gluten free versions of normally wheat based foods.

Go simple with seasonings

For the most part, single herbs and spices are gluten free. Certain spice blends may have gluten, though. Making your own blends is the safest bet, but if you have a spice blend you love, most manufacturer websites list whether their products contain gluten.

While not technically an herb or spice, most soy sauce contains gluten. La Choy is a major brand that is made without gluten. Bragg’s liquid aminos are another form of g-free soy sauce.

Most vinegar is g-free. Malt vinegar is not. You’ll also want to check the label on flavored vinegar to be sure.

Cooking oils don’t have gluten unless seasoned with something containing gluten.

Find your current gluten free staples

Look at the foods that currently stock your pantry. What things that you buy are already gluten free? For us, we usually keep a box or two of cereal around for snacking or a quick breakfast. Most cereals are made with wheat and therefore have gluten, but some that we already bought, like Honey Nut Cheerios, Lucky Charms and Rice Chex are gluten free. Knowing that, I can continue to keep a box or two of cereal we already liked on hand.

Likewise, we keep tortilla chips on hand for snacking or nachos. Most tortilla chips don’t have gluten and inexpensive. Since gluten free crackers are both hard to find and usually expensive, tortilla chips are an easy cracker substitute as well.

Look for the easy substitute

Like substituting tortilla chips for crackers, there are other easy swaps. Corn tortillas usually don’t have gluten and can be substituted for flour tortillas. Rice is often a good substitute for pasta, or substitute rice noodles. If you have an Asian grocery nearby, you can usually find rice noodles there for cheaper than a mainstream supermarket, as well as leafy greens and spices for cheap.

Make it yourself

It’s fairly easy to find gluten-free flour now, so making your own gluten free cookies, pizza crusts, pancakes, breads, etc. is a good option. I love Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten free flour. With it, I can continue to make my favorite deserts just by substituting it for wheat flour. There are other good gluten free flours on the market, too. The most important thing is to know if it is blended to be an exact 1 to 1 substitute or if you need to add something like xanthan gum to give it the stretchiness and rise that you usually get from gluten. For example, Bob’s Red Mill has an All Purpose Gluten Free Flour that is not the 1 to 1 blend. It is a little denser and does not have xanthan gum already blended. I like blending it with tapioca flour, which adds some stretchiness. That works well for things like gluten free flour tortillas. For things that need to rise, though, like cakes or breads, I also add xanthan gum if I’m using the all purpose and not the 1 to 1 blend.

When buying gluten free, shop around

Sometimes you really just want to get some gluten free penne pasta or a g-free bagel. More and more grocery stores regularly stock g-free pastas, breads and desserts, but they can be pricey. If you find them on sale, stock up and freeze the extras. Alternative grocery stores sometimes offer better prices, too. Aldi has a decent selection of g-free breads, pastas, and baking mixes at a lower price than most other stores. I even found some gluten free donuts there recently.

Locally, we have a surplus/discount/closeout grocery store called Town Talk. They frequently have udi’s bread for around two loaves for $3.00. I periodically stop in and stock up when I can.

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Tips for going gluten free

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Tips for Saving Money on Food

No matter what our budget looks like, food is always a part of it. You have to eat, right? There are many thoughts on the best way to save on food. These are the things that work for me.

Eat at home

This one is probably the most important. If you eat out, regardless of whether it’s a dine-in or fast food restaurant, you are going to spend more than if you cook and eat at home. It’s fine to splurge once in a while, but if you’re looking to save, eating at home gives you the most bang for your buck.

Buy mostly ingredients

Prepackaged foods are sometimes quicker, but they are usually more expensive per serving. If it’s a choice between eating out and eating convenience foods from the grocery, it’s still usually cheaper than eating out, so if it’s a choice between KFC or a deli rotisserie chicken, bagged salad and prepackaged dinner rolls, the deli chicken is probably the cheaper and healthier option.

There are some convenience items that I find helpful, especially when life gets hectic. Jarred sauces, bouillon and frozen potatoes in various forms are things that I like to have on hand to help me get a meal on the table quickly. When there’s not time to make the sauce from scratch or I don’t have homemade broth on hand those can make it easy to still throw something together. They’re also usually fairly inexpensive, so I feel they are budget friendly convenience choices.

Buy in bulk where it makes sense

Don’t buy a ton of perishables like fresh fruit just because it’s on sale. If you have time to prep and freeze or can the fruit, then go for it. Things like canned goods, freezer staples and shelf stable items are great for buying in bulk, if you have the room. We have a small chest freezer, so I’m able to buy fruit on sale to freeze for smoothies or desserts and an extra ham or turkey when they are on sale for under $1 per pound around the holidays.

I also buy basmati rice in 20 lb bags because we prefer it over other types of rice and it is so much cheaper that way. To keep it fresh and manageable, I keep a small container of it in the cupboard and the rest goes into the freezer.

Shop creatively

It’s easy to have one or two grocery stores or box stores where you do all of your shopping. If you have farmer’s markets, discount groceries or ethnic groceries in your area, you may find better deals on some items.

For starters, if you have an Aldi nearby and haven’t given them a try, please do. I’ve found them to have a good selection of staples and they have a good guarantee on everything they sell. You won’t find many name-brands at Aldi, but with their guarantee, it’s worth trying and seeing if you like their store brands. They also carry a lot of gluten-free options, as well as dairy-free milk alternatives and a dairy-free mozarella cheese.

I also frequently shop a local Vietnamese grocery store. They have tons of fresh greens and other produce at really good prices. I also get a lot of specialty items, like things for making pho or sushi for sometimes half the cost or less of what I would pay at Kroger or Walmart. Bulk spices and rice are also cheaper there. For gluten-free pasta, rice noodles from there are cheaper than gluten-free options from Kroger and Walmart.

Find a method of meal planning that works for you.

Some people do really well with having every meal, every day planned out to every last detail. I prefer something more flexible that allows for changes based on last minute plans or whatever is on sale that week or whatever leftovers we need to eat. Regardless of the type of meal planner you are, have some sort of game plan in place.

Meal planning is one area where I need to improve, but I do have a basic game plan for meals that I’ll post on at a later date.

While you’re planning, don’t forget lunch. Leftovers are quick and easy lunches, so if you’re planning a dinner that reheats well, make enough for lunch the next day.

Keep staples for one or two quick meals on hand always

This is important in case you forget to plan, or something doesn’t work out with your plan. Whether it’s spaghetti and premade sauce, eggs, fruit and toast or some other meal you can throw together in under thirty minutes, keep the ingredients on hand for one or two backups that you like. Having a backup option makes it easier to eat at home when you might otherwise be tempted to eat out.

Eat real food

If you have to change your eating habits due to health or personal beliefs, it’s easy to try to substitute faux or “free” foods tailored to that diet. Price-wise though, it’s better to adapt your diet with real foods. Rather than faux meat burgers, try grilling portobello mushrooms or making your own patties with chickpeas. Instead of gluten free pasta, substitute rice or potatoes. Instead of diet drinks, flavor water, tea or soda water with fruit.

If you’re really craving cheese and you’re dairy free or bread and you’re gluten free, go ahead and splurge on the dairy or gluten free options. If you’re on a plant-based diet but desperately want something like a real burger, go for one of the faux meat patties. Just try to keep those splurges to a minimum and you’ll save money.

Find recipes for soups, stews and beans that you like

Soups, stews and beans are usually cheap, filling and can be a one pot meal. Having a few recipes you like and keeping the ingredients on hand can really help save money on food. They also are easy to make in bulk and usually freeze well, so making a bunch and having it for lunch or in the freezer for nights that dinner plans don’t work out helps prevent eating out. I love crock pots or pressure cookers for making soups and stews. It’s absolutely not necessary to run out and buy a slow cooker or pressure cooker, but if it’s something you’ve been considering, I love my electric pressure cooker for so many things.

Saving money on food.
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Easy fix for worn out denim jeans

A sick kiddo has kept me from blogging much this past week. Sunday was much better, so hopefully I’ll be back to my usual posting schedule. In the meantime, since last week’s post was on patching denim, I’m bringing back an older post on a different denim jeans fix I’ve used. This one doesn’t require an embroidery machine.

I have a pair of denim blue jeans that are still in good shape except for where my thighs touch. There they are really worn on one side and there is a hole on the other. Because of where the hole was located, I wasn’t comfortable even wearing them around the house, so I decided to try a simple fix.

Interfacing for support

First, I ironed lightweight fusible interfacing on the inside of the worn areas, making sure to completely cover all the worn out spots with the interfacing.

Reinforce with stitching

Once it fused and cooled down, I turned them right side out. Using a narrow zig-zag, I stitched back and forth over the hole and worn areas. This serves to secure the interfacing and add strength.

If you can, drop or cover the feed dogs on your sewing machine so you can move the jeans freely under the needle. The machine I used doesn’t have a way to drop them and I don’t have the special foot plate to cover them. Instead, I used a combination of repositioning and forward and reverse stitching to make it work.

Denim Jeans Fix

Depending on the location, you could use contrasting thread and decorative stitches to turn the repair into an embellishment.

Lengthening a slightly short pair of jeans

I also have a pair of jeans I love, but they needed a button sewn back on. They were also a little short, so I replaced the button and let out the hem while watching TV one evening. These heavy denim jeans are now ready for the coming colder months.

Buttons!

These have an obvious line where the hem was. They’re really cute so I don’t care.

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Easy denim jeans fix.
 

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Goodwill Finds and Refashion Ideas

Pink tunic after removing the lining.

This weekend, we visited a local Goodwill store. Unlike the other Goodwill’s in our area, this one has everything in big bins and they charge a flat, by-the-pound fee. Thrift stores always have unique items, but this one seems to have some really good finds, if you’re willing to dig.

In addition to a few household odds and ends, I found a couple of dresses and a shirt that need a little bit of refashioning, and a pair of skinny boyfriend cut jeans that are like new and fit perfectly. I also found a pretty floral vintage bed sheet. Vintage linens are somewhat in demand among crafters, and I rarely have luck finding them, so it was a nice surprise. 

 

Vintage Pink and Purple Floral Bed Sheet
Vintage Pink and Purple Floral Bed Sheet

Green Dress

The first dress is a casual, green knit dress with interesting cutwork and stitching at the neckline and hem.

Green knit dress
Green knit dress

Pros: It’s comfortable, easy to wear and chase after kiddos, and I like the color and detailing. Cons: It’s a size or two too big. This makes the underarms gappy and the waistline droopy. It’s too short to be a maxi dress, but not short enough to not be frumpy. I could wear it as is around the house, but I think I can make it into something better.

My plan: Separate it at the waist into the bodice and skirt. Tighten the bodice at the side seams. Reattach the skirt to the bodice after removing a few inches from the top of the skirt to make it somewhere between tunic and knee length. Add new, tighter elastic at the waist.

Long, Floral Shirtdress

The pretty blue and floral pattern is what caught my attention with this dress.

Blue, long floral shirtdress
Blue, long floral shirtdress

Pros: The print is very pretty, and there is a lot of fabric to work with. Cons: The fabric is a stiff, non-breathing 100% polyester. It’s a size too small through the middle.

My plan: I have a few ideas for this one. The top (bodice) fits pretty well. The only fit issue is right through the middle. I could separate the bodice from the skirt, raise the skirt so that a wider section that fits me better is at the waist and reattach. Factoring in the button placket might make it tricky, but not that difficult.

I’m not sure I would wear it enough to go through that trouble, though. Option two is to use the skirt portion to make a slip-style nightgown by shaping a neckline and cutouts for armholes, then adding bias tape trim and snaps. I would probably use it more this way, but I still worry about the feel of the fabric. I usually avoid things without at least some natural fiber content. Texas is hot and I need my clothes to breathe.

My final idea is to salvage the buttons and use the fabric for things like bag linings, makeup pouches or other accessories. I will probably try one of my first two ideas before this one. I can always use option three if one or two don’t work out.

Pink Tunic Shirt

I think the flowiness of the outer layer and the stitching around the neckline is what made me grab this tunic shirt from the bin.

Flowy Pink Tunic Shirt
Flowy Pink Tunic Shirt

Pros: Flowy, comfortable fit. Detailing at the neckline keeps it from being too plain. Nice, bright color. Cons: The top layer seems to have shrunk, exposing the lining layer. The lining is 100% polyester knit, which is stretchy and comfortable, but doesn’t breathe.

My plan: This one was so simple, I actually did it in about five minutes this morning. I thought about shortening the lining by a few inches. The top, gauzy layer didn’t really have to have a lining, though, so I decided to remove the lining altogether by simply cutting it out. This made it super easy, and now the tunic is lighter and more suitable to Texas summers.

Pink tunic after removing the lining.
Pink tunic after removing the lining.

It’s not the most dramatic refashion, but it fixed a problem and made it so much more comfortable to wear. I wore it Sunday over my new-to-me Goodwill blue jeans to The Modern art museum and then to Central Market with the family for a treat and playtime on their playground. Without the lining, the tunic was lightweight, and the drapiness of the fabric kept it from feeling frumpy. I totally see it becoming one of my new favorites.

Speaking of The Modern, if you’re on Instagram, I’ve shared a video to @subearthancottage of Thadd and Beckett having fun with the crazy acoustics inside the Vortex sculpture out front. It was so much fun to watch them play, as well as just about anyone walking by. Few people passed without stepping inside to stomp their feet or shout.

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Sewing machine repair: Hook timing

Hook timing is a fairly common problem that sends many sewers running to the repair shop. When it happened the first time on my older Kenmore, I decided to try to repair it myself first. My thinking was, since it’s a mechanical machine with mostly metal parts, as long as I was careful, I couldn’t really hurt anything. I probably would have thought twice before attempting it on a computerized machine.

All machines are a little different, so what worked on mine may not work on yours. Something I recommend to everyone who wants to work on their own sewing machine, is getting a copy of the service manual. Honestly, I still need to do this. There’s tons of info online, but having the actual service manual is even better. You should have an owner’s manual on hand, too. It  covers basic care and maintenance. For repairs, though, the service manual will give you technical instructions and confidence. 

Hook Timing?

Before taking things apart, determine if hook timing is causing the problem. If the needle (top) thread isn’t picking up the bobbin (bottom) thread, hook timing is a prime suspect. It’s always a good idea to rule out simple problems first, though. Try swapping the needle, rethread the machine and sew on some scrap fabric. If it’s been a while since you’ve dusted the lint out of the bobbin case or you’ve been sewing on linty material, give it a good cleaning.

Once you’ve tried the easy fixes, if it still isn’t working right, look at how the needle and the bobbin hook intersect. This page, https://tv-sewingcenter.com/general/sewing-machine-timing-hook-timing, has illustrations, photos and descriptions for where they should meet on both rotary and oscillating machines. 

Taking a look at my oscillating hook.

My machine is an oscillating machine, so the hook tip should pass just above the eye of the needle. Mine was passing below the needle’s eye, so clearly the hook timing needed adjustment.

Open it up

The first and honestly the hardest step was figuring out where all the screws were that I needed to remove to take off the casing. (Actually, the first step was to turn off and unplug the machine. If you’re attempting this at home, do not skip this step!) On my Kenmore, I have to take off the side by the hand wheel, a plate on the bottom, and the front panel. 

More cleaning

While I have my machine open, I like to take the opportunity to clean it out and oil it. Oiling a linty machine, using the wrong oil or putting it in the wrong places can cause tons of problems, though, so if you’re not sure, stick to dusting only.

Find and adjust

Next, I tilted the machine on to it’s back so I could get a good look at the mechanism that rotates the hook. Once I had isolated that, I found a hex head set screw. Loosening that allowed me to gently adjust the hook position so that the tip passed just above the needle’s eye.

About in the middle, just above the motor is a silver piece with a round, black screw near the top. That is the set screw I loosened to adjust the hook timing.

When I was sure I had it properly positioned, I tightened the set screw. I turned the hand wheel a few more times, making sure everything still looked good before I put the casing back. A quick test run showed everything was working properly again.

Done!

It’s so satisfying to be able to make simple repairs to my machines myself, especially when most repair shops start around $75 and go up from there, depending on what needs to be done. 


Hook timing
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Attempting DIY Fashion

Lately Christopher and I have been talking a lot about fashion. It started as a discussion about not being able to find comfortable clothes and how hard it is to find clothing that goes against the trends. Being crafty, we explored making our own clothing. The cost of fabric, supplies, time it takes to cut and sew all highlighted how impossible it is to produce clothing ethically at the low prices charged for much ready-to-wear clothing. That doesn’t even take into account the raw materials that are used to make the fabric and problems with content, pesticides, sustainability, etc.

At the same time, like many, our budget, doesn’t allow us to spend a ton on clothes. We try to make the most of our clothing budget guilt-free by shopping thrift stores and second hand shops. That way we aren’t adding to the problem by purchasing new. Most thrift shops are charity-based, so our purchases help others. We often find better quality items than what we would otherwise be able to afford this way, too.

With thrift shopping, you’re not as limited by trends. If you’re looking for something in particular, unless it’s a common item, you’re still likely to come up empty handed. That has been our problem when it comes to comfortable men’s and boy’s pants. Both Finn and Christopher would prefer something a little roomier, like karate gi pants. Unfortunately, nothing like that has been in fashion since M.C. Hammer. That means it’s time to put my sewing machines to use.

Making a pattern from shorts

This summer, I started by trying to copy a pair of the cotton knit gym shorts they practically lived in, adding a gusset for comfort and mobility. I used to buy bulk bags of t-shirts from Thrift Town before they closed, so instead of using new fabric, I used some XL t-shirts I had on hand. That way, if things went horribly wrong I wouldn’t feel as bad.

If you follow me on Instagram, you might remember seeing this photo with some enticing caption like, “Working on a new project!” Then, nothing else was said. Sorry.

I have zero experience with pattern making, so this was a learning experience. Here’s a brief overview of how I did it.

I laid the shorts inside out and folded in half, front to the inside, smoothing them as flat as possible. Then I traced them, adding about an inch all around. The inch is for seam allowance and to account for the fact that it’s impossible to get finished shorts to lay flat. I always err on the side of too big, because that is much easier to fix.

At the waistband, I measured the waistband and extended the pattern by that amount plus seam allowance above the waistband. This allows it to be folded down for elastic and a drawstring casing. At the hem, I extended the lines two times the width of the hem to allow enough fabric to fold and hem. On the pattern, I drew lines straight across to show where the finished hem and waistband hit on the original shorts for reference.

Then I folded them in half , backs to the inside and repeated the above steps since the back is cut differently than the front.

Drafting the gusset

For the gusset, I drew kind of a triangle with the top point cut off. To do this evenly, I folded a piece of paper in half, drew a half inch line perpendicular to the fold, moved over about four inches and drew another perpendicular line measuring one and a half inches. Then I drew a straight line connecting the tops of the lines.  I cut along the lines and opened it up to get my gusset pattern. Sewing the gusset in with the wider part at the crotch seam and using a half inch seam allowance results the gusset tapering down to a point.

Shorts to pants

Shorts work for summer, but I needed to come up with a pants pattern for fall and winter. Chris suggested just making the shorts pattern longer, so I did by measuring the waist to floor measurement and extending my pattern the needed amount, including seam allowances.

I did this by taping the bottom of the pattern to a big piece of paper, sketching out the needed length and side seams and cutting it out.

Final Result

My pattern isn’t perfect. I think I’ve tweaked it each time I’ve used it. Since the pants are made to be loose and flowy it hides the imperfections.

These are my first attempt. I made them with a linen blend, elastic and drawstring combo waistband and no pockets. I added side-seam pockets later.

My goal is to find or draft a few more basic, customizable patterns for pants and shirts that can be made in linen or a similar material. Then I can buy a bulk amount of undyed fabric and dye it as needed.

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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.