DIY Flycatcher

Now that the weather has warmed here in Australia, I’ve had to reestablish a fly catching device in the kitchen to grab those insects that are far too interested in my tomatoes.

IMG_8435.JPGIt’s simply an old plastic bottle that’s had the top sliced off and reinserted into the base of the bottle…. with some Apple Cider Vinegar at the bottom to serve as bait. Although this setup worked quite well earlier in the year, I decided to make an alteration to the last design. I found that the mouth of the bottle top was too large and the flies that were supposedly caught still had the ability to fly out again if they were crafty enough.

IMG_8431.JPGTo remedy this problem, I attached a piece of plastic bag to the top secured with an elastic band. A small hole was cut to allow flies to enter the bottle… but small enough so they wouldn’t be able to fly out again. This has proven to be a lot more effective… and after a day, several flies were already seen floating in the vinegar.

DIY Sauerkraut

Another thing I had been procrastinating on for years but always wanting to try was making my own Sauerkraut. I have fond memories of a batch my mother made when I was young that went well with some sausages that my father had bought from the local German butcher. After finding a cabbage at the bottom of the fridge that had no use and was now sprouting, I decided that now was the time to try!

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The first thing you must do is… clean everything! Whatever containers that will touch the cabbage… and of course, your hands. The process of fermentation relies on good bacteria for the process, and this will get ruined by any other bacteria that may reside on your things.

I discarded the outer leaves, cut the cabbage into quarters and removed the core. Then I cut the quarters down again into eights and then gently broke the leaves apart before placing into 2 large mixing bowls. From there, I sprinkled a teaspoon of salt over the cabbage in each bowl (2 tsp total) and gently massaged and squeezed the salt into all the cabbage leaves. Do this for 5 to 10 minutes. Gradually, the salt makes the cabbage become watery and limp.

Once this is done, I started grabbing handfuls and placing them into my jar of choice. I had recently gone through a 2kg jar of pickled cucumbers and had saved the jar for such an occasion. Every so often, I tamped the cabbage down with the end of a (clean) rolling pin so that the cabbage was all nicely packed. Juices that were released in the bowls were also poured in.

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Everything now in the jar

Once all the cabbage was packed into the jar, I slipped a smaller jar into the mouth of the jar and weighed it down by filling it with water. This was to keep the cabbage weighed down and eventually submerged beneath its own liquid. I then covered the jar with a tea towel and secured it with a rubber band.

Over the next day, I would constantly check the cabbage and press it down with the smaller jar. As the cabbage continued to release its liquid, it becomes limper and compact and the liquid should rise over the top of the cabbage. If it doesn’t after 24 hours, you can dissolve 1 tsp salt into 1 cup of water and add enough to submerge the cabbage. I, fortunately, didn’t have to on this occasion.

The photo on the left was the result of 1 day of fermenting, the right photo another 2 days later. I had it fermenting for about 10 days when I tasted it… and it tasted good! At that point, I removed the weight, screwed on a cap and moved the jar to the fridge.

Things I’ll do differently the next time: I should have sliced the cabbage down even further till they were strips. The larger pieces were a little more difficult to pack down. And next time, I’ll try adding some caraway seeds and black peppercorns.

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The Squeaky Engine Fix

About a month ago, we decided to go on the road and show our visiting Swiss cousin some of the nearby sites in Western Australia. On this one particular day, my “Little Red Engine That Could” was expected to travel 400km at speeds in excess of 100km/h. Usually, when travelling at similar speeds down the freeway, it’s not an issue. But once you get far enough north of the city, the roads become rough and cause some serious vibrations at said speeds.

After enjoying the scenery at our destination 200km away, we made our way back and that’s when Little Red started speaking to us. Squeaky, squeaky, squeaky as the motor turned. My passengers were a little concerned with the sound, but I knew exactly what the problem was… something I had known about for 2 years yet procrastinated on since I considered the job to be too fiddly. We managed to return to the city without a breakdown, but I knew the issue had to be taken care of immediately.

IMG_8333.JPGThat week, I pulled out my service manual and got to figuring out how to change the drive belt… the cause of the squeak. 2 years previous, the very last time I took my car to a qualified mechanic, replacing the drive belt was on a long list of items that needed attention. But not wanting to pay over $2000 in labour fees, I ordered many of the replacement parts online with the idea of doing it myself. Despite receiving the replacement drive belt, I never got around to changing it. The reason? Since everything in my car is quite compact, to access the engine I would need to remove the front bumper and one of the front headlights. It seemed all too hard at that moment, so I did nothing.

Now having to actually DO something, I got to it. After removing the front bumper, and the front headlight (which in the end wasn’t anywhere near as difficult as my brain had it out to be) I now had access to the drive belt. After loosening the tensioner, I was able to remove the drive belt.

 

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The worn drive belt

 

Despite reading in my manual to “Note how the drive belt is routed” and believing I knew it’s route, I ended up getting lost when attempting to attach the new belt. My lazy manual did not describe in any detail how this was to be done, so I was forced to find a solution on my iPad.

IMG_8334.JPGAfter a bit of fiddling, the new drive belt was now installed. I ran the engine to listen. The squeak was now gone. Now it’s time to take care of the other items I have procrastinated on! 😉

DIY Fish Batter

IMG_8070.JPGAt the end of my street lies what seems to be a very popular restaurant that serves up traditional Fish and Chips. If we ever go past on any given evening, you can expect to find a decent sized queue of people patiently waiting for their order. We have never eaten at this establishment and most likely never will… I can’t justify spending approximately $30AU for two meals when I can just do it myself for a hell of a lot cheaper.

It’s taken a bit of trial and error, but this recipe and method are now working for me.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup water

Mix the dry ingredients together. Then add the milk and water slowly while beating until the batter is smooth. Dip your fish into the batter and then allow the excess to drip off. I have a deep fryer in my kitchen, but if you don’t, a pot of oil on the stovetop will suffice… you’ll just be guestimating the actual temperature of the oil. Set the temp to 170°C-190°C. Using a pair of tongs, gently lower the fish into the oil until the batter forms a proper casing around the fish. Once that happens, you can drop the fish in. If you’re using a deep fryer, doing this will stop the fish from melding to the deep fry basket. Allow it to cook for a good 4 minutes, remove from the heat and soak as much of the oil off the fish as you can with paper towels. Season and serve… we’re ok with just a squeeze of lemon juice on the fish. Give it a go!

the original fish batter recipe

Fix it! Blender Repair

Thanks to a poor quality and my own stupidity… I had worn out the plastic gear on my blender. The gear had worn away to the point of where it could no longer spin the blender blades. My fault because since I got the blender, I would simply tilt the pressure to the side with the job switch instead of applying force directly downwards. The tilting would have made the contact between the gear and blades uneven, causing the rubber and plastic to wear away.

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Grinding by hand with a mortar and pestle took far too long

 

The replacement gear was going to cost less than $3AU on eBay, but as per usual, it would take about a month to arrive…. and I had coffee to grind!

 

 

I needed a temporary fix until the replacement part arrived. I’ve been collecting plastic bread clips for another project and thought I could use the plastic to repair the gear. I carefully cut 4 tabs that were to be glued onto the gear. These tabs will then catch the blade and get it spinning again. Using my trusty glue gun, the tabs were glued into place.

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After allowing the glue to dry (about 10 minutes), I popped the gear back into the blender and gave it a test blend. It worked! 1 tab did look a little weak before blending and subsequently came off, but was reattached soon after. And the coffee was now nicely ground. This fix came just in time as well… I had mayonnaise to make.

Lego Fidget Spinner

Since my son has been going to school, I’ve had a different way of handling each coming “fad”. When he wanted to buy Pokemon cards because all the other kids were trading, I took him away from the collection aspect of the cards and introduced him to the actual card game. Now that fidget spinners are the latest craze, I refused to give into the hype…. the last thing the world needs is another poor excuse to sell bits of plastic.

So an idea was seeded into Owen’s young imagination… why don’t you make your own “fidget spinner” with what you have available? I let him know that I had seen people making their own spinners using Lego. I then dived into his collection of Lego and created my first version of the “spinner”… something that worked (badly) but gave him enough fuel for his creative juices to come up with something better. After playing around with a few different versions he managed to come up with something that spins quite well (but not as good as ball bearings).

 

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Owen spinning and posing

 

 

Today’s School Lunch: Sushi Rolls

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When it comes to school lunch, I now leave it in the hands of my son… usually. But even he gets tired of his own sandwiches at some point (which is going to happen when “peanut butter” is the only sandwich you’re willing to make). To give him a break, I helped make sushi for him. And to reduce the amount of mess that’s bound to happen in his lunchbox, I opted to just halve the roll and wrap it in sandwich paper… and a soy sauce fish thrown in.

The sushi rice was actually prepared a week ago and has been sitting in the fridge awaiting its next use. I spoon out the amount needed into a bowl and reheat the rice in the microwave… and it’s just as good as having prepped it the day of.

Owen’s sushi of choice is the California roll, but he’s not fond of avocados. So in this version, cheese replaces the avocado and is joined with the usual suspects… cucumber, “seafood stick” and mayonnaise. Hopefully, we’ll have an empty lunchbox this afternoon!

 

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Exactly the same sushi, but cut into pieces.

 

Suspension Saga continued (finally)

After patiently waiting for my brother’s arrival with the much-needed Torx bits… I continued where I left off. With the Torx bits, I managed to get the bottom of the hub carrier off… and it was at that point I hit another wall. I was supposed to remove the top mount but needed an angled spanner to get in and loosen the nut… something which I didn’t have at hand. I hit up another friend who I recently learned was also working on a car at home and needed to wait another day for the tool. My patience has become well practised at this point… another day was considered a cake walk.

Something that I hadn’t considered was the age of the parts in question and how difficult they would be to remove…. and I’m almost positive that in the 16 years of this car’s existence, it had never had the suspension struts changed. The metal connections were now like a happily married couple… it was going to take unmerciful and relentless force to separate them. And that force was to come from a rubber mallet with assistance from some WD40 to help loosen it. I made countless hits in an effort to remove the strut… it seemed to take hours! And right when I was about to submit, the first strut finally came loose. Angels were singing in a delightful harmony (in my mind) as I held the assembly high over my head like the trophy it now was. By the time this happened, the sun was going down and I would need to continue on the next day. At least I was able to rest with a minor victory in mind.

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The Trophy Strut

Once the day started up, I got back into preparing the strut. The first thing that needed to get done was transferring the support bracket from the old strut to the new. The support bracket is a piece of plastic that’s task is to hold the brake line in place… kind of important. I found a Torx bit that had a hollowed out centre to place over the pin holding the bracket in place, and with a couple of hits with a hammer it popped out and was then placed onto the new strut.

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In preparation for changing the struts, I ordered a spring compression tool off eBay well in advance. The tool is necessary to relieve the tension of the springs so you are able to remove the strut. Once that was done, the old strut was swapped with the new one and then I worked in reverse to put it all back together.

 

 

If I thought it was rough getting the strut out in the first place, getting it back into the hub carrier was just as harrowing of an experience…. requiring countless mallet hits and curse words.

 

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The strut finally as it should be

With the strut now in place…. I realised I was only halfway done. Being able to learn from the difficulties of the first strut, the second strut was replaced with a little more ease… but not much more. The service manual advised having an axle stand holding the driveshaft so it wouldn’t accidentally get overextended causing more damage… and this is something that I was sure to have in place. But while working on strut number 2, something I didn’t expect happened. The driveshaft came right off exposing what looked like the transmission.

 

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My immediate reaction

 

In a quick response to this, I managed to pop the driveshaft back into place and everything seems to be fine. The main problem with this was that the CV boot was now loose and would need to be retightened…. with a tool I don’t have in my possession. It’s something that I will have to deal with down the track, but it is fine for now since it’s not leaking any grease.

 

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Loose CV Boot

The whole process of DIY for me can be frustrating, but always enlightening as I’m not only learning how to get these things done, but also the processes that will help me improve in the future. And I definitely need to get a Torque wrench if I’m to do any future work on the car… it’s already been ordered.

 

 

Don’t Throw it, Fix it! School Pants

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Even though winter has just started, it has felt like we were already a good month into it here in Australia. During this transition, my son made the switch from shorts to pants. Then I began to notice that on the daily, he was going to school with holes in the knees. Once I gathered his pants to investigate, I found that all 6 of his pairs of pants had holes. Owen has a habit of rubbing his knees on the ground when he’s got a little bit of residual energy to release.

I never had much luck with the iron on patches (although looking back, I was probably using them incorrectly).. and was looking for another solution. Since Google is my friend, I went surfing on the web for a solution and came across something I’d never known existed…. fusible webbing! This allows you to fuse 2 bits of material to each other. Since I’m not a fan of throwing things out unnecessarily. I have been holding onto a pair of school pants that Owen had outgrown with the intention of creating patches for his other pants.

 

After making a trip for the fusible webbing (spent ~$14AUD for 100cm x 50cm), I grabbed the pants with the largest hole. Since the hole was far too large, and not wanting the materials to fuse at the knee (and not allowing a leg to get in) a small patch was cut for the inside and a large diamond for the outside. A portion of the webbing was cut to match the large patch then placed over the hole. Using a steam iron for about 10 seconds to melt the webbing, the hole was now sealed and Owen took this prototype to wear to school the next day.

When I went to pick him up from school, my first task was to inspect the patch. One of the corners of the patch was coming loose… probably why most iron on patches are rounded (D’oh!). And since the material is a little thick and will fray, the patch will still need to be stitched. My second attempt is below… and hoping to work on my stitching skills very soon.

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拍黄瓜 – Smashed Cucumbers

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This is one of my favourite veggie side-dishes, and it was one I would consistently order when dining at most restaurants in China. Pai Huang Gua literally translates to Smashed Cucumbers… but as I learned while trying to prepare this dish, if there’s too much smashing involved you will end up with most of the cucumber going everywhere.

Ready 1 cucumber (I’m using a continental cucumber for this) and a utensil that will be appropriate for smashing. I usually use the end of my knife as pictured, but you could we a rolling pin or meat tenderiser. Anything with a bit of weight will do. With your tool, you carefully bang on one end of the cucumber until you see it crack open slightly. Once that happens, you continue to smash with the same amount of force along the rest of the cucumber… spreading the cracks down to the end. It should look similar to the picture below once it’s done. Then I cut it in half lengthwise and chop into small pieces. Then throw it all into a bowl. Mince 2-3 garlic cloves and throw that into the bowl… I just use a garlic crusher. Add 1 tablespoon of brown vinegar (malt vinegar or Chinese dumpling vinegar) and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, followed by a generous drizzle of sesame oil. Since my son usually eats this with me, I don’t add any chilli oil to it… but I find this is a nice touch. I really enjoy the garlic/vinegar/soy/sesame oil combination and will generally use this as a salad dressing. Feel free to add onions, tomatoes or lettuce to it.