Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Make Something: Corn Hole aka Bean Bag Toss DIY

As part of Jason's 30th Birthday Extravaganza my gift to him was a completely DIY'd corn hole/bean bag toss board set.  This was my first multistep building project and I'm pretty proud to say it turned out swimmingly.  And Jason liked it, so that's always a bonus.  There are multiple steps involved, which I've called phases to keep them straight.  Let me know if you have any questions!  *Caution: lengthy post ahead.

I followed the instructions from here, although I didn't need the sewing instructions or the painting instructions.

 Phase One - Construction

First up is the actual construction part.  Check the instruction list for a full list of supplies.  When purchasing your 2x4' try to get the straightest ones you can find.  I rummaged through about 24 before I picked the ones I needed.  If they have any decent bend or warping, it's going to make squaring up the frame kind of sucky.

Also, Home Depot (at least mine) sells pre-cut boards that are the exact size of the top of the frame.  The good news about this is that you don't have to rely on the Home Depot employees to cut a piece of plywood down for you.  The bad news is that the selection was minimal.  As a result, I had to buy much cheaper wood than I would have liked.  This resulted in my needing to improvise Phase Two.  Buy the smoothest wood you can find.  I could have gotten a piece of plywood sized down, but I have only had terrible luck with Home Depot doing cuts for me so I decided to use the cheaper pre-cut wood and smooth it over with a healthy amount of spackling paste.

One other note, the instructions say that the clamps are "optional."  I have no idea how you could build this thing without them.  I was working alone and I would never have been able to put together a square frame without the clamps holding everything in place.

Document proof that you're actually the one doing the building.  And notice the super trendy safety googles. Better that than to lose an eye.

When I cut the 2x4's, I clamped the boards to the saw base.  This prevented me from having to concentrate on balancing the wood while using a saw.  Generally I'd advise against concentrating on anything other than the saw when using something that could cut your fingers off.  The clamps also make sure that you don't mis-cut anything.

Alternatively you could leave all of the cutting to the Home Depot guys.

Measure twice, cut once.  Or in my case, measure 10 times, cut once.

Finished with the cutting.

The instructions don't mention this, but I used a rough sander to smooth down some of the rougher ends of each board.  I also used pliers to remove the staples that are in the boards.

And do notice one of my not-so-handy-but-pretty-cute-assistants.

So this is where the instructions get a little confusing and the clamps get pretty necessary.

Once you are ready to assemble, take the corresponding pieces and clamp them together into an L shape and hold together with the clamps.  I used a scrap piece of wood to help hold both pieces in place.  This will help keep everything flush when you start making the screw holes and inserting the screws.

The holes/screws you are making are pretty decently sized.  You'll need to create pilot holes using a variety of drill bits.  Start small and work your way up.  The drill bit with the tape is actually one size larger than the actual screw.  I used this at the very end to drill a tiny way down.  This widens the top of the hole and countersinks your screw so that the head of the screw is not protruding from the side of the wood.  This isn't necessary for the frame but is necessary for the top.

Your pilot hole and screw will pass through the horizontal board and into the vertical board and thereby (thereby, I am obviously a lawyer) join the two together.  I eyeballed the locations, but tried to aim for 1/3 from the top and 1/3 from the bottom.

Keep adding piece by piece until your frame it complete.  You may need to tweak the last piece to get everything flush.  If your 2x4's were fairly straight this shouldn't be too difficult.  I didn't have much trouble.

Once the frame is complete center the boards on top of the frame and screw them together, using the countersink method above.  You will also need to make pilot holes for this part as well.  The screw heads really need to be below the board to prevent your bags from catching on anything.  And to be honest, screwing the top in place was the worst part of this entire thing.  I stripped an embarrassing number of screws.

Measure where your center hole should go using a compass and a pencil.  Or in my case a Martha Stewart Circle Measurer thing.  I'm lazy like that.  To cut out the hole use a jigsaw, which is what I did.  It's not a perfect circle but it gets the job done.  If you want it to be perfect you can buy a hole saw to attach onto your drill.  In retrospect, I probably would have just bought the bit and gone this route.  The fact that my circles aren't perfect drive me a teenie bit crazy.

The legs are kind of tricky.  You need to round the tops so that the legs will move freely from resting to standing and so that the feet are flush with the ground.  Read the instructions for complete details, I don't want to mess anyone up.  But below are some progress photos.

I will say that I skipped the stack your board until it's 12" of the ground step.  I am not serious enough about corn hole for that kind of precision.  Instead I just measured 12" from the point that I mitered the feet.  It's not exact, but no one has complained so far that I don't meet "competition requirements."

I will also say that a 3/8" hole is pretty freaking big.  A bit that size wasn't in any of my bit kits.  I ended up making a special trip to Home Depot for the appropriate size bit.  Just a reminder to check before you start.

Insert your bolt, washer and wing nut and tighten.  The legs should move without too much resistance and rest flush on the ground when extended.

Construction is complete!

Phase Two: Spackling

As I mentioned before, my plywood was not at all smooth.  I was fairly concerned that this was going to prevent the bags from sliding across the surface of the board.  You already need to spackle the holes you made screwing the top to the frame.  I took this one step further and spackled the entire surface.  Spackling will give you a super smooth finish regardless of the condition of the wood.  Plus it's basically like frosting a giant cake, except that you have sandpaper to make the surface super super smooth.  I didn't intend to spackle the entire thing, but I'm really glad I did.

You can see the surface wasn't super smooth at first.  But that is easily fixed.  Simply sand the spackle down using various degrees of sanding paper.  And don't worry, spackle sands super easily so it's a fairly quick and fairly easy process.

Once everything is smooth apply a couple coats of primer.

Phase Three: Painting

Once you have finished priming it's time for my favorite part, painting!  I decided in advance that I wanted the boards to have the shape of Texas and be in two contrasting colors.  I enlarged a map image of Texas until it was close to the size of my board.  I printed it out, taped it together (I think it was 6 pieces of paper), cut that out and then traced it onto contact paper.

My theory was that I could put the entire image onto the board and then paint over it.  Peel the contact paper off and voila! Texas!  This did end up working perfectly.  To make the contrasting boards, I needed to have the base color of one board be blue and one board be white.  What I ended up doing was painting a small section of base color roughly in the shape of Texas.  I did about 3-4 coats of the blue and 3-4 coats of the white (simply because I already had to wait for the blue paint to dry).  By not painting the entire board, it made covering up the blue with the white paint much easier. Once the coats dried, I stuck the contact paper down making sure it was only located on the blue/white section of the board, respectively.

I then used a credit card to smooth the contact paper out as much as possible.  This will help prevent any bubbles and keep your shape as clean as possible when you paint the top coats.

One other piece of advice.  When using contact paper, the side with paper is actually the back.  Soooo when you trace your shape onto the paper side, flip it over otherwise it's going to be backwards.  Ask me how I figured this out.

Your contact paper Texas goes on the blue part and then gets painted over with white paint.  It's the complete reverse for the other board.

Once you get the contact paper on simply paint the entire board using the contrasting color.  Another 3-4 coats and your boards should be painted.  Let the paint dry fully before you attempt to remove the contact paper.

I used my handy dandy razor pen to gently peel up a corner of contact paper and then began ever so gently peeling it off.  To be honest, I was slightly terrified removing the contact paper (hence the lack of photos).  It was SO exhilarating once I realize that it was crisp and pretty dang awesome looking!

After that simply slap on a couple (dozen) coats of schellac and your boards are done!  Full disclosure, I bought eggshell paint because I hate high gloss paint.  But the boards need to be high gloss for the bags to slide across them.  As a result, I have applied about 20 coats of schellac and am still going.  You can avoid this by getting high gloss paint from the beginning.

Phase Four: Sewing and Stuffing the Bags

Lastly you're going to need some bags to throw at your new and very awesome corn hole game.  You can actually buy these from a variety of sellers online, but I've ever been one to go that route.  I picked up white and the darkest blue duck cloth I could find and set to work.  If you have any experience sewing, it's really as simple as sewing a pillow.

I bought the paint pen in case I need to do touch ups, but I didn't end up using it.

I wanted my bags to replicate the Texas that was on each of the boards.  So I shrunk the same Texas down to fit on my bags and cut it out from another piece of contact paper.  (This Texas was actually backwards once I pulled the paper backing off.  So remember, flip it when you're tracing.)

I had a bit of a tricky time getting the contact paper flush with the duck cloth to prevent the paint from bleeding.  I tried a rolling pin and credit card.  The credit card worked the best.

Once the pieces were dry it was simple a matter of pinning, sewing, ironing, and stuffing.  Leave a couple inch gap on one side so you can stuff it with your filling.

Stuffing them kind of sucked.  Each bag needs 1 lb of stuffing and you kind of have to force it to get it in there.  I opted for rice this time, because it was the cheapest and easiest thing to get.  I plan to buy the plastic pellets sold specifically for corn hole bags very soon in the future and simply replace the current stuffing with the plastic pellets.

Supposedly you can stitch the final side using a sewing machine.  But after breaking two needles, I decided that my sewing machine was having none of that.  So I ended up hand stitching each bag closed using a very small loop stitch.  It was very tedious and I was already exhausted.  But it actually didn't take entirely too long and then the entire project was FINISHED!!

They've already gotten a decent amount of use (clearly they neeed to be cleaned).  All in all it was a very doable project; not one time did I ever think it was going to be a complete disaster. 

I hope this inspires you to make your own set.  It is so much satisfying to tell people you built those babies from scratch.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Plan Something: Jason's Big 3-0

Jason's 30th birthday was this past weekend.  If you remember from last year, we haven't done much to celebrate birthdays for the past several years.  I made an exception for his 29th and his 30th, because I figured they needed to be celebrated appropriately.

I spent the last 8 months (seriously I started the week after I finished the bar) planning his 30th extravaganza.  I knew I wanted to go all out.  It took a little while to figure out where I wanted to do it, but once I learned that Rahr Brewery has private party rentals, I knew that was the way to go.

When I was designing the invitations I wanted them to be something unusual and fun.  I initially contemplated mailing out beer bottles, a la this party I found on Hostess with the Mostess, but ended up deciding the hassle of shipping wasn't worth the effort.  Finally I stumbled on the idea of using coasters as the invitations and attaching them to cards with the additional information.    I ordered enough for all of the invitations and then a couple dozen extra so that I could give them to Jason at the party.

Full post on the invitations coming soon.

Next up I had to decide on party favors for all of the attendees.  I knew that Rahr would give everyone a pint glass to take home as part of the party, but I wanted to give everyone something from Jason and myself.  Koozies are always a good gift in Texas, but I wanted everyone to be able to use the koozies during the party.  This in turn led to the great pint glass kookie search fest.  It took me forever to find someone who could custom print pint glass koozies and who produced quality products.  But I finally stumbled across Logo It an Austin based company that was SO great to work with.  The koozies turned out exactly like I hoped and they arrived early.  I do not hesitate to recommend Jim and his company and will definitely use them again in the future.

After those details were nailed down I had to decided on food and decorations.  We kept the decorations fairly simple; we were in a brewery after all.  But I made a couple of things to spruce up the food tables.

Jason gave me a copy of the Smoke cookbook that I have been wanting since we ate at Tim Byres's restaurant, Smoke.  (If you are in Dallas you MUST eat there.)  The cookbook is filled with tons of BBQ and sides and I knew a couple recipes were a must.  First of all, I made a batch of his bread and butter pickles.  I don't really like bread and butter pickles, but these are fantastic!  They were so delicious paired with the slightly fatty pork shoulder.  I also made a BBQ sauce from the cookbook and highly recommend it as well.  Other foods included sausage balls, potato salad, PJ's Polish Gold homemade sausage (amazing), soapilla cheesecake and various chips and dips.  I farmed out the cupcakes to Sprinkles (ain't nobody got time for baking) and picked Bourbon Vanilla Bacon and Bailey's Irish Cream cupcakes.  They were amazing and I didn't have to touch a single cupcake tin, which made them all the better.

Lastly music.  There is a great story behind the musician, Michael Prysock.  Last summer he was scheduled to play a show at Klyde Warren Park as part of their summer concert series.  I wanted to go so I played Jason a couple of song intros to see if he would be interested.  Jason was.  big. time.  Since then he's been trying to remember Michael's name and all the while I've been secretly emailing him since August.  Sneaky sneaky.  Jason randomly was talking to his sister about Michael the day of his party about how much he wanted to figure out who he was.  And then lo and behold, who's playing when Jason arrives at the party.  When I asked Jason what his favorite part of the day was he instantly replied, the live music.  So a HUGE thank you to Michael for playing for us.

I want to extend a HUGE thank you to everyone who helped me plan, prepare, cook, distract Jason, and attend his party.  He was so incredibly happy and I am ever so grateful to everyone who helped bring him into his 30's in style.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cook Something: Spiked Hot Chocolate and Homemade Churros

For a perfectly cozy evening or a late night Christmas treat, I highly recommend some steamy hot chocolate and homemade churros.I made these a couple Fridays ago on a particularly dreary and frigid night and they were the perfect way to spend the evening.

The churro batter is very similar to a French pate a choux, albeit thicker.  Making churros is a lot less intimating than it sounds, but a couple words of advice. Watch the temperature of your oil.  If your oil gets too hot your churros will burn before cooking on the inside.  If the oil is too cool, your churros will be greasy.  Use a thermometer and keep your oil as close to 350 as you can.  Secondly, invest the $8 in a pastry bag.  Most recipes will say you can use a gallon bag with the corner snipped off.  This. Is. A. Lie.  This batter is thick.  If you try to squeeze it out of a gallon bag the bag will split open and you're going to end up with a huge mess all over your counter.  I bought my pastry bag at Michael's of all places, but you can find them at any kitchen wares store and possibly Walmart (if your Walmart has a cake decorating section).

For the hot chocolate, I used this recipe and to be honest I didn't love it, especially because it required a decent amount of work.  Whatever hot chocolate you decide to use make sure it's super thick and decadent.

Adapted from here.

  • 8 cups vegetable oil or other frying oil
  • 1 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon.  Mix together in a gallon size ziploc bag and set aside
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 cups milk, at room temperature*
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature*
*To bring to room temperature quickly, microwave the milk in 30 second bursts.  Be careful the milk doesn't scald.  Place the eggs in a bowl of warm water for 5-10 minutes.

  • Add oil to a heavy bottomed pot and bring to 350 degrees.  I prefer using my LeCreuset dutch oven for frying.
  • Bring milk, butter, salt, remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar, cinnamon stick, vanilla, and nutmeg to boil on medium-high heat in a large saucepan.  Turn off heat once boiling and allow to stand for 10 minutes so the flavors infuse in the milk.
  • Discard the cinnamon stick.  Bring the mixture back up to a boil then add the flour and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms.  This is going to take a bit of muscle.
  • Transfer dough to a large bowl and allow the mixture to cool for 5 minutes, stir periodically to help with the cooling.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated before add the next egg.  
    • If you do this by hand there will be a moment when you think everything has gone terribly wrong.  The dough will somehow look curdled.  Fear not!  Just keeping beating and like magic the dough will transfer back to a homogenous mixture.
  • Insert a star tip into the pastry bag and add the dough into the pastry bag.  I like to use a chip clip to close the top of the bag to prevent any of the dough from squeezing out the back.
  • Pipe the dough into the hot oil in 4-6 inch long pieces.  Pinch the dough of with your fingers or snip with scissors.  Fry up to 6 churros at a time for 3-4 minutes until a beautiful golden brown.
  • Quickly roll the cooked churros on a paper towel and then toss in the bag filled with the cinnamon and sugar mixture.
Enjoy while warm!

Merriest of Christmases to those of you who celebrate!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Friendsgiving 2

This past weekend Jason and I hosted our 2nd Annual Friendsgiving.  If you remember from last year, we hosted the inaugural Friendsgiving outside, and I had every intention of doing so again this year.  Mother Nature, however, had very different plans.  It was cold in Texas this past weekend, very very cold, especially for Texas.  So Jason and I had no choice but to move Friendsgiving inside.  We are fortunate enough that by clearing every. last. piece of furniture out of our living room and dining room that we had just enough room to fit the 26 people who had RSVP'd for the event.  We were fairly concerned about space, and although it may have been a little snug, it was a perfectly cozy way to spend a very dreary and frigid night.

So without further ado, the details from Friendsgiving 2.

I was adamant about using real plates and silverware this year.  I picked up the plates from the Dollar Tree (for a $1 a piece, which is crazy because I actually like them more than my actual plates) and the silverware was leftover from my sister's graduation party.

Jason rented tables and chairs from our trusty rental place and I decorated each table with strands of bittersweet and white candles.

Each table setting had a mini-pumpkin pie thank you gift that I made (completely from scratch, crust and all, which is kind of big deal because I am certainly no baker).  Friendsgiving is a party that requires you to bring food, so I wanted to thank everyone for taking the time to make and attend the party and to thank all of the great friends we have in our life.  Thanksgiving so often gets overlooked and I particularly love this event, because it's simply a chance to say thank you to everyone who helps enrich our lives.

I downloaded the "thank you" calligraphy from here and sized it down in Photoshop to about 3"x2".

For beverages I made spiked apple cider and unsweet tea.  And everyone brought beer and wine to share.

Jason and I were fairly concerned about squeezing 26 people into our 1200 square foot apartment.  We knew in advance that the tables and chairs would fit, because we did the same thing for my graduation party, but that party maxed out around 20 people and we had a solid 6 more coming to Friendsgiving.

My idea to help work with traffic flow was to create a "photo booth" in this weird area that connects every room in our house, but isn't really a room itself.  It's kind of like a foyer, but smack dab in the middle.  I decided to set my camera up on a tripod and let people take pictures in front of a backdrop of streamers that I saved from my mother's fiesta party.  The lighting wasn't great in that room, and I'm working on fixing the white balance.

I spatchedcocked the turkey again, using Kenji's method.  This is my second year doing this and I firmly maintain it is the easiest, fastest, and most full proof method of cooking a turkey.

Me shaking "Bertha's" wing.  Yes, I named the turkey.

And this is what you get.  A house full of good food and better friends.  A pretty enjoyable way to spend an evening.

And me the next morning...thinking about how much clean up I had to do.
*Thanks to Tiffany and Keith for the awesome mug.*

I hope everyone has a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!  And a huge thanks to everyone who helped make Friendsgiving a success!