Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Uncle John David's Dessert

Aunt Maggie came up from the South bearing beautiful produce from her and Uncle John David's farm.  Ben was in heaven with a huge watermelon and a midget cantaloupe.  That boy loves melons.  Aunt Maggie rolled her eyes:  they had meant to plant full-size cantaloupes, but then, Uncle JD would split the midgets in half, scoop out the seeds, and fill the bowl with vanilla ice cream.

Then Ben's face just lit up.  So, yes, I put cream on my shopping list and made vanilla ice cream, and yes, the boy and his daddy had their cantaloupe bowls filled with vanilla ice cream.

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Building Things and Selling Flowers

Ben keeps building boats.  He sometimes goes directly from his morning bed to the yard, where I'm sure the neighbors hear the hammering and think a contractor has begun work at the usual hour of 7am.  

First the boats were flat, and they did not float well in our friends' pond.  Now they "have sides."  I tried to tell him about how Noah coated the Ark with pitch, but I'm not sure he heard me; what's the modern-day, average- family equivalent of pitch, anyway? 

The children also work on their Calico Critter houses. I save lids (which can't be reycled) for the creative reuse store, but more often than not, Ben raids the stash to make things for his Critters.  I also flatten cardboard and chipboard to be recycled, and that stash is constantly raided and the scissors constantly dulled for the Critter houses.

These houses are ugly by Pinterest standards, but I know the ingenuity and care that went into them, so I enjoy looking at them.  I get tired, sometimes, of the prettified images of life on Pinterest (and some blogs).  It's so easy to think my life is ugly when, in fact, I am living my life with all its attendant dirt, disorder, and unsightliness that doesn't photograph well.  Maybe I need a break from my Pinterest feed. . . 

Genevieve loves to set up shop, whether it's selling things she's gathered or made.  We are frequently invited to a store and commanded to buy something with real money.  Oh, that girl!  

I bought this sweet bouquet for a dollar.  (A real dollar that she lost in a broken vending machine at the pool with a shrug, until her daddy marched her up to the counter and made her ask for it back because "this is not a game!  This is money!")

I've been feeding these interests with targeted library books and some tools.  I've bought them nails and a hand drill.  I wonder what they will get into next. . . 

(linking up with Leila and Rosie's pretty/happy/funny/real)
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Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Multipurpose Doorstop

It's always tricky and time-consuming to manage airflow in an old house in the summer.  Our old house does not have air conditioning (nor do I want it - although other people in this family might) and many of its windows stick; in fact, I broke a pane of glass in a shower of dangerous shards this spring trying to force a window open.  So, keeping our laundry room door open to the cool morning and evening air coming in the back screen door is essential.  However, that dumb door (again, old house quirks) doesn't like to stay open.
I finally figured out, duh, I need a door stop.  I recalled a very charming one from my childhood, a brick covered with a knitted duck.  Our neighbor salvaged a brick from our chimney when it was taken down, and made the doorstop.

So I started with a brick.  I thought of making a little fabric bag for it, but then I had an even faster solution:  a basket I already had on hand.

Ta-da!  The basket keeps the brick enclosed and not crumbling anywhere or scraping toes or walls. The basket handle makes it easy to grab and move. When the doorstop is no longer needed this winter, the brick can go back to the garden and the basket can go back to the cupboard. Truly, this simple solution just makes me so pleased. Pin It

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cardamom Balls for the Lunchboxes

Blink, and summer is over and I'm packing lunches again.  Honestly, I don't love packing lunches.  And right now, I've got my hands full with competing freelance projects and canning, so I need easy easy easy and quick.

Cardamom Balls save the day!

I love the flavor of these because I adore cardamom, but also, the honey and walnuts put me in mind of baklava.  Except I'm sure that baklava is very time consuming to make, so right now, I'm sticking with the Cardamom Balls.  Also?  They don't heat up my kitchen because they're no-bake! And they're nutritious!  They really have saved many of my days recently.

Cardamom Balls - passed on to me by Sharon from church, who got it from Audrey, who is the daughter of friends from church; Sharon brought Cardamom Balls to several church events and I begged for the recipe, lost it, and begged again

Mix together:
1 cup rolled oats
3 Tbsp. tahini (could sub in ground sesame seeds with a little peanut butter as needed)
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup grated coconut
1 1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts
1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2-3/4 cup honey (start with lesser amount, use more for texture)

I'm never very exact with these measurements.  The main thing you are aiming for is a texture that can be made into balls or pressed into bars (8x8 pan, approximately).  Store in fridge to maintain texture and freshness.  Excellent with a glass of milk or black coffee.  Totally lunchbox-approved.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

The Last Word in Ketchup

So I did a little ketchup research.  The ketchup I made last year was not exactly to our taste; it seems that a lot of homemade ketchup is watery around the edges with lots of spices in it.  I recently read an article on The Kitchn about how Heinz ketchup is the perfect balance of salt, sweet, and savory.  There are copycat Heinz recipes out there, but they usually start with tomato paste and end with lots of corn syrup.  I wanted to make thick, smooth ketchup with the Heinz-like balance, starting with fresh tomatoes (I've been working through 2 bushels for about a week now - just a quarter-bushel to go!).

So I cobbled together a few ideas from my research, and I am very pleased with the resulting recipe! I've been talking tomatoes with a number of people recently, and several are interested in this specific recipe.

Simple Ketchup
Yield:  approximately 5 half-pints

6 lbs. tomatoes
2 medium onions
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1-2 whole cloves
3-5 peppercorns
pinch celery seeds
3 Tbsp. corn syrup
2 Tbsp. cook-type Clear Jel

Core tomatoes. Peel onions. Chop roughly.  Puree tomatoes and onions in food processor.  Place in 6 quart slow cooker on high with lid on for 1-2 hours. Stir in vinegar, sugar, and salt.  Place spices in tea ball or cheesecloth bag and add to mixture. Cook on low or high for about 8 hours with lid removed or cocked until significantly reduced and thickened. Avoid stirring, which slows down the evaporation. Remove spices.  May puree ketchup with immersion blender here (I do). Separately, mix Clear Jel with corn syrup.  Whisk into hot ketchup very slowly and thoroughly.  Cook for another hour or so with lid off, stirring often, until thick and glossy.  Taste for balance of sweetness, saltiness, and sour.  Adjust. Process half-pint jars in water-bath canner for 30 minutes to seal (pints 35 minutes).

tomato jam, salsa, ketchup, tomato soup base, pizza sauce

Note:  You could cook the tomatoes and onions together first until they're soft, then put them through a food mill.  This effectively removes all skins and seeds. I puree mine pretty well, but there will be an occasional seed floating through the ketchup.  I'll trade that for the efficiency of the food processor any day.

Note:  All slow cookers vary, which is why I say "low or high" with "lid removed or cocked."  If you've never tried to reduce liquids in your slow cooker before, you're going to have to pay attention the first time.   The ketchup will not scorch - that's the beauty of a slow cooker over the stovetop  method.

Note: Clear Jel is usually approved for canning.  Cornstarch and flour are not approved for use in canning (although there are some people who feel comfortable canning with them).  Do not decrease the processing time.  Alternately, you could simply refrigerate the ketchup. Pin It

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Genevieve Hosts a Party

She was begging for a party with all the classic party trappings.  I suddenly realized that if she got it out of her system now, we could have our traditional low-key family celebration at her birthday and no extra gifts from a big peer party.  Spread out the chaos and fun in manageable doses! So we did.

And Genevieve planned it:  the menu, games, guest list, invitations, she planned it all.  She felt the work and anxiety that go into planning a social event - that was good for her. I suggested that she gather supplies for relay races or pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey or some other classic games, but she decided to follow a very loose program of running around after the main event, the pinata that she fussed over and filled with her very own money.   I did make the cookies and popcorn, but only because she asked me to.

She made the lemonade from a recipe she chose from Joy of Cooking. She had been begging for a lemonade stand all summer long, and she loved making that lemonade.  Each child had a cloth napkin as a "plate" for the snacks.  We used the fancy violet ice cubes (hooray! more space in my freezer!).

When the party was over and the happy guests departed, Ben summed it up well:  "that was really more like a play date."  Well, a play date with a pinata and my mom as a good-sport helper.
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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Canning Peaches

First I dunk them in boiling water, then in cold water, then I peel them with a pan in my lap.  Hooray for a kitchen job that requires sitting!  Being on my feet for long hours canning reminds me of my waitressing days, the total relief of sitting down and the inability to get up again.

These peaches were unbelievably delicious with pretty red cheeks to boot.  And organic!  I made a careful note of the farm where Rebecca got them, so I can find them again.

I think I've eaten enough peaches as is now and I'm ready for some peach salsa, grilled peaches, and a peach pie.

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