Friday, August 31, 2012

Figs with the Blue Moon

The children and I picked figs today at a friend's house.  Their sticky juice was hard to scrub off, much like pine tar!

And we ate a few as we picked and were surprised at how tasteless they were - pretty as all get out, but not much flavor or sweetness.

So I'm not sure that I'm inspired to do much with them.  I thought I had eaten tasty fresh figs before, but maybe I was only recalling dried ones (or Fig Newtons!).  Any suggestions?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I Had Forgotten

I read Sarah's post, and suddenly I remembered what I used to do when I lived at home yet:  I poked in all corners of the house to find things to set the table with when I wanted it to be special.  I would find little vases or scraps in Mom's craft jumble or the basket that held the fruit, and I would marry it all together into a tablescape that pleased me.  My family was amused, but I think I was the only one who thought the table looked great.

But the thing I want to recall is that I was deeply, joyously immersed in the creative process, in the limits of using what was in the house or clipped from the back yard.  Furthermore, the things I was using weren't even necessarily to my taste.  I had forgotten how fun that process was.

Scrap of fabric to brighten things up, electrical thingy to hold cards.  Yes!

I also remembered how my mom and Aunt Esther would volunteer as the window decorators for a local thrift store.  They would go in there once a month and cull things from the store to display in the front shop window.  The window always looked so inviting and smart - I wonder if they ever took any pictures of their ingenuity?

The lesson here is an echo of what Sarah said:  that we can find joy outside of shopping, that the thrill of the hunt doesn't need to end with a purchase. 

I am re-inspired, just in time for the fall freshening-up urge.  What about you?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Tide Turns

Up until this point in our parenting career, I felt the children's presence continually (my husband could turn it off sometimes) or we arranged childcare occasionally.  It was not always pleasant to have responsibility for all their needs, you know? 

But I am suddenly nostalgic, because today my universe shifted.  Now, for two days a week, both our children will be away for 6 hours at school. 

Now the children are receding away from us, it seems, out into the bigger ocean where we can't always see them or hear what they say or catch them before they hurt themselves.

It's very weird.  I didn't cry, but I feel strange and clingy.

My husband and I ate two meals alone today:  lunch while the children were at school, and then dinner out to celebrate our anniversary.  A milestone day in more than one way.

More specifically, Ben adores preschool and riding the bus.  Genevieve is not enthusiastic, but so far there are no tears. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Simple Solution for Jalapeno Lung

I was canning hot pepper marmalade and pickling some jalapenos a friend deposited in our car, sort of like zucchini this time of year.  I was wearing gloves, sure, but as soon as I cut into a jalapeno, I started to cough from the fumes.  They were strong.  In desperation, I grabbed a scarf and tied it over my nose and mouth, bandit-style.  It worked!  It worked great!  No need to bother my husband to dig around in his stuff to find a respirator-thingy.

And I learned something about canners in this canning session as well.  I was using half-pint jars and expected a yield of only12 jars, so I decided to try my cute 70s pot with a trivet in the bottom instead of my big enamelware canner.  I got this idea from Marisa's new book - she doesn't even own a big canner.

Well.  The ding-dang jars bobbed around and fell over in my cute pot before I could set them all in.  My big canner has a rack that holds jars firmly.  I burned my fingers trying hastily to fix everything into my cute pot; there was cussing, but the children were outside.

My husband walked through the kitchen as this was going on, and flew for the camera to take a picture of me.  Then he very nicely ran down to the basement to fetch my jar lifter which I had forgotten (hence the burned fingers).

Fortunately, everything sealed and is now safely tucked away.  Six half-pints of hot pepper marmalade to eat with bagels and cream cheese or scrambled eggs, and 7 half-pints of pickled jalapenos. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Next Handwork: Chicken Scratch

We were at a family reunion last weekend, and my husband's Aunt Carol had the neatest tablecloth.  It was a large square of gingham, with cross-stitch Xs making a star pattern and border on it.  Carol used dark floss on the white squares, and white floss on the dark squares. 

The dark splotches are water.  Should have taken a close up photo, too.

I knew already that this kind of embroidery using gingham is called "chicken scratch" and I even have an apron embroidered with it.  But I loved her tablecloth for its utility and homey look.  I associated chicken scratch with aprons, and I just don't wear aprons often, even though I love their design and milieu.

I suddenly realized that this tablecloth will be my next big handwork project.  It's fairly mindless once I find the middle and establish my pattern, the materials are easy to come by, and the end result is definitely something I will use.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Stuffed Peppers I Love

I'm not fond of those baked stuffed peppers where the peppers get sort of mushy and slimy and weird; in the past, I tried to improve their texture by using higher heat and oiling the outside of the peppers.  The results were not worth repeating, although I can't exactly recall the actual results.

Well, I got a much better idea from Kate at Motley Mama.  I grilled the pepper halves first, lightly oiled and salted.  Then I stuffed them with a quinoa, garlic, tapenade, feta mixture I made up, and popped them back on the still-hot grill to coalesce. 

They were delicious!  And easy!  However, my filling was too crumbly - it needed more cheese to hold it together.  I wonder what leftover macaroni and cheese, mixed with a few chopped tomatoes, would be like as a filling for these?  I need to tell you about our crockpot mac and cheese that we've been eating frequently for lunch this summer!

Anyway, I served the peppers with hummus, crackers, and cucumbers.  A lovely summer supper.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Use-What's-On-Hand Lunch Pails

The lunch pails are done.  And the only thing I purchased to make them was the pattern and piping cord.  I could feel stubbornness rising up in me as I contemplated everything I "should" buy to get my kids started off in school.  How do retailers turn every event, every feeling, every breath, into a reason to buy something?  They are geniuses.

I wanted to use dark colors for the pails because I'm not sure how washable they are (I used an old vinyl tablecloth for the inside, not oilcloth as LiEr prefers; this is the red-striped tablecloth that I used to put under the children's highchair - let's pause and contemplate the rapidity of childhood and the nostalgic touchstones that pop up).

So.  I had blue, orange and brown twill to work with.  I scoured my stash for prints that looked fun and reflected my kids' personalities, but were not too juvenile - what if these pails actually last a few years?  Plus, Genevieve wanted to help choose the fabrics for hers.

I had ribbon to use for Ben's drawstring, but nothing sturdy enough that looked good with Genevieve's pail.  So I made tubes and topstitched them (she requested one of each fabric which I think is a lighthearted touch).  I have done this before for pencil rolls with excellent results and many more options than my ribbon stash.

And following LiEr's excellent, clear pattern, I successfully sewed piping!  Behold.

It required the zipper foot, but nothing too taxing.

On the whole, these pails went together quickly.  LiEr included nice touches like pressing templates (which I skipped and it's obvious if you know where to look) and explanations for techniques.  I like that.  I feel like I was taught by LiEr's pattern, a new experience for me since I've only used commercial patterns before.

I'm afraid these pails leaned more towards the Grandma Weaver side of my sewing, however, because school was breathing down my neck. 

Seams don't match so I hid it under the strap; the world is still extant.
But they are done, and the children love them. Next I want to show you Ben's first-day-of-school shirt.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How to Replace Paper Towels with Rags

Keep the rags where you would keep paper towels, and then put the paper towels in a less-convenient place or get rid of the paper towels entirely.

Toss rags in with appropriately-colored wash loads; sometimes I quarantine extra-dirty rags with the diapers, or throw out rags used with grease, paint, or the like. I throw rags away without compunction. Every time I turn around, someone is wearing out a piece of clothing around here that I cut up for rags.  I do not fold or iron rags, or even bother to cut them very straight.

rags (and hearing protection!) on the washline

Make sure your family knows where the rags are, especially the children who probably make most of the spills anyway.  Teach them to hang wet rags over the side of the hamper so they don't mildew the other dirty laundry.

Here are the three places I keep rags at my house, all handy to the kitchen and dining room where most spills happen:

1.  In the pull-out just in front of my sink.  I do also keep some scrubbies in there, but this is the first place my kids look for a rag to mop up a spill.  The roll of paper towels is tucked away under the sink and they do have their uses: layering between berries and on plates of fried foods like bacon and fritters.  I also keep a paper towel in my shortening can, for greasing cast iron and baking pans.

2.  In the bathroom cabinet with the bathroom cleaning supplies.  It facilitates cleaning to have the supplies in the room where they are used.  We use newspaper when we clean the mirrors, not paper towels.

3.  The general catch-all for rags in the hallway closet.  After the other two places are supplied, any extra rags go here.  I also keep large rags like old towels and sheets in the back.  I use towels for big spills or to roll up hand-washed sweaters to speed up drying.

Tell me about rags and paper towels at your house.  What's your system?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Two Fun Ice Cream Toppings

Cocoa crumbs.

Caramel sauce.  I want to eat this with peaches and homemade vanilla, but so far I pretty much eat it straight from the jar.  Well, once we had caramel sauce, toasted coconut left from the gado gado, and homemade vanilla.  Amazing.

Both bloggers raved about these recipes on their sites.  There is nothing left for me to say except. . .

sorry for the sub-par photos.  I'm sort of starting over with my camera because I'm shooting in manual.  A more dedicated blogger would keep making bowls of ice cream until she got the pretty shot, but ice cream melts too fast and I'm not going to waste it in the compost or on my hips. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Genevieve's Free Professional Haircut

The first time I saw the JCPenney's ad for free kids' haircuts in August, I thought there must be a catch.  The second time I saw the ad, I believed it.

So Genevieve got a good 8" whacked off her hair by a pro for free.  (I did tip the stylist, so technically the cut was not free).  Furthermore, we went directly to Penney's and directly out when the cut was finished, so I didn't even impulse-shop as I'm sure they wanted - I had canning projects waiting at home!

Genevieve is delighted with her preppy little bob. I wished we had done it at the beginning of summer, to avoid the tears and travail of tangled-up hair through swimming lessons, the beach, and general summer laziness.  I will miss braiding her hair or seeing her ponytails swish, but it will grow back.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Tomatoes are Done

Vacation, the beginning of school, and canning got all mashed up together this year.  I was stressed about it, but after today, I feel so much better.

Ben's first-day-of-school shirt is done and I'm starting on the lunch buckets.

The bushel of tomatoes is canned and the children helped enormously.  Yesterday, I canned 9 pints of pizza sauce and 10 pints of salsa (both recipes from Simply in Season).

Today, Genevieve washed 20 quart jars and Ben placed them in the oven.

Then I ran all the tomatoes through boiling water, dumped them in ice water, and cored them.  The children peeled the skins off all the tomatoes with their fingers.

 I smushed them down into jars, added a splash of lemon juice to ensure acidity, and canned them.  I got 19 quarts.  Everything sealed.  Nothing broke.  There wasn't even a big mess, really.  What a happy, happy sweet summer day!

We celebrated with some candy and a picnic supper at the pool, all of us together. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Best Way to Handle Family Napkins (at last!)

I have found it, people:  the perfect solution for keeping cloth napkins personalized for more than one meal!  It's easy for children to understand, fun to customize, easy to implement (you probably don't need to buy anything!), and above all, very very very cheap.

The clothespin.

I got the idea here, and while I admire the tags, the fact remains that I already have clothespins in my house and the children can handle them more easily than pins.

Andrea making the special Lebanese dumplings

I told the beach girls this genius idea, so that's what we did for the days we were together.

I have tried several solutions for our family napkins without breaking down and buying personalized metal napkin rings.  I'm tickled with this cheap, effective solution!

Dumplings in their yogurt sauce - I'll pass on the name and the recipe when I get it from Andrea.

Now I'm off to turn out the napkin drawer and get rid of the latest try for napkin rings, whose Sharpie-d initials have been rubbed off.  Pfff.  I've got clothespins now!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Let your senses and bodies stretch out", Beach Girls 2012

I was away with the beach girls, minus one, recently.  I learned many things, and somehow the days were filled with poetry.  How have I never read the anciet poet Hafiz before? 

Of course the four of us were rather thrifty which is more to the point of this blog, but that will have to wait.  The poetry comes first.

All the Hemispheres - Hafiz

Leave the familiar for a while.
Let your senses and bodies stretch out

Like a welcomed season
Onto the meadow and shores and hills.

Open up to the Roof.
Make a new watermark on your excitement
And love.

Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
And giving
Upon our intimate assembly.

Change rooms in your mind for a day.

All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart.

Greet Yourself
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
Back home.

All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire

While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of

Monday, August 13, 2012

Artisan Bread in the Crockpot

This actually took place in an earlier heat wave, but I wanted to report on my experiment with making bread in the crockpot.

I used recipes and techniques that I found online (links on my pinterest board here).  Overall, it worked.

The bread was a bit flat and more like steamed bread, such as Boston brown bread, than artisanal bread.  I thought I was going to get European boules with no effort or skill.  Sigh. But really, as I should know, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Any bread is excellent with Nutella, iced cafe au lait, and peaches. 

This Nutella is not homemade. 

I have other kitchen projects I want to spend my limited time on, so my family just ate a jar of tasty chemicals.  There wasn't really a savings of money, although I could use local cream when I made Nutella.  I am glad to know how to make nut butter in my food processor with the hazelnuts (although I found out that almonds don't work the same way). 

I guess I am trying to tell you that I am not a slave to thrift.  It's usually fun and satisfying for me to make things, but it's not my god.

I'm getting unpacked from a fun weekend and scrabbling around with school supplies.  Stay tuned!