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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Just Before School

Dear Genevieve and Ben,
School's about to begin, and I had such a good summer with you.  We went to the pool so often that I put together a pool bag for the first time.  I let you pick out your own junky cereals for vacations (Ben:  Cocoa Pebbles, Genevieve: Fruit Loops, omigosh).  We went camping, creek stomping with friends, swimming in the ocean, and biking around town. We climbed the Statue of Liberty.  We got stacks and stacks of library books, especially before a car trip when I wouldn't let you read your new books until we were actually in the car.  You learned more chores and proved to be big helps around the house to me. You were interested in the Titanic, woodworking, headstands, making money, gardening, fishing, knitting, and babysitting.  Some days you whined and complained about being bored and we all got mad at each other.  Some days we stayed home the entire day.  I tried hard to answer your questions and enjoy you both.  The enjoyment part was easy - you are both delightful - but some of your questions, I can never never never answer, such as what makes a ship unsinkable and who I like best, Barbie or Skipper.  You two make my life sweet, and I'll miss you when you're in school even though that means I can make appointments (massage!) without arranging childcare.


the pool bag

junky cereal at the beach cottage

the kid-crafted go-cart that broke down a lot

linking up with Leila's pretty/happy/funny/real - pretty sure all these photos qualify for each adjective

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

We Call It Creamed Corn

The hipsters call it "fresh corn polenta."  Run raw ears of corn over a grater or a corn creamer, melt some butter in a saucepan, put the corn glop and liquid in, and cook until thickened.  Salt generously.

Around here, creamed corn is eaten as a side dish, usually at a meal where there are mashed potatoes also.  Some people really like their baby food carbs!

However, I got the idea from the hipsters to serve a dippy egg over the creamed corn, with a few shavings of Parmesan, some herbs, and a lot of black pepper.  So delicious, I even repeated it for breakfast with a sliced tomato on the side.

Here, you see our own garden green beans with brown butter and another salad from Real Simple.  Watermelon with a vinaigrette, pistachios, green olives, and feta.  It was strangely tasty, but the leftovers were not good (soft nuts, weeping watermelon).

Monday, August 18, 2014

Appliqueing Over Stains

My approach to stains on kids' play clothes is to give the clothes a long soak in Oxyclean and hot water.  By "long," I mean one to three days.  If that doesn't take it out, I usually cut the clothes into rags.  For special clothes, I will hand-scrub with Octagon or another serious soap.

For this shirt, a school uniform polo with mysterious brown stains, I felt creative, so I sewed on some twigs, flowers, and leaves.  I cut the shapes I wanted from some scraps of polyester double-knit (well, the twig is brown satin ribbon) - it's generally advisable to applique knit onto knit and woven onto woven.  The fabrics wear and move the same way, helping the applique to last longer.

I kept my bobbin in white thread and then changed the top thread as I went along, choosing thread colors several shades lighter or darker than the fabric I was sewing on.  I couldn't cover every single stain, but the design really distracts the eye from the spots.  This is still a play shirt, but I got to have fun while I learned more about how to control fabric and color to my satisfaction.

These are the cut-offs with bias tape, turned up to improve their appearance.

I thought the results were pretty.  Just like my daughter.

Friday, August 15, 2014

So Many Ways with Zucchini: Updated

Apparently it's a great year for growing zucchini around here.  I got a whole grocery sack from friends and as I shredded and shredded, I wrote this blog post in my head.  And then another friend told me with italics and caps that she needed this post.  Here you go, Polly!

I have used zucchini to make pickles instead of cucumbers.  I use whichever is easier or cheaper to get my hands on.

We like Surprising Zucchini Salad. 

Grilled Zucchini (like filets, my husband says).  And grilled zucchini in ratatouille.

I made a list of recipes that we like that use shredded zucchini.  I put it in the front of my supper notebook, and then I shred and freeze zucchini in the amounts of the recipes.  The list becomes a handy reminder in the winter when I come across a jar of shredded zucchini in the freezer and stare at it blankly.

The list:
1. zucchini cookies from Simply in Season - there are lots of zucchini cookies out there; these have raisins, walnuts, and spice in them

2. zucchini-crusted pizza from Moosewood

3. zucchini yeast rolls from Simply in Season

4. A shredded zucchini brownie that is delicious and economical: Frosted Zucchini Brownies.

5. Tasty vegetarian crab cakes.

6. And these delicious cornmeal cookies from Martha Stewart.

The photos are of my zucchini experiment:  fermented zucchini "slaw."  Got the idea from Rebecca and she has since told me it was too strange to be edible.  Oh rats.  UPDATED:  See Rebecca's comment in the comments section.  I rushed down to the basement and found that my zucchini was perfectly fermented and delicious!  I immediately put it in the fridge to slow down any tendency towards algae-texture.

Can you help a sister out with any other zucchini ideas?


We dearly love pickles, and this year I think I finally preserved plenty.

vintage crinkler from a quick trip to Virginia
22 quarts dills
6 quarts bread-and-butter (recipe from Mennonite Community)
12 pints not-so-sweet bread-and-butter (from Tart and Sweet, a library book I browsed)
9 pints pickled red beets + 3 quarts brine for marinating eggs

I waterbathed all of them to ensure a long-lasting seal.  I did this on the burner on my outside grill, setting the jars on a nearby table in a sheltered spot to cool.  At this point in the summer, my routine is familiar and automatic.  The big things on my preserving list yet are applesauce and all the tomato products.  The growing season started late this spring, and now our cool weather might shorten it on this end, so it's possible I may not get enough tomatoes to make salsa, ketchup, pizza sauce, and tomato soup in addition to canning whole tomatoes.  In any case, we have enough pickles!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Little Bags That Solve Problems

Exhibit A
Remember the wristlet I sewed for the beach?  Well, I accidentally left it at home one beach weekend and that simply cannot happen again.  That wristlet is is essential to my beach happiness.  So I am keeping it at the beach cottage with the toothbrushes we leave there, too.

But I needed a home wristlet to dangle from my bike handlebars, stuff in the pool bag, and run across town with, so I used two more upholstery samples to sew a new one.  Chartreuse and spring green with an olive zipper.

Exhibit B
I got a new-to-me cellphone (not a smart phone, but with a keyboard so I can get in the texting loop with the people I love who text).   I liked the tidiness of the charger envelope instead of the cord sprawling in my drawer or purse, so I made a new one.  It's a spot of pleasantness in the ugly cell phone world.

Exhibit C
After the teeth were duly lost from their mouths, our children kept losing teeth in their beds and our Tooth Fairy was getting frustrated (because on the odd night that he actually remembered his duties - why yes, the Fairy is male at our house - he couldn't find the darn tooth under the pillow and had fend off indignant or sad children the next morning).  Finally I see the point of those cutesy tooth fairy pillows:  the tooth does not get lost!

 We haven't actually tested this little bag yet.  The white felt tooth is only appliqued on the sides, making a pocket for the tooth and then the magical gold dollar (Tooth Fairy is lavish at our house, methinks).  It was fun to make, and the children are enchanted with it.  Ben asked me again today to get corn on the cob so he could force his wiggly tooth to come out.

And finally, when I wrote about coupons earlier, A pointed out that upholstery samples make perfect coupon envelopes.  She is right, and here is the photo of the actual envelope. Cute, right?

I'm on a bag kick.  You got some clever bags at your house or some clever bag ideas to share with me?