Friday, March 27, 2015

1000 and 40 and 35 (A Giveaway)

Dear readers,

Let's celebrate my 1000th post (which was technically this one).  And my 40th birthday this weekend!  And 35 weeks of pregnancy!  And spring - why not? - let's throw spring in there too, even though I'm still wearing knee socks, winter coats, and flannel pajamas.  In defiance of the cold, I bought daffodils for my birthday this morning and a friend brought me potted tulips.

I made you a little something - a hotpad in the hopeful greens of spring - and then I knit up a bright dishcloth and added a cute green pear loofah scrubber (safe for even delicate surfaces, tough enough to scrub off gunk  - and made in India with profits returning to the people for schools, medical care, and improved living conditions).  
the three items of the giveaway

not included in the giveaway - just a lovely prop, the pair of collages by our friend Judith Rempel Smucker
To win this giveaway, just leave a comment on this post and be sure to include your email if I can't access it from your profile. For fun, if you want, you can tell us about a number that is special to you right now.  I'll close the comments on Sunday evening, March 29, and pick a random winner.  Giveaway open to U.S. and Canada addresses only (sorry dear international readers!!), but please feel free to leave a comment anyway if you wish.

Thank you, all, for your wise, funny, and kind comments that add a conversational element to this blog.  I'm not sure I would have written 1000 posts without your feedback and interest!  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.


our first day of spring - sighhhhh

35 weeks!

UPDATED:  The giveaway is now closed (although the comments remain open).  The winner is #5 Kathi D in Florida.  Congrats, Kathi!  I'll be in touch to send you the goodies.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"Right Next to Banoffee Pie"

This is my 1000th post (what?!) and I had planned it to be a giveaway and a celebration of a few other things going on around here, but that can wait its turn.  Right now, I must tell you about something that Ben says is "up on my dessert chart right next to Banoffee Pie."  Some bloggers would now type:  People.  I can't even!  Mind. Blown. What will he say next?!

But instead, I'll just say that this Nutmeg Crunch is a keeper and to garnish Ben's comment, it's not even really meant as dessert!

I saw Marisa's blog this morning about Nutmeg Crunch.  I hopped over to Team Yogurt and pinned it.  Usually my pins languish a while on Pinterest while I think or forget about them.  No, on the walk home from school, I suddenly had the perfect dessert idea and it was entirely doable in the short interval before supper, on top of pregnancy weariness and homework supervision, because this recipe is so short and quick.

For dessert tonight, I put half a home-canned peach in a little dessert dish, dolloped on a little plain yogurt, and topped it all with Nutmeg Crunch.  So perfect - a balance of soft, tart, crunchy, rich, and sweet.  On its own, the Crunch is pretty rich - I wouldn't eat this as granola, but I'm planning to use it as a plain yogurt topping.  And I'm sure we'll repeat the peach/yogurt combo as long as the home-canned peaches hold out.  Oh, I bet the Crunch would be good on applesauce, too!

Nutmeg Crunch, adapted just slightly from Team Yogurt

In food processor, combine:
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup unsalted almonds
1 1/2 Tbsp. salted butter, room temperature or melted
1/4 cup honey
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

Pulse the processor until ingredients are well-mixed in tiny chunks and crumbs.  Scatter the crumbly stuff over a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet, making sure the layer is thin and even.  Bake at 325 for 8 minutes.  Stir and toss.  Return to oven and bake again for 7-8 minutes, until starting to brown evenly.  Cool completely before storing in a tightly lidded jar.  Keep at room temperature.

Notes:  There's supposed to be an additional ingredient, 1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar, which I overlooked in my supper rush.  I think the Crunch is perfect without it.

Also, to be entirely frank, I eyeballed my honey and nutmeg amounts because I hate measuring those things, so it's possible I didn't get the exact measurements listed here.  But still:  so delicious!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

27 Wrinkly Apples

I noticed that the reduced-pesticide local Stayman apples were not selling well at the market stand. The apples had that late-winter wrinkly softness that makes me turn away with a shudder.  So I asked the farmer if he would give me a discount if I bought 3 buckets.  He sold me 27 apples for $12, which doesn't seem like a bargain initially, but these are reduced-pesticide and look what I did with them:  apple butter and apple chutney.

That's 3 pints of apple butter.

And 11 half-pints of apple chutney.

Pretty sure I'd pay more than $12 for these goodies at a store, even including the cost of the spices and handful of other ingredients in the chutney.

I have one more preserving project in mind before the weather turns totally warm, but I've acquired a crushing freelance deadline and a bout of pregnancy exhaustion, so we'll see.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How Far I Got

I actually knitted a swatch before I started this hat pattern.  I used the straight needles I had on hand to see if the size was right, then I bought double-pointed needles in the right size.  I was determined to do this knitted-hat obsession up right.
I was cooking along pretty happily because I was pleased with myself for pushing my basic knitting skills, using yarn I had on hand, and keeping the yarn on the needles thanks to the green point protectors, when . . .

. . .I made a startling discovery:  there seemed to be some gaps at the beginning/end of the round.  I puzzled over this and didn't even take the time to google or call my knitting goddess.  I think what I did at the end of some rounds was turn around and knit back again, without continuing forward to knit a new round, thus joining the two ends.

Knitting is not my native genre.  It is confusing to me - how to match up needles, yarn weights, and patterns; how to spot and fix mistakes; how to ensure that I end up with a wearable, useful thing after all those hours and hours of knitting that resulted in millimeters of progress. . .

I reduced those few inches of hat to a ball of yarn again.  I turned with a sigh of relief to a dishcloth and my sewing machine.  I'll try again next winter to knit something that challenges me (and I still have socks to finish!).

Monday, March 16, 2015

The 3-Gallon Sauerkraut Crock

I can't believe it has taken me this long to tell you about my favorite Christmas present:  my dad got me a 3-gallon crock to make sauerkraut and about 8 huge heads of cabbage from my uncle's farm.  Dad definitely gets the dad-of-the-year award for this one!

On December 26, Dad dropped off the cabbages and the Amish-made slicer he had borrowed from my uncle for me.  My husband and I shredded and shredded until we had enough cabbage to mostly fill the crock.  He even got out the food processor to see if it was faster than the hand shredder (which looked something like this).  Nope, the shredder was faster; I need to cast around for a shredder to borrow or buy next fall.  I can't recall how many heads of cabbage we used to fill the crock, but I know we gave several heads away to church friends.

Then, in four weeks, we tasted the sauerkraut.  It was absolutely delicious, better than any storebought stuff or even my previous batches of homemade.  I think it was better because I used my meat mallet to really pound the cabbage into the crock.

In earlier batches, I was using a glass jar for the fermentation, so I was much gentler in the pounding and pushing because the mouth of the jar restricted my movement and also I didn't want to break the jar.  With the crock, I didn't need to add any extra liquid because I so successfully pounded the cabbage that it was covered with its own liquid by the time I put the plate and the heavy water-filled jar on top.

So I've been fetching the sauerkraut up to the fridge, a half-gallon jar at a time.  We often eat it just straight, it's so delicious, but I've also done the typical pork-and-sauerkraut, a slaw, and lots of vegetarian Reubens.

Next winter, I'm definitely starting the process in the fall so we have all winter to eat our way through the crock; the cool basement preserves it well.  We've got about a half-gallon left yet, but spring is starting to nose its way in, and sauerkraut is winter food in my opinion, so we've got some eating to do.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

On Miracles

Tonight I opened the back door to shake the dried mud off the rug and I heard a chorus of bird song.  A miracle, I thought!  And then I thought: no, the birds didn't start the second I opened the door. No, the birds have been singing for a while now and I have only now noticed.

Perhaps miracles are unfolding all around me and I think they are sudden because I suddenly tune in?  Maybe the kind of biblical miracle where Jesus snapped his fingers and a crippled man could suddenly walk don't happen anymore. Maybe we've got it the other way round now:  the miracles are gradual and our notice is sudden.

I think of these things, the muddy floor and rug because the yard is thawing and the children are playing like wild things.  The candle that we light in the dark morning now, while I type these words in the bright evening, when formerly there was darkness by 5 o'clock.  Birdsong and pale green shoots and water running everywhere from the dirty snow dissolving.

Well, hallelujah, winter is passing and spring is upon us!  Bring on the miracles.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sushi Jars in the Lunchboxes

I promise you, this was easy, and the kids adored it.  This post will help me remember to do it again.

The day before, I cooked some brown rice and sprinkled it with mirin, sugar, rice vinegar, and salt - to mimic sushi rice.  In the morning, I cut up some nori sheets.  Then I just layered in rice, nori strips, diced carrots, sprouts, chopped cucumber, and a few chopped green onions.  I poured a little soy sauce down the side to hit the sides of the layers but not drench the entire stack.  

I meant to put a little pickled ginger at the very top, like the cherry on a sundae, but I forgot; this was, after all, a school morning blur.

I think I sent along homemade cookies as the go-with, but I forget (see above: school morning).

Other ideas to layer in:  chopped, cooked sweet potato; sliced avocado dipped in lemon juice; shredded turnip; chopped watercress or lettuce; strips of scrambled egg; baked tofu

And when you look at the top of the jar, you see what a pragmatic, thrifty Mennonite I am.  I wonder if this will be the topic of a mother/offspring therapy session one day. . . 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Pickled Mushrooms and Cruet Caps

I wonder sometimes how much food preserving I'll be able to do when the baby comes in May, so I've been coaxing some canning projects from food that's available in late winter.

Most recently, canned pickled mushrooms from Preserving by the Pint. The mushrooms called for in the recipe were oyster mushrooms, but a pound would have cost me $16, so I emailed Marisa and asked her if I could sub in other mushrooms.  She said yes, so I used a pound of local, organic criminis for $4. I've asked Marisa several canning questions over the years, and she has always been very prompt and helpful.  I love that.

I was curious about the flavor of the pickled mushrooms, so we opened a jar after a week. We ate them next to a farmer supper Rebecca told me about:  roasted (or fried) potatoes with baked beans, hard-boiled eggs, and vinegar on top.  So delicious and simple.  I added a green salad, too.

And after months of shopping for oil and vinegar cruets in thrift stores, Etsy, eBay and the like, I remembered our local restaurant supply store and found a classic set with a handy holder for $7.

 I was planning to cover the pouring holes with a plastic bag and rubber band because I was worried that the constant exposure to air would degrade the oil and vinegar.  Pretty ugly, I know, but I couldn't figure out how else to do it.

Then my husband watched me knitting (and boy, do I need to write a knitting post!) and suddenly asked why we couldn't pop those little silicone point-protectors on top of the cruets?

 Genius!  So I took a coupon and went to AC Moore and look at the funny little lids on my cruets!  Four dollars with a coupon, the largest size they had.  I'm very pleased with my functional, nice-looking cruets and my pickled mushrooms.

More canning projects to come - I'm still hibernating inside due to the weather and the baby is still inside due to her age.  Let the work fly!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Layette: Burp Cloths

Burp cloths are my standard baby gift to others because it's fun to play with sweet flannel, they're easy to make, and the end result is so practical.  Beyond burps, they are shoulder-protectors, sheet protectors, bibs, desperation wipe-up cloths in the diaper bag, and then, when the children are older, beloved soft loveys.

I found a few nice burpcloths left from my former babies (I stitched that sailboat onto a plain diaper while we were in Florida the winter I was pregnant with Ben - looking out over Naples Bay), but I was inordinately pleased to sew up some new ones.

Most of the flannel came from JoAnn Fabrics, collected at various times with a coupon or on sale.  I love this British print; I backed it with aquamarine and then happily stitched in pink around the edges.

These sweet violets on lavender came in strips from the creative reuse store.  I pieced the strips to make this burpcloth, with the addition of some cotton lace topstitched over each seam.  I love the result:  sweet and girly, but not pink (I recall that Genevieve was drowning in pink as a baby, and while I do love pink, the eye gets a little tired, yes?).

And I also sewed myself some nursing pads with flannel scraps, bamboo batting, and PUL.  I followed this tutorial.

The sweet baby things are starting to mound up on the shelf above the changing table, which is really a desk.  One of these days I'll really tidy it up good and show you the pictures.