Friday, September 29, 2017

Genevieve Wears the 1980s Wrap Skirt

True wrap skirts are fantastic for the growing girl.  She can adjust it to whatever size her slim waist has going on as she grows. This skirt was, frankly, getting too skimpy on my middle-aged spread. 

This skirt has a special history.  My aunt married a South African and lived there for years in the 80s.  She would bring her sisters gifts when she and my uncle came back to the States to visit, and one year, it was this wrap skirt for my mother.  I remember my mom wearing it with a peach oxford short-sleeved shirt.  No one else in our tight little Mennonite world was wearing South African wrap skirts in peachy tones.  

My mom gave it to me when I was in college.  I shortened it a bit, and used those scraps in various projects over the years (I'm sure there's photographic evidence on my blog somewhere, but my quick search didn't find it).  

Now the skirt is on my oldest daughter - let's hope it doesn't fall apart before it gets to the little daughter!

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Gas Company Shuts Me Down

I had to get my half-bushel of grapes because the farmer told me the rain was making them split.  It was the same day our boiler installation was beginning, but I didn't see a conflict.  I hauled the toddler out to my mom.  I set up the juicer, the canner, and the food mill, and got down into the deep purple morass.

And then my water went to a drip, to nothing.  I went down to the basement, and the guys were apologetic, and yes, my gas was turned off, too.  "But I'm canning!"  I said blankly.  They had forgotten to mention that the gas and water needed to be shut off for the installation.  They bustled around and set up some valves, but still, it was more than 2 hours until I got my utilities back and could resume where I left off.

Thank goodness the terrible purple spill down my creamy-white cabinets happened when I still had water earlier that morning! I mixed up a concoction of 1 cup ammonia, 1 gallon hot water, 1/2 cup white vinegar, and 1/4 cup baking soda (the recipe comes right off the ammonia jug) and was able to get the purple stains off my cabinets and wood floor.  This is a wonderful cleaner for painted walls and woodwork.  Once a year or so, I go around and wash the gray and grimy evidence of kids off the walls as best as I can; it's so much easier and cheaper than repainting, at this stage!

As for the grape canning, I got 8 quarts of thick, rich juice with the leavings going into spiced grape butter; I also made 2 quarts of pie filling for the freezer.  Furthermore, we went out for dinner that night (with coupons!) because my kitchen game had been totally thrown off by the disappearance of gas and water.

The next day, I shared a glass of grape juice with the gas company's supervisor - he was always interested in my kitchen projects and was suitably impressed with my grape juice.  He suggested I make grappa with the skins left from the juice making.  Now our boiler is installed, and the grapes are done.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Summer Work Dress

This is a comfortable, breezy dress for summer work, and I mostly like how it looks.  I do really love the perky red flowers on the deep turquoise.

The bias tape binding the neckline and armholes gives it the look of a housedress, which I'm not fond of.  And despite measuring myself and the pattern pieces, I think I should have gone down a size which would have taken care of the weird floppy fabric at the top of the placket. I also added some back shoulder darts to help the fit. 
Photos by Genevieve!

 But the dress came together quickly and is a cinch to throw on and tear into the work.  Lots of preserving work this time of year.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

My National Online Thrift Store

The plastic silverware holder that came with my dish drainer was too flimsy for our loads of dishes.  I was eyeing a stainless steel one on eBay but was hesitating because the seller used a stock photo and wasn't answering my query if he himself had the basket and was going to personally ship it.  

I had gotten burned by eBay sellers using Amazon fulfillment services, and I avoid supporting Amazon if I can help it.  I don't trust big corporations and their love of big profits and lack of engagement with the communities that host their big box stores and warehouses.  I prefer to support individual sellers and locally-owned stores.  Big corporations are also automating as many jobs as possible in the name of profit, which is costing people jobs.  I know it's a complicated issue because our economy is not sustainable as it is, but I also believe that people want meaningful work for fair pay.  So I try to avoid the big corporations and look for the small-time sellers on eBay (my national online thrift store!) or little companies with online stores. 

As I considered how badly I wanted the stainless steel silverware basket, I came across a red metal one in my favorite thrift store.  For $2, it was by far the cheapest option, and I was also supporting a local store that gives its profits to MCC.  I was very pleased.

I'd welcome your thoughts on Amazon, eBay, and online shopping in general. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Exit Ketchup

I had to drop some canning projects this year and ketchup was one of them (also peaches).  We're going to have grocery-store ketchup this year. 

 But we will still have a thick, rich tomato something to use on egg sandwiches:  tomato jam and smoked tomato chutney (but I used a generous teaspoon of smoked paprika).  I love them both so much and they make small batches, so I made both. Tomatoes were meant for jam, I think.  They cook down into such rich, meaty sweetness and partner so well with various flavor families.  

I have two more tomato projects and applesauce, and then I'm done.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Curtains are Done and I'm Mad

The stripes that I laboriously sewed on the canvas curtains do not show as much as I want them to. 

 Then, when the curtains went through the rain a time or two, they got this ruched look (next photo) which means, I think, that some of the fabric shrank and some did not.  Curses!  

I did not wash either fabric before I started because I did not think either would shrink noticeably.  The tan fabric is half polyester, so I was really trusting that it would hold its shape. More curses! 

 From here on out, I am pretending that I intended to have ruched stripes on my balcony curtains.  Sigh.

I'm mad.  I'm mad for the reasons above, but also in the older usage of the word, this was an insane project.  It was too much fabric, and while the thickness of the canvas is great for blocking the sun, it was terribly difficult to wrangle on my sewing machine.  It took a lot of time to sew these curtains and dulled all my pins.  When the curtains were done, I threw away the pins and got new ones. 

In retrospect, I should have bought the thin outdoor curtains I saw everywhere online, and just lined them with heavy fabric (not canvas!) to truly block the sun. 

If my curtains can't be the example to follow, at least they can be a warning. Let us think on happier things.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Dill Pickles, Two Ways

My green beans produced enough for us to eat as well as can!  I am so pleased.  I canned green beans as pickled dilly beans because my cucumber dills have been mushy the past few years, but dilly beans are not mushy.  I did some research on cucumber dills.  I'm going to try Pickle Crisp next year.  I'm going to possibly grow cucumbers, because apparently super-fresh cucumbers make the crispest pickles.  And instead of just scraping off a little bit of the blossom end of the cucumber, I'm going to cut off at least a half-inch.  

In the meantime, I made fermented kosher dills.  Look at that sweet pickle crock my dad found at an auction for me.  The wide crock is much easier to fill than a jar. 

However, fermented dills are tricky.  Too short of a fermentation time, and they just taste salty.  Too long, and they get mushy.  Mushy cucumbers!  The bane of my canning.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Camping in the Rain With No Exciting Pictures (But Hermits)

Let's get this straight:  my family was camping in a crude little cabin, but there was no heat in that chilly rain and there were large gaps in the walls even if I had gone out and bought a space heater.  Madness, considering that the cold and rain lasted just 24 hours and we have a space heater at home.  I don't really know how cold it was because there's precious little cell reception in the mountains and I was too distracted by trying to keep warm and keep Phoebe warm.  Genevieve reports that she saw her breath inside the cabin.  We definitely were not prepared for wet winter!

You know, oddly, we mostly had a really good time.  We even got to end camp on a sunny day with a boat ride for Phoebe.
I found these blurry pictures on my phone, not even sure who took them. Once the rain started, I just shriveled and did not take pictures.
 We pretty much followed the same lists as last year, except that I forgot the percolator cord and the hot dogs.  And long underwear, for crying out loud.

Ryan told me how to make Mexican coffee and it turned out so well:  3 mugfuls of water in a cooking pot with 6 heaping tablespoons of ground coffee.  Bring to a boil with the lid on.  Boil a minute and then turn off the heat to let the grounds settle. Pour into mugs, leaving the grounds behind in the pot.

Also, Christy mixed her French toast milk and egg liquid together and froze it before packing it for camp.  She said it worked just fine.  I'm going to do that next year for my pancake wet mixture.  And pack long underwear, too.

I always take along some snacky foods, even though the kids are filling up with junk from the camp store.  This year, it was apples, peaches, popcorn, and hermits.  The hermits are a hit, kind of like a molasses brownie.

Hermit Bars (original recipe from here)

Cream together in mixing bowl:
1/2 cup sugar (or 2/3 cup if you like sweeter bars) 
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter, soft
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. salt

Add and beat again:
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup baking molasses

Stir in:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup raisins

Press mixture (it will be very stiff) in greased 9x13 baking pan.  Bake at 350F for 15-18 minutes until bars are just barely pulling away from edges.  Do not overbake!  Cut into bars when cool.

Notes:  I use 2 cups whole wheat all-purpose flour for 2 of the 3 cups of flour in this recipe and in many baking recipes that are leavened with baking soda and baking powder.  You can use a cup of whole wheat pastry flour (soft wheat) and a cup of whole wheat bread flour (hard wheat) and that should work fine.
Baking molasses is mild in flavor.  If you want a deeper flavor, use 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses and 1/4 cup baking molasses.