Friday, October 13, 2017

Plain Office Curtains

My husband asked for plain curtains for his narrow little office where one wall is a door and a window.  He wanted privacy and climate control and nothing fussy (read: black rectangles). 

I picked up a bundle of fabric at the creative reuse store for a couple bucks, only to discover it was knit fabric when I got it home to wash. I have had mixed success sewing knits so that the seams do not bubble.  I have tried the faux serger stitches on my machine on various projects. I think the deciding factor is how the knit itself behaves with sewing, which I don't know how to predict. This black knit turned out fine.  I used a small zig-zag stitch and pressed the hems firmly when I was done.

I clipped the rectangles to the wire and clips my husband got at Ikea.  He is pleased, and I am pleased to have a curtain success!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Phoebe at the Cabin

After I was sick for a week, we went to the cabin with family.  I also picked up a new freelance editing job.  And Phoebe, although she looks cherubic here, is demanding her independence with destructive results as only a 2-year-old can. Oh, that girl.  So all of these explain my blogging break, but I'm back.

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.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Summer Fried Rice

Previous to Smitten Kitchen's post, I thought of fried rice as just the Asian kind with Asian flavors like soy sauce, ginger, snow peas, the like.  But Deb's version just about matched the food that needed to be used up at my house, so I plunged in.

This was the kids' supper when my husband and I were leaving them with a babysitter to go out for dinner. I snitched a few bites before we left, and boy, I was so glad there were leftovers.  I had asked Genevieve if she wanted to make mac and cheese, or if I should do something; this fried rice was so easy, I didn't mind when she demurred.

 Here's how I made it.

Summer Fried Rice
Sauteed an onion in the wok in oil. Salt and pepper.
Added a large zucchini, chopped. Salt and pepper (Deb insists that seasoning each addition is crucial for flavor).
When that was hot but not soft (a few minutes), I added about 2 cups leftover rice, plus maybe a half-cup of corn.  A large tomato, chopped, and several sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped.  More salt and pepper.
When everything was hot, I set it aside and fried eggs for each person to go on top (this recipe serves 4-ish). Then there was about 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, some mixed into the fried rice, and some sprinkled on top of the egg.

Also, I like to set out ingredients for supper in the morning.  It's a visual comfort to see that supper is already in progress, plus it reserves those ingredients from the hungry hordes in my house and frees up fridge space. It may look like a tiny step to set a few things out on the counter, but it represents a much bigger step:  deciding what's for supper.

Here we have rice and corn in the leftover container, onion in the jar, and eggs, tomatoes, and zucchini waiting for the fried rice.  Supper decision is made, hallelujah!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Tomato Canning, Before and After, and More Canning

I got the call last Friday morning at 7am:  a half-bushel of seconds tomatoes was waiting for me at market. Thank God I finished Genevieve's school shopping Thursday and picked the beans several blocks away and in my own back yard.  Thank God I sorted the box of hand-me-downs and got caught up with the laundry.

The big kids helped me haul the tomatoes home from market (how I will manage now that they are back in school I do not know).  Ben helped with clear-the-deck chores because he wanted to be out with his lemonade stand in the afternoon.  Genevieve opted to play until lunchtime, and help with the tomatoes after lunch.

Once I got the market things put away, the bread baked, and the dishes washed, the actual canning could begin.  Genevieve peeled all the tomatoes, I stuffed the jars, and then I spent the afternoon running them through the canner.  Now I have 17 quarts of whole tomatoes, sealed and cooling.  And then I got a text from a friend on Saturday with a bunch of peppers, so I made pimentos.  And finally, on Sunday, my in-laws dropped off 10 pounds of Roma tomatoes that someone at their church wanted to get rid of.  So yesterday, I made and canned pizza sauce.

This is all going on with camping preparation and the kids starting school, with Genevieve's middle school location and schedule throwing a wrench in the works.

I love this home-canned food, I love preserving food, but you guys:  my life feels a little impossible right now.  I would ditch the camping if we hadn't already paid for it, and I want to hang with dear friends.

My children are happy which is a big consolation and one of these days, mama's going to be happy, too, when she gets a tidy, peaceful house to herself with no looming projects.  One of these years, maybe. . .

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Aunt Nancy's Typical Southern Peach Cobbler

Aunt Nancy is legendary for this cobbler in our family, but when I asked her where the recipe came from, she said it's all over the South.

I know two versions of it in the North.  One is found in More with Less, with no butter (Yankees are no fun), and the other was my childhood church cookbook and had the butter, but less fruit.  I like Aunt Nancy's the best.  The fruit to buttery-moist-crumb-part is about equal, and that's how I like it.

If you bake it long enough, the edges darken and crisp from all that butter.  Aunt Nancy loves me enough that she gave me that special edge when we were in NC.  

This is Phoebe's photo-face.  She thinks she's smiling.

Also, isn't that tablecloth great?  Years ago, I stashed it with my fabric with the idea of making a skirt, but I just absolutely love its grooviness in my summer dining room.

Aunt Nancy's Typical Southern Peach Cobbler

In a 9" baking dish, melt:
1/3 cup butter (I put it in the oven while the oven is preheating)

Peel and slice (I chop):
5-6 peaches to yield at least 4 cups

Lay them on the melted butter.

Separately, mix:
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk

Pour batter gently and evenly over the fruit.  Some of the fruit will float and some butter will be up there, too.  That's just right.  Bake at 350 for 1 hour, until beautifully golden with obvious bubbling and juice action from the fruit.  Serve warm or room temperature.

1. Aunt Nancy said you can use anywhere from 1/4 - 1/2 cup butter.  Obviously a Southerner would go for the full stick.
2. I used half whole-wheat all-purpose flour.  You can get this from McGeary Organics and it makes the perfect texture for chemically-leaved baked goods.
3. I cut back the sugar a little because I'm not Southern.
4. You can use other fruit besides peaches.  I added some sad raspberries and 2 black raspberries from my new backyard bush.
5.  Aunt Nancy has baked this at higher temperatures or reduced the time or changed the pan size or otherwise fiddled with the chemistry.  Good news: the cobbler is not fussy!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Just a Little Older (Beach Girls 2017)

In the past year, none of us beach girls has lived out of the country, had a baby, moved, or . . . well, actually, I'm not sure of the other categories because the years have started to melt into each other.  This past year may have had job changes and health crises, or maybe it was the year before.  The years just puddle together. 

For sure, we ate well this year and didn't bother with a restaurant.   Sprinkle some fresh tomatoes and feta on your fried egg and add a basil sprig; it's divine (the bacon and potatoes help, too). We settled into long intimate conversations whenever we felt like it, wore our jammies maybe as much as our clothes, and ate ice cream whenever it occurred to us.  Bliss.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Back Yard, August 17, 10:16am

I had just gotten done hanging up three loads of laundry, with one more agitating in the machine. I wanted to document these luxuriant, volunteer squash vines; one appears to be a butternut, and the other a small ornamental. I planted some cucumbers elsewhere in the yard, on purpose, but they did the dramatic overnight flop-wilt-die after giving us two cucumbers, whereas these crazy squash vines are not giving up.

Inbetween them are the zinnias I planted from seed. I am so proud.

 My peppers are growing well, but slowly this year.  They are not helped by the toddler who picks them too young on the sly.  And the green beans are doing fine, but the herbs are not.

There is always some kind of weird structure in the yard.  Behind Phoebe is, obviously, a guinea pig hutch for the guinea pig that the parents have already said no to.  

Phoebe means business with that hammer; she is not pounding her fingers, either.


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