Thursday, June 22, 2017

Just a New Handtowel

Because an old one got too stained to look good and because Phoebe can't pull this one off the oven handle.  Hurray for a small, discrete task where I can exercise my creativity!  And it's crossed off the to-do list unlike various projects (we need to replace our boiler this summer, for one) and emotional burdens that we pick up every morning and try to lay down at night.  Or maybe that's just me.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Strawberry Jam Starts the Season

I took my children strawberry-picking for the first time ever.  We went to the farm where I went on a field trip as a first-grader, when I had a young, enthusiastic teacher with a strawberry farm.  The only activity I remember was using fresh strawberries as crayons to draw pictures.  My kids have begged for that "story" (memory fragment, really) over and over.  Do you embellish memory fragments like that into real stories for youngsters?

Anyway, we picked 15 pounds of strawberries ($1.75 a pound) while Phoebe sat in a wagon nearby with a bowl of strawberries.  I made strawberry freezer jam, for the first time ever using Pomona's Pectin which is a lower-sugar variety.  We'll see if we like it.

The process was easy and the jel was good before the jars went to the freezer.  I also froze some whole berries - an idea from a friend at the berry patch.  She said her kids like to eat them straight from the freezer as snacks.  Then I used two cups of strawberries to make strawberry rhubarb jam - the rhubarb provides the thickness, the jel, and I used vanilla sugar for a little something special.

The strawberry rhubarb jam required my canning gear, so the preserving season is officially begun!

A few weeks ago, I did an inventory of my freezer and canning shelves so I could make goals for this year's preserving.  Cherries will be up next, I think, followed closely by beets.  And blueberries!  Thank you, dear God, for all this wonderful food.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Funny Fabric on the Ironing Board

My commercial ironing board cover was ironed to literal shreds.  I had a length of funny fabric in my stash that I bought just because I loved it. It's got scenes of a retro family and their pets grooming themselves for the day.  Would this make a shower curtain?  Toiletry bag?  Not sure how other people would use this fabric, but I made a double-sided ironing board cover.  Hopefully I can flip it and get more use out of it.

I used a slightly different method from previous covers I've made.  I did trace my old cover, but I added two sets of ties to the back of the new cover and elastic at the top and bottom.  One method I saw had you make a casing for elastic the entire way around the ironing board cover.  I didn't want to use that much elastic, nor did I feel like inching a piece of elastic through such a tortuously long casing.

In the end, my new cover was a wee bit short and required some diaper pins in the back to keep it in place.  I thought I was cutting generously when I traced the old cover, but oh well.  This is get-er-done-and-functional sewing.  The fabric happens to make me giggle, too.

More giggles. They pounced on the jeans legs I had cut off.  Otherwise, I have no explanation.

Here, Ben made "a guy" for Phoebe out of her duplo blocks and she kissed him.

Friday, June 16, 2017

And Then My Checkbook Cover Broke

I had never liked that cheap vinyl thing anyway.

I dug through my free upholstery samples and thought I could make a new cover.

I simply traced around the old old one, held the vinyl together tightly while I sewed, and bingo!  a new cover in about 20 minutes.  I did use a sewing machine needle that I have set aside for sewing on paper.

There's a pocket for the debit card that accesses the account.

There's a binder clip to keep the checks for deposit handy.

I'm very pleased with its looks and functionality.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sheet-Pan Chicken is Hot and So is the Weather

It was 97 degrees F in the shade at our house today, but I still need to tell you about this chicken recipe before I forget (and shout out to Sarah, where I saw the link to the recipe first).  It is fabulous, a total crowd-pleaser and a cook-pleaser because it's so easy.  The vegetables get roasted and, in spots, caramelized; the vegetables under the chicken are bathed in drippings as well. The chicken is juicy, tender, and perfectly savory from the salt.  The crisp chicken skin is highly coveted.

The first time I made this chicken, my family exclaimed over and over - my husband even said it was the best chicken he ever had.  Whoa, baby!  The big kids begged me to make it again.

However, I will not be making this chicken again until the weather cools down because you crank the oven up to 500 degrees for almost an hour to make it.

I think it's kind of an internet sensation right now, sheet-pan chicken, and for all good reasons.  When it's not so stinkin' hot, I will be looking for variations because this will go into heavy rotation in the winter at my house.

Simple Sheet-Pan Chicken and Veg
--1 chicken thigh per person, bone-in and skin on
--assorted vegetables that take well to roasting - root veg as well as onions, broccoli, green beans
--salt, pepper, some dried rosemary (optional)

Prepping the Pan:
I made 5 thighs on a half-sheet pan (13x18 rimmed baking sheet) with a crowded single layer of vegetables underneath.  It's important to have the veg crowded together so they don't burn to a crisp, but also important to have a single layer so they can be caramelized (yes! yum!) in spots. So, size your pan according to how many veggies you want to use.
You can line it with heavy-duty foil if you want even less clean up (regular foil just peels up with the veggies when you try to serve them - you can learn from my experience!).  I didn't line it with foil the second time and the clean-up was still very easy as long as you're willing to break out a Brillo pad.

Cut veggies into large bite-sized pieces.  Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and some dried rosemary if you wish, and spread in single, thick layer on rimmed baking sheet.
Lay the chicken thighs skin side down on the veg.  Sprinkle each one generously with salt.  Flip the thighs over, peel back the skin, and salt the thighs generously UNDER the skin.  Pull the skin back into place.  Pat the skin dry with a paper towel or old kitchen towel. This will make amazingly crispy skin.
Bake the chicken and veggies at 500F for 50 minutes.  No need to stir, check, or bother for that whole baking time.  Serve hot.  We like a side of coleslaw or something vinegary on the side.  Shown here was steamed asparagus with lemon juice.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Long-Enough Sleeves for the Tall Girl

Genevieve requested a bathrobe, and I thought I'd check the thrift store first before I made her one.  She wanted a big old floor-length robe - so much fabric if I was sewing one!  And while I was finding the robe that she now loves and wears every day, I saw a pair of pajamas for me.  

Vera Wang, if you please, for $3.  But the sleeves were a bit short - a perennial problem for a tall person like me.  I bought a $1 purple shirt, cut off the sleeves and attached them inside the pajama sleeves at the piping seam. 

 Now my wrists will be covered and warm. . . which is not a pleasant thought in this heatwave.  The pajamas are tucked away with my other winter clothes for the cold days.

Friday, June 9, 2017

My Favorite Garden, Vietnamese-Style

Right next to our church is my favorite yard garden.  It's a treat to walk by and see what the gardener is up to all year long.

Recently, the gardener himself was out when I walked goggling by.  I felt shy, but I told myself that most people who love plants love to talk plants, so I introduced myself and told him how much I love his garden.  His face lit up, and he started immediately handing out samples of his many kinds of mint and basil; he's Vietnamese, so his varieties are different from the ones I know and he was explaining which ones are good for what.  We had a language barrier for sure, but I did ask him if he minds if I take pictures of his garden and he waved his hand, sure sure, and handed another sprig of mint over the fence.

I returned another day with my camera (feeling shy again, but reminding myself I had permission).

My deep love for this yard is based on the pragmatism and sheer abundance - I love the make-do greenhouse/potting shed built out of old windows as far as I can tell, and the old swingset frame used as a trellis and also a shelter for tender plants.  Bottoms from nursery trays turned into fence, all kinds of supports and planters improvised from things most Americans throw away.

Look at the milk-crate edging, the lettuce mixed with flowers, the buckets and improvised shelves. I love the make-do, can-do vibe. And the roses.  Oh, the roses!

Their scent is a beautiful as they are because I put my nose in as many as I could, and thought of my grandmother who grew roses in tidy little bushes but this yard has a different tidiness, a different aesthetic from the middle-class American gardens I am accustomed to seeing.  It tickles my imagination and makes me bolder in my own gardening efforts.  I am hatching some plans for two different arbors at our balcony and porch and I am not thinking small or middle-class, no I am not.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

"French" Fruit Tart

The Frenchiness here is of the 1980s variety, that was meant to make something sound fancy.  The original recipe was on the back of the Bisquick box, so we can all predict the results, right? But no.  This is a perfect trifecta of flavors and textures: salty/buttery crust, luscious middle with the best of cream cheese and heavy cream, and whatever wonderful perfect fresh fruit is in season on top.

And look, the ingredients are simple, practically pantry staples, and the method is also very simple.  I mean really.  This is me raving.  I highly recommend that you make this tart!

The only downside is that it is best eaten several hours after it is made, or possibly the day after for particularly smitten eaters.

"French" Fruit Tart - adapted from a recipe I found on The Kitchn

Make the tart crust.
Cut together:
1 cup all-purpose flour (I use up to 2/3 WW pastry flour)
1/3 cup butter
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
Press mixture into 9 or 10" tart pan or pie pan.  Prick bottom with fork.  Bake at 425F for 10ish minutes.  Set aside to cool.

When the crust is cool, whip in a mixing bowl:
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Add and beat to soft peaks.  Do not overbeat:
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Dollop and spread filling in crust.  Top gently with fresh sliced berries or other seasonal fruit, arranged in a pattern or sprinkled over in a single layer.  Brush with some melted apple jelly or simple syrup (I use simple syrup - heat together 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water until dissolved, then cool and keep in fridge).  Sometimes I don't bother brushing anything on the fruit.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before slicing and serving.

This tart really needs a better name.  Suggestions?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Ben Goes to Church on Pentecost Sunday

Alternate titles:
Mr. Pirate Pentecost
Ben Follows All the Color Suggestions For Pentecost Sunday
Ben Dresses the Part to Read the Pentecost Scripture
Ben is Crazy But Not Old Enough to Care if Mom Posts This

Friday, June 2, 2017

A New Charger Envelope for a New Phone

I meant to tell you that back in February, my cell phone died.  It was not a smart phone.  I was wary of getting a smart phone - so much to manage!  to understand!  And the cost of not understanding could be high because you could incur charges for going over your data plan.  But my dumb phone could not handle the attachments that Ben's soccer coach was sending and other things like that.

As a thrifty person who likes to comparison shop, I find technology purchases extremely frustrating.  It's so hard to figure out if I'm comparing products appropriately, or which features I would actually use in real life, or if the inexpensive option is actually a short-lived piece of crap.

When I struggle with questions, my husband's solution is to "just google it."  So I did.  I searched "simplest smartphones," and "best cheap smartphones," and things like that and found out I'm not the only one willing to have a slow phone with less storage for a modest price.

I found out I could buy a Samsung Galaxy 3 Express for $40 at my AT&T store (we have our plan through AT&T), and it suits me just fine because I tried to think carefully about what I wanted to use my phone for.

I mostly use it for texting, occasionally calling when I'm away from home, and then some Google Driving for navigating on trips.  I snap a few photos here and there, but I mostly use my nice camera.  I rarely use the internet on my phone and I never check or reply to my email on my phone; I do that on my laptop where I feel less claustrophobic with a bigger screen (am I the only one who feels claustrophobic with small screens?).  I use the phone's timers and alarms and calculator.  I do have it synced with my online calendar, but it's not reliable; I don't think that's unique to my phone! The only app I downloaded is a money-tracking app (Dollarbird), and although my kids have asked, I don't know if there are games on my phone because I'm not interested.

The nice AT&T guy did convince me to buy a $25 case and $89 headphones for the phone.  I was so relieved to be getting a working phone that I ignored my typical rule of taking time to think through purchases and do a little research on price first.  When I sheepishly showed my purchases to my husband, his face confirmed my sneaking suspicion that I needed to return the headphones and case and comparison shop.  Sure enough, I got a case on ebay for $5 and still haven't purchased headphones because I just don't listen to music or podcasts on my phone (but I could be convinced!).

I made a charger envelope for the new charger.  But this time, I included a pocket on the back for the USB car converter, and I keep the envelope in my purse.  It's nice to grab-and-go without worrying about battery life.

So I've had my smart phone about three months now, and I do like it.  I feel like I've hit my goal of phone-that-doesn't-exclude-me-from-socializing-and-networking-but-doesn't-cost-a-fortune-for-bells-and-whistles-I-am-not-using.

What other thrifty smartphone tips do you have?  Or is this an area where you are willing to pay for convenience, functionality, and security? (I have those areas, too).  I'd love to hear how others manage!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Flowers in the Rain

I decided I couldn't wait for sunshine anymore.  So here are some of my flowers, and then, I took a little walk in the neighborhood with my camera because I love seeing how people put out flowers and decorations.  I have thought of doing a semi-regular feature on the gardening efforts in my city to document the loveliness and ideas.

I put thyme and begonias in my hanging pots on my porch.  I settled on this combination after trying a number of things, and both plants are always luxuriant and happy.

My big pot has creeping Jenny as well as a purple sweet potato vine to spill out over the sides.  Then there is a fuchsia geraniaum, 3 dark-yellow marigolds, a purple basil, and four begonias.  Oh!  And a spike! Which some stranger has already yanked up in passing, so I pushed it back in and stroked it and hoped for the best.  The squirrels also dug in the pot like crazy, so I put mothballs in bags and set them under the leaves and it seems to be keeping the squirrels out of my pot and the carcinogens away from my edibles.

I planted cilantro seeds in this container in the back yard, and I thought the squirrels and birds had eaten all of them, but lo! they emerged! I'm going to try the cut-and-come-again method to see if I can prevent it from going to seed right away.

I snapped a photo of this vine-weed for my Easter post.  Its vibrant growth needs no help from me, which I love.

A neighbor's window box with sweet little figurine.

No need for balustrades on this neighbor's porch with planter boxes.  And such charming colors.

A lush combination of creeping Jenny (my favorite!) and big begonias.

 This office building is slated to be torn down, but I'll enjoy the pretty mossy roof over the door until then.

How does your garden grow?


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