Saturday, July 31, 2010

Garden in a Jar and Spanish Rice Rollups

I heart garden tomatoes. We wait for them all year, and now that they are in abundance, we eat fresh every day. I have to admit, though, when we are harvesting dozens every day, I feel the pressure to capture this goodness so that we can enjoy it all year long. I don't want these jewels to go to waste!
To make things a little easier, I can my tomatoes in small batches, just six pint jars at a time, usually. I prefer the pint, wide-mouth jars for canning tomatoes, because they are recipe ready, and if I need to chop them up for a recipe, like the Spanish Rice Rollups recipe below, the wide-mouth jar makes it easier just to stick my knife in there and run it around for a quick chop.

I simply peel and core enough tomatoes for the six jars. It's usually about 5 to 6 medium tomatoes per jar. One tablespoon of lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt also go into each jar. The jars are processed in a waterbath canner according to current recommendations from the Ball Blue Book, and as of now, that is 85 minutes with the lid on, and then letting them sit in the waterbath for 5 additional minutes with the lid off before lifting out and waiting for that beautiful "pop!" of the lid. Check each lid and make sure it is sealed tight before storing.
Your own canned tomatoes are an amazing ingredient; every time you open a jar you can smell the garden, and the taste is incredible. I use them in the middle of winter in chili, casseroles, and this Spanish Rice Rollup:
Brown 1-lb. ground beef or turkey with 1/2-cup chopped onion and drain.
Continue cooking and add in 1 pint jar tomatoes, chopped, 1 can beans drained, 1 package of taco seasoning, 1 1/2 cups water and 2 cups instant brown rice. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer 5 minutes. Enjoy rolled up in tortillas with your favorite toppings.

Just a little extra work makes for some good eating all year long.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Hooked On Bookmarks

With a little thread and a little yarn, it's easy to stitch up some pretty cute bookmarks.

In the old days, I cross-stitched some fancy patterns on store-bought bookmarks. But, now, busy with lots of things, I tend to just clip off some aida cloth and stitch up something quick and easy like a simple bookmark full of hearts...even adding a name.

Cross-stitching hearts is quick and easy!

Just trim out a piece of aida, about 2 1/4X9-inches, and that will allow you to stitch about six hearts, in any color of DMC floss you like--I use the satin floss mostly--and then stitch around the edges, to prevent fraying, and embellish the bottom with ribbon and buttons or even a bead trim.

When I found this ribbon yarn, at my favorite little yarn shop, Simply Fibers, I thought of so many things I wanted to make. Bookmarks were definitely on the list!
ribbon yarn

These are little one-to-two-hour projects, that are fun, and perfect for teaching beginning knitters and cross-stitchers. 

I'm always finding beads and charms and things to keep in my embellishment boxes--this sparkling party yarn and some cute beads made for a bookmark that makes a cute little gift.

When I make more, I'll create a pattern to post for the hearts. But I think most cross-stitchers can get it from the pictures. For the knit bookmarks, I cast on 10 stitches and knit it until it's the length I prefer. 


Have fun dreaming up your little bookmarks!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Save the Sugar Slaw

I barely remember planting cabbage in the garden. I have never grown cabbage before and it was definitely an experiment. But, today, there it was, in all its glory next to the chive patch--this big, gorgeous head of cabbage! 

We picked it, and set it aside for a bit, because I was busy canning a dozen more jars of salsa--the tomatoes are coming on in bushels. But once the salsa-making got under control, I decided to try a sugar-free coleslaw recipe, since one of the things that bugs me about coleslaw is how high in carbs it is!

Sugar-Free Coleslaw

4 cups shredded cabbage
2 tablespoons low-fat mayo
about 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Splenda or other sugar substitute
salt and pepper to taste

Toss it all together and enjoy. That's it!

I LOVE this coleslaw. Of course, I realize, I am eating cabbage that was picked less than an hour ago, which I'm sure contributes to the incredible flavor. But still, unbeknownst to future attendees of bbq's at my house, I'm serving this slaw! And next year, I'm planting a whole cabbage patch.

Eat from the garden today.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Who Needs a Book Bag!

We couldn't find a book bag with owls! So it was time to make one. I had already been to two fabric stores, looking for owls. But on the third try, at our favorite new fabric store, my daughter found her book bag material.

I cut two 18X22-inch squares. She wanted a big bag with a very long single strap. I chose a brown check for the lining--we needed this bag to be as strong as possible. On one of the checked fabric squares, I sewed in a pocket with the owl design--double stitching for reinforcement. Owl fabric and checked fabric was sewn with right sides together. After turning out there was no need to stitch the gap because then the two lined squares would be sewn together anyway.

I cut a long 4-inch wide strap from the owl design, and pinned it in to let her try it out for the perfect length. Then, after folding the strap in half, sewing, and turning out, I was ready to sew each side into each side seam of the bag with the x-in-the-square typical strap stitch I use on tote bags.

We are happy with this nice, sturdy, big book bag in the fabric of choice. I see more book bag making in my future. It was a fun project and took less than two hours! I like that!

I have to say the inside pocket looks cute too.

Dream up something fun to stitch!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Spaghetti Squash Touched by Tuscany

I love it when dinner starts and ends in the garden. Fresh spaghetti squash topped with garden-fresh tomatoes, and basil is set off by a little saute in olive oil with baby portobello mushrooms and a good sprinkling of Italian four-cheese blend. So yummy! Who needs meat? Just add a nice crusty bread with roasted garlic.

First, for about a medium-size spaghetti squash, you can boil it for around 30 minutes. My squash had grown to about the size of a barn, so it took a good 50 minutes to make it fork tender.
When it is tender, split the squash open, take out the seeds, and use a fork to shred it and get the "spaghetti strands." Be careful, it will be hot.

Have a saute pan ready and heated, coated with about a tablespoon of olive oil, and saute sliced baby portobello mushrooms and the squash. As you toss, salt and pepper to taste. Add two or three fresh chopped tomatoes, snip in a few leaves of fresh basil, and top with a nice Italian shredded cheese.
 My fave is the Mario Batalli four-cheese blend.

Take your crusty garlic bread out of the oven and spread with roasted garlic and sprinkle with fresh-chopped garlic chives. Get your table set up in the garden, with candles and jars of wild flowers and enjoy your feast!

I'm so happy right now. I just finished my first full-length play! Time to celebrate with this amazing dinner and my happy dance. 

Eat, write, dream, stitch!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Little Rustic Cross-Stitch Quilt

I love sewing collage. A little quilt hanging seemed like the perfect way to put together a scrap here and a scrap there.

On a trip to visit family last summer, I went overboard cross-stitching hearts. I had no idea what I was going to do with them. I just created a big aida cloth square filled with hearts, because I didn't need to look at a pattern, and I love hearts, and then I put it away. This, however, was the beginning inspiration piece for my little rustic love quilt. From there, it all seemed to come together. During our trip, my mother-in-law gave my daughter and I some precious vintage brooches, and one of the brooches--a flower--found its place on the little quilt, holding down some scraps of ribbon.
 This little Amish cross-stitch couple says their I-do's at the top of the quilt--an old broken strand of pearls was sewn on underneath, in honor of the bride.

A tiny lovebird cross-stitch which used to hang puffed in a little wooden frame had fallen apart, so it was stuck in my cross-stitch drawer and found its new place on a little quilt about love.
The quilt is made of three layers of fabric ticking--no batting--and is quite sturdy. Little ribbon loops are sewn at the top for hanging. The bottom area features another little cross-stitch of our couple's Amish closet, and the letters for Home. Other fabric scraps, sequins, old-old buttons, and trim were added to the collage until it felt to me like it was finished. I love it!

Eat well. Write often. Dream happy. Stitch a little love.

The only way to travel with your needlework!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Divine Tales of the Yard Sale Sisterhood

It was a sweet, pristine neighborhood--generous front porches with white wicker rocking chairs, Dogwood trees, and sidewalks. You could call it a nice neighborhood. But that day, our behavior--two nice, thirty-something sisters out for a morning of treasure hunting--definitely didn't fit into that neighborhood. You see, without our knowledge, we had turned into the Thelma and Louise of yard sales.

The turning point came on the generous front porch of a Hansel and Gretal gingerbread Victorian home. Cute stuff. Good prices. Pleasant people. My sis and I ooo'd and ahhh'd over a set of aging wine glasses and a stack of tattered quilts. The fresh white porch creaked with age as the shoppers all browsed and politely made their claims. We got caught up in the quaintness and the "road show" antiqueness of it all. We were so busy shopping, we eventually separated and lost track of each other. After paying for my loot I met Sis back at her maroon Toyota parked on the street. She hadn't locked the doors, so I just climbed in, adjusting my fanny pack full of yard sale small bills and change. The fanny pack, as embarrassingly unfigure-flattering as it is, serves as an important tool for the yard sale sisters--it leaves your hands free and keeps cash at the ready if you get into a competitive situation. Like say, you see a stuffed pig with a shovel and you HAVE to have it for your sunporch--one hand grabs it two seconds ahead of the lady in the moo-moo while the other hand has already dug out your two quarters to pay. Trust me, I've seen a knock-down, drag-out over a $2 diaper bag in my own front yard.
That morning, Sis and I had met for an early-bird breakfast where we checked the newspaper and circled the best sales; then we hit the road and that's how we ended up on Primrose Avenue, at one of the most brimming bargain porches of the morning. As I headed back to the car with my treasures, I overheard the homeowner offer to take another lady's purchases to her car for her. "So nice!" I thought. The lady just continued to stand there, chatting with his wife as she told him, "Just take it to the red car on the curb." She sounded like she was ordering her butler around.
I got in my sister's car, and buckled my seat belt at about the same time she was finding her keys. As she slowly pulled away from the curb, she glanced back to see what my goodies were. "Oooh," I remember her saying, "I love that painting."
I looked back to see what she was referring to because I hadn't bought a painting, unless I was having one of those senior moments at age 37 and had instantly forgot everything I had purchased. But there it was, a pretty painting of a Victorian woman taking a walk in the wilderness. "That is pretty," I said. "And wow, you bought a bird feeder," I added. "I thought you didn't want to bother feeding your wildlife."
"What?" my sister said.
And that's when it hit us. As her maroon car pulled onto the busy street of yard-salers, we realized that there was a bunch of stuff in the backseat that we had never seen before. Then the curious desperation of people who have to go around from yard to yard buying second-hand stuff and still bartering down those rock-bottom prices took over our laid-back middle class sense of well-being.
I yelled, "STEP ON IT!"
She yelled, "What have we done! Oh my God!" with part hysterical laughter and part complete puzzlement.
Did we steal stuff? How had this happened? It took us the rest of the day before it finally came back to me, that one of the homeowners had taken some lady's stuff to her car, but he took it to ours. By then all the yard sales had closed down and all the Victorian gingerbread homes suddenly looked alike.
Another time, there was a sale by grown kids of a lady who had passed away only a week before. They were holding the sale, right there at her house. They seemed disorganized and confused about where to put things and how to price things. In all the confusion, Sis and I wandered into the actual house--usually a no-no at yard sales. Then we stopped in our tracks. Shocked. You could see a makeshift bed was actually set up next to the food pantry and the kitchen where it appeared the lady had made her home for quite some time, in a little corner; it was as if she had been living off of canned food and lemon-lime soda from what we could tell. We both started crying just as her son walked in and shoo'd us out of the house. We were so embarrassed at our mistake! We apologized--our bad. I bought a whole box of sewing notions and spools of ribbons. I thought, once upon a time, that lady had mended her son's shirt and sewed her daughter a little dress. There's a good place in heaven for people who sew.

So, here we are, more than ten years later. I don't think I have the patience I used to for yard sales on a hot day. I don't even like to have yard sales--I have a flea market booth. I do believe in the concept of yard sales, flea markets, and simply donating things--we don't want to be hoarders (or end up on that show) or turn rooms of our homes into storage facilities. We all think we need more stuff than we actually need. But everyone needs to regularly edit--edit their stuff. Not to worry though. The Yard Sale Sisterhood will reign again. We'll have an early breakfast, grab some coffee, circle the sales and go for an adventure (but no more fanny packs...maybe). And I promise, if we find strange loot in the backseat, we'll turn right around and take it back, to someone, somewhere. We won't drive off a cliff. Karma, you know.

Eat, write, dream and stitch something this summer.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dancing with Tomatoes - Salsa Making and Canning

Fresh garden salsa all year long...yes, you can do it. It's called water-bath canning, and while I won't call it easy, if you can follow instructions, and are willing to work hard for about an hour, you can preserve your own fresh tomatoes--whether they are from your garden or the farmers market--in a variety of ways. Just yesterday, I made my first salsa batch this summer...ten jars!

I have been canning my garden tomatoes for many years, but just a few years ago I discovered a great salsa recipe, and now I can salsa every summer. Anyone who has ever tasted my salsa seems to really love it--the fresh garden tomatoes and peppers give this chunky salsa such an amazing taste, sweetness and pure flavor that simply cannot be duplicated with a shortcut mix, and this salsa is far above and beyond supermarket salsa. It is a mild heat-level salsa, and I try to put up as many jars as possible, because my family loves eating it all year long, and it makes a great little gift whether I put it in a gift basket with colorful tortilla chips, or just slap a ribbon around the ball jar and present it to my party hostess for the night. Let's face it, we don't always have the time to create something special and homemade on the spur of the moment, but when you take a little time in the summer to can, then you'll have those wonderful jars of homemade somethin' somethin' at the ready any month of the year. And it is special, because you made it. It's organic! Plus, if it comes from a garden where you planted the seeds and tended to it all summer, it doesn't get anymore special than that. 

I've always planted bell peppers in my garden for great salads and just to dip and eat, but now I also plant the jalepeno peppers, just for my salsa! So here we go, you've picked your tomatoes, peppers, and have your ingredients together to can your own salsa! Here is some canning equipment that I consider essential:
waterbath canner
lid lifter (a plastic stick with a magnet to get your lids out of hot water)
jar lifter
canning jars, including rings, and new lids (lids cannot be reused)
canning funnel (helps keep the jars clean as you ladle in your salsa)

It takes me about 6 medium tomatoes for two cups of cored, peeled and chopped tomato. Clean the seeds out of the jalepenos before chopping, of course. And I really prefer sweet vidalia onions in this recipe, but you can use white or yellow. You can use dried or fresh cilantro. And to keep it all organic, for the ingredients I have to buy, I choose organic.

Let's talk about pots. You're going to have a stovetop full of pots for this! First of all, my waterbath canner is huge and takes up a lot of space. Fill it a little over half full, because you're using half-pint jars, and start heating it up--it will take awhile. Then you'll need a small pot with hot water to dip the tomatoes for easier peeling. Another small pot of hot water will heat your lids for a better seal. And then you'll have a small stock pot to cook the salsa recipe. At your side, I highly recommend The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, or the Ball Blue Book. You can find these on their website. They will give you the complete home canning instructions and safety guidelines and the website has tons of recipes. If you have your grandma's old canning recipe book, that's nice and all, but scrapbook it or something, do not follow it! Canning guidelines and even cooking times have changed and improved over the years. This is part cooking and part mad science! So please keep yourself up-to-date. Here is my salsa recipe! You can also just make this and refrigerate it, if you don't want to can--but then you'll need to use it up!

Fresh Tomato Garden Salsa
 A fresh-tasting, chunky, mild homemade salsa!
8 cups chopped tomatoes (peeled and cored)
1 large vidalia onion, chopped
about 3 cups fresh green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
4 small jalapeno peppers (seeded and chopped as finely as possible)
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup dried cilantro (or 1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 garlic gloves, chopped
1 can organic tomato paste
Combine all the ingredients in a small stock pot and bring to a boil, constantly stirring. Reduce heat and continue cooking and stirring for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the salsa is thickened.
Sterilize ten wide-mouth half-pint Ball jars (either by running through the dishwasher, or washing by hand and boiling for five minutes). Make sure rings are clean and heat new jar lids in pan of hot water. Ladle the salsa into the hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch of headspace (contents will expand in the waterbath canner). Wipe rim with a clean towel. Center lid on the jar. The ring should be screwed onto the jar until it is firm and tight. 
My canner holds six jars at a time, so place jars in your canner, making sure the boiling water covers them, cover and process for 20 minutes. Remove the waterbath canner lid and continue processing for another five minutes. Remove the jars with a jar lifter, for your safety, and make sure that they seal, when you hear that "pop!" which should take place almost immediately, to within the next hour that they are sitting and cooling. Make sure they are sitting on a couple of layers of kitchen towels, not on a cold counter. You can store when they are without a doubt sealed.

[Yes, I made that apron! No, I'm not wearing makeup!]
I hope I have taken some of the mystery out of canning, if you are new to this. Yeah, it's a little hard work and cleanup afterwards, but I really enjoy canning my garden goodness, and we reap the benefits of it year-round. Unlike our grandmothers, we can do things to make this easier. I can in small batches. Yesterday I put up ten jars, because I had tomatoes and peppers ready to go! It's important to capture them at the peak of their freshness. Also, I enjoy buying the really cute wide-mouth jars because you just open them up and dip that multi-grain tortilla chip right in! The more elegant jars make a nicer gift too. And one more thing, it is not that expensive to get the equipment you need, not at all. Once you have your water-bath canner, jar lifter, funnel, lid lifter, and jars, then you can use this stuff for years! The only thing you have to purchase is your lids and any rings that have bent. I also recommend buying the Ball plastic lids, as they are very handy after you have opened a jar--if you haven't finished its contents right away--it needs to go in the fridge. However, I'd be very surprised if the first jar of your salsa goodness doesn't disappear pretty fast!

Eat fresh, write fresh, dream fresh, and keep on stitching!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Seven Days of Aprons--The Sunday Dinner Apron

Ahhh...Sunday is finally here and I've made my last apron to celebrate the vintage workday week.  
Here is a rundown of that old chore list of yesteryear.
Monday - Wash Day
Tuesday - Gardening Day (formerly Ironing Day)
Wednesday - Sewing Day
Thursday - Shopping Day
Friday - Cleaning Day
Saturday - Baking Day
Sunday - A Day of Rest (which I call Sunday Dinner Day...we still have to eat)

If you want to see my twist on all of these chore days and the fabric art aprons I created to go along with them, page back through the blog.

My Sunday apron began with three interesting fabrics: one of my mom's housedresses from the 1970's, a lace table runner, and a pretty piece of embroidery found at a flea market that was given to me as a hostess gift by my friend Carrie M. Thanks Carrie! (I LOVE those kind of gifts). I thought this sweet cup of tea was ideal for the apron, since the best Sunday dinners involve relaxing with a nice cup of tea or coffee and a great dessert. I think how someone spent a lot of time stitching that beautiful cup and saucer. Maybe after her dinner.

The vintage lace table runner became a meaningful trim on Mom's housedress, for the apron skirt, because it's sort of like, oops! Mom's slip is showing again! Then another section of the table runner became the bib neck loop.

I actually remember seeing my mom wear that housedress--it's going to enjoy it's new life as a Sunday dinner apron!

Also, this apron actually does invoke the day-of-rest spirit, because Sunday dinners can be a special time for family and friends, but the dinner-makers like to make as many things ahead of time as possible, and another thing I like to do is bring out the slow-cooker. I'll be sharing my slow-cooked summer supper menu soon. I just throw the chicken in the slow-cooker and off we go to church. When we get back...wallah! Sunday dinner!

I've enjoyed having a theme this week and stitching up some apron creativity. I got in touch with my inner Becky Homecky, but I think I also kept my sense and sensibility about the whole thing--to me it was just more of the mixed-media fabric art I love. I hope to put some of these aprons in my Etsy store--opening soon. I also want to say, I realize that none of my aprons are very masculine, so sometime I need to do some aprons that anyone can wear. Men wear aprons too ya know! (see the illustration from my old old homec book)

Now, my garden tomatoes and peppers are calling me to make and can my first batch of summer salsa! So much for a day of rest for mua.

Eat, write, dream and stitch yourself happy.