Monday, April 18, 2011

Reincarnation Request

If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I want to come back as my dog.  
That is all.

Tater Talk

I cook.  A lot.  I've been told I'm a heck of a good cook.  That makes me feel good because it's something I love to do (most of the time.)  It would be crummy if I loved to cook but wasn't any good at it.

I also have active teenage sons with voracious appetites.  It's an unpaid part-time job just to keep them fed.  I love that job.  Last Saturday, I was again fortunate enough to purchase a load of meat from Chamberlain Farms in East Fairfield, OH.  I'd give you the website, but there isn't one.  Just stop by and see June and she'll fix you up with what you need.  210 lbs. of beef, 40 lbs. of chicken, Italian sausage, keilbasa, breakfast sausage, ham slices, pork chops and bacon.  Two fellas standing beside me shivered when I picked up the order.  

Last night, the Staby family performed our weekly pre-dinner ritual.  
Me: "What kind of potato dish would you guys like with _____?"  (Enter any main course.  Beef, pork, chicken, veggies, road kill - makes no matter.)  
Them:  "Mashed potato casserole!"
Me:  "But I just made that on ______."  (Enter any day of the week within the last 6 days.)
Them:  "But we love it and (said day) was so long ago."
I gave the masses what they want.  After all, I won't have mashed potato loving boys forever at my nightly dinner table.

Good old russet potatoes, peeled and cubed and simmered in salted water till tender, about 20-25 min.
I use my trusty Kitchen Aid mixer for the mashing.  When we got married, I had a hand held mixer that met an early smokey death at the hands of an electricity transformer when we lived in Germany.  Bob gave me this Kitchen Aid for Christmas a month after we returned to the States, 22 years ago.  I opened it, floored, and he said, "Mashed Potatoes."  Perhaps it's a genetic affection in this family?

Anyway, it's a pretty basic procedure.  I mash them adding a few tablespoons of butter first, then kosher salt and cracked black pepper.  I slog in some milk and Parmesan cheese.  No fancy Parmesano Reggiano from the Mouli grater here, the monster can from Costco suffices for this hungry crowd.  We buy our milk a few miles away from Brunton Dairy.  Best milk on earth.  I make a weekly trip to the little bitty store down on their farm, load up a rack (6 1/2 gal bottles) and put the money in the lock box.
 I turn the potatoes into a casserole dish, dot with butter and sprinkle with paprika.  Bake for about 15 or so minutes till heated through.

No matter how much wrestling in the kitchen has taken place during dinner preparations, I try (but don't always succeed) to serve with a smile.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring is for Sprouting

My seed starting is well underway, and for me, it's a very exciting and hopeful thing.  It truly is a little miracle to put a seed in some soil, give it light and water, and watch the magic.  Life.  Food.  A little bit of the Heavenlies here on earth.  
I've got seven varieties of peppers coming along.  Golden Marconi, Emerald Giant Bell, Tam and Coyame Jalapenos, Hungarian Hot Wax, Pepperoncini and I'm very excited about the Fish Pepper.  

I'm also starting oodles of tomatoes, a 9-pack of 11 varieties.  I know, I know, come August I'll be begging for someone to take me out behind the compost pile and whack me with a hoe to put me out of my misery.  I'll only keep one or two of each, the rest will go to the Master Gardener plant sale and the church plant exchange.  Or, I can rely on my old standby zucchini adoption trick and leave them in unlocked cars.

I've chosen to plant only heirloom tomatoes this year.  Having both hybrids and heirlooms last year, the hybrids just couldn't compare in flavor.  I'm not going to bother with them this year.  I'm growing:  Basrawya, Red Fig, Korean, Cherokee Purple, Black Prince, Green Zebra, Tigerella, Sioux and my old standby's Howard German, German Strawberry, Pink Brandywine.  

I have 12 Calabrese Broccoli plants, of which I'll keep maybe 8.  Also some flowers for fillers between perennials such as marigolds and ageratum.  My butterfly weed hasn't direct sown very well in the past, so I'm trying it indoors first.  I'm really looking forward to my Red Leaved Hyacinth Bean.

I've ordered most of my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  A wonderful company that stands for the preservation of heirlooms and independent farmer's rights.  

Happy Spring!


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Making a Folding Pressing Table

When I'm working on a lot of repetitive patchwork that needs pressing in between stitching, it sure is convenient to have your iron nearby.  I also have some persnickety joints in my back and they do not appreciate me leaning at cattywampus angles to accomplish the task.  Sooo, I took my chiropractor's advice and made this little sidekick as a solution.    

For my first test subject, I purchased a wooden folding tray table for about $9.  

Drafting a 20 yr. old beach towel into service (which was possibly the ugliest one ever made,) I layered two pieces of toweling, a scrap piece of cotton batting and a rectangle of denim, pinking the edges.  You could use any heavy cotton fabric.  Skip the man made fibers.  Cut the layers in graduated sizes to reduce bulk.

I absconded with Hunky Man's staple gun and sweet talked it enough until I was relatively convinced it wouldn't think of jamming on me.  Pulling the layers nice and taught, staple the fabric edge down one side, every 2" or so.
Cut some bulk out of the corners and fold them nice and neat, stapling thoroughly.
Give those stubborn staples a little convincing with a hammer.

Voila!  In less than 30 minutes, I've made my back and my chiropractor happy.  And it sure is handy to take to quilting retreats as well as to use right here at home.  I keep it set up at a right angle to my sewing table and is handy even if I'm not pressing on it.  Love it!


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Booty Call

I just had to share this booty of treasure.  As a quilter, there is little more intoxicating than a quilt shop.  Yesterday, I went to Ohio with some dear quilting friends for a day of shopping and, well, mostly laughing.  Two and a half hours of driving each way (not done by me...great job, Janice!) to visit five quilt shops and the most awesome hardware store on earth.  Deep in the heart of Amish country, these five shops were a delight.  Especially since I have to drive nearly an hour to get to a quilt shop at home.  In my case, that could be a good thing!

I have recently fallen in love with Civil War reproduction fabrics.  I know I'm coming late to this party, but better late than never, I suppose!  I was joking with my quilting peeps yesterday that it would be so much simpler if I just had one genre, one color scheme, one personality of fabrics I was attracted to.    But alas, that is not the case.  I'm an equal opportunity fabric lover.

In my defense, I was shopping for two.  The stack in the upper left of the photo is for my mother, and any more of it she wants.  The pattern is for the lovely and classic New York Beauty, one of my all time favorites.  I intend to make it with those equally lovely Civil War Repros.

The green swirly fabric underneath it is backing for my batik Strip Twist quilt, below.  I'll be making another one of those soon, with a totally different color palette.  Black and red batik borders will soon be added.
In the meantime, I'd best get very busy making18th Century knee breeches, waistcoats and period shirts, or one of my children will be going nekkid to our upcoming reenactment.  I've got more to do these days than hours in the day to do it.  I've also got to get busy counting my blessings.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Homemade Laundry Soap

I've been making my own laundry soap for about 2 years now.  A friend sent me an e-mail about it and I gave it a whirl.  It's cheap, gentle on my clothes, leaves them fresh and clean and I can make 5 gallons worth in about 5 minutes or less.  Here's how I did it today...

There are only four basic ingredients.  Borax, washing soda, soap and water.  I also add a little fragrance oil, but that's optional.  It's smells nice the way it is, and the fragrance doesn't carry over to the finished laundry anyway.

Heat up approximately a quart of water in a saucepan on the stove.  Grate a half bar of Fels Naptha soap on your cheese grater.  It grates very easily and only takes a minute.

Add the shredded soap to the saucepan and continue to heat, stirring.  I use an old beat up plastic "wooden spoon."  The soap has a strong fragrance at this point, and I don't want it to absorb into a real wooden spoon.

At this point, I carry the hot saucepan full of water down to my laundry tubs in the basement.  It's a lot easier to do that than carry a heavy 5 gallon bucket downstairs.  I use an old leftover 5 gallon bucket with a lid.  We had it and it needed a purpose.  I saw a new bucket in Lowe's the other day for $2.50, lid included.  

Pour the hot soapy water into the bucket and slowly start to fill it with hot tap water.  Add 3/4 cup each of borax and washing soda.  Yes, I know that's a liquid measuring cup, but this isn't hard science here.  It's the cup I keep at the washing machine for measuring out the soap into the laundry and it's handy.  

I added about 20 drops of fragrance, but that's no big deal.  I used the last of it up today and probably won't buy more.  It can be purchased in any craft store.

Fill the bucket full of water, stirring.  

I keep the bucket on the floor, next to my washing machine.  Let the soap sit overnight.  The next day it will be congealed, much like homemade turkey or chicken stock.  Give it a good stirring up and it will be like a goopy gel.

I use 3/4 to 1 cup of soap for a large load, depending on the soil.  I'll add a little Oxy Clean to whites or towels to give a boost, but that's not necessary.  I still keep a bottle of commercially made detergent on hand, in case I run out of ingredients, or don't get around to making it.

Some people have a hard time finding washing soda and Fels Naptha soap.  I've found luck at a small independent grocery store.  You can often find these items at a store where older people shop.  They are old fashioned cleaning ingredients (compared to those of the Swiffer generation) and have a market there.  One box of each lasts me a loooong time.  I buy several bars of soap at a time.  When I need it, I cut a bar of soap in half with the wrapper on and put the unused half in a sandwich bag for next time.  Once I used Kirk's Castille Soap, but didn't like it nearly as much.

Your frugal cleaning tip of the day for homemade laundry soap!