July 31, 2011

Summer Strawberries

Last year around the fourth of July I asked my Mom to show me how to "can" stuff. I had watched my Aunt back in Michigan can veggies in the summer one year when we were visiting. It looked really scary with a big pressure cooker and steaming hot jars and tools I had never seen in any kitchen that I had been in. Despite my initial impressions I still wanted to do it. I had seen some Paula Deen recipes and really want to try some savory sauces and relishes, like chutney and this great tomato jam from an old cookbook I picked up at (yes you guessed !) an estate sale.

Mom said - "You can do it, it's easy"!  Yes, I had read lots of recipes and it seemed easy enough for the types of things that I wanted to can, but I still wanted her motherly guidance nearby in case I had any questions right in the middle of the process!  What if I messed up? What if the big pot of long cooked yummy ingredients didn't get to the gel stage they needed to be in?  So she came over and it WAS easy. We made green pepper relish (my brother-in-laws recipe!), Paula's green tomato chutney and a lovely tomato onion jam just like Harry and David's.

Everything came out beautiful and I received new found confidence in myself to can, can away!  I always liked an  old saying - probably from the 40's  - "We eat what we can, and what we can't - we can." - Isn't that great! Now if only I could get my garden to produce more than I can eat, but that's another story.

Well now it's a whole year later and I haven't canned another jar!  Soooooo because it's strawberry season I decided that it was time to begin my next adventure in canning. It actually started with a purchase several weeks ago from the big Goodwill store. ( I know! - where else does she shop you say!)  I had found a box of these really unique canning jars unlike any I had seen before.

The brand is WECK and I had to Google them to find out more about them. Turns out they are really popular with people like (my hero) Martha Stewart! They are different because they have glass tops instead of the metal tops and rings like the Ball jars have.

My little treasure box was complete with 8 jars, tops, rubber rings, clamps and these cute little plastic caps that you put on the jars after you have canned an item and are ready to open it. Everything was new and sealed in the box never used and included a guide book with tips and recipes for only $5.00 - great deal. 

Have I mentioned that I love Goodwill!
Evidently lots of crafters and Martha type people use these because of the cute glass lids. I saw them on wedding sites, with candles, filled with home made bath salts etc.

When you go through the canning process you still use a rubber seal under the glass lid, but the lid is held down with metal clamps. They come off later when you store your food.  WECK had a whole scientific explanation as to why that was a better way of canning, but I just think they're cute!

So off to the the Farmers Market I went to pick up 4 baskets of local strawberries.

I washed, hulled and cut them up.
Then mashed them with a potato masher.

I am following the directions that come with the Ball Liquid Fruit Pectin box I got at the local Ace Hardware store. They have a great selection of canning items if you decide to take on this adventure yourself!

So following the recipe (YIKES - 7 cups of sugar!!!!! - I am going to have to look for another recipe) I cooked the 4 cups of mashed strawberries, sugar and lemon juice down and added the fruit pectin. 

** In the middle of waiting for the strawberries to come to a full boil, I stepped away from the stove to make myself a little breakfast yogurt and talk to my daughter...........bad idea.
The sugary mess boiled over! Of course, it did this the first minute I wasn't looking! Remember - a watched pot never boils - well it does if you walk away - so watch out!

I sterilized my jars, lids and rings in hot water (and cleaned off my stove from the boil over) and then ladled the sweet goodness into my eight little jars.  There was just a tiny bit left over that I put into a glass for tasting later.  The eight jars fit into my stockpot just perfectly and I processed them in boiling water for 10 minutes.

Here they are cooling on a tea towel - they still have their clamps on.
I left the clamps on until the next day, while the jam set and the jars completely cooled.

The finished product!  SWWEEEEETTT  - those 7 cups of sugar are definitely too much - but it makes a good dessert jam for the top of vanilla ice cream, or thumbprint cookies. Julia and Phil love it on toast and peanut butter sandwiches too, but I will definitely find a healthier version! Aren't they cute? The clamps are off and all the little rubber ring tabs are pointing down, which means they got a proper seal durint the process. To open a jar you just pull the rubber ring and it breaks the seal. You can leave the glass lid on to serve it - or my Goodwill treasure box came with a set of perfect fitting Tupperware like lids to go on top for a more secure seal.You can find out more about WECK jars on their website http://www.weckcanning.com/

July 29, 2011

Non-creative dinner nights

Ever have one of those days where you just don't want to have to deal with dinner? I do, lots of times. Especially when all your creative energy is going to something you are working on like painting, or crafting or gardening - I hate to have to stop and make dinner. Those are the days when I love my crockpot. It's like having your own personal chef. Dinner is Served!

This recipe is one of my "Go To" ones, because it is sooooo easy, the whole family loves it, and you can do other stuff with the left-overs.

Chili Verde Pork with Carrots

I buy the pork rounds at Costco for this recipe. They come in a four-pack that you can separate and I can get multiple meals out of it.

1 Pork Round
4 - 5 Large Carrots
1 Onion
1 large can of Green Enchilada Sauce
Salt / Pepper / Garlic  or
(Special seasoning blend** see end of this post)

Put it all in a crockpot - low 6-8 hrs or on high for several hours, until the meat flakes with a fork.
Serve over white rice and ladle lots of sauce over your rice.

That's it!

I cut the carrots in large chunks on the diagonal and they go in first. Then chop the onion in the size pieces your family likes - or you can totally omit this if they don't like onions.
Then place the pork round on top of the carrots.
Pour the whole can of the enchilada sauce over everything and season the meat with seasoning blend or just salt and pepper.
I always look for the MILD enchilada sauce but they don't seem to sell it in the the large cans, which is the cheapest. You can get little cans of the mild, but we don't seem to mind the Medium.  My husband is not into spicy foods and he can take it, so its not really that hot.

This last time I cooked it I didn't even defrost the meat!
I cooked it from 12:30 to 6:30 on high and it came out perfect.

Recently I started adding frozen corn to the pot about 20  minutes before we eat, or just when I start to cook the rice in the rice cooker and Julia loves it. Since it's summer we've been cooking lots of fresh corn and I had a couple of cooked ears in the fridge. So I cut the kernels off and threw them in the pot! Delish.


Here it is over rice. The carrots cooking in the sauce all day get a real nice flavor, like Mexican Restaurant hot carrots- YUM. The rice sucks up all that green yummy enchilada flavored sauce with onion and the whole thing is just so good and easy. In this shot Julia and I actually spiced it up a bit with some hot sauce - but that is totally up to your taste buds. You could probably add a lot of things to customize it, but it really is great with just these few ingredients.

You can remove the meat and it makes great tacos or burritos for another meal. I even keep some of the carrots and corn in it for burritos and it's wonderful.

Special Seasoning Blend
I keep a small cute little white porcelain pot next to the stove that I fill with I call my 'House Blend' of seasoning. I used to buy something called Natures Seasonings which I loved, but I guess it wasn't that popular, because it became harder to find. So I started making my own. I bought some larger bulk sizes of some of the ingredients so I always them on hand in the pantry when I need to make a new batch.

Here are the ingredients, I make a small batch at a time and keep it in a bowl so I can just grab a pinch.
I use it on EVERYTHING!  - Well not dessert - but everything else.

1T onion powder
1T garlic powder
1T ground pepper
1T celery salt (look for the big container in the discount bulk spices) 
I think this is the key flavor enhancer so don't omit it
1/2 T celery seed
1/2 T dried dill or less 
You can adjust to your liking, and most of the time I don't really measure I just eyeball it right into my little pot. You'll get to know what you like after you try it !

July 19, 2011

Silver Knife Necklace

A few months back Julia and I went with some friends to the Pasadena Rose Bowl Flea Market for the first time.  WOW!  What an amazing place, I was totally overwhelmed. Everywhere you looked, stall after stall was all this amazing vintage stuff. At the time, Julia was looking for a vintage style dress for Prom, so she looked at a lot of clothes and shoes. I was interested in all of the vendors that had their own specialities, like kitchen kitch or buttons, old keys, western gear, furniture, so much stuff you have to go there several times to take it all in. I think I'm do for a return trip! I wish I had taken pictures I could show you, but I wasn't blogging back then and didn't think to take any. Its at the old Pasadena Rose Bowl which is historic in its own right.

Early in our adventure that day,  we found a guy who had all this really cool western stuff. One item that caught my eye was a necklace made from the handle of an old silver knife and a vintage key. Now I have already been collecting old knives at home already for a different project; so this really interested me as I could already figure out how he had made them.  I made a mental note of the idea, and then picked up some old keys at one of the other vendors we visited.

Many old knives have hollow handles, and when you cut them off a few inches from the bottom they become little silver vases!  You can add a pin back to them and they are wearable vases! I will post some of those another day, but today I will share with you my Silver Knife Necklace creative day.

I look for knives at consignment shops, estate sales and of course our favorite Goodwill. I look for ones with fat, thick bottoms, better chance of it being hollow inside that way. I also think that ones that are lighter in weight are more likely to be hollow than a heavier weight one. I look for a pretty design, but something with a sleek or simple line is great too, depends on your taste. The the two knives that Julia and I used for our necklace project turned out NOT to be hollow inside! What a bummer - I hadn't come across that before. Maybe they were older, or maybe it was a newer technology - not sure? But we were relieved that the material that they were filled with (one had black stuff, one had white chalky stuff) was easily removed with a little picking and proding. This was going to work for our necklace project because we only needed a small hole for the key - this would not work so good for the silver vase pin project. So make note - not all knives are hollow!

My husband puts the knives in a vice and just cuts them where I want them with a simple hacksaw.  Here, in this picture Julia and I have put the knife blades in my craft vice, and we are gluing the keys into the holes of the knives.  I found an old bracelet piece I wanted wrapped around the key base so I put that on first before sticking the key in the hole. Julia wanted to wrap some leather around hers so we glued them all down with E6000 and let them stay overnight in the vice to dry.

Here is my knife blade with key and jewelry ephemera attached.
I like it already !

Now to add some more ephemera! I went through my stash of estate sale finds and pulled out a small piece of handmade tatting along with some of the leather Juila used. To be able to attach the key to a chain you need some sort of jump ring. All I had on hand was some shiny silver ones and they didn't quite fit the bill with all the other old stuff, so I found a piece of an old earring that worked great.

And here is the finished necklace added to a chain we picked up at a rummage sale.
So cool and so very unique!

July 12, 2011

Wish in a Bottle

I found this cute little bottle when out shopping for beads this weekend. The little cork stopper has a eye ring in it all ready to put on a chain. I'd seen this idea before somewhere on the net and thought it was so cute. I have filled the bottle with dandelion seeds! The ones you hold up to the wind and make a wish with. So I just had to add the word wish to the bottle too.

Instead of typing it however, I thought it would be cute to put the dictionary definition of wish in the bottle.

Well it just so happens that I recently found a tiny little dictionary at an estate sale. It is copyrighted 1937 and is no bigger than my palm. So cute! The pages are nice and yellowed and I thought I would use it for card projects as a full page would just fit on the front of a standard card.

So I found the word "wish" in the dictionary and photocopied it so that it would have a white back (if I cut it out there would be another W word on the back. :0( that would not work.
Then I rolled it a bit to fit so that it would still show all the dandelion seeds.

I just love tiny old books, here are some from my collection. The one on the bottom is an old Girl Scout Handbook copy written 1933, that I picked up at an Antique store in Big Bear. 

The AA Milne books are all mine from when we were kids.
There is also a 30's sandwich book that I picked up for getting interesting ideas for my Tea Parties, two poetry books and now the dictionary sits proudly as the smallest on top of the pile.

Yes that is a HP Time Turner on the top!

July 09, 2011

Beading Chan Luu Style Bracelets

Today I have E and R coming over for lunch and I am going to teach them how to make Chan Luu style bracelets. I learned how to make them awhile back at the Dancing Bear Indian Trader. E has been beading and making jewelry for a long time, but I owed her a favor so I thought I would share the knowledge I learned.

First off is lunch! It's warm today but my patio has a breeze and it will be beautiful for a nice outdoor lunch. I've decided on chicken salad on field greens, some summer fruit salad and Lemon-Lavender Mini Biscuits. Remember my lavender bush that I made lavender wands with earlier this week, well here is another use for those lovely purple blossoms.

The recipe is a Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade recipe. You start with 2 of the 7.5 packages of buttermilk biscuit mix, and then add a stick of melted butter and a cup of sour cream. I felt compelled to use fat free sour cream to go along with the stick of butter! :0)

Then add the zest of one lemon and the juice of half of the lemon. The recipe called for 1 tsp of fresh lavender - I just added one blossoms worth of lavender and then a pinch of Herbs De Provence. I wanted mine to be more herb than lavender flavored to go with our salad.

They are basically little drop biscuits that you put into a mini muffin pan so don't expect them to rise much. I sprinkled a few more lavender buds on the tops just to make them look cuuuute!

I presented them on a pretty covered plate. I find these covers at the Goodwill shop, they are the glass covers from the old wooden cheese boards that were popular what... 20 years ago? I can find one every time I go to the Goodwill, even if I throw away the wood part due to its condition, it's usually a steal price wise. They fit over the plate stands I make from old plates and candlesticks.

Anyway, the lunch was delish and just right for a summer day.... Here is the "official recipe".

Lemon-Lavender Mini Biscuits from Sandra Lee
Makes about 2 dozen

2 (7.5) packages buttermilk biscuit mix
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 TBL lemon zest
1 TBL fresh lemon juice
1 TBL water
1/2 tsp dried or 1 tsp fresh lavender (or herbs de provence)

  1. Preheat oven to 350'. Spray a 24 cup mini muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, add biscuit mixes; make a well in the center. In a small bowl, stir together sour cream, melted butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1 TBL water, and lavender. Add sour cream mixture to biscuit mix, stirring just until moistened. Spoon about 2 TBL dough into each prepared muffin cup.
  3. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes or until lightly browned. (My mini muffin pan is a dark non-stick pan and I felt they were done at 15 minutes.)  Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool 30 minutes.
Who is she kidding, I took a warm one out off the pan, put a pat of butter on it and ate it right away! YUM!

Now on to beading.....

We took a drive over to the Dancing Bear to get supplies and pick out some beads. R picked out some really cute pink and brown beads that are tubular in shape. I haven't made a bracelet in this style yet, but R's was so cute I will definitely be doing one soon.

You start by using a button on the end of a folded leather cord. Then SEW the beads between the leather cords until the bracelet is the length that you want. We will be doing only single wraps today so my friends can get the lesson down and finish a bracelet, but on the Chan Luu website you can see many of the multi wrap style and they are gorgeous!

E decided on some round 6mm beads on tan leather with some multi-blue beads, same technique just a different bead in the middle.

It's a really easy technique that I can't explain here, but once you get a few beads on it's easy peasy lemon squeezy. Just over and under with the beading thread and you can do it while watching TV.

I can't show you the one I made just yet as it will be getting sent off in the mail this week for a friends birthday!

.....But I can show you the picture of the finished ones I made when I first learned the technique.

The first bracelet is a Chan Luu style using thread instead of micro filament to sew the beads on.
The second bracelet is a fun side project that wraps twice around your wrist and is a simple
braid of leather and beads with the cutest flower button to close.

July 07, 2011

Estate Sale Shopping

Today is hot and I don't feel like working in the garden, I'll water the tomatoes but that's it for today! Thursday is the first day of the good estate sales and there is a good one today that looks like the couple were pretty crafty, her into sewing and he a woodworker. j.l.b. wants to go with me so it should make a good mother daughter outing.......
Yup there were some pretty good deals there. I really liked an old 50's tin cake cover with a glass plate on it. If I painted the tin cover and embelished it with some painted roses it would be a beautiful thing......hmmm tomorrow (Friday) things usually go on sale for 50% off. It was a bit of a drive but it would only be $5.00 for that little gem. Have to think about it.

I didn't get much today. Check out these OLD trims and embroidered hankies - got the lot for $4 and I have made some really cute cards from embroidered hankies. I made one into a wedding dress as a Happy Engagement card awhile back.
These will be real cute! They have never been used and were still in the orginal package. They are very thin and already folded into nice triangular shapes - perfect for cards. I will try to post one next week so you can see how cute they are!

July 06, 2011

Summer Lavender

I have only one lavender bush this year but it has been blooming beautifully. Probably because it hasn't gotten extremely hot yet. I think lavender likes the cool foggy mornings. So with a bountiful supply of flowers I have been making lavender wands! It's good to cut the flowers from the plant anyway as it encourages more blooms. So if you would like to try it on your own, here are the steps I follow.

I choose stems from my plant that are rather long, I cut them in the morning when they are still supple. You need to have an odd number of stems. I had been using 13 but you can use 15 and in this project's photos I decided to try 19 which worked out very nice.

My favorite patio spot

My patio is covered and it is a lovely, shady, cool spot to enjoy making lavender wands in the summer heat. The breeze kicks up every once in awhile and the smell of the lavender as you make your wands is heavenly!

Gather your odd number of stems heads down. I try to line up all the tops very carefully, as this will be the top of your wand. Then you will want to pick off any of the stray lavender leaves that are on the stem. When I am choosing stems, I snip them above any that have lower blooms sprouting on them, but the ones that have just leaves I will go ahead and cut below the leaves if I can get a longer stem from doing so.
I save the buds that fall off while I'm working in a little bowl.
Later those can be added to a little satin bag to make a sachet!

Now you will want to tie the stems together right above the blooms. I like to use the twisty ties that come when you buy things that are attached to cardboard. They are a strong wire, but have a clear plastic coating over them so you can pull it fairly tight, and it won't show in the wand. I have used many other things for this step however such as the ribbon I wrap the wand with, a small rubber band or even just a piece of string.

Hold the bundle in your hand stems up and start carefully bending the stems down one at a time and placing them side by side to build your cage. Before during or after this step you will want to insert at least an inch of your ribbon into the bundle so that the end is buried into the flowers and the rest of the l yd length of ribbon is hanging loose and is ready to be wrapped. If you used the ribbon to tie the bundle, then just hide the tail.

Wrap the ribbon over and under each stem, carefully as they are delicate at this point. After you've come around once you will see that the second row should match up so that the ribbon goes over on the second row where it went under on the first row. Always keep your eye on the over-under pattern, if you missed a stem the pattern will be off.  The first row can be a little tricky, hang in there. You can see in the last picture above that after you get to about the third row the stems start getting nicely in place and it makes the weaving much easier!
Keep the over-under pattern of weave going around the entire bundle. Don't be afraid to pull it tight. As the lavender wands dry the stems will become slightly smaller so you want a tight weave to keep the lavender buds inside the cage. 

I haven't mentioned what ribbon I use, and it really depends on who or what the project is for and your piggy bank!  Lavender wands can be made as bridal shower gifts, thank you gifts, just because gifts or just hung in your pantry to keep the flour moths at bay! So choose a ribbon that makes sense for your project. I like lavender ribbon, but for a bridal shower you could choose a color that matched the brides theme. Here I have used regular small gift wrapping ribbon, the kind that curls when you put a scissor to it, which is kind of a bonus! You can also use satin ribbon and I buy spools of it on sale at the Mart stores or the Craft stores pretty inexpensively.

When all the buds are enclosed, wrap the stems with a good amount of the rest of the ribbon. Tie the ribbon in a knot so that it won't come unraveled. You can curl the ends so that they look pretty. Add a separate piece of ribbon to create a pretty bow and curl those ends if you like also. Trim the stems at the bottom, I like to cut them at a pretty angle. Then add a pretty tag, I make my own as I love paper crafting as well.