Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Tart Cherry Cake

This is an old (1950's?) recipe from one of Mom's friends. The cake is heavy and dense, almost like a fruitcake. The original recipe called for a can of sour cherries, and was baked in a loaf pan. When I'd make this as a child, for the family, Mom had me use a 9"x13" pan, which works great. While canned or jarred tart cherries (NOT pie filling) can be used, I like to use fresh-picked cherries from my Montmorency tart cherry tree. Frozen tart cherries work fine too.

Tart Cherry Cake (9"x13")

2 tablespoons butter (I use Smart Balance spread)
1½ cups sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1½ cups flour (I use whole wheat)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1½ teaspoons baking soda
shake salt (original recipe's words)
1 24 oz. can tart cherries (NOT pie filling), drained OR 3 cups pitted fresh or frozen tart cherries
1½ cups nuts (I use chopped walnuts)

Preheat oven 350ºF. Grease and flour 9"x13"pan.
You can just dump everything into a bowl and use a mixer OR use standard scratch cake procedure: cream butter with sugar, add eggs, add dry ingredients, add cherries, mix well until batter forms, add nuts. Spread batter in prepared pan, bake 35-40 minutes (toothpick test). Cool.


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

My Thanksgiving Timetable

My sister asked about this post, and when I couldn't find it I realized I'd written it for the Co-op blog I contributed to for five years (from inception until we quit). Our last post was in 2015, but since the internet is forever you can still read our posts - mine under the byline Sadge - at the Simple Green Frugal Co-op.

So, from November 2010: I'm the oldest of five children, so learned early how to cook for a crowd (in fact, I had to learn to cook all over again, for one, when I moved out on my own). Although there are just the two of us now, Thanksgiving Dinner at my house is usually for at least six, and sometimes even more. Over time, I've developed a timetable schedule that lets me get everything ready and on the table at once, with a minimum of stress. The menu doesn't vary much - we pretty much stick with tradition for this meal.

Things get started the weekend before Thanksgiving. The turkey needs to be out of the freezer and into the refrigerator by Saturday to thaw - it will take at least 3-4 days. I use my timetable as a reminder when making out my shopping list that day too (should you wish to refer to mine, clicking on the picture below should bring it up in a more-legible size).

Thanksgiving timetableBy Tuesday, the turkey has thawed enough that I can get the giblet bag and neck out (when my sister first cooked TG dinner for the family, she didn't realize that those extras were inside. Mom discovered them, cooked inside, when she went to carve the bird) to use for making stock for gravy and moistening the stuffing. I submerge the bird in a bucket of brine, in the refrigerator, until Wednesday, and then let it air-dry, also refrigerated until time to get it into the oven on Thursday.
With the brining bucket out of the refrigerator Wednesday, I can start getting some of the other items prepped and in. I'd rather cook from scratch instead of out of cans when possible. Although the timetable says pumpkin, I prefer either a pink banana or butternut squash for my pie. Any of them will work, but where pumpkin pie can have a greenish cast to it, Pink Banana Squash Pie tastes the same but with a nice brown color instead. Whole sweet potatoes cook at the same time, later to be peeled and sliced into a casserole dish. Bread for the dressing, either Cornbread or One-Hour French Bread, is baked, cut into cubes, and left out on the counter overnight to dry. I use the "day before" list pretty much in order for the most efficient use of my oven.

The "Make" list, I might leave until my sister arrives. I always have a "guest apron" or two available, and we enjoy the chance to talk, wait for the local radio station to play Alice's Restaurant, maybe drink a toast to the harvest, and work together preparing the dishes we've had for Thanksgiving since we were children.

For "The Day" I have two sets of serving times in the left margin. If my husband has the day off work, we can eat in the afternoon; if he's working (Nevada casinos are 24/7, so getting the day off is never a certainty), TG dinner becomes an evening meal. Since there is only enough room in my oven for the turkey, everything else goes in when the turkey comes out. The side dishes cook while the turkey rests; gravy is stirred and potatoes mashed; husband carves while everyone else gets their choice of beverage. Then everyone helps get the meal on the table. And then we all sit down together. I hope you and your families are similarly blessed this holiday season.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Steamed Corn Pudding

I belong to a Facebook Group, called Dinner Tonight. Our sole purpose is posting pictures of food. Tonight's dinner included steamed corn pudding, made with corn fresh from the garden. If you've ever eaten at a Chevy's Fresh Mex Restaurant, this is the same sweet pudding side dish they call tomalito.

5 tablespoons margarine, softened
1/4 cup dry Masa Harina
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cups corn kernels, fresh or thawed frozen, divided
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2½ tablespoons milk

In a small mixing bowl, mix the margarine, masa and sugar using an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. In a blender container, blend half the corn kernels with the water until smooth. Combine this mixture with the margarine mixture, stirring well. Add the remaining corn kernels, corn meal, baking powder, salt and milk and mix well. Pour the corn mixture into an 8-inch round cake pan. Cover tightly with foil or plastic wrap and steam by setting atop a medium saucepan half full of water on top of the stove. Bring water to a boil and steam corn mixture for 50 minutes to one hour (check to see whether you might need to add more water), until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. It should have a smooth, moist texture.
NOTE: The pan must be tightly wrapped at all times.
Makes 10 to 12 1/2 cup servings.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Confetti Bean Soup

My favorite market has a bulk foods section. Buying my dry beans and grains there saves me money, especially when compared to buying beans by the can, couscous by the little cardboard box, or oatmeal in individual packets (less packaging too!). Once home, I store most things in a variety of glass jars. It's easy to find and use things, plus I can see when I'm getting low on something. Besides, having everything in sight, as opposed to stuffed into a dark cupboard, makes it that much more likely I'll use it.

I like the way it looks too - so homey - decorative, and colorful too. Dry beans, especially, come in such a variety of colors - lined up in glass jars they can almost look like art. Around here, we usually have a "legume of the week." Each weekend, I cook up a big pot of a different bean, and then refrigerate the leftovers. Legumes come in such variety, we can go for weeks without repeating. And then, I can vary the way I use them throughout the week, too. It's nice to have something readily available for dinner on days when I don't feel like cooking.

Over time, I've developed a pretty good eye when it comes to buying in bulk. I'm pretty good at eye-balling how much will fit in the jar when I get it home. When I have a bit too many beans though, or a last little bit left in a jar before buying more, they go into the confetti bean jar. When I have at least four cups in there, I make confetti bean soup.

My Confetti Soup recipe originally came as a gift in a jar. I've since adapted it to put together my own gift baskets. I layer scant cups of black, red kidney, green split peas, white great northern, and brown pinto beans in a quart jar (or just fill with all of them mixed together), and then add a seasoning packet, pint jar of home-canned tomatoes or tomato sauce, and a recipe card.

Confetti Bean Soup (12 first course, or 6 entree servings)

4 cups mixed dry beans (best if some of them are split peas)
16 oz. stewed tomatoes

3 teaspoons beef bouillon powder
3 tablespoons dried chopped chives
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried savory
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 bay leaf

Sort through beans and remove any stones or shriveled beans. Rinse in cold water. Quick-soak in 9 cups water: heat to boiling over high heat, boil 5 minutes, remove from heat, cover, and let stand one hour. Drain soaked beans, rinse, drain again.

To drained beans, add 8 cups water and seasoning. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 2-3 hours or until beans are tender.

Add tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf, and serve.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Picture of Dorian Orange

A Halloween homage to Oscar Wilde

  "How sad it is!" murmured Dorian, with his eyes still fixed upon his own portrait. "How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young . . . "

 " . . . and, though I am a little jealous of the picture for being a whole month younger than i am, I must admit that I delight in it."

 "The quivering, ardent sunlight showed him the lines of cruelty round the mouth as clearly as if he had been looking into a mirror after he had done some dreadful thing."

 "There were no signs of any change when he looked into the actual painting, and yet there was no doubt that the whole expression had altered. It was not a mere fancy of his own. The thing was horribly apparent."
 "A sense of infinite pity, not for himself, but for the painted image of himself, came over him. It had altered already, and would alter more. Its gold would wither into grey. Its red and white roses would die. For every sin that he committed, a stain would fleck and wreck its fairness."

 "Was it to become a monstrous and loathsome thing, to be hidden away in a locked room, to be shut out from the sunlight . . . "

 "Now it was to hide something that had a corruption of its own, worse than the corruption of death itself - something that would breed horrors and yet would never die."

 "What the worm was to the corpse, his sins would be to the painted image on the canvas. They would mar its beauty, and eat away its grace."

 "Beneath its purple pall, the face painted on the canvas could grow bestial, sodden, and unclean."

 "He would examine with minute care, and sometimes with a monstrous and terrible delight, the hideous lines that seared the wrinkling forehead or crawled around the heavy sensual mouth, wondering sometime which were the more horrible, the signs of sin or the signs of age."

"An explanation of horror broke from the painter's lips as he saw in the dim light the hideous face on the canvas grinning at him."

 "[Dorian] looked round, and saw the knife . . . As it had killed the painter, so it would kill the painter's work . . . He seized the thing, and stabbed the picture with it."

 "When they entered, they found hanging upon the wall a splendid portrait of their master as they had last seen him, in all the wonder of his exquisite youth and beauty. Lying on the floor was a dead man, in evening dress, with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage. It was not till they had examined the rings that they recognized who it was."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Chipotle is Just a Smoke-Dried Jalapeño

A chipotle (chi-POAT-lay) is a smoke-dried chile pepper. Many chiles can be turned into chipotles, with jalapeño the most recognizable here in the U.S. If you're growing, or have access to, jalapeño peppers, it's easy to make a chile smoker and with that, your own chipotles to add flavor to soups or beans, grind into powder, make enchilada sauce, or can en adobo. Start with ripe jalapeno peppers, ideally those that have turned completely red. If all you have access to are green jalapeños, no problem.

Peppers, like tomatoes, will continue to ripen after they're picked if left unrefrigerated. In the fall, when frost threatens, I pick then pile my peppers in a bowl and let them set out on the counter for a couple of weeks. They can set for quite a while, but try to process jalapeños before the stem starts to separate from the body of the chile. Some peppers with thinner walls will continue to ripen and then dry, but jalapeños are too fleshy - they tend to rot before they'll dry. Smoking them is one way to preserve them - canning them as nacho slices, freezing them whole, sliced, or stuffed with a cream cheese mixture to turn into poppers, or whipping up a batch of jalapeno hot sauce, or jelly are other options.

But I digress. We're supposed to be making a smoker to turn jalapeños into chipotles. Commercial smokers, that have been previously used for meat can give a greasy, and later rancid, taste to the chiles, so it's best to put together something just for the chipotles. The main thing to remember is that you don't want to cook the jalapeños, but rather let the smoke waft away the moisture in the chiles as it also infuses them with flavor.

The best way to do that is to make a separate firebox, and then connect it to your smoking box with a piece of pipe. Of course, the firebox portion has to be able to withstand fire, so I use some cinder blocks and a piece of steel pipe. I used some crumpled foil to fill in the areas between round pipe and square blocks, but it doesn't have to be perfectly airtight. The smoker section, on the other hand, only has to hold the chiles suspended in the smoke while it acts as an offset chimney, so a cardboard box works fine. In the past, I've found taller boxes (that held a windshield, or a washer) but this time I'd just picked up a couple of smaller ones. They were two different diameters though, and instead of trying to fit them together, I found a piece of roof vent flashing, set that on the bigger box, then the smaller box, and taped the flaps of the bottom box to the upper box.

Next, you need some way to suspend the peppers in the rising smoke. A pan poked full of holes could work, but isn't ideal - the peppers would tend to steam in their juices more than dry. In the past, I've strung the peppers on lengths of string, and hung that draped across dowels poked through the box. That's not too bad, depending on how you want to use your chipotles. If you're just dropping them whole into a pot of soup, it's ok, but if you're planning on grinding some into powder or canning some in adobo sauce the string can be difficult to deal with. A wire basket or a rack that won't allow the chiles to drop through is best. I bent a piece of hardware cloth into a basket, suspending it on the (cut-down) cardboard divider inside the box plus a couple pieces of coat hangers stuck through the box.

The best woods to use for smoking the chiles are from fruits or nut trees. If that's not possible, hardwoods are the next best. You just don't want to use pine, mesquite, or other resinous woods. I always save the prunings from my fruit trees, so I'm always ready when getting ready to start smoking. The night before, I soaked half the wood pieces so they'll burn slower and cooler.

It's always best to be prepared when playing with fire, so I pulled the hose over, on at the faucet and closed off with a twist valve. Aries also brought the fire extinguisher out of the garage, just in case. I started a fire in my firebox, and while I waited for it to get going, I pulled the stems off the jalapenos and loaded up the basket. I used all my red ones, those partially changed, and then some of the green ones with white corking (desirable in chipotles - don't ask me why). If I've grown paprika or habanero peppers, I'll usually smoke-dry some of them too, to grind into powders.

Once I had a nice little bed of hot coals in the firebox, I added a couple handfuls of soaked wood and then put a piece of metal over the top, held down with a couple smaller bricks. I sat out to watch for a while, just to make sure everything was holding together ok. Every hour or two, I'd add more wood, and turned the chiles a couple of times.

Low and slow is the best way to make chipotles - both flavorful and ones that will last in storage. It's better to stretch it out over a couple of days than to try and hurry up the process with more heat. I smoked my chiles all day, but rain was on the way. I just pulled the cardboard boxes away from the pipe and set them in the garage for the next day and a half. The photo above is after another afternoon of smoking, and I have them going again this afternoon. If you're in a hurry, the jalapenos will dry faster if cut in half and seeds removed. You can also dry them in a dehydrator or your oven until wrinkled but not stiff, and then smoke them (doing it in reverse will also work, but your house will smell like smoke for days). Finished chipotles are hard, lightweight, and dark brown in color. Ones that are still leathery won't store as long. Once the chipotles are dried, store them in jars with a rubbery seal or in an airtight plastic bag.

Umm - the aroma just from opening up my chipotle jar to take this photo made my mouth start to water. To use, drop one into a pot of beans or soup, and remove after cooking. If you want to grind them into powder, they might need to be dried further, until they can be broken in half. I use some of mine to make a big batch of enchilada sauce (pressure-canned) every couple of years. Or new last year, a batch of chipotles en adobo - re-hydrated chipotles pickled in a tomato-based sauce (double-yum! - recipe to be posted soon).

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Saving Lettuce Seed

It was a breezy afternoon - just right for gathering lettuce seeds. Lettuce seeded in the Spring was harvested first as thinnings, then outer leaves here and there, and finally by cutting whole heads. When warmer weather finally arrived and the lettuce started to bolt, I pulled most of the plants incrementally to give to the chickens. But I also left a 3-5 plants of each variety to set seed.

So I've been watching those plants, waiting for just the right time to gather seeds. I knew it needed to be soon.  I need to make sure they've had enough time to mature viable seeds. The seeds of Black-seeded Simpson, aptly named, are easy to see when mature - nestled at the base of the fluffy little flower pods. But if I wait too long, the birds will beat me to them. High winds can blow the seeds away; rain can pound them off the plants.

The easiest way to get the most seeds, reasonably clean, is to just bend the plant tops over a tub and rub the seed pods between my hands. Old lettuce stalks produce a white sticky sap that irritates my skin, so I wear gloves. Each variety is in a separate space, carefully noted at planting time, so I harvest and process one variety at a time, but you could also create your own greens seed mix by just harvesting everything together.

After gathering, next comes the threshing. I rub the gathered seeds and chaff between my hands to break up any clumps. A coarse sieve filters out bigger immature buds and stems, and I pick out anything moving (no chemicals, so there is an occasional bug or worm).

Then, winnowing. I pour the seeds and chaff back and forth between two tubs. If it's really breezy, only a foot of pour space is enough; with less breeze I might go three feet high to pour. It's a bit scary to see how much stuff blows away at first, thinking you're losing all your seeds, but have faith.

The relatively high sides of the tubs keep bouncing out to a minimum. I sometimes blow directly on the chaff, hand-picking out of the far side of the tub. Before long, I have relatively clean seeds that can then be poured into envelopes (recycled, of course), labeled, and tucked away until next Spring. I pulled all the lettuce stalks and gave them to the chickens, and eventually they'll end up in this fall's compost pile.

Clockwise from top left: Ruby, Black-Seeded Simpson, Bibb, Buttercrunch, and Romaine. I also harvested dill and arugula seeds (not shown).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Birdseed Bag Sit-Upon

My crocus and earliest daffodils are up and blooming. Fall-planted garlic and shallots are up and growing in the garden, and just received a top-dressing sprinkle of bonemeal and a light mulch of shredded leaves from last year. The soil in the rest of the Early garden bed has been composted and raked smooth, now being watered to bring up the weed seeds for a final cultivating before planting later this month. It's starting to look like Spring is on its way!

But there's still a lot of snow in the higher elevations, just 10 minutes drive away. And that means there's still a lot of snow fun - snowshoeing and cross-country skiing - to be enjoyed. When on an outing in the snow, it's important to have some kind of waterproof seating for lunch and break times; preferably lightweight, easy to fit in or strapped onto your daypack, and with a bit of insulating thickness to it. Harking back to my Girl Scout days, I decided to make a sit-upon.

For those of you who weren't Girl Scouts, making a sit-upon is a traditional camping project. They're made by weaving strips of newspaper into a padded square, then enclosing in an envelope of vinyl tablecloth or other waterproof fabric, to sit upon round the campfire. I decided to skip the waterproofing layer, and just make my woven pad out of waterproof material.

I have a few wintertime bird feeders hanging in a pine tree outside my picture window. I love watching the variety of birds in our area, so even though it's quite expensive these days I find buying birdseed a worthwhile expenditure. It now comes in woven plasticized bags, that I couldn't see just throwing away, so I've saved them in the bottom of the birdseed cans until now. They'd be perfect recycled into a woven sit-upon.

Working outside on the deck, to keep the little fluff bits of seed hulls out of the house, I cut the bags to open them out flat. With careful measuring, I could get three 12" x 25" sections from each 40-pound bag, or one plus a scant second one from the 20-pounders. By creasing each section lengthwise, opening it up and folding each long edge to the center crease, and then folding the center crease to enclose the cut ends (like bi-fold seam binding), I made 3" x 25" strips, each four layers thick with all cut edges enclosed, and clipped each one with a clothespin to keep them from blowing off my table.

Traditional GS sit-upons are 4 strips by 4 strips, making a 12" square that can be folded down to a 6" square. But my sit-upon-er is a bit bigger than a 10-year old girl's (besides, I'm also wearing multiple layers out in the cold) , so I made my sit-upon 5 strips by 5 strips - using 10 pieces total. Weave the strips together, trying to keep them pretty much centered in regards to the crosswise strips. They're a bit slippery, so I used the clothespins to keep them from sliding too far out of alignment while weaving them together.

Once all the strips are in place, more or less, start with the center and middle strips. Measuring to make sure they're centered, fold an end up over the edge of the cross-wise strip and tuck it snugly back underneath the strip you just folded it over. Spin the square around, push the strips together tight, and repeat on the other edge. When all of the bottom strips are folded up and tucked in, flip the pad over and do the same on the other side, all the while making sure all the strips are tucked up tight against each other.

 For the corner strips, I folded them over but instead of tucking them back under the strip they'd just been folded over I tucked them under the edge of the next, adjacent, strip as I folded it up and tucked it in.

When all the strips are tucked in tight, you have a woven pad that holds itself together, and weighs practically nothing. I fold mine down into a 9"square and slide it down into my daypack between my water bladder sleeve and the rest of the pack contents. It works great! Snow gets into the weave if I spin around while sitting on it, but it's easy to shake out and wipe dry. I'm thinking this also will make a good garden kneeling pad, and probably make it into my summertime camping gear as well.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Crocheted Vintage Diamond Potholders

I like to have something to keep my hands busy in the evenings, especially in the winter. We heat with a woodstove in the living room, which leaves the rest of the house a bit cool. So we're just like in the days of yesteryear, when families had to gather 'round the fire. My husband watches tv while the pets stretch out on the rug with their bellies to the warmth. Sometimes, I'm totally uninterested in what Aries is watching, and then I'll read. But other times, I'll want to catch a bit of the show but then get bored during the commercials. So I like having some kind of handwork - crochet, embroidery, mending - I can work on sporadically without too much concentration involved.

I just finished up with a new pair of crocheted potholders. I inherited a lot of old crochet pattern booklets - the oldest published in 1921. This particular pattern is in a 1941 booklet entitled The Magic of Crochet, that has lots of placemat sets, glass cozies, and other little household and fashion goodies.

This pattern is so easy! It's worked all in one piece, in rounds of double-crochet instead of turning. So once you get the first round onto the hanging loop, there's no counting or placekeeping needed. When you're satisfied with the size you just match up the sides, work a row joining them together, and then make one last turn to finish with a decorative scalloped edge. The double layer of crochet is thick enough without the need for added padding that so many of the potholders from that era need.

You can see that I've scribbled up the pattern a bit. The first time I made this pattern, maybe 25 years ago (the golden ones), I was almost finished with the first one (top left) when I realized a typo in the pattern made the diamond shape lopsided. I corrected it for the second one. That set still lives in my camping gear.

It's a really sturdy pattern, too - just make sure to use cotton or wool (acrylic blends can melt). The middle set I made about 20 years ago. After daily use in my kitchen, they've just now worn through enough to burn my fingers if I'm not careful. I tossed those when I completed the new set, on the right. Since they're all cotton, they will shrink and the crochet tighten up a bit, the first time I run those through the washer and dryer. Even though a set of six was suggested for the housewives of the 1940's, two are sufficient for me.

I hope you are able to read the pattern, with my correction and adaptation for a crocheted hanger loop instead of covered bone or plastic ring (once those break, or melt, there's no way of fixing them). Let me know if I need to make a link to a pdf file of that page. Or as a last resort (and I'd really rather not bother), I can type out the pattern as I've adapted it. My potholders are a hanging loop of 30 dc worked over a chain of 15 joined into a ring, 16 rows of green dc, 2 of white, 2 more of green, then the joining single crochet and the edging - about 6 inches square. I know crocheting string can be really tedious for some folks, so I'm thinking about adapting this pattern for cotton yarn too.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Ordering Onions

Even though it's been snowing (lightly, I admit, and really welcome - pretty much all of our natural annual precipitation is from snow) the first yellow crocus are blooming. That's my signal that it's time to start thinking about getting the earliest garden bed ready to plant. Garlic and shallots, planted last fall, are now up about an inch. I didn't get around to sowing any spinach or arugula seeds back then, but I did leave a few plants that set seed to winter over, so I might get some volunteers anyway. I've gotten lots of questions from local gardeners regarding my success, so I'm going to try to write for northern Nevada gardeners to follow along. So, kids, do try this at home!

The weather is supposed to start warming up again tomorrow, so it looks like I get one more lazy day before it's time to get my hands back in the dirt! I ordered my onion plants yesterday. Now, you could get onion plants from your local garden center, but most of them won't get their plants in for a few more weeks yet. I suppose I could grow my onions from seeds, but I've never had much luck starting, then growing them to a decent size inside. Besides, seed-grown plants should have been started in early January, at least. The little bags of onion bulbs, called sets, are ok if you want scallions or a few small onions for fresh use, but for big onions you want a variety specific to your growing environment. To get my onion plants when I want them, the varieties I want, for the way I want to use them, I've found it best to order them online. I've been very happy with the service and quality at Dixondale Farms.

Each leaf on an onion plant makes a layer inside the bulb. The earlier and quicker your onion starts growing, the more leaves on the plant and that means a bigger, juicier onion bulb. So they need a rich soil that will hold water, but with enough drainage to keep it from getting soggy. Drainage is no problem in my garden's DG (decomposed granite) sand, so I concentrate on supplying enough nutrients and water-holding capacity. Aries was out a couple of days ago running last fall's compost pile through the shredder, rebuilding the pile, and wetting it down. A check with the thermometer this morning showed almost no heating up though, so it's pretty much ready to use. I also have a bin of leaf mold, made more than a year ago, that's slowly broken down to a third of what it was. Leaf mold doesn't contain much nutrients, but it's great for water retention.

My onion plants should be shipped next week - they base shipping dates by your zip code to get your onions to you at the optimum planting time for your specific area. I know from experience that they will stay dormant for a few weeks if kept cool and dry, if the weather isn't cooperative. But looking at the advance forecast, it's time to get busy! The entire early bed gets a light dusting of my all-purpose fertilizer mix (equal parts bone meal, blood meal, and greensand), a layer of finished compost, plus some of the leaf mold. I'll just lightly dig that into the top six inches (I just leave it as a top dressing where the shallots and garlic are already up), and rake smooth. Onions, especially, don't do well in competition with weeds, so I then will wet that down well (or maybe Mother Nature will do it for me) to get any weed seeds in the top inch of the soil to germinate. Over the next week or so, a very light going over with the stirrup hoe a couple of times will take out quite a few baby weedlings before the onions go in.

Onions switch from growing leaves to swelling into bulbs depending on the amount of daylight during the height of summer. I live right where Nevada makes that obtuse angle next to California. Looking at the Dixondale map, that's intermediate day onion territory. But I want the storage capabilities of the northern, long day, onions. So I compromise by ordering long day, long keeping onion varieties and then get them into the ground as early as I can with as much soil fertility as I can so they can grow as many leaves as possible before mid-summer. I ordered one bunch of Copra, the biggest and best-keeping onion I've found. And then I ordered a mixed variety sampler bunch (since you get a price break ordering more than one bunch, but two bunches is all I have room for) of long day onions. The Walla Walla grow great here - they get really big really fast, but then don't store at all. We start pulling and using them by early July, for fresh use as we need them, so they're usually all gone by early September. If you're not interesting storing your onions, grow the Walla Walla. By fall, we're using the Ringmasters, for fresh eating and then that's what I use in my fall tomato sauce and salsa canning recipes. We pick a few Redwings incrementally throughout the summer, whenever I want a red onion, and then those also store well into mid-winter.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Converting Frames for Seasonal Display

This past fall, we took a road trip to see my mom - crossing Nevada, Utah, and half of Colorado. On the way there, we toured Arches National Park and Colorado National Monument; on the way back the Colorado River Byway into Moab and the northern part of Canyonlands National Park. I like buying postcards as souvenirs, and found some that were replicas of old posters. I liked the look of them so much, I wanted to display them somehow after we got home. The refrigerator display is already pretty much full, and besides, these particular postcards were the perfect colors to go with my then-autumnal living room decor.

I inherited a couple of long, narrow, cream-colored wooden frames from Aries' mom, that held sets of Aries' baby pictures. Even though the photo sets were the same, the frames were similar but not identical. One is a bit wider, one a bit longer; they're both painted a creamy color, but not quite the same shade; the wooden framing is pretty much the same width, but different patterns. I figure they must have been given to each set of his grandparents, so the minor differences wouldn't matter. Anyway, I always liked both frames, in a shabby-chic sort of way, but they were so long and narrow I never had anything that would fit in them.

Until now, anyway. Hung vertically, off-set side-by-side, they were the perfect size to display three portrait-oriented postcards each. I even had the perfect spot to hang them, too. So I set to work. One had brown paper glued to the back - I ripped that off. The backing was just corrugated cardboard, held in place with lots of rusty little brads. I used pliers to pull enough of them to slide out the cardboard, a thin piece of matting paper, and the baby photos mounted on a matboard. I just flipped the matboard over, lightly glued my new postcards plus a couple more I found that fit the color and display theme, and hung them up.

Just a little note regarding hanging pictures on wallpaper. My husband has fits about me putting holes in the walls, so I keep my frame-hanging to a minimum and always try to make sure things are hung in the place I'm sure I want them to stay. But, to placate him, I also use a nifty little technique when I want to put a hole in the wall.

Once I know where the nail will go, I use an X-acto knife to cut a little upside-down "V" just barely into the wallpaper. Then, using the tip of the knife, I peel that little "V" down, leaving it still attached at the bottom, and put my hanging nail or screw in the little opening. This is all hidden behind the picture, but should the time come that I want to change the arrangement, it's easy to just remove the nail, dab a bit of glue over the hole, bend and paste the cut bit right back in place - a practically invisible repair I know will match the pattern exactly.

Anyway, I was thrilled all autumn long, looking at my beautiful display. Until December, when I changed my decor from golds and browns to reds and greens. The orange-themed display now clashed with the rest of the room.

Years ago, Mom had given me a bunch of vintage postcards. Luckily, in that collection I found six vertically oriented Christmas-y ones. I could make a new display, specific to winter-time, then maybe Valentines, Spring-y flowers. Oh, this was going to fun, once I got it all set up to be easily done!

But, I now wanted to do this right. Pulling and replacing those little brads was going to mark up the wood, besides being a real pain to deal with. I needed to find those little turning things that are on the back of changeable display frames and convert my old wooden frames to accommodate an easily changed seasonal display. So, I asked in my local framing shops, craft stores, even the hardware and frame sections of chain big box stores - picking up empty frames there to show them what I was looking for on the backside. Everyone just gave me blank looks - "duh, I never heard of anyone buying anything like that."

Eventually, at the very bottom of a rack of picture-hanging gadget packets at Michael's Crafts I found what I was looking for. They're called turnbuttons - four to a package, one-inch long, screws included, $1. Alrighty, then! A wet rag was enough to soak the backing paper enough to scrape it away. I pulled all the little brads, and then found out the frames had been painted without removing the glass. Well, getting those out was a bit tricky, but I carefully managed. And then I broke one glass trying to scrape the paint off when I hit a jagged little bit where it had been poorly cut. Since I had to replace that glass anyway, I paid a local frame shop to cut a couple pieces of non-glare acid-free acrylic - it's lighter, better in earthquake country, would offer a bit of protection to those vintage postcards, and would just look so much better. It's more expensive than plain glass, but I'd received some Christmas cash from Mom, so that seemed the perfect present to myself.

Installing the turnbuttons, I had to make sure I put them far enough out to the edge of the frame where the wood was thick enough that the tips of the screws wouldn't come through the other side while still making sure they reached the display backing and didn't show in front when turned. They had to be tight enough to stay put, but loose enough to turn. Since the frames are so long and narrow, I used one pack per frame so I could have a pair near the top and another pair near the bottom.

The old corrugated cardboard backing was warped and bent, so I cut new backings from a piece of foamboard. I used the old cardboard, though, to make a folding storage portfolio for the baby photos and autumnal postcard display, by taping the long edges together. A 12" x 12" sheet of scrapbook paper is the perfect size to make six little mats, and then a bigger sheet of colored paper can be cut to make matching backgrounds. I use a scrapbooking glue dot dispenser to hold my display in place. I figure that way I can dismantle it if necessary without damaging those vintage postcards.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Picnic Cake

With one of our biggest summer holidays coming up, I thought I'd post a recipe for a great picnic cake. It's one of my mom's recipes I've been making since I was a kid. With the topping baked into the cake, once cooled and covered it holds up well even tipped on its side in my picnic suitcase. It's been a hit at every potluck I've taken it to and often shows up at family camping trips, brought by one sister or another.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Picnic Cake (9" x 13" flat cake)
1 ¾ cup boiling water
1 cup uncooked oatmeal (I use rolled oats)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
 ½ cup butter or other shortning
2 eggs
1 ¾ cup flour (I use whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
12 oz package chocolate chips
¾ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven 350º. Grease and lightly flour a 9" x 13" cake pan. Put oats in mixing bowl and add the boiling water. Let stand 10 minutes. Add butter, brown and white sugars and stir until the butter melts. Add eggs and mix well. Stir together the flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa and add to the oats mixture, mix well. Stir in half the chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle walnuts and remaining chocolate chips over the top. Bake 40 minutes, and test with toothpick (until the toothpick comes out clean).

I won my picnic suitcase in a raffle years ago. It wasn't really my style - I was more the lunch cooler and canvas bag type So, at first I planned on perhaps re-gifting it, then thought maybe I could use it as decorative storage for linens or such. But then one day, I was getting ready for a Sierra Club potluck. Now, with a tree-hugging group like that, one simply does not take paper plates and disposable flatware. I was getting ready to dig out my camping gear when it hit me. I already had the perfect picnic/potluck set-up, up there on top of the coat armoire. My vintage cake pan fits perfectly, with even room for a bottle of wine. I'm still tweaking the contents. I've added dessert plates, and use my cloth napkins to wrap the wine glasses and serving utensils. It's now a very useful part of both my living room decor and many summer outings.

The cake pan I inherited from my mother-in-law. I figure she got it at a yard sale. Scratched onto the top it says, "Happy Birthday to Winnie from Laura, March 7, 1959" and neither of those are family names. It's obviously seen its share of past potlucks or church dinners too. Winnie Vincent scratched her name onto both sides of the pan itself. The slide-on metal top holds up so much better than today's plastic pan covers. The pan is deeper than most cake pans too, making it my go-to pan for batches of wintertme lasagna. So Ms Vincent, if you're still out there - thank you! I love it!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Last Zucchini

I was doing some cellar maintenance earlier today. I noticed some mold on the stem end of the last zucchini - left to grow huge last summer, picked just before frost, and then stored. Usually they'll only hold until early January, so I'd been watching this last one - wondering how long it would keep. It looked like now its time was about up, so I brought it inside.

The rind had turned orange, and was almost as hard to cut as that of a winter squash. Inside, the flesh too had turned orange, and had gotten quite fibrous close to the seed cavity. I saved some of the seeds but since I also grow Delicata squash, another C. pepo variety, the two most-likely cross-pollinated. I might plant a few just to see what I get, depending on how much space I have out in the garden this summer.

Stored zucchini aren't cooked the same as summer-fresh ones, but they are good in baked goods. After scraping out the seed cavity and trimming off the hard peel, I had a nice bit of usable flesh (and a bucketful of scraps, which made for a very happy bunch of chickens). Shredded on the large holes of a box grater, I ended up with three tightly-packed cupfuls. One cup, and raisins, made a batch of oat bran muffins (there were twelve, before Aries wandered through). And the other two cups made a big panful of cake-like zucchini brownies (that piece is mine). Also in the photo above, a few more things up from the cellar today: the last of the fresh bell peppers, a bit shriveled with a bit of mold starting on the stems (still plenty more chopped pieces in the freezer though), some stored paste tomatoes (paste, or roma-type, tomatoes store much better than round ones - nowhere near the taste of summer ones, but still better than most supermarket ones), and apples (plenty of those yet, and still in fine shape). The Delicata squash I store inside the house.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

It's A Snow Day

It should be time to start thinking about getting outside, getting my hands in the dirt once again. The first daffodils are blooming, as is the apricot tree. But after a mild and dry winter, March has decided to show its lion side and has dumped an inch of wet, sloppy snow on us this morning. I really can't complain. We need the precipitation - plus it saves me having to get the hoses out to water the trees. It should all be gone by tomorrow, anyway. So for today, I'll sit inside by the fire and watch the birds outside my windows.

A flicker eating snow on the deck railing.

Goldfinches waiting their turn on the sock feeder.

A black-capped chickadee, feathers puffed up against the cold.

And the first robin of Spring, wondering how much longer he'll have to wait.
Me too.