Sunday, November 23, 2008

A New Apron

An organization I belong to decided to have a booth at a crafts fair as a fundraiser. They asked the members to make and donate things to sell, so I made some insulated teapot cozies. I had the insulation padding, so just needed to go through my fabric stash and put together some nice coordinating bits of cotton. I don't have pictures of any of the ones I made to sell, but in the process I found a yard of a flowered print with colors I just love. How convenient! My old apron had just ripped, worn through too thin to even patch, so I had been thinking I should make myself a new one. Re-discovering that green/pink/maroon print in my stash was wonderful timing!

This time, I wanted to make a reversible apron - one side for cooking, one side for baking. The dark green flower side would hide gravy and tomato sauce spatters. Now I just needed a lighter colored fabric for the flour side. I have an old duvet cover (is that redundant?) I don't use anymore. The bottom side of that is a little diagonal pink ribbon/green flower print on white - that would be perfect! Time for a little re-purposing then. Now for a pattern. I don't like aprons that hang on my neck. I prefer ones that go over my shoulders. I've made a pattern from an old bib-type granny apron I like, so I was ready to sew.

So I've been busy sewing. First the fundraiser tea cozies, to get them ready in time for the crafts fair. Then, when I cut out the new apron pieces from the dark green flower fabric, I had just enough left over to make myself a new teapot cozy too - the one at the top of this post. With a bit of solid dark green for pocket trim and waist ties (and the cozy lining), I have a brand new, double-sided reversible apron just in time for cooking Thanksgiving dinner. And I got all the sewing finished just in time too. I had to put away my sewing machine and table in order to change that room over into guest room status. My mom flew in from Colorado yesterday, and my sister and her family will be here from California in a couple more days. The more, the merrier!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Storing Summer Vegetables into Fall

I don't really like canning all that much. For some things, it's the best way to preserve the harvest. But I have to balance that with what we'll actually eat. Aries doesn't like anything with vinegar, so I'm the only one that will eat pickles of any kind. Both of us prefer honey on our toast (and we barter our eggs with a beekeeper), so only occasionally will I make a batch of jam (strawberry or peach). Tomatoes, now, we eat a lot of, so those I can in various configurations (see previous posts on canning for those recipes). And I use applesauce instead of oil in a lot of my baking recipes, so canning a batch or two of applesauce is also an annual undertaking.

I don't freeze too much either. We only have the freezer part of our refrigerator, so space is an issue. Besides, I don't really like having my winter food supply dependent on a constant source of electricity - winter storms have been known to knock out power here for hours. Fruit, I dehydrate if I get a bumper crop, and also experiment with making hard ciders and perry. For the most part, we eat fresh vegetables when they're in season, and go for low-maintenance storage and cold-season crops to stretch our fresh foods options.

We do have a cellar. I open it up when nights start getting colder (but not below freezing) and then close it up during the warmer fall days to drop the temperature inside. Right now, the temperature down there is in the middle 50's. That's the perfect temperature for keeping some summer vegetables, at least into December. Refrigerators are too cold to keep summer vegetables into fall, but you might be able to do what I do with an unheated closet, enclosing an outside stairwell into your basement, or even under the bed in a closed-off guest room. I always let the last few zucchini grow pretty big - they'll keep almost as well as some winter squashes. Cellar-ripened slicing tomatoes are always on my Thanksgiving table, and usually Christmas too. Eggplant will keep until New Year's, if we don't eat them all first. I let them get full-sized but still firm, cut the stem close and break off the pointy parts of the caps (you don't want to damage the actual fruit part), and then wrap each tightly in plastic wrap. This year I tried growing lemon cucumbers, and just ate the last of them - they kept just piled in a big lightly-covered bowl. If I'd grown more, I think they would have made it to my Thanksgiving table as well.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gift Goodies, and An Award

A lovely box just arrived in the mail. I was a lucky winner of a Chex Mix Spa Basket, awarded to me by Nancy M. over at Southern Blessings, courtesy of, a General Mills marketing site. Besides a box of their very yummy new whole grain, caramel and chocolate snack bars, there were some self-pampering items: a loofah sponge, fingernail brush, hand massager, buffing spa towel, candles, and lotion that smells good enough to eat (cat not included). Scaly dry winter skin, begone! Thanks, Nancy!

And while I'm thanking Nancy, I also have to thank her for the Proximity Award. It's an international award, about people connecting all over the world. It says, in Portuguese, "This blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY!" How wonderfully sweet, especially since I'm also a contributor to an international cooperative blog, The Simple Green Frugal Co-op (quite the mouthful - I didn't name it - but the name really does say it all). The award is supposed to be passed on, but I told Nancy I really don't like picking favorites when it comes to passing on these type of things. She said that was ok - that I didn't have to do it, but she wanted me to be acknowledged. Thank you. But now that I think of it, I really would like to acknowledge my fellow bloggers in the Co-op:

Bel - Belinda Moore
Eilleen - Consumption Rebellion
FT - Notes from the Frugal Trenches
Heather - Beauty that Moves
Julie - Towards Sustainability
Marc - Garden Desk
Melinda - 1 Green Generation
Paul - A Posse Ad Esse
and the one that started it all:
Rhonda Jean - Down to Earth
All very deserving of an award acknowledging The Proximity, the nearness in space, time, and relationships, of us all.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Fall is here, the nights are frosty, and that means dinner is often a hot soup and bread. Soup makes a great meal. I've got a lot of favorite soup recipes, but sometimes I'll just throw something together from leftovers. Last night, I had some white beans I'd pressure-cooked a couple of nights before. Chop some leeks and kale from the garden, carrots and garlic from storage, and add a couple of glops of cooked-down tomato puree (the last of the paste tomatoes, that I didn't feel like canning so have just kept a big tupper-ful in the refrigerator), and I soon had a wonderful soup simmering on the stove (I also stirred a spoonful of basil pesto into each bowl when I dished it up). Now, for some kind of bread . . .

I buy most of my grains and flours from the bulk bins in a local supermarket. It's more economical and saves on packaging waste. In my kitchen, from years spent working in restaurants and bars, I've amassed quite a few gallon glass jars for storage (during my ski-bum days in Colorado, I worked in a restaurant on top of the mountain; occasionally skiing down after work with an empty jar in my backpack - being especially careful not to fall). Whenever I'm in a thrift store, I like to browse the kitchen area, and have picked up various measuring cups to keep in the jars as scoops. The scoops are distributed according to what will be the most useful - half-cups in the flours and oats, quarter-cup in the sugar, third-cup in the dry milk, one-cups in the rice and couscous. It makes it easy and quick whenever I want to bake something - one scoop of this, two of that.

Cornbread sounded good. By the time the kale and carrots would be done, the bread would be coming out of the oven. Here's the basic recipe, with the adaptations I made this time:

Cornbread one 8x8" pan, 10" cast iron skillet, or 12 muffins

1 cup cornmeal (I prefer yellow)
1 cup flour (I used half whole-wheat & half whole-wheat pastry flour)
1/4 cup sugar (the Colorado relatives use 1/2 cup, but I don't like my cornbread that sweet)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup oil (I used applesauce instead)
1 egg
1 cup milk (I used buttermilk)

Grease pan well, or use non-stick spray (for skillet-sizzled cornbread, see note below). Mix dry ingredients in bowl. Mix wet ingredients together in large measuring cup. Add wet to dry, stirring just until combined (optional: I'll often then stir in ½ cup something extra - maybe cheddar cheese, or frozen corn, or chopped chiles, but not this time). Pour into prepared pan, leveling top surface. Bake 400º 20 minutes (muffins take only about 16 minutes).

Split pieces of leftover cornbread make a good toaster-oven pizza, or it can be cut into cubes and left out to dry, then stored in a jar or bag, and used for making stuffing/dressing some other night.

Note: After being gifted The Cornbread Gospels, by Crescent Dragonwagon (a great book - a couple hundred corn-based recipes, meal menus, plus trivia, background, and wonderful tales by a gifted storyteller), I now prefer baking my cornbread in my cast-iron skillet. Preheat oven 375º, and prepare batter. Melt a tablespoon of butter in skillet on stove top until it sizzles, swirling it around to coat bottom and sides. Pour the batter into the skillet, cook another minute on top of the stove, and then bake 20 minutes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Late Halloween Treat

Aries works in Facilities Maintenance for a big South Lake Tahoe casino. Last year, he was up on the roof doing some repairs and had to remove a couple of big 15" plastic owls someone had put up there years ago to deter pigeons. The boss told him to toss them out, so, of course he brought them home for our garden. The paint has weathered, and the plastic eyes are scratched and faded, but they have that distinctive horned owl silhouette. They don't really work very well on the wild birds, but the chickens give them a wide berth, especially right after I've moved them to a new location. I use them more like garden art pieces. One, I've had perched on top of a bean teepee framework since September.

Lately, in the evenings, Aries has been cleaning up the garden and gathering the leaves as they fall, adding to our compost pile between the chicken pen and the garden. Yesterday, it was almost dark as I walked down to the chicken coop to close it up for the night. I've been letting the chickens out in the afternoons to roam about our entire fenced-in lot, so their gate was propped open too.

As I walked down there, I could see that Aries had moved that plastic owl to the gate post of the chicken pen. "Oh, I'm sure the chickens appreciate that," I was thinking as I walked down there. Then, it swiveled its head and looked at me! I stopped dead in my tracks, then looked over at the bean teepee still standing in the empty garden. The plastic owl was still there. I went back up to the house, making Aries follow me back out. He thought I was trying to fool him with the plastic owl too. When we got a bit too close, the very real, great horned owl took off across the field to the south. Owls fly so quietly - none of that flappy flappy stuff - just stretch out their wings and silently glide away. Spooky!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


The past week has been a bit crazy around here. I'm a member of Soroptimists. That's an international non-profit service organization, with a membership of professional women, dedicated to improving the lives of women and children, locally and around the world. My local club chartered more than 50 years ago. There might even be a Soroptimists Club in your town. I love being a member. My club is a wonderful source of female camaraderie, both for just having fun and in working together to help our community.

Here in Carson City, we provide thousands of dollars in scholarships annually to local high school girls, and to women heads-of-household working towards a degree. That money is pretty much covered by endowment funds willed to us from past members. But we also have other programs we sponsor, as well as giving to charitable organizations here in town. That means fundraising, in an economy where money is getting tighter and the need getting greater.

Our biggest Program is helping uninsured women get breast cancer early-detection screenings. In the five years we've run this program, we've paid for over 800 mammograms and ultrasounds, plus 11 biopsies. We hold an annual golf tournament fundraiser for that, usually in early October (nasty weather this year meant less for that program too). We run the Backpack Attack - filling new back-to-school backpacks with school and hygiene supplies for children in need. That program is donation-funded, and lots of volunteer hours by club members. Our Easter Shoe Program, the Legal Fund for domestic violence victims, putting together little surprises for the house-bound Meals on Wheels recipients, and more - it makes me feel good to be a part of all that we do.

But there is still so much need here, so we needed to come up with more fundraising ideas (keeping in mind that many of our members are working full-time, raising their families, and still devoting time and effort to the club). I came up with selling sleeve garters during the Nevada Day celebration the end of October. They'd fit right in - they're old-west oriented, would appeal to both men and women, and would be a reasonably priced ($5) souvenir. The Parade theme this year was Hollywood in Nevada, so we thought silver with black lace would be a good fit. I was in charge of putting it all together - finding a source for the garters, getting the necessary vendor permits, doing early publicity releases, pre-sale distribution, and lining up the club members to get out there and sell them. Unfortunately, the weather Nevada Day was cold, rainy, windy, and quite miserable. That meant less crowds out and about, and our sales were way below projections (and the economy worsening by the minute didn't help either).

I still think this can be a really great part of future Nevada Day celebrations, changing colors to fit the theme each year. I envision all the Sheriff's Deputies, parade officials, local dignitaries, and bystanders sporting a garter on Nevada Day in a visible show of support for what the Soroptimists do in this town. But right now, I'm a bit downhearted - we ended up losing money on this, and I feel responsible.