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.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

T-Shirt Scarf and Flowers

I wrote about our Green (for St. Patrick's Day) Green (for Spring) Green (for sustainable) Fashion Show for my latest post on the Simple Green Frugal Co-op blog. Instead of outfits from a chain department store the models, and many of the guests, wore second-hand finds from local thrift and consignment shops.

I didn't have the time nor the inclination these past few weeks to browse thrift shops for something "new" (to me) to wear. But, in the spirit of things, I decided to take an afternoon to re-purpose one of my husband's old t-shirts. An advertising freebie from the casino where he worked, it had a big beer logo on the chest. I don't think he ever wore it - it was a bit too gaudy for his tastes. But the shirt itself was a lovely green tie-dye - perfect for a St. Patrick's Day refashioning project.

I cut the shirt bottom off below the logo, trimmed off the bottom hem, and stretched that loop to make the edges curl under - voilá: an infinity scarf. Then I found a fabric flower tutorial I liked, on Emily's Little World blog. I cut enough circles from the sleeves and top part of the back to make three fabric flowers, and snipped little triangles from the edges to make flower-petal shapes. I'd first planned to make one big flower and two little ones, but decided I didn't like the big flower - it would be too big and floppy. So after the photo, but before making the flowers, I trimmed the big circles down so all three sets of nine were the same size.

I wanted to later be able to use the scarf or the flowers separately so I glued a bar pin, covered over with another felt circle, onto the back of each flower. And here I am, in my St. Patrick's Day wearing o' the green. I got loads of compliments at the Fashion Show. Most of the women were amazed when I told them I'd crafted the scarf and flower pins myself, in less than two hours.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Salvaging a Tattered Tablecloth

As long as I had my sewing table and machine all set up, I took care of another little refashioning project today. After its last go-round in the washing machine, I had to admit that an old cotton tablecloth was finally too worn and tattered to continue using as such. The center was too fragile to even bother trying to patch; the holes unraveling more and more after each washing - not even strategic placement of doilies and placemats could disguise it any longer.

But the edges, that had hung off the edge of the table, were still in pretty good condition. And it was such a nice, soft cotton fabric. With a bit of judicious cutting, I was able to salvage some nicely-sized rectangles. So, after a little time spent folding over and pressing the raw edges, and a quick hemming on the machine, I now have three lovely gingham dish towels for my kitchen, and a new liner for my bread basket.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Aprons into Pillows

My home decor is still in my cozy red and white winter theme. The past few days, I made a couple of decorative refashioned items I've had on my to-do list for a while.

When I wander through thrift shops, I'm always drawn to the home and kitchen textile sections. I have a special weakness for hand-embroidery, patterned tablecloths, and cloth napkins, but try to limit myself to things that will actually go with my decor. Anyway, I couldn't resist a couple of red souvenir half aprons, the type they used to print up in the 1950's and '60's. One had snazzy gold gilt and black printing, featuring Reno, Nevada. It shows 50's era cars, the 1935 version Virginia Street's Reno Arch (replaced in 1963, it now straddles Lake Street near the Truckee River), the Washoe County Courthouse (early 20th century divorce mecca) plus two hotel/casinos, the Mapes (imploded in 2000) and the Riverside (saved at the last minute, same year). Since I live in northern Nevada, not far from Reno, I just had to have that one.

The second red apron was maybe a little bit newer, featuring the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado. It wasn't quite as flashy as the Reno one - no golden gilt, but black print with white - the lettering looks snow-topped, befitting for my memories of Colorado. I was born and raised in Colorado, and I've walked across that bridge. Built in the late 1920's, it's a wooden plank, narrow one-lane suspension bridge hanging more than 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River near Cañon City (I had my Afghan hound, Omar, at the time, and he was walking with me. For the first half of the trip across, he was a happy dog, bouncing along on his leash, back and forth, here and there. And then a car passed us, rumbling and bouncing the bridge quite a bit. Omar looked down into the cracks between the planks and realized just where he was. His tail sank between his legs. For the rest of the trip across and back, you could have used that morose dog to align a center line on that bridge. As for me, I love heights. I was leaning over the railing, spitting).

I never wear half-aprons, so I'd always envisioned these transformed into pillows. Since aprons, by their nature, are wider than they are tall, I had to do a bit of piecing to turn them into square pillow covers - especially the Royal Gorge one, since it originally had the print and the picture side-by-side. Fusible interfacing reinforced the piecing seams and gave the fronts a nice smooth look.

I bought a red and black cotton print for the back sides, pre-shrunk everything, added zipper closings, and stuffed my two Christmas pillows inside (I'm planning to make a couple of summertime covers the same size, and then I'll tuck these covers inside the back when I change decor. In a small house, storage in plain sight works really well. That plaid pillow, above is really a bed pillow, in a flannel bed pillowcase. By shaking the pillow down into the bottom of the case, then compacting it by tucking the pillowcase ends inside-out smoothly into the back side of the pillow I make my guest bed pillows into square decorative pillows. And using different pillowcases, they're just as easy to change to fit my seasonal decor).

The pillow covers needed a bit of edging trim to really finish them off. I thought, at first, about gold braid or fringe, but decided that would make them look too bordello. So I went, instead, with a narrow black rope trim - showcasing the print, setting the pillows off nicely, and giving them a finished professional look. They turned out just like I'd envisioned!