...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Please Sign the Guest Book!

I was out shopping craft stores in prep for a tea party I'm hosting tomorrow and bought this: a tea ministry guest book.  Wish I'd got a start with it last fall, but I suppose the new year is also a good time to begin a trove of memories.  First entry is appropriately a Valentine's Day tea for my son and his girlfriend.  More tea party talk will fill blank pages after tomorrow's tea for a local prayer group.

Happy memories!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Now Why Didn't I Think of That?

After watching a few days of the winter Olympics, I dare say most knitters are itching to play with a Fair Isle pattern somehow or another.  A pillow, a headband, a single-flower potholder if nothing else. All these Nordic hats and scarves covered with Fair Isle patterns are just too enticing!

So I checked out a book at the library called The Very Easy Guide to Fair Isle Knitting, by Lynne Watterson. I already have a little experience with Fair Isle, but this book had a wonderful collection of patterns--enough to make your head spin. The treasure trove of patterns, however, will not be the biggest take-away from this book for me.  That award goes to the easy fringe lesson in the very back of the book.
I've fringed scarves for years. I cut a single piece to check for size, then use that piece as a guide to cut others. They're all basically the same size, but cutting enough to fringe a scarf or poncho is tedious work.
Then I saw the above illustration.
 Oh my, that would be so quick! Wrap the yarn evenly around a piece of cardboard that is basically the length you want for the fringe, make a complete wrap for each piece of fringe, then simply cut along the bottom.

I'm sure my other fringe-making friends out there are saying, "Well, duh. Of course that's how you make it." But for me, this was revolutionary. My mind simply doesn't go to efficiency of its own accord. I have to be led there. This will mean fringe starts appearing on so much around here!

Happy embellishing!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Berry Muffins

 Are you starting to miss the apples and oranges and bananas from those Christmas fruit baskets now that they've been gone for a while?
If so, it's time to visit the freezer or go to the "freshest" stock available on the produce shelves to get that kick of fruit fiber and vitamin C. I did both for the muffins featured in this post--thawing the blueberries and purchasing the cranberries.
 Berries--fresh or frozen--dress up even the mot basic muffin recipe, like the one from Better Homes and Gardens that's included here:

Basic Muffins
1 egg
3/4 C milk
1/3 C cooking oil
1 3/4 C all purpose flour
1/4 C sugar
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt

Prepare muffin pan or line with muffin cups and preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a small bowl, slightly beat eggs before beating in milk and oil. Set aside. In a larger bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Make a well, and add liquid all at once, mixing. Stir until just lumpy, but don't over-stir. Spoon into prepared muffin cups and bake 20-25 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.

To this basic recipe you can add:
1 C frozen berries thawed and drained and 2 T sugar or 1 C cranberries (coarsely chopped) and 3/4 C sugar. If desired, add 1/4-1/2 C of chopped walnuts or pecans, too. Stir in gently just before spooning into muffin cups.

Now, to find another basic recipe to embellish, this time one for thawing chicken and a quart of thawing tomatoes...

Friday, January 17, 2014

Arm Knitting

 Forget that co-worker's birthday?
The one who gave you the fabulous gift on YOUR last birthday?
Want to give something that says "I made this for you?" even though you know you hardly have the time to make anything?  Not a problem!

What you see in the above pic is my arm in the first stage of "arm-knitting" a scarf according to a tutorial video found here. The tutorial--posted on the Michaels stores website-- is quick and easy to follow--although I did have to mute the happy little background music. By the third or fourth run through the tune, I was getting nauseated and besides I needed to concentrate on her hand work!
According to friends who are doing this, I should be able to make a nice big cowl scarf in about an hour! Well...of course I rose to that challenge.

By golly, they were right!
One hour later, I'm wearing this new cowl scarf! It's double-wrapped here, but can be worn long like a big strand of swingy-pearls. Never fear! You can make that gift, and in plenty of time! She'll never know you forgot until the very last minute.
What's more, it could be a great project for using up scraps. This scarf is such a loose weave it hardly used much yarn at all!

Happy arm-knitting!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Garden Poetry in Winter

Winter; and Winter's New Year.
A beautiful time to sit and reflect on what is behind...what is ahead...and what should rightly come around again with the spring thaw.

Envoi to a Poem by G.K. Chesterton

Clear was the night; the moon was young;
The larkspurs in the plots
Mingled their orange with the gold
Of the forget-me-nots.

The poppies seemed a silver mist;
So darkly fell the gloom.
You scarce had guessed yon crimson streaks
Were buttercups in bloom.

But one thing moved: a little child
Crashed through the flower and fern;
And all my soul rose up to greet
The sage of whom I learn.

"My brain demands complexity,"
The lisping cherub cried.
I looked at him, and only said,
"Go on. The world is wide."

A tear rolled down his pinafore,
"Yet from my life must pass
The simple love of sun and moon,
The old games in the grass;

"Now that my back is to my home
Could these again be found?"
I looked on him and only said,
"Go on. The world is round."

--from Collected Nonsense and Light Verse published by Dodd, Mead and Co., Inc., 1987

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pumpkin Cake

 What do you do besides bringing in THIS much wood to dry when the weather team forecasts 48 hours of -10 to -40 degree temperatures? If you're like me, you make a visit to your much-more-temperate garage freezer and look for something to bake.
 I decided to go with a pumpkin spice cake, so I took in a bag of pumpkin puree to thaw. I processed a single large pumpkin this year and got about 4 bags of puree from it.  One of those bags went into this cake you see cooling alongside the all-day chili pot.
Spiced Pumpkin Cake
1/2 C softened butter
1/2 C packed brown sugar
2 eggs
3/4 C eggnog
3/4 C pureed pumpkin
1/4 C honey
2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp. shredded orange peel
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour 9 x 13 baking pan.  Cream together sugar and butter, then add eggs and blend well. Combine pumpkin, honey, and eggnog in another mixing bowl. Then, combine thoroughly the flour, orange peel, soda, salt and spices. Alternately add dry ingredients and creamed butter mix to the liquid ingredients. Put into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool thoroughly. Either frost with a cream cheese frosting or sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The So-Good Cup of Tea

 As a counter-balance to yesterday's post about the not-so-good cup of tea, today we'll see the most basic elements in creating a very good cup of tea. The thing about brewing tea is that you have to account for its diversity. Both brewing times and brewing temperatures vary depending on the type of tea you're making. Here's a very brief tutorial on it.

First of all, brewing times vary from 1 minute to 5 depending on tea types and strength preferences. I received this wonderful little timer from one of my spiritual direction clients as a Christmas gift. It's color-coded to display recommended brewing times for various tea types: 1 minute for green, 2 for white, 3 for blacks and 5 for herbals. That said, my personal preference is 3 for both greens and whites and 5 for blacks and herbals, but I like a strong tea. I do find, however, that greens brewed at 5 minutes take on a grassy bitterness, so that "extra" 2 minutes really does make a difference!

Besides brewing times, brewing temps can add to the subtlety of the tea's flavor as well. Here is a chart that was included with my electric tea pot. A stove-top kettle wouldn't give you this much temperature control automatically, you'd have to monitor the water with a thermometer for that; but with an electric kettle you can simply set the temp you want and wait for the beep.

So there you are. All ready to brew the perfect cup of tea!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A (not so) Nice Cup of Tea

This blog post's title is the heading for a section in a fascinating little cookbook I picked up at the library: What Einstein Told His Cook, by Robert Wolke.
Wolke is a former chemistry professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and his cookbook is a mix of recipes, short articles and FAQs, all clustered around the literal science of food and cooking. Here's what he has to say about this post's topic:

When I make tea with microwave-heated water, why doesn't it taste as good as when I make it with teakettle water?
Microwave heated water isn't as hot as kettle-heated water, even though it may look like it's boiling.
Water for tea must be boiling hot in order to extract all the color and flavor. Caffeine, for example, won't dissolve in water that's much cooler than 175 degrees. That's why the teapot--or if you're a bag-at-a-time brewer, the cup--should be preheated, to prevent the water from cooling too much during brewing.
When you've got a full, vigorous boil going in a tea kettle you know that all of the water is boiling hot--around 212 degrees. That's because the heated water at the bottom of the kettle rises, to be replaced by cooler water, which then becomes heated and rises, and so on. So the entire kettleful reaches boiling temperatures at pretty much the same time. The bubbling further mixes it to a uniform temperature.
But microwaves heat only the outer inch or so of the water all around the cup, because that's as far as they can penetrate. The water in the middle of the cup gets hot more slowly, through contact with the outer portions. When the outer portions of the water have reached boiling temperature and start to bubble, you can be tricked into thinking all of the water in the cup is that hot. But the average temperature may be much lower, and your tea will be short-changed of good flavor.
Another reason that kettle-heated water is better is that heating a cup of water to boiling in a microwave oven can be tricky.

Happy cookbook review!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Tea Pilgrimages

 This has to be the most unique tea pilgrimage I've found yet. I can't imagine how surreal a pot of tea would be to the one who had just completed this pilgrimage!

Happy scary dreams!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sabbath Rest: On Making Socks

Remember ye not the former things,
neither consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it?
I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. 
Isaiah 43:18-19
I've been considering the symbolism locked in the making of a pair of wool socks.
If the sock itself had consciousness during its creation, it would probably be confused at the point shown in the picture above.  The ribbed cuff, the leg, all come along smoothly in rounds of knit and pearl. But then suddenly, the Maker rearranges the stitches, ignores half of them and starts focusing solely (pardon the pun) on the heel. Back and forth. Longer and longer. While the rest of the sock just hangs, neglected, seemingly forgotten. What's going on here?
But if the sock abides, eventually the work of making and then turning the heel is completed. Suddenly, the dangling needles clatter back into action, and stitches are picked up, seams are made to bring old things into the circle again, joining with the new patch, taking on a complex shape distinctly fitted for its purpose, and everything makes "sense" again as the foot forms.
Likewise, God's new things don't waste the old ones, don't leave them dangling forever like superfluous work, but ultimately bring them all into a harmony of purpose once again.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Summer Work's Role in the Holiday Meal

So how much does last summer's processed garden fare factor into a holiday menu?
Quite a bit.
From the freezer came the corn cut form the cob, green beans and vinegar slaw (cabbage and beans are "must eats" on New Year's Day!) While I didn't grow the peppers last summer, in past years the jalapeño cheddar dip might have used a jar of home-canned jalapeño peppers in oil. (We simply had to resort to buying them this year.) And, from the spice stock came the herb mix that, blended with butter and flour, encrusted the prime rib. Herbs including rosemary, sage, thyme, marjoram and parsley flavored the meat richly.

The taste of summer comes to the winter table even as the anticipation of the holiday meal invigorates the summer labor. A beautiful balance.

Happy New Year's dining!