Monday, December 28, 2015

Something I Didn't Learn On Aunt Mildred's Porch

As I explain in the About the Porch section of my website, I learned how to knit, crochet, cross stitch and do various other crafts on my Aunt Mildred's porch in the summers of my childhood.  What no one ever did on her porch was sew with a sewing machine.

My mother always had a sewing machine, but until she caught the quilting bug in the mid 80s, I never saw it open.  It was something I always knew was there and I saw pictures of some cute things she had made me when I was really little, but I didn't see her sit and actually sew with it.  It was just a piece of furniture in our playroom and I didn't think about it much.  It had its own cabinet with a cover she had made and something sat on top of it, like a table.

When she started quilting, I was in middle school and really wanted to learn how to sew.  We didn't have home ec in my school and she didn't want me using her sewing machine.  I imagine she didn't want to have umpteen million new projects being made when I should have been doing things like playing outside.

I assure you, if someone had ever brought a sewing machine to Aunt Mildred's porch, I would have found a way to learn how to at least make a simple straight seam.

Fast forward to high school, and a former teacher who was my neighbor and a marvelous seamstress asked me if I wanted to make a dress.


With no skills or instruction beyond that one pattern we cut out and sewed, I suddenly had the keys to my mother's sewing machine and off I went.  I guess by then, she figured I was old enough not to sew through my hands and probably gentle enough not to break it.  Plus, that wasn't her "good" machine, it was just the one down cellar.

This was all before the internet, so I had to read pattern instructions and just wing it.  I winged it enough to make my prom dress for my senior prom and though it wasn't really the style of the times (I didn't know you could actually sew things that were up to date stylewise) it was something I was really proud of and would wear right now if the occasion called for it!

Whenever I was home from college, I would sew a bunch of things for myself, and even some pajamas for my roommate one year, and happily wore them with no idea that I could actually manipulate patterns before cutting them to make sure they really fit.

I did a lot of unspeakable alterations that would make a real seamstress croak.

Not that I have a lot of  amazing skills today, but I think I am a great example of  how simple it is to sew, if you can read and have a little creativity.   With youtube, you can search for how to do almost anything and there are some really great people out there who have very clear, well done videos to show all sorts of things that mystified me years ago.  People have asked if I will teach them to sew and I always say no.  No one should learn my hack, that'll do skills.  You can learn far better from the internet! 

When I graduated from college, my mother shocked me with a present of a new sewing machine of my own.  I hadn't asked for it and it hadn't crossed my mind that when I moved out, I wouldn't have a machine and would always have to go use hers.

Along with my Bernina 1001, my grandmother shocked me yet again with a FunLock serger to go with it.  I've shown plenty of pictures of that on here, so I won't bother in this post.

My friends were like "WHAT?" while I was in heaven.  I didn't have a degree in home ec, so sewing machines probably seemed like a weird graduation present but I knew what lay ahead.

Sort of.

I can't even name everything I've made in the 20 years I've had this machine.  I've sewn enough for other people that I probably have earned enough to buy a new machine, but why bother?  I see these newfangled digital Berninas and I get a little light headed.

These are all of my stitches and I can't imagine using any others! I haven't even found a use for everything I can do with these.

I know that the new digital machines have all sorts of stitch regulators and favorite stitches you can save and some will embroider and do really fancy stuff.  I guess I still see each machine as a separate thing.  A serger serges, a sewing machine sews, an embroidery machine embroiders and a long arm quilting machine quilts.  Even though I've done just about all of that on this machine!

My mother gave me a walking foot a long time ago, and I think I might have recently worn it out!  I use it for way more than quilting, mainly because I forget to change it until I'm partway through something.  I read all over the internet that a lot of people use it all the time for the same reason and love it.  The only time I change it is when I need to make a narrow seam that the walking foot it just too big and clunky to do well.

With my Bernina came a couple of metal bobbins and I quickly learned that just a couple of bobbins is a real pain because not everything can be sewn with a few colors.  At that time, it was still the late 90s, and the 1001 was still fairly  new, so I managed to find a package of a few more bobbins that fit.  I assumed I'd always be able to find bobbins to fit.

But in the past 10-15  years, I have tried finding more bobbins and they are always just a little too big. The Bernina dealer we had nearby is no longer dealing with Berninas, so I have no place to drive to within an hour's drive.  I was afraid to get them online because I kept reading terrible reviews about the quality or that they were not the size people were saying they were and I didn't want to be stuck.

This Christmas, when no one knew what to get me and I kept saying I didn't want to make a list, I decided to bite the bullet and investigate these bobbins and see if someone could get them.

Voila, 8 more bobbins that fit!  I really think the metal kind work best, though the plastic have never given me trouble.  I just feel like the metal makes things glide better.  I was nervous when I saw the holes because my original bobbins don't have holes but these work just fine.

Are you ready for my big confession?  I've sewn on this machine for more hours than I can possibly count in the past 2 decades and I've never had it serviced!  I don't think about it until I clean it myself and then I wonder if maybe I should take it somewhere.  But then I'll  be just about to start a new project and don't want to give it up for a week or more.  So I continue to subscribe to the old "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" theory.

My mother has more than one sewing machine and so does my sister and it makes me think maybe I should have a fancy machine along with this one.  But then I see all of the new machines and they are all made of plastic.  This 1001 is actually porcelain covered, so it has this heavy, cool feel to it.  The plastic machines just feel so cheap to me.  Like they aren't made to last.

So, I'll continue to save my pennies until the day this Bernina bites the dust and I have to give in to a new model.  Until then, I think we are in this for the long haul!

Linking here:

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Ham, Egg and Cheese Braid

I was featured with these fine ladies!

Recently I saw a picture of a Ham and Egg Breakfast Braid from and thought it would be a good thing to make for Christmas morning.  It's anyone's guess what time everyone will be at my parents' house and sometimes, we get kind of hungry before it's time for Christmas dinner.  Something with a little protein seemed like a good idea.

In the original recipe, it suggests using tubes of crescent roll dough but I don't buy those, so I had to think about what I would use that would be easy and would hold together.

I whipped out my tried and true pizza dough recipe and made up a batch in my bread machine.  Using the bread machine saves so  much time because it does all of the kneading and and rising for me.  I also know it takes exactly 1 hour 45 minutes so I can plan what I will do.

I made this as a trial the other night and it was really big for one cookie sheet.  For Christmas, since we have a non dairy eater, I divided the dough in half and did one with cheese and one without.

Once I had the dough laid out, I put about 6 pieces of deli ham down the center and then half of the scrambled eggs on top of that.  I didn't put cream cheese in my Christmas day version and I liked the texture of the eggs better without it.  On one tray, I put some monterey jack cheese on top of the eggs.  I used cheddar the first time and it was good but a little sharp.  This was milder.

It's not really a braid when I make it.  I slice each side and put the sides across and stick it to the dough on the opposite side.  Then I slice some more, etc.  They end up looking like swaddled babies, I think.

I baked them at 415 degrees for about 15 minutes because pizza dough cooks faster and hotter.

I always, always, always forget to do an egg wash, so I didn't even bother separating an egg to pretend I was going to do it this time!

I used a pizza cutter to slice across and people took pieces to eat on a plate with a fork or just in their hands.

It was a big hit and I think I will make it for Christmas morning again. 

Linking here:

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Fashion World Is No Match For Me

I've gone right over the edge.  By accident.  I've committed fashion murder.

Sort of.

I bought a pair of jeggings that I thought were jeans.  They looked like jeans and didn't have the telltale jeggings fakeness to them.    They felt like real denim.

They were super cheap so I should have known.

They are snug and then flare at the bottom.

When I realized the error of my ways, I almost took them back but it wasn't really worth the effort because they were like $14.  But they were too long and looked even more ridiculous rolled up like this.

But, since I don't have any respect for jeggings, I couldn't bring myself to hem them.

They were so long, they needed to be rolled up twice and they weren't staying rolled because of the flare, so I had no choice but to hem them.

And now I think they might be a little short, so I might take them out and redo them.  Or, I might never wear them in public so who will care?

I'm not kidding anyone.  I will obviously wear them in public because they are easy to wear and comfortable, right?

But, I think I need a belt because they keep slipping down.

Who wears jeggings with a belt??

Who hems jeggings?

And who hems them with gold thread?

That's right, gold!  I've had this gold thread on a bobbin for YEARS and never find a use for it.  When I tried to find the color that would match the topstitching on these high quality pants, I didn't have anything close.

So, I figured gold was the closest I was going to get and now I can totally entertain myself when I see my gold hems.

See that extra pocket detail there, and the grommet?  See how I might have thought they were real jeans?

After this fashion faux pas, it's all downhill.  Stay tuned for the mumus!

Linking here:

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Glazed Lemon Cranberry Cake

Are you familiar with Annies Eats?  This amazing website has recipes that are easy to make, taste great and are always a little different than you'd expect.

I wasn't even looking for this kind of recipe, but I follow her on instagram and when she posted a picture that looked like this:

I knew I was going to have to try it.  I have that crazy amount of cranberries, remember, so making this for Thanksgiving was a no brainer.

Everything went as expected, even my bundt pan.  Usually, cakes gets stuck in it and I make a huge mess.  Because the fruit was on the bottom of the pan, I think that helped the whole thing come out.

When it's finished, you make a lemon glaze with confectioner's sugar and lemon juice and drizzled it over.

This gorgeous china is a family heirloom and cannot be duplicated, so don't even ask where it came from.

The cake is very tasty and pretty dense.  My only complaint is that I don't think I used enough lemon, so next time, I would use more.

Otherwise, it came out exactly as I thought it should.  I never refrigerated it and it held up really well.  The cranberries didn't leak down into the cake to make it soggy and the cake remained not stale after several days of leftovers.

Another amazing hit from Annies Eats that will surely become a holiday go-to again and again!

Linking here: 

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Christmas Craftastrophe

If you've spent any time on my blog, you know that I make things and they usually turn out pretty well.  Most recently, I've made these and these and even this and I'm pretty sure they all came out nicely.

As expected, even.

So, when I saw this post about the cutest bath fizzies and how easy they are to make, I was sure that I would make them and they would be the best thing since peppermint bark.  I was going to make a million of them and give them as last minute gifts to everyone I knew:  the mailman, the bank tellers, the newspaper boy, random strangers passing by, the dog walkers, kids waiting for the bus.

So, I assembled the ingredients: 

cornstarch- in my cabinet
baking soda- in my cabinet
epsom salts- in my bathroom thanks to this
essential lavender oil- in my shower
food coloring- got it
water- no problem
citric acid- I'll just run out and get some

When I got to 'citric acid' I should have hung it up right there.  I forgot that when I first started canning applesauce, I had tried to find citric acid because I thought it was a vital component and would keep things from spoiling.  Turns out, it just keeps the apples from turning brown.  Who cares if your applesauce is light brown or dark brown?  So, I gave up and forgot about it.

I heard rumors that Whole Foods has citric acid but nowhere else really does.  We don't have Whole Foods around here, so I figured good old Stop and Shop would have it.

I might have been asking for plutonium.  They had no idea what I was saying.

I had to take matters into my own hands and went to Shaws, another local grocery store.  I finally found citric acid in the canning aisle, produced by Ball, the company that makes all things canning.  It had citric acid, dextrose and silicone dioxide.  What harm can those other things do, right?  It has citric acid and it's what I need.

Well, in what can only be the purest definition of irony, my cute little green Christmas trees turned BROWN.  Remember how citric acid is used to keep apples from turning brown?  Well, my bath fizzies which were white and dyed green, nary a brown spec in sight, turned brown.

And they were a GIANT mess and full of holes.

They are supposed to be moist enough to pack into the little molds, but not soupy.  Well, the trees were a little soupy because I was in a hurry and added too much water.  Just as practically functional had done with her first attempt, I added too much water and had a growing mass of sludge.  Hers dried out eventually, so not to be deterred, I put mine on our radiators and let them dry.  And they still looked like that after 4 days. 

And the worst part?  They wouldn't fizz.  They just sank in the water and broke apart.  Like crumbling cookies. 

So, I tried it again.  I was going to make these cute little gingerbread men.  I was going to make a million, give them to everyone I did and didn't know.- see above.

It was going to be legendary.

So, I started again and took much more time.  I sprayed on the water, just like she said.  Over and over I sprayed.  I had what was a slightly packable consistency.  I packed it into the mold.  And I had some left over, so I made little balls.

This was going much better.  No rising bread dough-like behavior.  Very little expansion.

And then the holes started. 

And after several days of drying, I ended up with another batch of unfizzable crap that looked like this.

So, into the trash everything went.  I'm done with the fizzies.  It's back to peppermint bark for me this year. 

I had such high hopes.

I'm pretty sure the silicon dioxide and dextrose in the citric acid blend was the problem.  I'm sure someone can chime in and tell us the scientific reason this didn't work.

We are getting a Whole Foods here this summer, so maybe I'll give it another whirl for next Christmas, when I can just buy citric acid without all of the extras.

Oh, my favorite part?  When k-ster kept asking "wait, are these food?" and I'd say they are bath fizzies and because he didn't know what a bath fizzy is, he ignored me and asked later on "are these food?"   

I'm not afraid to share this disaster of a craftastrophe here:
and here and   here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Making It So Easy To Eat Your Veggies

We didn't eat Brussels sprouts growing up and I've always heard only negative things about them.  Most people moan and groan about how awful they are and how when they were kids, they couldn't leave the table until they ate them all and it was pure torture.

I'm pretty sure those poor kids had to eat boiled Brussels sprouts which probably do taste dreadful.

I'm here to tell you why you need to roast Brussels sprouts and wow the masses.  My sister once mentioned that I should try roasting them in a little bit of olive oil and see what I think.  I was hooked immediately and I make them a lot.

I simply take frozen (because fresh are not really easy to find here and when I do find them, they are always sad and wilted looking) Brussels sprouts, put them on my favorite Pampered Chef stoneware, drizzle a touch of oil on top and cook them at around 415 degrees for about 20-30 minutes.  It's vague because I go in and stir them a few times and when everything starts to brown but not burn, they are done.

Even k-ster loves them.  We easily eat one bag of frozen Brussels sprouts between us and look for more every time!  There really isn't all that much in one of those frozen bags.

Recently, I noticed that Olives N Okra makes a version with pancetta and some garlic.  It sounded really good though I never buy pancetta.

One of the biggest tortures for me is when I get to the barn after school and I don't have a plan for supper.  If I don't figure it out before I ride, I spend a good portion of my ride wondering what I will make.  If I just planned my meals for the week, this would never be an issue but I don't seem to be able to plan my meals like that.

Just as I was getting my stuff together, I remembered that we had macaroni and cheese leftover.  Then I thought about the Brussels sprouts recipe with pancetta and the wheels started turning.  I wouldn't venture into the pancetta world because I've never used it, but I could get a thick piece of ham and do the same thing.  And I had some broccoli from my garden that needed to be eaten, so I figured I could combine it with the Brussels sprouts and make a lovely dish to go with the macaroni and cheese.

And this did not disappoint!  I put a bag of Brussels sprouts, a handful of broccoli, about half a pound of ham, some garlic and a little oil together on my stoneware.  I shook it around and coated everything and put it in the oven at 415 degrees for about a half hour.

The broccoli was a little delicate because it wasn't a firm head of broccoli, so it was very crispy when the rest of it was ready, but it made a really good companion to the macaroni and cheese!  I will definitely do this again!

If I made this for a fancy meal, I would eliminate the broccoli unless it was nice and firm.  Some people wouldn't want to eat the crispy florets that my garden is so good at growing.

Linking here: 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What's In A Name?

I have a thing about names.  I like them to be pronounced correctly, whether someone is saying my name or I'm saying someone else's.  I really believe your name has a lot to do with who you are and when people ignore your personal pronunciation of your name or call you by the wrong name, I think that does a lot to the psyche.

Names always conjure up images.  If you've ever heard a name before, you always have a person in mind with that name and it can make you really happy or destroy you.  I don't know how teachers or coaches can name their kids because there are few names out there we don't associate with someone!

My name is JoAnna but I HATE to be called Joanne or Johanna.  Both bring up images of people with those names who I would not want to be associated with and I get very annoyed.  When I was little, I would just suck it up, but now if someone says the wrong names, I so automatically say "JoAnna", I don't even realize I've done it.  And people are nice about saying "Oh, sorry, JoAnna..... But anyway, Joanne..."  It really never goes away.

When I was younger, I thought exotic, cleverly spelled names were the way to go.  If I had kids, I was going to give them the craziest spellings of their names so they would always be unique.  I might even make up names, I used to think.

Then I started teaching.  In my time, I've had thousands of names come through my gradebooks. 
I used to think I should get a phD in nameology and if that didn't exist, I was going to make it exist.  During the course of my study, I would do a lot of research on criminals, outcasts and social weirdos and their names.  I think strange names lead a child to feel strange and then do strange things, often committing crimes.

I have no scientific research to back me up, but very often in my 20 years of teaching, I have found that students with most unusual names are the students who are most often in trouble, sad or seemingly outcast.

However, there have been plenty of average Joes and Janes who fall into the same category, so basically I'm talking right out of my butt.

Over the years, I have taught every imaginable version of Katelyn and Katherine.

I've taught students with names of flowers, seasons and months.

I've taught students whose names are cities, countries and states.

I've had "normal" names with "abnormal" pronunciations like Tara or Cara who insisted on being called Tahra or Cahra, like tar or car as the first syllable.  Where we live, you say the a like you do in cat.  You know, the way most normal people pronounce Cara, Tara, Sara, etc.

I'm kidding on the normal thing.

I've taught Jesus, Mohammed and Moses.

I've taught girls whose first names are their parents' names blended together.

I've looked at my class lists and thought maybe a 3 year old gave out names that year.

I've looked at class lists and thought the scrabble bag fell on the floor of the nursery and parents just grabbed the first 7 tiles to name their babies.

I've had foreign names so difficult to pronounce that kids have just said "John is fine".  To which I said "No, I WILL say it correctly because that's your name, just help me!"

Because in my theory about  names, I believe that when a child gives up on adults that young and lets them call them whatever feels closest to their complex name, they have given up relying on adults for guidance in their lives.  I think kids think if we can't say something as seemingly simple as their name, how can we be an expert on anything?

I'm sure I've had that thought when I've corrected someone and they still call me by the wrong name.  How hard can it BE!

Here's what happens with common names spelled uniquely:  they get butchered to every extent of the law.  Those of us who try to remember usually have to make some elaborate mnemonic device in the brain to make sure we spell it correctly or we come up with some approximation that isn't quite right.  And kids get upset.  I don't blame them.

I can't believe I've had enough Savannah/Savannas that now i have to say "with an H or no H?".  Or a class with two Aidans, where one spells it Aidan and one spells it Aiden.  I like that one, actually, because when I write it, we know which is which right away.

And do you know what happens with hyphenated last names?  Gradebook programs don't love this, so when they print attendance lists, if the last names happen to be long, we get 3 letters of the first name.  If the name is Smith-Brown, John it's not such a big deal, but when it's Fitzpatrick-Sullivan, Nathaniel, well, we usually end up with Fitzpatrick-Sullivan, Na and then we don't know where to go from there.  Nathan?  Nathaniel?  Nathalie?  Narwhal?  (Oh, it's only a matter of time before Narwhal walks through my door.)

Ever called roll the first time you've seen a class and held your breath with every other name because you don't want to destroy their names but you also don't even know if you're seeing the whole thing?

Or, even worse, you don't know if it's a boy or girl?  I've taught girl Ryans, Taylors, Corys and new for me this year, a girl Aidan.  I always make sure to put girl next to their name for my sub plans so that the sub will know.  Because that has to be yet another identity crisis in the making.

Don't get me wrong, I have often thought some of the names I've seen are really clever.  I love the blended parent names, for example.

And all of those old names like Hazel and Edith are coming back and surprisingly, the cute kids who wear those names wear it well and don't look like the 90 year old ladies my brain conjures up.

So, after all this rambling about names, where are we going?  I have never ever, not one time, ever seen a name and thought "Well, that's ridiculous".  I've heard plenty of colleagues grumble about names or roll their eyes, but I usually think it's fine.  Whatever.  As long as I can pronounce it and remember if you're a boy or girl, I'm good with it.

And then yesterday, I heard a name that just pushed me past my limit.  A girl told me her younger sister's  name is Pebbles.  And my first thought was "WHAT???  That's just RIDICULOUS" and that thought was immediately followed by "Do you have a brother named BamBam?"  And somehow, I kept my mouth shut.  All I said was "Did you say her name is Pebbles?"  and she said "Yes" like that was not at all an unusual name.

After all, Wilma, Fred, Betty, none of those are weird.  And I know someone named Dino.

And then I thought of all those Barneys out there.  All of whom were born before that purple dinosaur Loved You and Me, all of whom conjured up images of the stone age.  And I wondered if in 20 years these kids will name their kids Barney and the first image their teachers will have will be a large, purple dinosaur and think "Well, that's just ridiculous."

Linking here:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Embrace Your Immersion Blender

Do you have an immersion blender?  Do you put it in a drawer and forget about it?  Do you bring it out every so often and think "why don't I use this more often?"

I do all of those things.  Even though I know the fabulousness of my immersion blender, I somehow never use it!

I bought my immersion blender originally because I needed to stir up crêpe batter at school when I made crêpes for an event.  This was a yearly event, so I knew it would be really useful for that.  And it was.

And on a rare occasion, I will pull it out and use it for pancake batter.

This summer, when I was making spaghetti sauce, I used it to puree the vegetables and I remembered how awesome this device really is!

The last time I went to France, within an hour of arriving, our host was using her immersion blender to throw together a soup for our starving bodies.  While I was there that time, I noticed a lot of mention of immersion blenders and soups "veloutées" which always makes me think "velvety".

Tonight, I whipped up a potato soup out of the blue and I knew just the thing to make it all work!  I boiled potatoes while I was sauteeing my one leek from the garden and an onion that I didn't know was still in my garden.

Sadly, these potatoes were not homegrown.

When the potatoes were soft, I drained them and threw them back in the pot with the onions and leek, some milk, some butter and some chicken broth.  I stuck that immersion blender in there and within a couple of minutes, I had  my own "veloutée".

I was really happy with the texture and the taste.  I'm not the most wild fan of potatoes, especially mashed, but this was just soooooo good.  And one leek was enough for what I was doing.

My immersion blender, as I'm sure most do, comes right apart and the blending part can go into the dishwasher.  I always resolve to use it more often when I do use it, and now that I realized how easy and delicious this soup was, I might be reaching for it a little more often!  There's really no excuse other than it's not out in the open or in a drawer I reach for all the time, so I don't think about it.

Linking here:

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Just Follow The Bouncing Cranberry

The Chicken Chick
Living on Cape Cod, a major cranberry growing mecca, I feel like it's my duty to share with you some information about cranberries.  My 4th grade teacher was obsessed with the whole cranberry growing process, so I learned most of my information in 4th grade, but it's mostly still true.

Stick around to the end and I'll share some fun facts that you can use to quiz your family when the conversation falls into a lull!

Cranberries are very tart berries that grow on a short plant that some people like to call a vine.  It's not a bush or tree like some people believe.  It's not a vine in the sense that it winds its way up a fence, or at least not here where they keep them groomed.  More on how they groom them later.

Cranberries do so well in our climate because they don't need a long growing season and they especially love sand.  And if we have anything on the beach, it's sand.

I've always thought that's why they are so bitter.  They have such rotten conditions to grow from!

The reason it's called a cranberry is because the flower looks like a crane, as in the bird, like a whooping crane.  Or a heron, if you don't call them cranes where you live.

The bogs, and we call them cranberry bogs, not fields as some person in a youtube video I just saw called them.  They are bogs, as in peat bogs.  Peat is decayed matter and we have lots of peat here in the marshes.  These bogs are down in the ground, so when you drive by cranberry bogs, you notice that the "field" is actually a foot or more below ground level.  In the winter, when they flood the bogs and the water freezes, it looks like you're stepping down into an ice skating rink.

There are lots of ditches in cranberry bogs so that when it comes time to flood the bogs, the water has somewhere to come in and a way to go out when they drain the bogs.  It makes it really hazardous when they are dry picking the berries because they push machines kind of like big lawn mowers and if they don't pay attention to where they are, they can get the machine or themselves stuck in a ditch.

The water also protects the vines in the winter as the water freezes, so when it's going to get really cold here, most bogs get flooded.  And lots of people think that means they should go ice skating on them!  We were also told it was safer than pond skating because it's not as deep so if they ice isn't really frozen and we fall in, we are less likely to drown.  A myth because hypothermia kills just as easily as drowning!

When the berries are ready, which is usually in September, they have two ways to pick.  First, they dry pick as I just explained.  These machines also groom the "vines".  In the old days, they used to have wooden boxes with tines like a comb that they would use to handpick.  I can't even imagine.

Once they have dry picked, then they will often wet pick the same bog.  With wet picking, they flood the bogs and all of the good cranberries float to the surface.  This is why in those cranberry juice ads with the older guy and younger guy, it looks like they are standing in red water.

The guys wear waders in the water and another guy  drives a different kind of machine.  These are kind of like giant egg beaters that go below the surface and stir up the berries and release any that the dry picking didn't get.  Somehow, these beaters don't destroy the plants.

They corral the berries with big pieces of wood and make a big circle of berries that get vacuumed up into a large trailer.

Dry picked berries are what you get in the produce aisle at this time of year, in the plastic bags.  I imagine dry picked also get dried as craisins eventually too.

Wet picked won't be dried again, so they make the juice and cranberry sauces out of those.

There was a time that only 5 states in the US could support growing cranberries because of their peat/sand soil.  However, with modern science, fake bogs have been created and now they grow cranberries in China which I can't even comment on without probably getting arrested for my outrageous accusations.

So, I bring you this lesson because we usually get cranberries from a grower that k-ster grew up knowing.  At one point, k-ster worked as a harvester of berries and brought home a ridiculous amount one year.  I wasn't the canning maven then that I am now, so I gave away tons and tons of those berries.

For the past few years, we've gotten one of their harvest boxes full which is a lot, but I can cranberry sauce, so it's reasonable.  He charges a very modest price.  I love the fact that they are local and just picked.

This year, I didn't cook the berries on the stove because I found that they got too foamy last year.  I put them in the crockpot and let the magic happen.  This way, I could get them washed and ready to cook and then go away for a while and let them do their thing without constant attention.

I got two crockpots going at once and made the first batch into jellied sauce.  This requires putting the berries through the food mill once they are done, but it also gives a nice jelled sauce that has less seeds and no pulp than whole berry sauce.

The next batch was just whole berry.  Once the berries get soft, they are easy to squish, so as I stirred in sugar and ladeled it into the jars, a lot of berries squish down.  Some remain intact, so they are really pretty in the glass jars when the canning is done.

Cranberry sauce is really easy to make, whether you are canning it or just making it to eat with the Thanksgiving meal.  You put the cranberries into a pan with a little bit of water so the berries don't stick.  Put it on medium heat or lower and let them cook.  THey start to pop when they are heating up and once a lot of them are soft, you add the sugar.
And that's it.

If you want precision, google a recipe for it.  And prepare yourself for the quantity of sugar it requires.  It's A.LOT.OF.SUGAR.  Because cranberries are sooooooo tart!

When I made my sauce this year, I did one batch outside and the following weekend, I had less time and  less sauce, so I did the other  batch inside.  I love to can outside, which I can do if it's fruit because you don't need to pressure can fruit.   I use the big propane burner and my huge put which has this strainer that I love for putting the jars in and pulling them out.

This year, I had two jars break.  Something I've never had happen before.  I am pretty sure it was because I wasn't very precise about headspace.  I filled them too much and they just exploded.

One of the things I'm always afraid of with canning is breaking jars.  I always think they are going to explode like a meth lab and we'll be picking glass shards out of the neighbor's beams for years to come.

Each of the jars that broke were in a different round of cooking and both just broke out the bottom and that was it.  No shattering of glass, no giant explosions.  I was sad to lose two jars but happy that the effects were minor.

So, the fun facts I promised to reveal:

-cranberries and poison ivy grow exceptionally well together and when it's time to pick, it's impossible to avoid the poison ivy.  For someone who is so highly allergic, picking season spells out a trip to the doctor no matter what. Miraculously, the poison ivy oil doesn't carry over to the berries when they are bagged because I've never picked up poison ivy from cranberries and I would be the first to get it!

-cranberries are full of vitamin C and during that first terrible winter that the pilgrims spent trying to live on this seemingly fallow land, they discovered the health benefits of cranberries.  Ships started carrying cranberries for sailors to eat to get their vitamin C to ward off scurvy.  Remember learning about scurvy?  I bet they don't have time to learn that in 4th grade anymore.  Sad, really.

-spiders love cranberry bogs and though I haven't seen how big they get, from the way I've heard them described, they are like daddy longlegs on steroids.  And they crawl all over you while you're picking.

-cranberry sauce isn't the only thing you can make with cranberries.  My sister introduced us to Cranberry Salsa and I bring it to a lot of things as a dip.  In the summer, I use my frozen cranberries to make it and since it's a dip, it doesn't matter that the cranberries get soggy when they thaw.  But don't ever make this mistake.

-when cranberries are good, they bounce.  When we went to the Ocean Spray factory in 4th grade, we saw an example of the bouncing box.  Here, I show my own version.  And that little one at the end doesn't bounce because it is quite rotten.

So, this holiday season, as you enjoy your cranberry sauce and cranberry dishes, you can think of me and this lesson in cranberry growing and wow your friends and family!

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Losing My Hot Dog Roasting Virginity

Recently, it was my birthday, and while I'm not one to make it known to the world, I thought I'd share with you my story about a gift I received.

K-ster and I don't give each other much for our birthdays or Christmas.  I prefer gifts like putting together the greenhouse or putting in a new kitchen floor.  Jewelry and chocolate are lost on me.  Well, jewelry is, anyway.  Who can resist chocolate?

This year was no different, with me reminding k-ster not to even think about getting me anything for my birthday.  Making Devil's food chocolate cake is more than enough.

So, as we walked over to my parents house, he carried a large cardboard tube and insisted it was just a little something we would use.

Because he knows he has me at "practical" or "useful".

I opened the tube to reveal:

My most devoted readers will be astounded by 3 things in this picture:

a) the idea of me eating a hot dog
b) the possibility that I might go camping to eat said hot dog
c) safety.  While I never promote being unsafe, there is many a story on this blog that might indicate that safety wasn't my number 1 decision in the long list of decisions I had to make.

I'm sure everyone would know that MADE IN THE USA tag probably cancels out anything shocking in this post.

I'm a little bit of a fan of roasted marshmallows, and usually, if we have marshmallows and he has a fire in the firepit, I will get a stick, heat it up and stick a marshmallow on it to roast.  Whether or not the chocolate and graham crackers are there for s'mores doesn't really matter.  It's the marshmallow that matters to me.

K-ster recently had to buy a hitch from this company and somehow came upon the only non-towing accessory they carry and thought of me.

I'm as astounded as you are.

I don't camp.  I don't even glamp.  And the firepit is not usually my first choice in entertainment because I usually breathe in smoke no matter where I sit and then smell like an ashtray.

So, what is the big deal about the safety sticks,  you ask?  When did roasting a hot dog or marshmallow become unsafe?

Inside this nylon bag, you will find:

4 very long skewers with safety tips.  I guess too many people have been stabbed by roasting skewers in the past, so someone decided bending the tips back was much safer.

While I applaud their efforts, I now see them as "safe" swords.  The very kids who were once stabbing at each other with normal skewers or sticks will now use them as swords and jousting spears.

I figured it would be fun to blow k-ster's socks off and suggest we have a fire and not only roast marshmallows, but use these spears as they were intended:  for hot dog roasting.

I don't have the stamina at this point (probably because I consumed hot dogs and my body is full of poison) to explain to anyone why hot dogs are the worst thing I would put in my body, but suffice it to say, this is like a once a year event.  All of the good eating I do most of the time should cancel out all of tonight's damage.

Because not only did I eat fire roasted hot dogs, I also resorted to store bought rolls and canned beans.

And then I ate some s'mores.

If I even wake up tomorrow after a night of those foreign chemicals floating around in my body, it will be a miracle.

K-ster made a lovely fire and we had just the right temperature and no wind.  We skewered our hot dogs and held them over the heat and flame, wondering how long to keep them there.  I was a little impatient and bumped my hot dogs on a charred log, so I had a little burned action going on.  K-ster was better but I think he's done this before.

I was a hot dog roasting virgin until tonight.

And I'm still no pro.

K-ster called it a night way before I did, so I was a one man band for the s'mores making and eating.

It seemed a little silly to only roast 2 marshmallows on such long spikes, but I wasn't going to eat that many s'mores by myself.  If you were making a lot, these would be great for a crowd.

K-ster also suggested we could roast shrimp this way.  A possibility, yes, but pretty unlikely.   It would make for a fun party trick, though.

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Happy Feet

In case you haven't read any of my posts about my riding hobby, click here for a crash course.

When I ride during the week, I usually change at school.  The barn where I ride is literally across the street from school, so it's really convenient.  The only drawback is that whether I change at school or at the barn, I'm usually stuck in a bathroom that isn't really great for changing.

The privacy is great, but the floor in any bathroom is not the best place for standing or sitting, both of which I have to do when I get into my riding clothes and boots.  Last year, I changed in an office that wasn't used after school, so I had a rug I could stand on.  But the door didn't lock or even latch, so I was always panicking that someone would walk in.

And there's no room for a chair in the bathroom, so that's out of the question.

I like to change at school rather than at the barn because it's nice to change clothes when I'm already used to the building temperature.  In the winter, the barn bathroom is heated but going from school, to my car and then into the barn is a lot of weather changes.  Plus, if I change at school, I bring my clothes in from the start of the day so they don't freeze in my car.

Recently, I had a brainstorm that if I made a little mat for myself to stand/sit on while I change, then I could have a comfortable little spot and I wouldn't have to balance on one foot as I'm trying to get the other sock on.

Think  baby changing mat.

I found a "pleather" remnant at Joann fabrics for a really reasonable amount of money.  I thought this would make a great back, if I put something soft on the other side.  I couldn't believe it when the words "can you tell me where I can find pleather" came out of my mouth.  And then to find a remnant and discover it was this big (like 5 feet)  was totally a surprise.
I had some blue fleece at home, also a remnant, that I was going to use for polo wraps but discovered it was too short.  Much to my pleasure, it was just about the same size as the pleather, so I decided to use it with a little bit of batting inside.  I have tons of batting remnants, so I zigzagged some together and used them on the inside.

My original plan was probably a 2 x 2 foot mat.  Enough to stand on  or sit on, but also small enough to tuck into my bag.

I am forever a one trick pony, so I decided to do my wavy stitch to hold it together and keep the batting in place.  The pleather wasn't so hard to sew with.  I used a jeans  needle and that seemed to be fine.  My issue was the size.

Because I had to go ahead and make it as big as the remnants were, and ended up with about a  2 x 4 foot, maybe bigger, mat.

And then I decided I had to edge it with something.  I had some other fleece from when I made the polo wraps, so I doubled it and used it as binding.  That was the hardest and probably the dumbest part of the entire project.  I simply couldn't do it with the machine.  It was like wrestling an octopus.  Too much movement, stiffness, and frustration.

So, I used my Wonder Clips which were waaaaaay too small for this and put the binding on.

Then I sat on the floor with it in my lap, because that's the only way I can do a binding, and had quite a hard time with the pleather side.  The fleece side was a breeze, so I saved that for last.  But my finger and thumb are pretty sore from that fabulous event.

Now I have the happiest feet ever.  And I can sit on it and have my legs still on it, so that's even better.

I might even pull it out and take a nap on it!

Because basically, I made a yoga mat!!

I'm also happy that it's flexible enough to fold up and stick in my barn bag and I can fold it in such a way that the "dirty" side will never touch the clean side!

Last week, I was featured on:

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Quick and Easy Potluck Skewers

We have a clinic coming up at the barn where I ride.  I've learned that with a clinic comes a potluck.  I haven't quite figured out the connection because it's odd to think that each person is getting a private lesson but then they all hang around and watch each other and need lunch.  I don't know of many lessons you can take in that kind of forum.

But, it's just another example of how riding is nothing like any activity I've ever done

I've made these quick and easy potluck skewers a few times and they always disappear immediately.

You only need 3 ingredients:

a large stick of pepperoni
a block of cheese
a can of pineapple chunks

I used 8 inch skewers for these, which are shorter than the typical skewer you get for grilling.

I've found that jack cheese works well for skewering.  The cheddars crumble and don't hold up.

One of the reasons I really like this is because they are easy to grab and hold while not getting your dirty barn fingers on the food.  Plus, they are wood, so if they get dropped on the ground, they break down, unlike plastic silverware.

This makes about 20 skewers which is just right for our small gathering.  You could easily add other things to the skewer and use longer skewers to make more of a variety.  I tried using plain Monterey Jack cheese as well as pepper jack and both held up well.

Take these to your next cookout, tailgate party or potluck.  They make up well the day before and don't get soggy overnight.  They aren't really messy so there isn't much to worry about when transporting them.  They don't take up a lot of space but they can feed a lot of people.  They don't require any spoons or other utensils that you might lose in the crowd!

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pottery Barn Rainbow Costume Hack

This costume was featured on:
A friend of mine emailed me this picture and asked if I thought I could make it.  I'm pretty sure it was meant to look like the Pottery Barn version I kept finding on the internet.

The hardest part was deciding if I wanted to use fleece and stuff the arcs of the rainbow, or use felt and let it stand up on its own.

After a texting discussion with my sister, I decided felt was the way to go. And she pointed out something that made my life 100 times easier.  Those arcs are all just sewn on top of each other, rather than sewing curved seams.  The seams were what I was worried about, so once I realized I could do it without curved seams, life got easier!

Not having a 2 year old at home, I wasn't sure how wide I would need to make the red arc, so I bought waaaaaaay too much felt.  I knew it needed to be off the bolt because the precut pieces are too small, but I over estimated by a.lot.

When I got to her house, I decided 28 inches wide would stand out in a cute way from her body and I did 18 inches from the top of her neck down.

Next, I cut each arc of the rainbow for one piece.  I should have cut both the front and back at the same time, but I wasn't sure if the lengths would be right and I didn't want to waste the felt.  It would have been a time saver, because I had to keep rethreading the top thread.

I had planned to be all geometry teacher-like and get a string and do a proper arc, but we all know that's just not how I sew. I winged it, in case that's not clear.

Starting with the orange onto the red, I zigzagged in the color that would be on top for each one.  I didn't change the  bobbin thread because that didn't show through.

In the original picture, the front shows the arm sticking out the front in the yellow arc.  I didn't like the look of that, I wasn't really sure how I was going to pull that off and I kind of thought she might freak out of her hands were sort of free but really trapped in front of her.

I thought the easiest thing would be to make two little straps so it would hang like a sandwich board.  Her head could go in easily and her arms would be free.

And then when she had it on, I got the idea to zigzag from from the bottom up about 12 inches so she had plenty of arm room but it stayed together.

The only white felt I could find was glittery, which I actually thought might be fun for clouds.  It wasn't especially thick, so I doubled the layers because it would have looked cheap to see the rainbow through the clouds.

I freehanded the clouds, in case you can't tell that, either.  And zigzagged the edges of those too.  Until this project, I don't think I've ever zigzagged around something for it to be seen.  I kind of liked it!

And after a major meltdown because I tried to get her to put it on, we finally coaxed her into putting i on and she was thrilled.  It ended up more like a cute dress than I was expecting.  The clouds stick out a little on the sides, so it ended up almost looking like an A line dress when she had it on.

And we found out what a cute chair cover it makes when she's finished!

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