Saturday, September 26, 2015

My New Way To Keep From Biting Anyone Before Noon

I can't believe it's been 11 days since I posted anything.  I'm sure I've lost all of my faithful fans, none of whom have contacted me to check in my well-being, by the way.

I can't even explain my hiatus.  I guess I just had nothing to say for 11 days.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.  More like I was too tired to bother trying to be clever or show any great things I've whipped up.  School in September really knocks me out.

And I haven't made anything since school started.  Except meals.

So thank you, my one last reader, for checking in today and reading my words of wisdom.

I'm a teacher, in case I haven't mentioned in 45 other posts, and since moving to the elementary school, I've discovered that I burn more calories by 9am than any marathoner in their 25th mile could even fathom.  It takes to wrangle kids at this age, and as I age, I can't keep myself full enough to deal with them until my lunch break.

It's hard to believe that when I first started teaching, I wouldn't eat breakfast, I'd have something small mid morning and then a container of yogurt for lunch.  When I got home, I'd eat everything in the kitchen, but I never seemed hungry until I got home from school.

One container of yogurt at lunch and I'd be civil through the rest of the afternoon.  I can't even imagine.

If I tried that diet today, someone would be maimed before 10am.

I can't deal with protein at 6:30am, but I eat a big bowl of oatmeal with some brown sugar and then I'm out the door.  I used to have Greek yogurt and almonds at my 10:15am break, but this summer, I started making smoothies, and I kind of like the drink-on-the-run convenience of a smoothie.  The yogurt with almonds wasn't really doing the trick last year, but I tried to convince my stomach that it was.  Luckily, I had an early lunch.

This year, my prep period is at 9:25am, and I'm already famished enough to eat my entire lunch.  Instead, I've been drinking a smoothie and believe it or not, I'm ok until 12:40, when I have my lunch.

I've concocted this recipe entirely myself and for me, it's totally working.  I make enough for 3 days worth.  As I put in all of the ingredients I think it's going to taste awful, but I really like it!

Here's my secret recipe:

orange juice (more than you'd expect because there are a lot of thickeners here)
greek yogurt
roasted beets (I don't always have these)
peanut butter powder
cocoa powder
honey or grape jam (once I've replenished my homemade stash!)

I didn't put quantities because a) I can rarely quantify how much I use of anything that I make on the fly and b) you'd want less if you were making just one smoothie for yourself.   I try to use the least amount of honey or jelly that I can.

I have a serious chocolate craving all the time, so I put just a little bit of cocoa powder.  Probably not enough to even taste it, but my brain remembers that I put it in and tells the chocolate loving part of my brain that it's getting a chocolate fix..  There are so many tastes going on, and lots of textures.  When I make them to drink at home, I put ice cubes, but they melt by the time I get them at school, so I don't bother.  This summer, I was also using frozen bananas but it made them soooooo thick, I couldn't even drink them right away, until the bananas melted a little.

That peanut butter powder may be what is pulling it all together for me, and keep me proteined up through lunch time.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's ground peanuts, with coconut sugar, and it's a powder.  One of the regular peanut butter companies makes one, Jiff I think, but I've been buying a different one that I see at Whole Foods and in the organic section of Stop and Shop.  I have issues with peanut butter, a serious love/hate relationship with the smell, so not having gooey peanut butter is a big plus.  I use a lot because the serving size is 2 tablespoons to get any serious protein and since I'm making 3 smoothies in one, I use very generous spoonfuls.  It's a little disappointing that  I use a lot of it each time, so it doesn't last long, but it doesn't have the added oils that peanut butter has, so I'm going with it's healthier for me.

Greek yogurt has more protein than non-Greek yogurt and I think combining that with the peanut powder and the potassium in the orange juice and bananas is making me feel pretty decent all morning.

No one has been bitten, maimed or spat upon this whole month, due to my hunger.

This is a major win.  I have never had such an early prep period or such a late lunch, and the combination of both had me really worried that I might have to bring in a side of buffalo to make it through the morning.

I have a great stash of frozen blueberries from the summer.  Store bought, but at least in season, and when they were on sale I bought a lot and froze them.  When they are gone, this might be hard to replicate because I don't usually buy bags of frozen berries since they seem to always come from China.  If China makes all of our rubber products, then how is their ground safe for making our food too?

But I digress.

I'm currently in beet heaven with all of my beets coming at once, so I've been roasting them and freezing them if I can't use them right away.  The beets add a little sweetness and color and beets are another one of those wonder foods.

I figure by the time I run out of blueberries I will not want to even look at another smoothie and I'll have to come up with something else, but for now, everyone remains unharmed and I remain mostly civil.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Grape Jam

We have some "wild" Concord grapes in the yard.  I assume someone planted them back in the 1800s because when I look them up, they are known to grow well in this region and were planted all over the place back then.  For all of my life, they've just rambled around, doing their thing and producing grapes that are full of seeds and not great to eat.

Every September, they'd turn purple and look pretty, but we never did anything with them.

We've cut them back, let them go, cut them down to nothing, etc. and back they come, year after  year.

So, last year, I thought I'd try making jelly out of them because it seemed like a banner year for them.  It was a major hit, so I've been eagerly anticipating making more this year.  They seem to be ripening at different rates this  year, so I was only able to get this much for my first round.

I don't know how big the colander is, but I think it's enough to hold at least 2 quarts, which is what I needed. You see a lot of green grapes in there, but so many were ripe enough to be splitting, I felt like I had to bring them in.

I went through and took out all of the purple grapes and composted the rest.  I had just enough for 2 quarts.

I am petrified of canning and don't trust what goes on in those jars once I've put them away, even when I follow all of the rules.  The only recipes I will follow are these because the USDA approves them.  Which is ridiculous because the USDA approves lots of things I don't approve of.

But, we all need something to believe.

I see people wildly canning all sorts of things and I cringe because they are doing everything my special guide says not to do.

Lots of jelly making requires pectin, which is something that I don't grow.  I try to can things using only what I've grown, which is kind of the point.  (except cranberries and apples, which I do not grow but at least they are local)  Pectin is what makes things gel, but there is a whole list of jellies and jams that don't need pectin, so I choose to make grape jam.

This just means that the skins are still in the mix.  Which is fine with me because they are so cooked, they're barely noticeable.  And, I think the skins add a little heft which makes for more jars!

Grape jam is the fastest thing to can.  You use the boil water method which means no pressure cooker or canner.  And, it's only 5 minutes once it's boiling.  Faster than anything else out there!

The tedious part is separating the pulp from the skins.

You put all of the pulp and seeds in one pan and cook them until they are soft and the skins all go in the other for about 15 minutes.  This is when you know you have the right grapes because it smells like Welch's has just taken over your kitchen.  I was so blown away by this last year, I think I stood in awe, sniffing the air the entire time.

Once the skins have been cooked, you put the pulps through the food mill, which is always a fun thing for me!

This is what keeps all of the seeds from getting into the jam.  I just love this thing so much because it was a cheap buy but it's an amazing product.  And it's fairly easy to clear out once you're done and it's dishwasher safe.

Then comes the adding of the sugar.  This part kills me every time.  Because when you add the sugar, you realize that's all jellies and jams are.  It says to add 6 cups of sugar.  And believe it or not, that's one rule I don't exactly follow.  I add about 4.   And that is more than sweet enough.  Adding 2 more cups would make it thick, like fudge!

At that point, you have to let the sugar and juice boil together until they are thick enough to gel.  There's a who explanation of "sheeting" which is when you take a metal spoon and dip it into the liquid.  When you lift if up, if the syrup drips down in several separate drops, it's not quire ready.  If the syrup all comes to one spot and drips, then you're ready.

I'm always really afraid it will burn, so I never put it up high enough to start.

Once it's thick enough, jar it and process it and voilà.

I got 5  pint jars plus a little bit that didn't fit but wasn't enough for another half pint.  I use it all year in yogurt.  No one ever puts grape jelly in yogurt, but it's fantastic.  And because I use it for my yogurt, I'm not too eager to share!  I gave away a couple of jars last year, but under extreme duress!

There are more out there ripening now.  I hope I can get them before the raccoons do!  It's not a very long process but I have to have a few hours, which I never do in the early fall!  If I do another batch, I should have enough for 5-6 more pints.

Considering the abuse the vines get (ignoring, no deliberate tending or watering, cutting back at all times of the year willy-nilly) it's amazing I can get such a sweet delight out of them!

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Hitting the Sauce, Freestyle

I've had a bumper crop of tomatoes in the past couple of weeks, so I've been drying, canning and freezing like it's my job.  I'm thrilled because, for a few years, I've had some terrible tomato disease that has ruined plant after plant.  Some have produced tomatoes but I never trust that I should can them in case there's some disease hidden in there.

I have serious trust issues when it comes to canning.

This summer, I've had trouble keeping up with the ripe tomatoes, waiting until there's enough to can and then I've remembered I could use them on the spot.  Duh.

After the first day of school, even though it was a really harrowing day for me due to heat and a headache bigger than Montana,  I determined I had everything to make a sauce.  If I just added some meat, I'd have supper.

So, I cut up a bunch of tomatoes, onions, a zucchini so I could use it up, and a couple of peppers.  I didn't worry too much about the size of the chunks because they were all going in to roast and then I'd puree them.

I also put in some garlic which I did not grow.

This is all very blase,  no measurements.  Remember, I had a big headache and it was hot there were no specifics.  The fact that I was upright and making a plan for supper was all that was necessary.

I poured a little oil over it all and forgot to add salt.   This is a really big deal.  You need to add salt or it will be so bland you might cry.

Not that I cried.

While that was roasting at about 415 degrees in the oven, I went out and picked some basil and washed it so it could be dry when the sauce was done.

After about 15 minutes, I stirred it all around.

And then I kind of forgot about it until I started smelling a little of the juice burning.


I'd say it was all about 45 minutes or so.  The zucchini seems to take the longest to soften.

I took it out and used my immersion blender to smooth it.  I added some basil, which I didn't really chop up.  I just kind of tore the leaves off so I think they were mostly whole.

I cooked some ground turkey since I don't eat hamburger and served it with pasta.  And no salt.  And that was a bad idea, so again, I recommend adding some salt, somewhere in the process.  Not a lot, but just a little something.

I had a little left over which I reheated a couple of days later and added salt.  It was fantastic.

My other big caution is that it all cooks down to not so much sauce.  I used a pretty big pan and it was full, but when it was all pureed, it only really made enough for 2.  You'd need to use a lot more if you were feeding the masses.

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Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Life Lived in Knits

Last summer, at the encouragement of my sister, I tackled the scary task of learning to sew knit fabrics.  Many people who sew admit that knits seem like the scariest fabric out there because they shift and can be slippery and, they need to keep their stretchiness once sewn, which can be tricky.

Luckily, I have a serger, so sewing them is never my issue.  My issues belong to sizing and hemming.  Ridiculous, but I have never made a hem on a knit that suited my fancy.  I always get the 'dreaded tunneling effect' with  my twin needles and I can't fix it, no matter what I do.

While last year's dresses and tops were all about the Lady Skater and Comino Cap and variations thereof, this year's are all about sleeveless dresses.  Because school started last week and it was no less than 400 degrees in my room.  And I melted several times.  I got grouchy.  And I probably bit someone in my heat induced delirium.

This weekend has been amazing with nice cool and dry air but I see it's back to 84 for next week, so  I needed some new dresses.  I have tons of sleeveless dresses that I've acquired over time, but most are polyester or rayon or something else very clingy.  Not that knits aren't clingy, but I feel like they won't stick to the back of my legs when I get up.

They'll absorb all my sweat instead!

I can't figure out how to make the Lady Skater into a sleeveless dress, so I took a pattern for a tank top and added on to it.  I made one of these last  year and only wore it once.  It's more snug than I'd like, I hate the way I did the hem (it's too tight and I always worry I will snap the threads) so I don't wear it often.

To make sure my master plan would work, I made the tank as instructed.  The directions are simple:  sew.  And the pattern is simple:  a front and a back.   That's it!   But the method the pattern gives for creating the neck and armbands has my brain in tatters, so I winged some measurements and luckily, came up with very satisfactory results.

This blue knit was a remnant at Joann and I'm so dumb as to have thought it was better quality than it is.  It's just like another solid color knit I bought last year, which I swore I never would again.  It pills after the first wash and I'm not much of a fan of pilling knits.    Especially if they pill before I've even worn them, let alone before I've even sewn them!

This hem took two tries.  The first was a little too long, even though I had already taken the pattern up at the waist last summer.  And it was slippery.  I think I had a threading issue when I sewed the hem the first time, so the material kept sliding around, almost like it was gathered.  So, I cut it off about 1.5 inches and did it again.  A much better length for me but still not quite right in the tension.  But, since it's already pilled, I won't be wearing it to any high class events, so it doesn't matter.

I like the way the topstitching came out.

Not the biggest fan of this hem.

I thought if I took the top and just continued in an A line sort of shape from the waist, it might work.  I drew it out on wrapping paper since that was the only paper I had that was long enough to make a consistent drawing.

Along the way, this happened, which put a serious damper on my excitement about my newfound plan.  After I cleaned that all up, I poked through my knit scraps to see if there was enough of anything I could coax into becoming my muslin for this pattern.

I forgot that when I bought this fabric for the repeat of this long dress that never happened, I had plenty left over.  I ended up making it a tunic because I was just slightly short of the amount I needed for the dress.  I thought I had a post about it but I can't find it, so imagine that dress at thigh length. As a tunic.  In this fabric.  Which is really lighter in real life.

Got it?

Because I'm short, I had just enough to make my demo tank dress.  My neckline and armband numbers still worked and the flare of the dress made me really happy.  But, I felt like it was a little more snug at the waist than I'd like (it's hard to be in front of kids for an entire day and suck it in so I added just a little more at the hip for the next one.

While it looks black, it's actually navy with darker navy dots.

This isn't the color either.  It's one of those colors that my ipad isn't letting me capture.  Since the knit has these black dots, I decided to make the bands with the other side showing.  I was afraid they might fold on the dots which are slightly raised and look bizarre.  I like the effect.  But I cut these bands a little wider than the others, so the neckband on this is thicker than on the others.

I don't ever do anything right when it comes to sewing.

This one is a much more substantial knit, with less stretch, so I thought the added amount at the hip would work really well because it would be really form fitting otherwise.

Try as I might, that wall went nowhere.  I'll have you know that the hem isn't anywhere near as Marcia Brady short  as it appears here.  I blame it on my ipad angle and that my arms are up.

It's more like this.

You know, proper "below the fingertips" length.  Or whatever.  I've noticed that since I've moved down to the elementary school, the shorter teachers wear shorter dresses than in middle school and no one seems to care.

Short hem lines?  Sign.Me.Up!

The next knit was so stretchy and flimsy, it's probably meant for pajamas.  But, nothing seems to stop me when it comes to making what I want to wear presentable, so I off I went.

Striped dress, striped cat.  I'm très en vogue, non?

The stripes that are in style right now always look absurd on me.  I usually feel like I'm trying to emulate a small French sailor.

Or Waldo.

I didn't realize that the neck and armbands should match the stripes but at this angle, it sure looks like I hit it dead on.  Maybe if I move around A LOT, it will all look just right.  Just one more reason sewing with stripes can be a nightmare...

Finally, I present my attempt to add more red back into my wardrobe.  I used to wear a lot of red, the more tomato in color, the better with my complexion.  But then the world started wearing dreadful colors like dark teal, purple, mustard yellow, and the right red became impossible to find.

Sadly, this isn't really red.  It's doing a fantastic job of looking red in these pictures because I took them inside.  It's really raspberry and even said so on the bolt of fabric. But it's not quite as light raspberry as you see in this picture either.


It's actually the same fabric I used for this dress and I like the way that held up so much, I got some more.  I'm pretty sure the denim blue in the first dress of this post is also this same material.  It doesn't pill and I like the weight of it a lot.

So, I have an entirely new wardrobe for school this week and since it's a 4 day week, I'll have one
dress per day!  The knits were on sale at Joann and I got my teacher discount on top of it.  Since I'm vertically challenged, I can get away with making these out of just over a yard of fabric, depending on which way the stretch goes.

I think I've exhausted the knit department and there is nothing else there that suits me right now.

So sad that I turned 40 and now feel that knits are the best thing since sliced bread.  And that I use expressions like "the best thing since sliced bread".

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My Big 20 Year Blow Out

I follow a few teachers on instagram and this summer, I got inspired to take a look at my classroom and get my act together.  I don't like the actual room I'm in, but for the first two years, I muddled through, trying to adjust to younger students while I ignored my ugly walls.

I was elementary trained, but then I taught middle school for 17 years, so all of that Romper Room decorating savvy just sort of evaporated.  People always commented that they liked the look of my room but that's because a lot of middle school teachers keep a fairly sterile looking environment.  Not as unfriendly and sterile as a high school, but not as welcoming as a kindergarten classroom.

And I once knew how to do kindergarten.  It's where I did my student teaching.  And that room was welcoming, colorful and warm.

Fast forward to the end of this summer and I knew some changes had to be made.  But, that also meant spending some money for things that would make me happy.  I RARELY spend money on school stuff, a silent vow I took the day I graduated.  It's a slippery slope, once you start spending here and there, so I've always made do, refashioned things to what I wanted, begged and pleaded with the school to get them or I've done without.

This year is my 20th year of teaching.  Weird, because I'm only 25.  Like any business, I need to have a 20th anniversary blowout sale.  This translates to a more organized looking room and hopefully, some changes that are positive and functional.

First, I have to show you what my friend j-ster did for me.  I moved a bookcase to create a "sitting area" and when I texted her a picture of the blank wood back and asked if she'd paint a mural, she said "sure"!

Three days later, I was the proud owner of a gorgeous scene that I think my students are going to LOVE!

Here's the view of the sitting area:

They will use the mats to sit on the floor.  I will probably have to put a masking tape line in front of that stool because they have a tendency to sit almost on top of me and when I put the tape down last year, they stayed back!  As the year goes on, I fill this wall with all of the questions they can ask and answer in French.  What you see there is the calendar.  We begin every class with the calendar, just like little kids do in kindergarten.  It's such a rich vocabulary enhancer!

So, looking from the bookcase you just saw, we have this view.  I have 2 windows that are great for light but each only has a tiny window that opens, so this time of the year is a nightmare for me with the heat.

Here's my elementary brain coming back.  Lots of color, I moved that map closer to the floor and my constant quest to put everything up high has been tamed a little bit.  Those white boards are where I write the daily agendas, one for each grade.

K-ster built me a new bookcase,I talked about it here,  so I now have 2 large, purple bookcases adding color to the room.

I'm not one to put decorative things on bookcases, but I couldn't just fill this with books so that all you see is the spines.  No one would ever want to look at any of them.  Setting it up like this adds some interest and mystery, don't you think?

 The top of the bookcase now holds everything from markers to kleenex, so all of my supplies are in one place and there's a poster above it with all of the words they would need for school supplies.

I skipped my desk area because it's a slovenly mess.  I don't have any real storage except for that cabinet and it's not a normal cabinet, so storing things away is hard.

I realize this is blurry, but you get the idea that I used my cricut to make stickers for the computers that are each a French speaking country.  I usually just write it on paper and stick it on with tape, but I'm all fancy now.

That poster right above the computers is worth pointing out.

I used to have a bunch of pictures of France on there, with tags that identified the places, like this.

Except, if you know this monument, you can see I've spelled it wrong.  I've had it up in my classroom for like a decade.  And out of nowhere last year, I realized I spelled Triomphe wrong.  And NO ONE ever corrected me.

The pictures were old and faded, so I replaced them with pictures I took in 2012 and new tags that are all spelled properly!

This is the front of the bookcase that has the mural.  I don't like those boxes in there, but I have nowhere else to put them, so there they reside.  I love that I can put stuff on this bookcase but still see over it.

This is when I look at my room and worry about traffic flow.  I think this bookcase is going to cause a traffic jam.  I've already walked into it twice.  If it becomes a problem, I'm going to have to restructure my entire room!

You can also see in the back of that picture that my yarn cubbie is all set and ready for crocheters to take over!

It's really hard to see, but I added two curtains this year.  The windows are pretty high up and I only made a 12 inch valence, so they almost disappear up there.  The lighting is impossible for a good picture, but this was the best.  There are lots of French words on them and some bikes and bread. They are so high up there, I'm not sure the kids will even notice!  Yet another expense, but it makes me happy to see them!

Don't get excited, this is the end of my spending splurge.  I'm hoping the kids will notice the changes and like them enough to help keep things neat and tidy.

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