Friday, June 12, 2009

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

All the Things

All these things - I've been busy with a number of projects this month. I have been remiss in writing the blog however, which is something I don't like to do.

Antique Browsing:
I've been shopping the antique malls in North Florida lately looking for cookbooks and other documents from the 1800s depicting womens' daily lives for a project I've been working on. More on that project in a much later post. We have at least eight antique malls within an hour of my home (and those are only the ones I know about). I'm a lucky girl.

The above photo was a quick snap. I take pictures of the things I like so I don't buy everything, although I so sometimes feel like a vouyer peeking into history's windows. A mint green stove, a book of 1930s greeting cards lovingly tucked away, hand-stitched quilts. Who let these go?

Rain, Rain, and Gardening
We endured an entire week of non-stop rain, a very rare occurance in Florida. It felt like a series of fall days in Michigan - cool and damp - only the green has been emerging instead of falling away. The rain started exactly one day after we installed $150 worth of landscaping - everything seems to have survived the deluge and is actually thriving.

During the few sunny patches I managed to build myself a 4' x 10' x 1' deep for raised bed for vegetables (the crop was waiting to be planted next to my cat). Only a little erosion, but I was pretty happy that the soil mixture I came up with wasn't too muddy. Today we are reinforcing the sides as the rain has swollen the board and pushed out the nails. The box looks ready to burst.

The raised bed has really been a treat for me. I didn't think I'd keep up with it as much as I have, but it's such a joy. We already have plans for a second one.

Family Firsts
Liam has graduated from preschool on Friday,, a very proud moment for both of us. I don't think he knows exactly what that means though; he doesn't know he won't see those teachers again or set foot in the school. Sort of bitter sweet.

New Couch
On Saturday JC and Liam went to Orlando to pick up our new couch, while Livy, my Mom, and I visited the farmers market. After 7 years of marraige, 5 years dating, we finally picked out a new one together. No more hand me downs. And, YES, it is orange leather and I love every square inch - especially the corner.

As for todays To-Do's:

My pre-seasoned cast iron skillet needs to be seasoned (eye roll). Might happen today - Might not.

Although far from top priority, the sculpey toad stools for the garden need to be finished. I can't remember the magazine I saw them in, but thought it's be fun for the kids to make. This was the only toadstool produced though - Liam made a volcano and Livy a snowman. At least they had fun.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

My New Favorite Cookbooks

I have two new favorite cookbooks, Apples for Jam and The River Cottage Family Cookbook.  After lusting for them for weeks I finally ordered them from Amazon.  I've had them since last night and haven't fully gone through them or cooked anything from them, the fact that they are absolutely gorgeous makes them my favorites.

The fist one is Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros.  It has her memories from childhood involving food, her hopes for her children, and some great looking recipes.  Plus, those are my favorite kind of shoes ever.  Oh, its also organized by color.

From Apples for Jam

From Apples for Jam

Illustration from Apples for Jam

The next book is The River Cottage Family Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fizz Carr.  Again, gorgeous photos, tantalizing recipes, and best of all, explanations as to why you do certain things during cooking.  For example, they explain what flour to use for different purposes.  The recipes are longer because they contain explanation as well.  Again, not done reading it and haven't cooked anything from it, but by looks alone - its a spectacular cookbook.

From The River Cottage Family Cookbook

From The River Cottage Family Cookbook

The River Cottage Family Cookbook and Apples for Jam back inside cover patterns.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Monday was a perfect weather day, although most people would call it overcast or dreary. The sky is seldom grey for an entire day here. The sun always makes a showing even if it does eventually take a nap. Today it wasn't even supposed to make it out of bed. I say that's the perfect weather to be out and about.

After my son's speech therapy, I felt an impromptu visit to a nearby swingset would start the day in a magnificent way and really surprise the kids. So in a tiny white-washed-fenced park with grey clouds looming above, we swung our hearts out. Up and down, high and low, every two seconds "higher than the sky".

As expected, I finally felt the kind of intermittent, fat, plopping rain indictive of a serious Florida downpour. Thankful for the warning, we escaped to the car, just as the rain poured from buckets in the sky. We sat quietly, happy to be prisoners of our own dry car, and watched the swings twist in the wind.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

And 14 Hours Later... (an apple butter tutorial)

I started at 9 a.m. and, fourteen hours later, ended with sweet and tangy apple butter made the old-fashioned way.  Oh, and pride coming out of my ears.  After washing, peeling, coring, paring, and cooking approximately 28 apples on the stove top, and then in the oven, I canned and sealed 8 half-pint jars (a half-pint equals one cup) of the best apple butter ever made (if only because I made it with my own two hands).  

Back in reality, I had just realized that 28 apples and some damn-hard work only yielded 8 cups of butter. Really? Eight cups?  My domestic experiment was a challenge to see if I could do something that my ancestors had to do to survive.  Canned and preserved food were staples at the dinner table during harsh winters when crop wasn't available. 

My most significant "apple butter realization" came later the next day when I'd given my Mom a jar of my apple butter.  She tasted it and said, "You've done your Grandma proud.  She really loved apple butter."  I looked away for a moment, realizing that I had no idea what recipes my grandmother held dear. Our family recipes, not to mention essential skills,  that blew away with the years could never be brought back.  The secrets of my grandmother's traditional domestic life that she kept to so silently to herself.  So I thought I'd share the one just like grandma's.

Traditional Apple Butter Recipe


I chose three different kind of apples because I heard it tastes better.  I grabbed a bag of sweet Gala, crisp Machintosh, and several tart, green apples, name unknown.  In total I used about 28 apples.  The original recipe called for 8 apples so I really had to make this one my own.

The washing of the apples made my kids go nuts.  I did it as quietly as possible until one walked in and told the other.  All of the sudden both sides of the sink were filled and apples were being accosted.


Then came the peeling of the apples;  I wasn't very careful leaving all sorts of peel.  After coring and paring, I felt compelled to visit my step-dad's compost pile with the significant offering.  I did just that because how could you really just throw it away.  I made new dirt and apple butter all in one day.

cook: stove-top

I haven't much to say about stove-top cooking of the apples, except to make sure you use a pot that can go from the stove top directly to the oven.  Sliced chunky, they filled an entire stock pot.  I added about a cup of water to keep the bottom of the pan from becoming too dry and let them bubble and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples looked like apple sauce.  I used my immersion blender to smooth out the consistency a little more quickly.

season and cook: oven

Heat the oven to 300 degrees before you add the spices and the oven will be ready to go when you are. 
Add to the sauce:
1  cup brown sugar
a shake of salt
4 teaspoons cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
a hair shy of 1/2 a teaspoon ground ginger. 
Stir well.

Check on the mixture at least once an hour to stir and check consistency.  Perfect apple butter is dark brown and spreadable.  Its able to form mounds and not pour off the spoon.  Up to 10 hours of cooking seems to be what I spent waiting for the butter's maturation.  A 14 hour process from start to finish.

Sometime between now and then, sterilize 8 half-pint jars on the washers hot cycle.


Place the 8 sterilized jars on the counter near the butter and add one cup of butter to each jar, leaving 1/4 inch at the top for the seal.  Arrange the lid and then the threaded top on each jar.  I waited to see if the heat from the apple butter sealed the jars so I wouldn't have to boil them, but no such luck.  

I started a rolling boil in a stock pot and boiled each one for 5 minutes (you can fit about 4 jars into the bath at one time).  After removal, I waited an hour and checked the seals again.  Each had sealed, meaning there was no give at the middle of the top, as all the air had left the jar.

I'm not sure what to do with my 8 little pots of love.  One for the family which was devoured in 45 minutes, one for my parents, and now 6 more.  They do make good gifts, but I don't want to part with them either - that was hard work.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Potty Training

I am finally going to do it. After the agony of potty training my 4 year old boy (with only weeks until the beginning of pre-school), I am ready to work on Livy, my 3 year old. She was ready when Liam was but I couldn't bear to go through one more day of a toddler peeing in my trash can. So she waited.

Now she's 3 and most of her 2 year old friends are successfully trained. I feel lazy and almost like I've missed a sure fire chance to get it done fast - when she was interested because Liam was doing it. Oh well, what's in the past ...

Liam was very stubborn and in the end the only thing that worked to completely potty train him was the star chart.
For every pee in the potty - 1 star
For every poo in the potty - 2 stars
Every blatant accident removed a star
10 stars = a Transformer
We bought 4 Transformers and we were done by the 3rd. I couldn't believe it was that easy.

With Livy, I'm heading straight for the chart. This time I got a little creative with it - oddly creative in fact. She doesn't care what it looks like - nobody does in fact - except me because I wanted a fast project while the kids colored. If I had thought about it, I would have laminated it and used it for other things, like encouraging Liam to sleep in his bed all night instead of the couch. That has been an epic battle.

I whipped this up using bits of old maps for the days, thick white paper for the white banding, 2 thick craft colored papers taped together for the base sheet, a sharpie, and several stamps I carved but never used for anything. Everything was purposely done by hand, eyeballed, and without a straight edge - I just didn't feel like making this a masterpiece. After all, its to record pee and poo, but hopefully exciting enough to get her running to the pot.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pumpkin x 2

If there is one thing I have a weakness for (chocolate is a given), its anything sweet with pumpkin in it.  I know, I should have made this during the fall, but I craved it.

I've been trying to make as much of our food from scratch as I can - its part of a new thing of mine.  I feel like the world slows down when I'm making things for the family so I'm trying to "embrace" my position as homemaker.  I generally mumble it out of the corner of my mouth when someone asks me what I do, but now I'm saying it loud and proud.  I'm starting with pumpkin and french bread.

In the same spirit, I'm also trying to make all of our gifts.  Remember, I said try.  This is a Tasseled Pixie Baby Bonnett (pattern from She's Crafty) knit in 80% cotton/ 20% wool and - you guessed it - in pumpkin.  I also parted with 2 of my favorite vintage buttons.  I love the green against the orange.d