Mom was right.

img_8426.jpg

It’s about 10:00 am, and while I’ve been out of bed since about 5:30 am, I am not yet dressed, and that’s my breakfast in the Ninja cup on the table.  So what exactly have I been doing for the last four and a half hours of my life?

img_5851.jpg

I didn’t take this sweaty selfie this morning because I didn’t know I was going to writing about this, but it’s accurate anyway.  Each morning it takes me about 30 to 45 minutes to wake up.  During this time it is best if no one asks me any questions or expects me not to walk into any walls or furniture.  I don’t drink coffee, and I have to wake up on my own.  It means brushing my teeth, putting on my workout clothes, drinking some water, making my bed and perusing social media for a few minutes.  This morning I also threw in a load of towels and put some clothes for handwashing to soak in the sink.

Then I work out for a little over an hour.  During part of my workout, I listen to talks from the recent LDS General Conference.  I like the idea of strengthening both my body and spirit at the same time.

Then I clean.  Years ago I followed FlyLady.net, and I learned a lot about cleaning and organizing from it.  Over the years I have modified what I learned from it to fit my own needs, and basically it comes down to dividing the house into sections and working on a section each day.  (I actually only do this Monday- Friday.)  Our house is generally not messy, so that’s never really been an issue, although we do have a problem with piles that I have to work on.  The biggest problem our house has is the details, but I find that if I commit a couple of hours each week to each section of the house, so many of those details get taken care of.  This morning it was the kitchen.  Appliances, backsplash and cabinets are all on the list, but don’t all get attention every week.  Oiling and rotating my coveted cutting board as well as cleaning the floors really well are a weekly task.

Then I make my breakfast, hit the shower, get fully dressed (my stint with Mary Kay years ago also taught me a thing or two), and hit emails, bills, and other to-do list items.  Which reminds me I need to do something.  I’ll be right back.

img_8425.jpg

I don’t especially like working out or cleaning, so I do it every day, first thing in the morning.  I really hate cleaning the shower, so I keep a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser in the shower and literally clean the shower every day while I am in there.

I’ve heard people say that you should begin your day doing things that get your creative juices flowing so that you feel energized and ready to face the day.  For me that is, as my Nanny would say, bunk.

In the past I have started my day by going straight to the studio, or by sitting down to write, or by cozying up with my latest yarn project while binge watching Netflix, all the while thinking, “Oh, I can wipe down the kitchen when I make dinner tonight.”

What.Ever.

I’ve learned the hard way that not only do I not wipe down the kitchen while I am making dinner, but I also like to snack a lot while I am “being creative,” and oh, I actually am remarkably less productive creatively while I have in the back of my mind the list of things I should actually be taking care of for the day.

When I choose creativity over responsibility, everyone loses.  It’s just the facts.  My family loses out on my undivided attention.  My body loses out on the attention it needs to function properly.  My spirit loses out on the joy of accomplishment.  My clients lose out because I am not efficient or dependable.  Even my projects lose out because I bring so much garbage to the table by not cleaning it up beforehand.

It may seem like I end up with a late start to the studio, because reality is that I rarely get there before noon anymore, but it is also very real that I am much more productive once I hit the studio doors than I ever was before.  I get the same amount of work done in an afternoon that I used to get done in a day, and it all goes back to putting everything in it’s proper place, both in space and in time.

I’d have to say that it really is true that it’s best for me to get my chores done first thing, even if it means I have to admit my mother was right.

Keeping the doctor away.

img_8238.jpg

I learned how to do some home canning several years ago when I lived in south Georgia and had access to what is, I suppose, the breadbasket of the state.  There were a plethora of you-pick farms within a 30 minute drive of where we lived, and I spent the summers that we lived there knee-deep in produce.

Canning, or bottling if you live in the western US, is not something that I grew up doing.  My first experience with it was as a young Army wife stationed at Ft. Lewis near Tacoma, Washington.  I had four small kids in tow, and not a lot of budget, but a whole lot of a sense of adventure.  I had always loved blackberries and remembered picking them with my mom in Georgia when I was young, but the blackberries I saw in Washington were about three times the size of the ones I remembered, and were not only delightful, but incredibly prolific.  They grew wild everywhere, and it made me nuts to think of all that fabulous fruit going to waste.  So, I learned how to make blackberry jam.  By the time we moved from Washington to south Georgia, I had been bitten hard, and I wanted to can just about any fresh produce I could get my hot little hands on.

But these days I’ve learned that our family doesn’t really eat jams or jellies, so it’s not worth the time and money to make them. Pickles are more difficult to get right than one would think, so we just eat all the cucumbers out of our garden.  Freezing things like beans and peas is just as good as canning, and really much easier.  However, I am a stickler for bottled tomatoes, peaches and apples.  I am really picky about how ripe the tomatoes and peaches are when they are picked for canning, and it makes a big difference in the final product.

I’m also particular about apples, but it has less to do with ripeness and more to do with variety.  I like variety.  I like how mixing different types of apples gives even applesauce a little bit of complexity.  The funny part about buying apples in Georgia is that at the time we moved to Washington, I really didn’t know that there were apple farms in Georgia.  In fact, I was really excited to take the kids to show them where all their apples came from in the grocery store.  Of course, I didn’t realize that the apple orchards were quite a trip east from Tacoma, and we never did get to go and see them.  But, as they say, all’s well that ends well.

This year I wanted to do a little shopping to see what the price difference really was between buying at the local markets and driving up to north Georgia to the apple houses.  In the photo on the left above with the red apples, you see what a box of Zestar apples from Your Dekalb Farmers Market looks like.  They cost $46, and are from Minnesota.  They are also absolutely delightful, and might be my favorite.  The apples on the right with the mix of red and green are from some of the north Georgia apple houses.  There is a mix of Arkansas Black, Pippin and Braeburn.  Of these, I like Arkansas Black the best to eat raw.  But the Pippin is a nice, firm, tart apple, and is good for baking.  The Braeburn is a smaller, softer, sweeter apple, and adds nice balance to the mix.  The basket on the right cost about $17, and is probably about 1/2 to 2/3 the number of apples on the left.  At the apple houses in fall of 2017, the apples ran about $6 per 1/2 peck, $11 per peck, and $17 per half bushel.

I generally preserve apples just two ways.  One is to bottle pie apples using a recipe in the Heritage Cookbook, which is a community cookbook my sister-in-law gave me about 11 years ago.  It’s a fat little thing full of input from residents of Parowan, Utah, and the recipe for Apple Pie Filling is the one Judy used for the apples that grew on their property in Parowan, and the one two of my stepdaughters helped her to bottle.

I have plenty of pie apples on hand from past years, so this year I bottled just enough to send some to each of our kids as part of a November care package.  Conveniently, there are 7 kids, the recipe worked for 7 jars, and the canner fit 7 jars in a single swoop.  Done.

Apple Pie Filling

  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup corn starch
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 cups water

Mix together dry ingredients in large cooking pot and add 10 cups of water; cook and stir until thick and bubbly.  Slice tart apples and pack into quart jars.  Leave 1 inch head space.  Fill jars with hot syrup.  Process in water bath 30 minutes.

Other fruits and berries can be used in like manner, but when using peaches, add 1/4 cup more cornstarch.

The other thing I do with apples is to make unsweetened applesauce.  In past years I have made a lot of different kinds of applesauce and have tried lots of recipes.  However, I find that I like to preserve food as plainly as possible so that I have more options down the road.  If I want cinnamon applesauce, I can for sure add cinnamon to it after it’s been made.  Heat it up on the stove even.  But once it’s in there, it’s in there, and you got what you got.  Plain, unsweetened applesauce is a reasonable snack, is easy to dress up, and can sometimes act as a replacement for oil or eggs in baking recipes.

img_8173

I set things up pretty much the same every time I bottle something.  Some of the tools are different based on the produce, but basically, the kitchen always looks the same.  In the fall I don’t mind working a little later in the day, but in the summer, I’m usually at work canning by about 6:30 am before it gets very warm.

I know, there are lots of cool gadgets out there for peeling and coring apples, but for some reason, I still prefer to just use a simple vegetable peeler and an apple cutter.  Half of the time I don’t use the cutter- I just cut the apples in quarters, set them on a flat side and slice out the core of each quarter.  I also make sure I have some form or another of citric acid on hand to help keep the applesauce from turning brown too quickly.  As far as I know, turning brown doesn’t have a huge affect taste or nutrition, but it just doesn’t look very appetizing.

The beauty of making applesauce is the ease of the process.  Really, all I do is peel, cut, drop in a large cooking pot, and mix in some citric acid.  When my pot is almost full of apples, I add about 2 -3 cups of water and set them to boil.  It is important to watch them and stir them often for a couple of reasons.  One is they have a tendency sometimes to boil out of the top of the pot.  The other is they can burn on the bottom while the ones on the top haven’t even softened up yet.  Once I can see that they have started to boil, I turn them down to medium heat and cover, still stirring often, until the apples soften and simply begin to break down into applesauce.  I am happy with it at this point, but it is also possible to put them through a food mill for an even smoother product.

I like to bottle applesauce in single serving sizes, and it’s how I use up all those jelly jars that I don’t use for jelly anymore.  They stack very differently in the canner than their older cousins the pint and quart jars, so I have to make sure that when they are submerged in the water bath that the water covers the jars completely.  Also, while you can’t see it in the photo, the jar I am holding in my hand is chipped along the lower rim.  It went straight to the recycling bin as that one chip could cut someone pretty badly, and even if it didn’t, I worry that the chip could affect the integrity of the jar.

When my kids were younger, I used to make Red Hot Applesauce.  We would get Red Hot candies at the store, put a few in the bottom of the jar, then fill it with applesauce and process in the water bath.  The candies would melt up into the applesauce, and it had kind of a cool effect.  Plus, it added just a little something to an afternoon snack.  I tried to find Red Hots this year, just for nostalgia, but all I could find were Hot Tamales.  I figured they would probably work, and it was worth the try.

It worked exactly as I remembered.  Now I am all stocked up on applesauce for the season, and gratefully so.  If you would like to try to bottle your own applesauce, be sure to check out guides from places such as your local extension office, or booklets such as the Ball Blue Book of Canning.  The Ball Blue Book is where I started my canning journey, and I feel confident it will help you along the way, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Always Watching

img_8168-e1509022930502.jpg

I was so excited for cooler weather that I started scanning Pinterest for fall decorating ideas in September.  When it was still in the upper 80’s around here.  Like way hot.

img_7763.jpg

In fact, I got to it and bought pumpkins at the state farmers market and started decorating inside the house.  I knew it was a bad idea to put them outside, but I figured they’d be good for a while inside.

img_7769.jpg

Well, as of this week I am down to just a handful of pumpkins as they have all started to rot.  I am sure I was supposed to do something like wax them or whatever, but really, I’m not worried.  It just means an excuse to decorate again.

Anyway, in the midst of my prowling on Pinterest, I found a cute tutorial about making an eyeball quilt block from Happy Sew Lucky.  You can click here to see the tutorial and the inspiration for my Always Watching pillows.

When I saw the blocks and tutorials I started to wonder if I could do something similar using the Creative Grids Log Cabin and Curvy Log Cabin Trim Tools.  I didn’t want a whole quilt, but I thought it would be kind of fun to have a few sets of eyes looking at you from the couch when you came in the front door.  Or greeting you at bedtime.

I cut strips from black and white fabrics, and for this particular pillow I used the 6″ Curvy Log Cabin Trim Tool and followed the instructions for strip size and for cutting the center block, or the pupils.

Usually when making Log Cabin blocks I make sure that as I add strips I rotate the blocks in the same direction, but in this case I wanted the eyes to be a mirror image of each other, so I rotated one clockwise and the other clockwise.  Following the directions on the tool, I trimed to Round 1.

Continuing on to Round 2, I added black, as I wanted my eyes to be very simple- just an eyeball with a pupil.  I’m thinking I might do it again and add an iris, but that may be a project for another day.

I like crazy eyes, so I just turned them around a bit and added just enough black all the way around to make a 12 1/2″ pillow cover.  I played with the idea a little more and made some not-so-scary eyes, which were also fun.

img_8165.jpg

Again, the goal was to keep it pretty simple, so I layered the block with a piece of batting and just quilted around the pupil and the inside of the eyeball.  I then threaded my loose threads to the back and tied them off.

I wanted to make these as pillow covers because I like the idea of being able to change out the pillows around the house, but don’t like the idea of storing actual pillows that aren’t in use.  Aint nobody got space for dat.

I made my own pillow forms as I have plenty of materials around to do it.  I just have to remember what size I am supposed to make the pillow covers.  Hence a blog post.

I picked up this super cute Halloween fabric at Intown Quilters when I was in Atlanta recently.  I didn’t want the back of my pillows to be boring, and this was perfect!  I originally thought I wanted to do an inset zipper like you would do for a pocket in the lining of a bag, but in the end decided that it would be easier to get the cover on and off of the pillow if the zip went from edge to edge.  I had already cut the fabric into 12 1/2″ when I decided to do this, so it wasn’t exactly right after the zipper was installed, but it was good enough.  Next time I would cut the back to be 12 1/2″ wide and 13″ long for seam allowance in the zipper.  I cut the back fabric straight across at 3 1/2″ down from the top in order to install the zipper.  I used a 14″ nylon zipper that was easily sewn through and cut to fit.  I then used 2″ binding to finish it off, sewing the binding to the back of the pillow cover by machine and to the front by hand.  It took an afternoon to make all three pillows covers and the pillow forms, so I feel like I could knock out a few more pretty easily.  I think I need at least two more, but I really think I will end up going for seven in the end.  Maybe next year!

 

Saving the pot…

I need my pots and pans to last me for as long as possible.  Mostly because I am pretty practical and just don’t want to spend money on pots if I don’t have to, but also because I want new when I move, not now.

So, I was pretty unhappy about this.

img_8070.jpg

One of our daughters got married this past summer, and at the end of the night we had 17 quart bags of BBQ pork left over, along with about 10 of macaroni and cheese, and 6 of sweet potatoes.  Of course it all totally fits into my regular nutritional life, so no problem eating it all, right?  Ummmm, no.  But every once in a while, I pull a bag of it out of the freezer and work it into a meal one way or another.  This time it was the sweet potatoes.  Oh, those sweet potatoes.  Oh, so much sugar.

And bad planning on my part.  I was being lazy, and I didn’t set them out to thaw.  I figured it would be fine and threw it in a pan on the stove with some water.  Then I started playing on my phone or watching the baseball game or knitting or whatever, and suddenly the scent of forgotten sweet potatoes started invading every part of our house.  Of course it was totally too late, and I had ruined the potatoes, and probably my pot.

I let it soak a couple of times, but the burned food wasn’t getting any softer, and I was running out of patience and elbow grease.  I started thinking about how when food is high in fat and it sticks to the bottom of the pan, all you really have to do is stick the hot pan under cold water and it pretty much comes right off.  The sweet potatoes had a lot more sugar than fat, although I’m sure they had plenty of fat in them as well, but the sugar was what made them burn so badly.  So, I thought I’d try something other than soaking.

img_8071.jpg

First I put a small amount of water in the bottom of the pan, and set it on to boil.  Then I added a little butter to the water when it started boiling.

img_8072

I used my egg whisk (one of my favorite items from IKEA), to try to loosen some of the burned bits from the bottom.  Kind of like how I make gravy, only grosser.

img_8073.jpg

Then I added ice water.  Again similar to the gravy idea, the mix of fat and cold gets the bits off of the bottom of the pan.  I didn’t know if it would work, but it made sense to try.  It actually did start to work, and a goodly amount of the black started to come loose.

img_8074.jpg

But not all.  So I tried it again, but this time I used canola oil instead of butter.  I’m not sure if the oil works better than the butter, or if it just needed to be done twice, but it totally worked.

img_8075.jpg

A little bit oily, and just a few spots left that came off easily with a bit of scrubbing.  Saved for another day!

img_8076.jpg

Your Dekalb Farmer’s Market- just a few things. This time.

I really don’t know much about the history of Your Dekalb Farmers Market, but I do know a little bit about my history with this place of awesomeness.

img_8026

I grew up in Georgia, mostly in the Atlanta area, and have lived in and out of the area most of my life.  I remember going to YDFM when I was very young with my aunt who lived in Decatur, not far from the original market.  I also remember going after they moved to the current site, but I believe it looked a bit different back then.  I was still very young, and I only went a couple of times, but I seem to remember being just enthralled with huge tanks of fish, and watching the employees reaching into the water to nab one for a customer.  There are still tanks of fish now, but I don’t think as many.

YDFM doesn’t allow any photography inside of the market, so sadly, I cannot show you the amazingness of this place.  However, I can tell you a little bit about it.  At least this particular trip.

img_8024

I live about 40 miles from YDFM, which in our area means it can take anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 hours to travel to or from the market.  And yet, it is where I buy the majority of our meat and fresh produce.  It is also where I buy spices, fresh pasta, drinking vinegar, and international products that I would like to try.  I also take our recycling to their recycling center as the one in our county does not accept as many items.  The photo you see above is from the furthest parking spot facing the front doors of the market.  I often refer to the parking lot as the Serengeti, mostly because the few trees placed here and there makes me think of the pictures I have always seen of that place.  I usually try to park under one of the trees, but on this day I decided I could use the walk since I skipped the treadmill that morning.

img_8025

If you’ve never been to YDFM, there are a few things you should probably know.

First, as you can see, they have extensive hours.  However, if you have any kinds of issues with crowds or claustrophobia, some days and hours are better than others.  I try to go during the week, early in the day.  Mid afternoon isn’t too bad, but for me the traffic on the way home is terrible, so I’d rather go in the mornings.  I’ve been on a Saturday a couple of times, and will only do that now out of desperation.  Also, the week or days just before a holiday are insane.  As in you can’t reasonably shop with a normal shopping cart on those days.

Second, speaking of shopping carts, if you want one, you’d better get it from the parking lot on your way in because there are none inside.  There are rolling plastic baskets that are deep but slim, and of course, hand carried baskets.  But I can only go every couple of weeks or so, so I generally need a bigger cart.

Third, they don’t take credit cards, and they don’t really like to take checks.  Cash or a debit card are your best bet.

Fourth, I have the same suggestion for this place as I do for IKEA virgins.  The first time you go, show some restraint and don’t buy much.  Just a few things, then go home and let everything you just saw kind of settle in your brain for a bit.  Otherwise it is easy to waste money and end up with a lot of food that you can’t possibly consume before it goes bad.

img_8027

My weakness is the bakery department.  I actually don’t buy anything there anymore for a couple of reasons.  First, it is so dang good that I could probably eat my weight in breads and muffins and croissants and cookies, and that just doesn’t work out very well.  Second, they are fresh baked and don’t have any preservatives, and so should be eaten within a day or two of purchase.  Sadly, I have found that we can’t eat it fast enough, and usually have some waste.

img_7994

As you can see above, I mostly focus on fresh produce at the market.  There’s aisle after aisle of varieties of produce, most of which I am familiar with and know what to do with, but some is just foreign and intriguing.  There are organic and nonorganic options, and the description above the bins includes the origin of the food.  I find that the produce is fresher than at the grocery, and that the prices are at least competitive, but often are better.  They bring in and move such a large volume that the turn over is amazing.  Also, if you are wondering if something is actually in season, or if it is maybe late in the season, you will know quickly at YDFM.  In the height of the strawberry season the berry table is overflowing with packages of berries, but when in winter the selection is much smaller.  While there are always a wonderful variety of apples available, it is evident that apples are currently in season by how many more than just the standards there are in the market.

img_8054-1

Other favorites are the deli, seafood and meat departments.  Pictured above is a pretty normal lunch for me.  YDFM smokes their own meats on site, and I prefer their sliced turkey, chicken and roast beef over other places.  While I don’t often eat it in a sandwich, I do like to make kind of a deli plate for a light lunch. They have an amazing selection of cheeses from all over the world.  I like to buy a new cheese to try from time to time, and then talk my husband’s head off over dinner about where it is from.

The seafood department at YDFM is a force in it’s own right, and simply has to be experienced to be understood.  My house could fit in the seafood department.  My entire house.  And if it is seafood and they aren’t selling it at YDFM, you probably shouldn’t be eating it.  I have gone in there when every bin and tank was full, and and I have been there when the seafood selections were thin.  There’s a reason for that.

I don’t like to buy chicken anywhere else.  I find that the chicken at YDFM is the size that you would expect a chicken to be.  It doesn’t look like it came from a chicken that could beat you up in a dark alley.  And they have just about every cut you could think of.  They also have turkey, beef, bison, lamb and pork.  There’s probably something else in there, but I can’t remember, and well, no pics allowed to help me remember!  We love the sausage that YDFM mixes.  They have it in turkey, chicken and pork.  The hot is the best, but to each his own.  *Here’s a tip… When buying seafood or meat at the market, ask for ice.  If they have any available, they will double bag your meat purchase in a bag of ice.  However, I find the cashiers don’t really like it because it gets the labels wet and makes them difficult to scan.

img_8029

Spices are another thing that I love at YDFM.  They are significantly less expensive than the national brands at the grocery, and are fresh.  They don’t come in fancy packaging, but they don’t need to look good to taste good.  I use the pumpkin pie spice in my favorite fall protein shake.

img_8055

McClary Bros Old Timey Drinking Vinegar is another thing that I recently discovered at YDFM.  I believe you can purchase it elsewhere, but it’s just as easy for me to get it there since I know they carry it.  Every evening before bed my husband prepares a glass of this drinking vinegar mixed with some seltzer water for each of us.  The biggest benefit we’ve noticed is a significant reduction of acid reflux at night.  I don’t know that it is as healthful as Bragg’s, but it is definitely more palatable.  There are several different flavors, but we like the Michigan Apple Pie the best.  I’d say the Beet and Carrot one would come in second, but really, by a long shot.  The other flavors are just too sharp for me.  It’s also a little pricy in my opinion, but we only drink a little at a time, and since we don’t really drink anything else other than water and Red Rock Ginger Ale, we have room in the budget for it.  Again, I am sure Bragg’s is a healthier option, but how healthy can it be if you hate it so much you won’t drink it?

img_8031

Dinner on the same day as a trip to YDFM usually involves whatever I saw that wasn’t actually on my list.  This time it was fresh whole wheat pasta and YDFM’s own marinara sauce.  I’ve wanted to try their marinara for a long time, and it was quite good, but I have to be honest, I like mine made from our homegrown and bottled tomatoes better.  The pasta was perfect, but Jeff wasn’t crazy about the texture.  Fresh pasta is a little different from dried.  I froze what pasta we didn’t eat that night, and I’ll probably have it for lunch some time.

So, that’s your intro to Your Dekalb Farmers Market.  If you live in the Atlanta area and have never been, you really should give it a try, and if you are in the area visiting, it is worth putting on your list of places to visit.