Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pickle Relish

I often make up my canning plans for the week when I am at the Farmer's Market. You never know what you are going to find at a steal of a deal. These cucumbers for instance were one of those fun surprises. I was headed out of the market after arriving rather late in the day when I spotted a stall with these wonderful cucumbers bagged up together. Sometimes at the end of the day, the stall owners will bag up produce that has not sold yet and offer it at rock bottom prices. I asked how much for the bag, and I was told one dollar. Sold! I am totally in for figuring out what to do with some extra cucumbers. I decided to try my hand a sweet pickle relish as we were almost out of our store bought jar.

One of the things I forget about pickles in general is to take into account the soak time. I made several false starts on this project, getting all the ingredients out and washing up my jars, then reading the instructions and seeing a four hour soak time. I think next year I will take a page from Ashley English and do my soak over night rather than having to wait around for it. The other thing I will consider is trying the cutting part in the blender. I did this all by hand, and I agree with my husband that the pieces may be too big. Lesson learned. I have read about successful relish being made in a blender, but I was rather leery at trying it the first time out of the gate. I cut up all my ingredients into as small as pieces as I could manage. It took a LONG time. Then, they went into the brine for a nice long soak. Finally the pickling brine was made up in the pot and the now drained and rinsed vegetables were added to the hot brine.

I got the recipe I followed out of my Mom's old Ball Blue Book from the 1960's. They refer to this as "cucumber relish" not sweet pickle relish. I did tweak the recipe in a minor way, cutting the turmeric way back because we are just not big fans of a super turmeric flavor in our pickles. I ended up with four nice jars of relish. I cannot wait to see what this stuff tastes like. It is as though we have bough the endless jar of relish since we still have not finished it, and it has been several weeks since I made the relish. I guess I will just have to take a jar with us on the camping trip and "field" test it on hotdogs fresh off the fire. Follow up on the flavor and things I would change or not change will be posted as soon as I get a good opinion on the results.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer is Here?

It has hardly felt like summer around here this year. The temperatures have been cooler than normal, and the rain has been around later than the last few years we have been here. It is in fact raining again today! Very odd for the bay area from what I understand. Under this odd set of weather, I have had a hard time getting it through my head that it is summer. One of the ways that I have tried to get myself into believing it is summer is by burying my head in camping plans. Thinking of being out in the woods in a tent makes my mind turn to thoughts of summer instantly.

I wanted to decorate a bit for the Independence Day holiday this year. Nothing big, but I wanted some little touch to further remind me that yes, in fact, it is summer. I decided to make some simple place mats for the table. We have been eating in front of the table more and more since it is no longer situated so close to the television. With the television being a floor below, it is quite a hassle to bring everything down to eat, so meals at the table have been adopted. This means that we go through table linens at a much faster rate. I thought some Independence Day themed ones would be a welcomed addition to the collection. I made these with fabrics I purchased off of I have found them to be a really great company. They are helpful, and the free shipping after hitting the $35 threshold is also a nice touch. They often run sales, and the discount corner is a great place to pick up some nice deals. Overall, I find their prices to be competitive with retail giants. This does not mean that I am abandoning my locally owned shops, but they are a nice alternative to other places and carry some different things from my local shops.

I decided to go with double sided as it is the easiest option now with the serger. I did not want to work on mitering corners as this was supposed to be a super fast and fun project. If you did not have a serger, you could put the pieces right sides facing, sew them together leaving a small opening, and then tun the fabric right sides out, press, and sew your opening closed. I liked the added touch the red rolled hem added to the linens. I picked a less overtly Americana for the backside so they can be used off season as well.

Well I think I am going to take advantage of the rainy day seeing as those are my most productive. There is a birthday present that needs to be sewn up as well as some costume items for my impending Chaos Wars trip. Hopefully I get all these things done before I have to leave! There is always so much to do lately... I love it!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Refresh, Restart, Reorganize

Short but sweet posting up for you today. I am currently looking forward with great anticipation both my vacation with the husband as well as my attendance at Chaos Wars. I am in dire need of some refreshment from the daily grind. It is going to be nice to break out of my usual routines and get out of the city. There are times when the city seems too closed in, and I long for some open space and a large canopy of trees overhead rather than buildings.

There is so much to do, and it seems like so little time. I am currently redoubling my efforts to get in shape for the event so that the 5000 foot altitude does not wipe me out quite as fast as it usually does. That takes a big chunk out of my day, not that I am complaining, just explaining. I am glad to be restarting on that part of my life again. Running went by the wayside during the winter due to the rain, and it kept off my plate due to the extended rain that we had this year. I am back at it now and enjoying myself very much. I just hope I can keep up the training while we are traveling.

Last but not the least by any means is the big kitchen reorganization project. The kitchen is the one place I need to get working immediately once we move into a new place. It truly is the engine room of our house, so when we moved this winter, I went about making it functional as fast as possible. Just because it was functional does not mean it is efficient. That is where the great reorganization comes into being. The pantry of this particular place is very unfriendly to anyone who cooks a great deal. We have one of those long thing pantries, with a small set of double doors, not enough shelves, and no pull out drawers. Essentially, if you want something toward the back of a shelf, you have to take everything out and put it on the counter until you can get back to the thing you need. Then, you need to take everything and put it back into the cabinet to regain the counter space to be able to cook. Forget an ingredient? Start the frustrating process all over again. Add on top of this design issue my massive amounts of canning, well not massive by most canner's standards, but massive by non-canners, and you have a recipe for disaster. So, for the past few weeks, I have been thinking and plotting and planning with my husband for how to redo this mess. I think we are in the beginning stages of a breakthrough, but it is hard to say as there is stuff all over the kitchen. Jars of jelly, pots and pans, live currently side by side with baskets of dried fruit. The chaos is maddening, and I feel like I cannot get anything done in the house with the kitchen all ripped up like this, but the end is near. The only way to get done is to go through, and that is what I am in the midst of doing. On that note, I guess I should try to tackle another shelf!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tea for Two... or Four

One of the projects that I completed in my time off from blogging was this wonderful tea set for one of the niece's birthdays. It was super fun to make, and while rather time consuming due to all the parts and pieces, it turned out beautifully. Hopefully my sister is not ready to string me up by my toes for invading their house with yet another toy with a million pieces. What can I say, I love felt toys and cannot stop myself once I get started on them. This project was inspired by my niece's love for all things girly and dress up. Her favorite colors of pink and purple are all over this set made just for her.

I got the main idea from the ladies over at Prudent Baby. I like the concept of the tea set that could be folded up in itself for storage. I found the cupcake fabric and purple dot fabric at the store and set to work. The sewing itself was rather straightforward and easy to do as their tutorial is very thorough with easy to follow directions. I did, however, use the serger to put together the double sided place mats as well as edging of the napkins. It was just easier on me to do it that way, so I did not have to iron under any of the seams. The rolled edges also gave it some contrast which I also liked.

In order to dress up the napkins more, I added a little applique style decoration. I used up some of the scrap from the cupcake fabric to add a little cupcake detail to one of the corners. Once I cut out the circles from the cupcake fabric, I simply zigzag stitched at an almost zero stitch length to cover over the raw edge. Doing this type of satin stitch in a circle can be challenging. Just go slow and take your time as well as perhaps adjust the bobbin tension a bit to ease around those curves. I liked this better for my personal project. It tied the whole thing together in a project specific way.

The tea set pattern was purchased from Ume Crafts on Etsy. She makes great felt food patterns that are just too cute to pass up. I have done several of her patterns, and this was just as high quality as the others. The only draw back to this pattern is the tea box. My nieces and nephew apparently really wanted a working lid on this. It resulted in much dismay when they could not put the tea bags back into the box. I don't think this is anything against the pattern, just a thing to consider if your particular tea party goers want super realistic functioning tea storage. I thought the tea pot was going to be difficult to put together, but it was just as easy as can be due to the wonderfully written directions. The set looks beautiful, and I love how it looks like a real grown up set versus the usual cartoon looking ones.

The other option about this set that is fun is the reversible sides. If the pink cupcake table cloth is too much for you on a particular day, flip it over and you have a more calm purple side. Then, you can flip over the place mats for a touch of the cupcake goodness. It makes the entire set look like a new toy, and I hope that keeps the kids extra busy with combinations of the colors and settings. This tea set also seems to have brought out the old cakes and even the sushi set that I made out of felt for the girls a few years ago.

Going with the princess and dress up theme, I made sure to add one more thing to the table, crowns and wands. I found these on the site of Lu Bird Baby. I tried to make sure that I had a color for everyone. There is green for the oldest as that is her favorite color, pink for the birthday girl, purple for Mom as I am sure she will be invited, and even this blue set for the younger brother or Dad. I was sure all would be roped into tea parties and wanted to make sure everyone had representation in the crown and wand category. The tutorial over at Lu Bird is also very easy to follow. This was a fun quick project that let me use up all sorts of odds and ends of saved ribbon.

All of these things can then get folded up into the table cloth that becomes a gigantic bag. The only drawback of the drawstring bag is the ribbon drawstrings. In order to make the strings long enough to gather up the whole cloth, they end up being way too long for practicality. Very whimsical, but also not super practical for the kids to use alone. Typically when putting this all away adult assistance is needed.

Overall I think this was a great project. The level of all the sewing/crafting on this is easy with a moderate for the tea set itself. The cutting level on this project is intense. I was very happy to have the Klick-n-Kut for this one. It makes felt crafting so much more fun due to not having to cut out all those little pieces. I hope this inspires you to put together something fun this weekend.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Ok so some of you are starting to scratch your heads. Some of you are giving me the stink eye or the brush off. I know, I know... I promised to stay up to date with the blog more often, and I truly wanted to do this. This time circumstances beyond my control kept me from writing. My computer suffered a total meltdown. I picked up a nasty virus somewhere, and it did some major damage to the computer. It required a total reformat of my hard drive and reinstall of everything. It also could not have happened at a worse time for my IT department. The husband had recently switched jobs and was working on a new start-up that needed to get code up and running in a timely fashion. Not being one to stand in the way of things like this, I patiently, well not always patiently, waited for the hubby's schedule to free up enough to get things running. While I had skeleton service for a while, specific things like my photo editing software and the Klick-N-Kut were not on and reconfigured for me until very recently. A lot has happened between late April and now late June. The new pictures are from.... Easter..... I know it seems kinda funny to post them, but they were so pretty that I felt the need to post them all the same even if they are out of season.

This year was the first year we had our new lamb cake mold. More on that in a later posting. It was neat to have one of these cakes during the holiday again, and now that we have the molds, it is even more interesting to know how they work. No you do not glue anything together with frosting, and yes that lamb was baked as one piece. It was a white cake interior with boiled seven minute frosting and coconut for the fur. When Easter comes around again, I will post up the recipe for those of you with molds and no guidance. I also thought this would be in a way timely to remind people that are hitting the tag sale/ garage sale/ yard sale circuit to keep your eyes open for things like this. It is hard to think about things like lamb cake molds for a spring holiday when Independence Day is right around the corner, but there are good deals to be had now on things like this. Storing them away after a steal of a price is much more satisfying than paying more around the actual holiday due to not realizing possibilities earlier.

Well now that the "situation" is explained, there is a lot that I have on my mind to talk about. I mean, I had a few months to accumulate pictures and thoughts. Needless to say there will be more postings up on canning, including a new feature on reporting my thoughts on last year's results in order to modify and inform my canning plans for this year. I hope you find those reviews helpful. I am also taking up embroidery in some other forms and hope to have some new projects to show off as well as the quilt that I have finally started cutting out. The time for talk on these projects is over; I am ready for action! Speaking of which, the library has just contacted me about a book I wanted to read and review for the blog, so I suppose I should put myself into action and walk over to pick it up. I am happy to be back and hope to win you all over to reading here again. Look for updates here as well as on my Twitter stream. Enjoy today, and I cannot wait to write something up for tomorrow!