Monday, July 21, 2014

The Boy is in a Jam

I fully believe that one of the best things you can give to anyone in this life is a new skill. As I tell my son often, things can be taken away from you at any moment-your job, your house, your family- but once you develop a skill, it is yours to keep forever. So I was delighted when, after he tasted my sour cherry jelly, he said very enthusiastically that he wanted to make more jelly with me this weekend.

There is always something more fun to do than

That was, of course, until the time actually came to make jelly and cartoons were on.

Needless to say, I got his little butt up and we made a batch of sour cherry jelly. For all his complaining, he was very proud of himself. As soon as his father came in, his eyes lit up and he announced that his jelly would be ready in the morning to be put on toast and it would be delicious.

Teaching my son life skills is so very important to his father and I. At fourteen, he can do his own laundry, make some simple food items, clean a bathroom and living room, mow the lawn and now, make jelly. Life is uncertain. The economy is no where near as rugged as it was when my parents simply graduated high school and got a fantastic job paying good wages and benefits. No, instead, you can do everything right and still get laid off. The spouse you thought you'd be with forever morphs into someone you don't recognized. To use a quote from, The Incredibles, "Life favors the prepared".

So today, I'm going to show you how to make a jelly. My jelly may have a few little floaties in it as I didn't use a jelly bag but it's quick. With jelly and jam making, the process is quick, it's all in the preparation.

For cherry jelly you will need the following (from the Sure Jell measurements):

From Beginning to End

3 1/2 cups of cherry juice
4 cups of sugar
1 package of powdered pectin (Sure-Jell)


canning jars
canning lids and screw tops
jar lifter
Large pitcher
Strainer that fits in the pitcher
1 large stockpot
1 small stockpot
1 small saucepan
1 cookie sheet

To make the cherry juice:

Take at least 5 quarts of sour cherries and put them in your smaller stockpot. Crush them with your  hand in the stockpot. Add the heat and heat for about 10 mins crushing against the side of the stockpot periodically. Let cool a bit.
Crush berries (or cherries) with your hand. If they need
more liquid add water (these didn't). Boil for 10 mins.
Here Dixon is crushing the cherries against the strainer to get
all the juice.

Once cool, put your strainer over the pitcher and begin ladling your now cooked sour cherries into the strainer. With a ladle, mash the sour cherries against the strainer to get as much liquid out of them as possible. Dump out the mashed cherries and start with a new ladle full. Repeat until you have used up all your cherries.

If you have any left over from canning,
add equal amounts of sugar and juice
and make a delicious simple syrup for
fruit salad or drinks!

At this point if you don't have time to finish the process,
put it into the fridge. You can always can this the next day.   

This is what I mean about processing on the run!

Taking the large stockpot, boil the canning jars you intend to use. Boiling insures that the cans are sterile. There is absolutely no sense in doing all this work and then have to pitch the canned goods simply because the cans weren't sterile. Botulism is a serious condition and there is no real way of telling if it exists in your canned goods.  The best way to insure that your can goods are safe is by keeping everything clean.

Remove the jars out of the stockpot and put on your cookie sheet. Putting on a lipped cookie sheet ensures that any "drippage" is trapped in the cookie sheet and doesn't cascade down your stove front.

When you are ready to can, bring a saucepan of water to a boil and put in the lids (not the screw tops) that you intended to use. Take your sugar and measure it out into a separate bowl. Heat up 3 1/2 cups of cherry juice and mix with your pectin. Bring to a rolling boil and once there, add your all at once. Stir vigorously for one minute. Skim off any foam that comes up. After a minute, ladle into your sterilized jars. Wipe down the rim of the jars. This is an important step as you want to be sure that you have a good seal before you put these on your shelf. Removing the lids with tongs, put the lids on each filled can and quickly screw on a screw top. Using a towel around the hot jar, make sure the screw top is on as tightly as you can.

Now the canning part.

If you have a canner, please feel free to use that. Generally there in an insert in the bottom to prevent your jars from coming into full contact with the heat. If you don't have that, a small cooking rack can be used. I often don't use anything at all but it can be dangerous to do it that way so I can't recommend that. Fill your large stockpot with water and bring it to a boil. Once at the boil, gently lower your jars into the boiling water and boil for 10 mins. Once finished, carefully lift the now hot jars and place them on your cookie sheet to set.

Setting generally takes about 24 hours. Periodically you should hear a "pop" noise which tells you your jar has sealed. We call that the "Sound of Victory" in my house.

If a jar doesn't seal in 24 hours and you can remove the lid, place it in your fridge or freezer. Label your jars and place them in a proud part of your pantry so you can look at them and have the satisfaction that your work placed that food there for use by your family.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Can't Go Back To My Old School"

I have to admit it bothers me.

I'm on a feed for my hometown's Historical Society through Facebook and I found out this week that my elementary school, Southwest Elementary is closed and has been for a while apparently. When did this happen?

Southwest was your quintessential small town school and a country dirt road.  It had great teachers, a great principal (Mr. Blackwell) and a great playground with a stellar kickball field.
Recess was a celebration in which I would bring a clothesline and we would play jump rope and with a full clothesline we could get quite a few kids jumping at once. There was rumpus games of chase and the worse thing you could do was to throw snowballs which could earn you an appointment with the dreaded paddle (and everyone in the school knew if you got paddled, that was hot gossip among the elementary school crowd).

circa 1975-1976

We had wonderful teachers like Mrs. Vancleve, Mrs. Wonzer, Miss Lolly (Miss Lollypop to all the kids) who not only taught us but, we felt, actually cared about us. Miss Lolly taught us our vowels with puppets (A,E, I, O, U and their friend that sometimes came around, Y). We had America's bicentennial when I was in Mrs. Vancleve's class and as you can see, my role was that of an American Indian. Our lunchroom served triple duty as lunchroom, gym and auditorium. We had tables that came out of the walls like murphy beds and they hinged in the middle. When you were finished with the table, you simply wiped it down and pushed it up to hinge it and it became part of the wall. It was great.

The school was so much a part of my childhood and so many other's that it is just a crushing feeling knowing that no more children will be creating memories there. From what I understand, there just aren't that many children in the school district to warrant it open. I know it's the right thing to do but so many of us cherish that school on Gale Road.

Otisville Graduating Class 1911
A secondary blow came when we heard that they also demolished the original Otisville High School. That school was never a school when I was growing up, I believe the high school I went to was built in the 1960's, but yearbooks at my high school dated back to the turn of the century (when my great grandmother would have gone to school) and it was so charming to see the football players with their leather helmets and big O's on their chest for Otisville High and the cheerleaders with their full skirts reaching their calves (how did they cheer in those). I used to love looking at those yearbooks (I was on the yearbook committee that is how I found out about them) and read how the "Class of xx had a lovely evening at the home of Mr. and Mrs. X on Friday night"... and find out there was all of six of them. Or maybe a graduating class was one person.

Progress has to happen and maybe I'm just nostalgic, but tearing down a building is also tearing apart our collective history. The old Otisville High School was in the center of town as it was the center of the community. It had always been an apartment complex when I was growing up and I'm sure it had just finally reached a point that it wasn't all that safe. In my adopted hometown, we have the old high school built in 1930 and they are now trying to save that. A friend I knew was the last graduating class back in the 1970's. The building has grand Palladian windows and the cornerstone marker states it was built in the 1930's. The school lasted for about 45 years. Now it sits vacant and has for at least the 20 years I've lived in our small town. My hope is that it will be eventually converted for use.

So, to honor my old school, I'm going to give you a recipe that all of us kids loved at our lunch time. Our school made the BEST peanut butter goodies (funny to think that none of us had allergies, now these could never be served in school).

Southwest's Peanut Butter Goodies

(Thanks Mom!)
2 cups peanut butter
1/2 cup margarine
2 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Mix together an press into a 13"x9" pan.

Melt 12oz chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp margarine. Power over peanut butter and cool in the fridge until hardened.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Preserving on the Run


Maybe it's work. Maybe it's the kids, or your parents.. spouse? House? Volunteer work?

Yeah, I don't know anyone out there who isn't beyond busy. I've read that we supposedly have more leisure time than any other time in history but I find that hard to believe. How many people do you know that have the time to leisurely sit around and eat bon-bons?

Me neither.

So on top of this we are also supposed to start preserving and canning all the summer produce? When? When I sleep? I can hear you saying already, "I don't have time for that!"

But you know it saves you so much money to can and preserve food when it's cheap. It's a long held tradition that stretches as far back in human history as long as there were people who were hungry. And, when you have a freezer full of frozen summer fruits and shelves full of canned goods you put up, tell me it doesn't make you feel a little smug at the grocery store when a pint of berries is $3.50. Tell the truth now, you know it does.

Our day at the pick-your-own farm

A day at the pick-your-own farm
is both fun and purposeful!

But I'm as busy as you are.. between work, trying to take care of my home,  the garden, my child, spouse and the various flotsam and jetsam of life, trying to preserve food sometimes feels like the straw that finally broke the camel's back. But... I have to say that it is also one of the most satisfying activities I do knowing that I have the food security that I need to get us through the winter and help save us a lot in one area of our family budget. It's a lot of work but it's both rewarding and, honestly, I find it fun.

Summer Goodness
in a jar!

There is nothing better then running upstairs to grab a jar of last summer's tomatoes for chili or a jar of homemade concord grape juice to have a refreshing drink. Knowing that you put that food in the jar and know exactly what's in there, provides a sense of self reliance that gives you a better high than any drug out there.

Take preserving in small bites. Sometimes
that means, doing one step at a time.

The key to preserving on the run is two fold. Remember the adage that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time? Well, it's the same with preserving. When I'm trying to can jelly or sauce for the winter, if I don't have the time, I certainly don't do canning marathons trying to get the produce from raw state to canned in one session. I think so many of us think we  have to in order to get everything done. The answer is do it in stages. And the second part is, bring out your appliances to help you accomplish this.

For example, this week my sour cherry tree went nuts and I would say we've already frozen about 60-70 lbs of cherries. Yeah, you read that right pounds! Needless to say at this point, I'm sick of picking cherries, pitting cherries and freezing cherries. (The birds are getting the remainder). The fact that I'm writing this at 1am in the morning still pitting the last 17lbs of cherries we picked Saturday tells you how sick I am of cherries. But, come February we'll be thrilled for the bounty that we have begun cursing. And of course the cherries didn't come to ripeness last Saturday when I had off but rather Monday when I went back to work and had no time to process them. The last of this bounty is going to be made into jelly. Tonight? Oh heck no. But tonight I can put them in the pan and in ten minutes I'll have cherry juice ready to strain and put in the fridge so tommorrow when I have the time I can finish making the jelly. If I do it in stages it isn't as exhausting as if I try to do it all at once.

Last year's cherries. We've already surpassed that in droves!

Canning tomatoes can save you a bundle alone!
When the tomatoes start coming in, I press the crockpot into duty.
I work outside of the house so I don't usually have the time to make the spaghetti sauce, prepare the jars, process the spaghetti sauce and then let it cool all in one session. But I do have the time to put the ingredients in a crockpot, the jars in the dishwasher and have two of the big steps done when I get home. I can then get the canner going, fill the sink with hot water, get the lids together and finish processing. In a good year, I can up to 60-70 jars of tomato products and much of the sauces are done this way.

Take your preserving one step at a time. It's tiring during the season but you'll be so glad come January or February to pop open the can of summer goodness that you'll forget all the juggling it takes to get it done. You food bill will also thank you.

Saturday, July 5, 2014


From Google Images

        Bagelly Goodness!

I'm not a native New Yorker, I'm more of a displaced Michiganer. I've lived here for over twenty years now and the of the nicest New York traditions that my husband introduced me to was bagels and a smear of cream cheese. Now it's such a part of normal life it seems funny that once seemed so foreign. 

One of our Sunday rituals is to go to Bruegger's to get their Baker's Dozen special* includes 13 bagels of your choice and two cream cheeses. It's just such a nice way of "easing" into your Sunday with a nice warm bagel and a smear of wonderfully flavored cream cheese slow melting and merging with that warm bagelly goodness...

I need bagelly goodness. And cream cheese. Now.

Bruegger's gets $2.99 per 6.5oz of cream cheese. With all their flavors, that can really add up quick. Do you realize that is $.46 an ounce? Yikes!

Out to the herb garden for breakfast!
So, in an effort to curve our spending a bit, I thought, lets try our hand at making this at home and you know what? I think our little cream cheeses are actually as good as if not better than the famous bagel chain at a fraction of the cost. And, making it at home, I can choose what type of cream cheese I use. Full fat, whipped or Neufchatel (1/3 less fat cheese). You can make flavors that Brueggers doesn't have in their store and it's so easy!

So, if you've followed my post with any frequency, you see a lot of posts about the garden. Now is the time we begin pressing that into action. Herbs pack such a large amount of flavor in such a small amount of material. In an attempt to mimic Bruegger's delicious Herb & Garlic cream cheese, I use this recipe.:


(Fresh Herbs)
2 parts  (about 2-3 Tbsps) Oregano
2 parts (about 2-3 Tbsps) Parsley
1 part (about 1- 1 1/2 Tbsp) Chives
1 part (about 1-1 1/2 Tbsp) Dill
2 cloves garlic, minced fine
(I use Aldi's pre-chopped, about
1-2 tsp)
Cream cheese of your choice

Wash and dry the herbs well. Chop finely and mix, with cream cheese with your mixer, until thoroughly blended. Refridgerate for at least 20 mins to 1 hour for flavor to develop.


1/4-1/2 c sliced strawberries
1/4-1/2c blueberries
1 Tbsp to 2 Tbsp sugar
(Depending on level of tartness)
1 tsp vanilla
Cream cheese of your choice

Mix together and put in the refridgerator for 20 mins.


(If you ever wanted to know why a baker's dozen is 13, here is the answer: which

Monday, June 30, 2014

Weave Your Home a Little Happy Rug

I love making things to make my home happy and cozy. Sure, you can go out and buy some mass produced item, but when you make a basket, quilt or rag rug for your home, you know what the quality of the item is, you choose the materials and you can change up the colors, textures, etc.

My weaving partner, Mr. Mittens at work!


I started this blog featuring one of these rugs. They are the perfect use up for selvages, old  flannel blankets that have torn or even to reduce that fabric stash we all have. These make wonderful gifts and they may last long enough to even be passed down. I made my first rag rug over a year ago and I'm happy to say, it's one of my favorite things I've ever made. Cushy and wonderful, it's the perfect partner to have under your feet when you are doing the dishes. Because I've packed a lot of material in there, it will last years.

As you can see this would be very simple to build.

The great thing about weaving these rugs is that if you want to create the frame, it really isn't all that difficult. There are a couple of books that you can get online that show you how. A few brads, four pieces of lumber, some hooks and some long stem hooked bars and you are on your way. If you don't want to make your own loom, you probably can find them online or maybe in your local quilt shop, that is where I found mine at
although the cost will be a lot more than what it'll cost to make it.

Once you have your frame, you start your rag rug by ripping fabric into 1" strips. You want to use a cotton or flannel that has been washed and dried so that the resultant fabric has been shrunk. Ripping the fabric makes sure you straighten out the selvage ends. While not really all that important when weaving a rug, it is when you are cutting out a quilt. You want to make sure that this is the final size of the fabric so that when you wash the rug for the first time, you don't get any unforeseen consequences. I accomplish this typically in two ways. One, if I have any selvages left or strips left after a quilting project, I use those or two, cut little cuts along one edge of the material you are going to use and rip it on down! You want strips at 12" or longer and trust me, it'll take a lot.

The placemat loom showing the warp. Always start with
a longer piece that fold so that one end is longer than the other.

The strips that form the base of your weaving is called the warp. It really doesn't matter what color or pattern you use as this is going to be completely covered. Utilize the ugliest fabric you'll never use here or whatever you have left over from other projects. I use whatever fabrics or strips I got left and just join them together.

Sandwich your strips together and cut a slit. Pull the top
strip through the bottom hole and pull tight.
Joining fabric strips together couldn't be easier! Just cut a vertical strip at the end of the row you are joining to. On your new strip, cut an identical hole. Now, with the new strip on top, layer your strips together. Feed the top strip underneath your layer and feed up through the bottom hole. Pull though and tug so that you have a solid join. Don't worry if you have a few "wings" peaking out. You'll be weaving over them.

To warp your loom, start by making a simple square knot in the upper left hand corner on

the bar. Then start your warp by wrapping the strip up and down to make a grid like this. When you run out of a strip and you will... trust me it takes a lot of fabric to warp and weave... simply tie a simple not around the brad and make sure to keep your tension on the grid even. You want your grid to be tight... not tight enough to bend your brads but tight on them. Finish your warp by tying yet another square knot on the bar at the other end.


Now the fun part, actual weaving! Yeah!

Unlike a loom or basket, weaving on this loom you are
twining around the warp on either side so the warp is
never seen. Use your fingers to push the fabric up
tightly against your previous row of weaving. Your fingers
become your "beater bar".
With a decently long piece, fold it so one end is longer than the other. Does this sound familiar? If you read through the basket piece it is the same idea. You don't want both pieces to end in the same place so you don't have a "lump" in your finished project. To weave, simply go in and out around your warping strips making sure that you pack the strips as tight as you can towards the top of the brads. There is no sewing on this rug, so when you remove it off the loom, you want to make sure it is packed tight.

Now comes the tricky part, the edges. You need to make them tight. When you get to the edge, on the strip that is ending on the top of the bar, wrap it around the bar. Open up a loop and slide this in the loop and pull it tight. Knowing that a picture is worth a thousand words, here we go.

Bring the strip on top around the bar, open the loop formed
and slide the strip through.

Pull tight. Starting with the strip in the back (in the case the
pink strip, begin your weaving with the second strip in.

 When you get several rows of weaving, turn the piece and begin the process over again and weave the other side. You are going to be weaving this way switching sides each time until your rug is completed. The rug completes in the middle and you simply weave the loose ends back into your weaving cutting off any long ends.


To complete your rug, simply remove the two bars on either side that you wove & knotted the weaving around. Then gently lift your rug off the loom.

Weaving your first rug can be as quick or long as you make it. I find the repetitive nature of weaving very relaxing. I can listen to the TV and keep my hands I weaving in and out of piece and it's very gratifying to see how many rows you can weave in a setting and watch the pattern emerge. I don't ever plan my color palette and find that regardless of the color or pattern of the fabric, the end result is very beautiful. Sometimes I make sure that if I have a dominate color on one side, I'll do it on another just to be somewhat symmetrical.

These are wonderful additions to any home. They are perfect and unexpected gifts for the holiday season. Start one today, you may find a new hobby that you'll enjoy for years.

<A href="">Linking to the HOST</A

Monday, June 23, 2014

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream!


Yeah I know. Sounds exotic, esoteric.. who makes ice cream at home? That is something you always buy right?

Ice cream takes a while but really is not all that hard. My Aunt Rita used to wax poetic about the homemade ice cream of her youth. "The best ice cream I remember", she used to say, "was made with condensed milk and strawberries".

To this day I wish I had that recipe. Baring that I went to one of my cookbooks, "Simply Strawberries" and tried my hand at their recipe. It wasn't that hard and boy is it delicious!

1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1/8 tsp salt
4 cups light cream , divided in 2 cup measures
(I used heavy cream, yum!)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups sliced strawberries
1/2 cup sugar

In a bowl, put in the sliced strawberries with the 1/2 cup sugar and refrigerate for up to 24 hours to produce juice.

Beat eggs with your mixer until light and foamy. Set aside.  In a saucepan, combine sugar, flour an salt. Gradually stir in 2 cups of the cream. Cook and stir over low heat taking care not to scald cream. Cook until sugar is dissolved and mixture begins to thicken 10-15 mins.

Temper your eggs by gently putting in a small amount of hot cream into the beaten eggs, stirring as you incorporate it. When the container the eggs come in becomes warm to the touch, add the remaining cream. Put the entire mixture back in the saucepan and cook for one minute more. Remove from heat and chill until completely cool. Add the remainder 2 cups of cream and vanilla.

Drain strawberry "juice" into the cream base and process in your ice cream maker for 20-40 mins or per your ice cream maker's manual.   When the ice cream is finished, it will still be very soft and now mix in the reserved strawberries from your "juice". Put in a freezer safe container and freeze for several hours.

Homemade ice cream is so far better than store bought and it's a great project to do with your children. Make some before this summer is through and you'll be glad you did!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Organizing the Homefront & Odd Chores

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer

                                             -Nat King Cole

Lazy days of summer? Are you kidding me? Anyone that has lived on a farm knows that summer is the time you got to "Make Hay While the Sun Shines"! My little oasis is no different.

Living in an old house there are chores that I don't think most people ever have to do. One of these chores is painting the inside of your cabinets. My kitchen was built somewhere around 1867-1930. When we bought the house, we were told that the bathroom and the kitchen were put in in the 1920's, but when we put down hardwood in the kitchen, we found a well underneath my stove that seem to point to an earlier time.

My kitchen cabinets were clearly built into the kitchen when it was being constructed as it follows the roofline of the kitchen. These crazy things are made out of 3/4" plywood? and when we first moved in, were in sorry shape. I don't know why but as some point, it must have been really fashionable to paint all your woodwork flat white and put on the handles with the spade shape that looks like someone had a Euchre fetish because I've seen these handles in so many old houses. Needless to say, we stripped those cabinet doors and I tole painted them with patterns from my favorite painters and we love it. I'll teach you how to tole paint in a future post as I truly believe anyone who can color in a coloring book can tole paint something they can be proud of.

Pattern created by my favorite painter, Catherine Holman. Painted by me!

This is what my cabinets look like now.

But the insides, especially the cabinet that houses my pots and pans are in a word: Sad.
These cabinets are dark, long and there are a lot of wasted space. They are finished only in paint so they get pretty banged up and end up looking like this atrocious mess after a few years:


So out with whatever paint I may have left over, I begin the project.

If I'm feeling particularly DYI, I'll buy some TSP and wash the inside of the cabinet down. I wasn't in this case so Pine sol worked. After cleaning and letting them dry, I literally have to crawl inside the cabinet to paint it. Clearly the last time I wasn't as ambious, as the original Pepto-Bismol pink was still in the back portion of the cabinet. After painting the entire thing and letting it dry, came the purging.


Can anyone explain how we get so many lids for so few pots and pans? And where did some of these pots and pans come from? Maybe that lost space in the back is being use for by those pots and pans for more lascivious actions? Yikes.

So, after a few hours of work, I can now enjoy the next couple of years with a nice, freshly painted cabinet and only the pots and pans I use. And I can now shut the door to this cabinet! Bonus!