Places to Party

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Jenny's Homefront Strategy: Planning Your Own Victory Garden.


It's Spring!

Well as nice as the few days have been recently, we know better. But spring begins in our house as soon as the new seed catalogs start arriving so spring generally starts in December.

Now is the time to start planning this year's garden. When my grandmother was young, the Victory Garden was a patriotic way to make sure that the troops got the food they needed. Those on the homefront would grow the food they needed and make due with rations so as much food could be sent to the troops. Our homefronts are no different now than they were then. While the American food supply is generally safe, things like GMO which may lead to colony collapse in our bees who pollinate our fruits and vegetables. Many of the foods you eat contain GMO and the food industry is under no obligation to disclose what food or what it has in it. There are corn varieties for instance that actually contain Roundup. Sounds appetitizing doesn't it?

I like to know what is being fed to my family. My beef comes from my parent's farm, I get my pork from a trusted friend of theirs but like most people,  my chicken and fish come right from the store. We can't control everything but we can learn to grow as much as possible for ourselves so we know where our food comes from. Growing a garden or even having a few pots on the windowskill is a step closer taking back your food independence!

But, you argue, I live in an apartment, I can't grow my own food! In the first apartment I was in (on the 14th floor!) I grew cantalope, tomatoes and lettuce. There is a fantastic book on this subject called "The Indoor Kitchen Garden"  by Joy O.I. Spoczynska. For lugging all that dirt upstairs, you'll be rewarded with fresh veggies and herbs.

If you've never grown a garden before I'm going to suggest you start with some herbs. Herbs, like most plants, are basically useful weeds. They grew in the countryside, on cliffs, in ditches, anywhere and everywhere. One day someone tried a plant and discovered it tasted good and history moved on from there. They are fairly easy to grow and are generally pretty happy on a window ledge as much as in a garden.

I've been growing herbs since I was fifteen so I'm going to offer you up some suggestions.


This is a must have. Grow a lot. You can generally get a harvest off your plants once a week during the growing season. Grind those leaves up with some parmesan, olive oil and your favorite nuts and put it in your ice cube trays. Pop them out and put the pesto cubes ina labelled freezer bag and pop them in the freezer. Don't make the mistake I did the first time I grew basil and lift the plant for the leaves. You can take quite a few of the leaves off each plant leaving maybe 3-4 and the plant will survive and grow more. Harvesting and making pesto each week guarantees you a few bags of pesto that allows you to make your soups, pasta sauces or bruscetta instantly gourmet.  I grown this at least every other year if not every year. I'm working on my three gallon storage bags I put away two summers ago. A definite must grow. Annual.

CHAMOMILE or CAMOMILE              

Chamomile is a calmative in that it emotionally calms you (verses a sedative which physically calms you like valarian). Great for tea, especially for small children, it helps to aid in sleep. A nice herb for dream pillows for the same properties. The oil is highly useful in essential oils preparations. Comes in two forms, Roman Chamomile or German Camomile. I find it difficult to grow in my clay soil. Annual.




Chives gone to flower


  These onion like herbs are probably one of the easiest to grow.
  In a few growing seasons, you can divide them up and plant them
  somewhere else and have a second, a third and even more to
  give away. Great for butters, put in dips or even cut up in
  cottage cheese. A "gate way" herb if there ever was one.


For whatever reason, my oregano loves my clay soil. It grows like nuts and very rudely attempts to take over the herb garden. I cannot begin to tell you how may times I have given clumps of this herb away only to be gifted with it taking over the space I just removed a clump from. The herb is an absolute necessity when making tomato sauce and is excellent when sprinkled over just about anything. Perennial.


 Flat leaf parsley earns it's place on your plate for farm more than just a garnish. This powerhouse can freshen your breath like no one's business and contains an impressive amount of vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K. It's a primary ingredient in Chimichuri sauce and an excellent add in to most dishes. Bi-Annual.


I am so jealous of those that can grow this herb like a huge bush. I have to treat rosemary as an annual in my neck of the woods. I rarely can get it to last the season let alone survive over the winter even if I do bring it indoors. But for it's unique taste it is worth the effort. Rosemary tea is said to help bring a sense of alertness. For a better tasting drink, I've also had it steeped in pineapple juice which is really tasty. Annual in colder climates, perennial in warmer.




You've probably never heard of this herb. Salad burnett is a lovely herb that has a delicate cucumber scent and taste. I'm constantly introducing people to this deightful little plant because it is such a nice accent to a sandwich or floating on top of a bowl of onions and cucumber salad. Easy to grow from seeds (I get the seeds from a company called "Southern Explosures"), it is supposed to be a tender annual but until recently, the plant I had in my garden was on it's tenth season of coming up each year. Add it to your herb garden this year. Annual (?)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Budget Savers! Grandma's Hamburger Casserole

My son's birthday was this week...

 Birthdays in our household usher in two choices. What type of cake do you want (Chocolate with chocolate frosting -the boy takes after his mother on this one!) and what favorite dinner do you want me to make?

I expected my son to ask for pasta or maybe pizza but instead he said assuredly, "Grandma's Hamburger Casserole!"
 I grew up on this casserole. We had it very often and at times, I really hated it. But when you grow up, you often become nostalgic and suddenly those meals of your youth are the very ones you want to serve your family.

My son LOVES this casserole and it is one that is incredibly budget friendly. This isn't some fancy casserole and like most great American casseroles, this does have a creamed can soup component. Don't let that turn you off though. You can put this casserole together in about 20 minutes and pop it into the oven for an hour while you find other things to work on. This is the perfect 5pm dinner go to when you are driving home from work or errands and don't know what to make. You probably have everything already in your cupboard. In an hour you have a hot and tasty dinner on the table that tastes like so much more work went into it than it did. Try it! It may earn itself in your dinner rotation just yet. With only seven ingredients it's hard to go wrong!


I doubled the receipe amounts so we had some for lunches.


1 lb of ground beef (or turkey), browned
1 tsp of butter to brown it in (I often leave this out)
1 10 oz can of cream of mushroom soup
1 cup of white rice
2 cups of water
1/3 cup of soy sauce
1/4 tsp black pepper.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Brown your meat in a skillet breaking it up as you go. If  your meat is very lean, you may have to add the butter to brown in, Remove from heat and drain off fat.

Put browned meat in a large casserole with the remaining ingredients.

Stir to combine well. Do not be concerned that it appears really soupy at this point.

Once the starches in the rice release and the rice absorbs the liquid, the casserole will come together more completely.

Cover your casserole and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Yeah, We're Bad.. We're Bad...

The news came out this week. Flint is now the second most dangerous city in America.  
While I grew up about thirty miles outside of Flint, I still consider Flint my “hometown” being that it is the nearest “big city” to my little village. Flint is like any other town, there are places you go and places you know to stay away with. Citing one piece of information to brand a town is a bit one dimensional. So let me tell you a little about Flint from a Flint Ex-pat.

 Flint has a lot of good qualities. Here are some of the things you may have never known about Flint, Michigan.
1940 W. Atherton Rd, Flint, MI
1. Like your work benefits? Like working five days a week and not six? Thank a Flint autoworker.  Trust me, employers don’t give benefits through the kindness of their heart. In February 1937 for forty-four long days, auto-workers in Flint, Michigan protested by having a sit down strike. They held off the National Guard and the police to stand up for the power of the American worker to have some say in their workplace and not simply be the pawn of a large corporation. Their strike and their ability to organize, gave a voice to the common worker. Because of their bravery, they created a legacy that helps the average worker today. Without these people fighting for basic workers right, you would have no heathcare, no vacation, no sick pay. There would be absolutely no safety net if you got hurt on the job. So next time you go to the doctor or have your day off, thank an American autoworker.

Each new strike showed that there were workers unwilling to live as slaves, workers who preferred to fight, even if to lose, than not to fight at all. Each new strike reinforced this idea: it is possible to fight, no matter how difficult the circumstances”. (

2. Grand Funk Railroad. Purely Flint through and through. Seems like everyone of a certain age knew someone in the band. I believe my parents went to school with one of the members.

3. Flint Style Coney Dogs. Not a chili dog like Detroit dogs, a full fledged Flint piece of heaven in a bun. My favorite places to get these:

I show you how to make a close facsimile at home, see The Coney Dog: Meat Gift of the Gods.


4. The University of Michigan, Flint Campus.  My aluma mater.

5. The Flint Institute of Art.                                      
I spent many a day in between classes at school wandering through the galleries. I love this art muesuem. The tapestries were exquisite, the glass paperweights were beautiful and the
paintings are wonderous. I truly love this place.

6. The Sloan Museum. The Sloan Museum takes you through the early days of the auto industry. You learn about the people behind the names. They house over 80 vehicles and they do a fine job of really going into how the auto industry really helped to build Flint and the surrounding cities into a national powerhouse of industry.

            David Buick statue in Downtown Flint

7. The Longway Planetarium. Every child went to the Longway Planetarium at some point during school. It was so big, so amazing. You got a sense of how vast the universe is.

8. Halo Burgers. “Seven Days without a Halo Burger makes one week!” Yes it does…yes it does. Order a deluxe with olives for an especially delicious taste of Flint. OMG… I want one NOW!

9. The ROCK.. or some call it the Block. (It's called the Rock...just my opinion )
and it's stupid... and we love it. This rock or block is a landmark for reasons unknown. Every time you see it, it's been painted by someone. It can be graffiti'ed or a carefully executed plan, but it's a dynamic piece of public artwork if there ever was one.
                         Hammerberg Road and 12th Street

10. Back to the Bricks. A five day cruise and car show down Saginaw Street. A really good time.

So, in a sense, Flint is kind of like that boyfriend... yeah, you know the one. Kind of dangerous, kind of exciting... the one that you think back on and smile.. not the kind you'd necessarily marry but the one you definitely had to be with. Yeah, we're a little bad... but definately not forgetable... and you wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Instant Gratification Craft: Easy Stained Glass Sun Catcher

Let’s face it, we are all busy and sometimes we need to see the result of something NOW not months from now. I craft (therefore I am?) and many of the things I do, quilting, tole painting, crochet, cross-stitch, etc. take months if not years to complete. That is all nice and well but there are many times that you want a small project that you can do now and get it done in a day or a few hours.

Finished Suncatcher accomplished in only a few hours.
Instant Gratification!
Queue instant gratification crafts. These are small crafts that can be done in a few hours whose result appears greater than the time it took to create them. These often make wonderful gifts (Stashed away in a gift closet somewhere for next Christmas or birthday?) and can be made in quantity if need be. What we are making is not necessarily as important as learning the technique. Once you learn the steps necessary to create the object, you can apply it to any pattern.

Today, with the help of my son, we are making a very simple sun catcher. I cannot give you the pattern as it isn’t mine (Found in the stained glass pattern book as “Starcatchers”) but there are several free patterns online that you can print out. I’ve also used children’s coloring books for patterns as long as I used them for my personal use and not to sell. Presented here is the technique.

I always wanted to learn stained glass but shied away from it as I was always told that it was very expensive to learn. There is an expense but not as much as I thought. Like any project, it can be as expensive or cheap as you want to be. An important message here however is to always be careful. ALWAYS wear safety glasses. When you break glass in any application, there is a chance of getting it in your eyes and you only have one pair for your life. Be careful with the soldering gun as well, it is very hot and can burn you quickly. If you use common sense however, you’ll be fine.

Pictured here are some of the basic items you’ll need for stained glass:

§         2 copies of  your pattern                    
*Many stained glass suppliers offer stained glass by the pound.
These are the remains of glass from classes, that may have broken, etc.
This is an excellent way for a beginner to get a variety of glass for very
little money or to get interesting glass without spending a fortune.
§         Soldering gun (my bought from Radio Shack) and 60/40 solder

§         3:1 Household oil and container with folded paper towel to put oil on

§         Grozer Pliers      

§       (Pistol grip) Stained glass cutting tool

§       Silver and Black Sharpie marker

§         Box of stained glass pieces*

§         Foil and burnishing tool

§         Safety glasses

§         (not shown) Scissors

Take both patterns and mark all your pieces the same on both patterns. One of these you are going to cut out to make your pieces and the other is your pattern. Cut on the INSIDE of the pattern lines on the one sheet and neatly arrange you pattern.

Everybody that does stained glass has a glass box of their leftover glass from other projects. It's the glass artist's equivalent to a fabric stash. Glass is expensive. You don't waste it!

Using your stain glass pieces, fine a pleasing arrangement of colors and begin by placing your pattern pieces on the glass pieces and drawing around with the Sharpie marker. Use the marker color you can best see, black for light glass, silver for dark. Remove the pattern piece.

Put some household 3:1 oil on the folded toweling paper and run the cutter end of your piston cutter over it to lubricate it. You only need a bit. Position your cutter in a straight up and down fashion and, applying even pressure, cut around the pattern piece. Don't force it, just a simple score line is all that is needed. What you are doing is making a score line, you’ll want to score right off the piece of the glass to get an even break.


Position your piece to give it the proper support and with your grozer pliers, break along that score. Repeat this step will all pattern pieces. Use your pliers to nip any additional glass that may not have broken as cleanly as you wanted. MAKE SURE TO WEAR PROTECTIVE EYEWEAR WHEN DOING THIS. Flying glass can easily get in your eyes at this step.

If you would like, you can sand at this step with a glass file. I was lazy and didn’t want to do this.

Now it is time to foil. The purpose of foiling is to give the solder something to stick to. Glass is slippery; it’s not going to hold the solder. So in order to put the glass together, you need something for the solder to stick to. The copper foil has one end that is adhesive and you run this in the center of the glass piece you have cut like so:

Press the ends on either side flat against the face of the glass and using the burnishing tool, burnish all sides down smoothly.


Next comes flux. Flux acts as a catalyst for the solder to actually stick to the copper foil. Without flux, the solder just rolls off. You’ll notice this happening if you hit an area where the flux was missed or has dried.


After you flux, you tack solder your piece to do the initial hold of all the pieces together. Then you can go to town. Solder all pieces together by holding the solder above the copper foil and without directly touching the solder to the foil (it’ll stick) run a bead of solder. (I’m not the best at soldering but the only way to get better is keep doing it.) Here my son Dixon is doing it for the first time. He came back latter to see if I had anything else he could solder. Using a small amount of the solder, “tin” the outside of your piece so everything appears to have a thin amount of silver on it.

Now to hang it: I make my hangers out of … old metal clothing hangers. I use to pliers and after twisting a piece off, I make a loop out of it and solder that to one of the joint areas on the back of my piece. To clean your piece, use some common dish soap and water. This will remove the Sharpie marker. An additional optional step is to polish your stained glass sun catcher with polishing compound but that isn’t absolutely necessary.

After you’ve made one, try another. When you begin feeling more confident stash these away for a quick and impressive gift.