Places to Party

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Saucy Little Summer


While my heart maybe in the homemade, my life is definitely the hectic. Your's too?


That is why I rely on sauces to make a quick meal something really special.

The garden in it's full glory and the tomatoes are just starting to come in. There is basil to make into pesto and chimichurri is going to be the newest sauce added the  repertoire. These sauces are invaluable to me during the winter months. Coming home to a big crockpot full of bean soup with three pesto cubes thrown in it turns it from "just supper" to something really gourmet. In a pinch, boil pasta, drain it, put in a little oil and 3 or 4 cubes of pesto and dinner is ready.

So here are two of the prime sauces I use to get dinner on the table when I don't have a lot of time to cook:

Fresh from the garden,  you can actually pronounce every ingredient!

Spaghetti sauce is one of the first sauces I learned to make when I moved here many moons ago. It's also one of the sauces I'm teaching my son to make. With a large Italian population in Rochester, it's almost a prerequisite that you learn how to make a fresh sauce. Take a look at the ingredients, see any cans? No. This is straight from the garden to the pot. After making this on a regular basis, try a jar of can sauce. It's definitely not the same. I grew up eating a lot of jarred sauces and now I just really can't. They taste "musty" at best. Even the sauce I canned doesn't taste that way. Makes you really start to wonder how fresh and what is in that sauce you just bought from the grocery.

Please forgive the shadow.
Olive oil
1 large onion
3-4 cloves of garlic
2-3 quarts of tomatoes (at least) chopped
1/4c -1/2 c wine (red or white, your choice)
2 Tbsp sugar
2-4 Tbsp fresh basil and oregano (I just eyeball it)
Salt and pepper
OPTIONAL: mushrooms, garden veggies.

I'm going to let you in on an ongoing argument my spouse and I have. He likes a sweet sauce, I like a savory sauce. The difference in the two is not the sugar. It's the onion. If you like a sweet sauce, add more onion. If you like more of a savory sauce, less.
No being a big onion fan myself, less is more in this case.

Heat a large sauce pot on the stove and pour in about 3 Tbsp of olive oil (remember, hot pan, cold oil food doesn't stick (per the Frugal Gourmet).Chop your onion in fine pieces and cook them in the pan until they become transluscent. Just before they reach that stage completely, put in your garlic. Garlic burns easy so you don't want to start it until your onions are almost done or it'll be burned by the time you get there.... and there really isnt' anything worse then burned garlic. If you are adding any garden produce, add it at this point until it's crisp tender.
From this...

Now add your wine, sugar and tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes begin to slump, maybe 5 mins. Add your herbs and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve over your favorite pasta, chicken, etc.

To this .. in half an hour or less.


Pesto is the one sauce I can't live without. During the growing season I make up a batch about once a week freezing it in ice cube trays and then transferring them to large freezer storage bags. Pesto can be used in just about any recipe that calls for fresh basil. It shows up in Italian as readily as my bean soup. I love it.

Very simple ingredients help to make any dish gourmet.

Bunch of fresh basil            
2-3 tsp of minced garlic
Olive oil
1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup of your favorite nuts

Place all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor and grind to combine.

As it grinds, add olive oil to create a paste.

Stop the food processor and scrape down sides as you go. Take this time to add more basil if you'd like.

Transfer to your ice cube trays to freeze into cubes.

A little bit of prep in the summer makes those winter days a little nicer and easier to deal with. A bit of summer sunshine on a bleak February day can get you through until spring comes again.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

You Know, ...Mr. McGregor Has a Compelling Point....

From Google Images.
As a child, I loved Beatrice Potter's Peter Rabbit stories. Loved Little Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Mrs. Rabbit. I cheered for Peter to outsmart Mr. McGregor and his cat and get out of his garden. When I was expecting my son, I made sure I saved my small green book for him that I loved as a child and decorated his room with a Peter Rabbit plaque.

Lately however, I'm starting to see things from Mr. McGregor's point of view....

When I was a new homeowner, I had lovely visions of creating a house with lots of gardens. My first year here, I placed a garden behind my garage as it was the best spot for it as the sunniest part of my yard was also my leechfield as obviously not desirable. So I planted and tended, weeded as much as I could and expected to have a bounty of produce for all my work.

Instead I discovered my nemesis, an evil woodchuck.

This little brown monster wouldn't be content with just eating one plant or even two. No... he had to take a bite out of EVERY LAST PLANT OUT THERE! He even ate the leaves off my pumpkin plants! Pumpkin plants! Do you know how scratchy and painful that should have been. I swear  he did it just to be mean. There was completely no other reason.

What I could salvage.
As I had no intention of repeating that experiment, I moved my garden closer to the house. For the last sixteen years everything was fine until this week. That little monster has moved his hovel right under my diningroom window. Yesterday I saw his squatty, snotty self out in my newly weeded garden. This morning I awoke to my bean plants massacred all over my garden, he just plowed through it! I rescued what I could but I hope at a minimum it gave him indigestion.


Now I am an animal lover. I've taken in several cats, had fish and grew up on a farm with cows, horses, dogs, cats and chickens. But I now thoroughly understand why Mr. McGregor would chase young Peter with a hoe. Here the guy is just trying to raise food for his family only to have some little vandal sneak into his garden and run away with is family's food he's tried so hard to raise. I totally understand Bill Murray's character in Caddyshack trying endless to destroy his little pest. I though about trapping that little brown vandal but he's smart, strong and terribly fast so I'm not sure he'd fall for that. Any suggestions would be helpful. If you have any ideas please post them in the comments,

                                             Mr. McGregor totally had a point!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jump Rope Jingles

The Asphalt Feared Me.                           

From search on "Google Images"
I was a Jump Rope Monster.

Me and My Clothesline Ruled Recess.

Well, not really....

I was an avid jump-roper in elementary school. I used to absolutely love it. With the news that my elementary school has closed, it brought back a lot of memories of that much beloved school.

 I used to bring a clothesline which we would sometimes wet to add weight and we would either double it or extend it the full length and see how many people we could get in the rope at one time.

But I digress...

One thing that I can't pass down is the jump-rope songs my friends and I used to jump rope to (I have a boy) . If you have daughters, have you passed them down to your girls? Did you have jump rope songs?  What were they? What found memories do you have of jump roping with  your friends. We had a variety. If you didn't, here are some you can use that we loved.

This one gets it's fun because each sentence's ending begins the next...

Miss Suzy Had a Baby

From search on "Google Images"
Miss Suzy had a baby, she named it Tiny Tim,
She put him in the bathtub to see if he could swim,                           
He drank up all the water, he ate up all the soap,
He tried to eat the bathtub, but it wouldn't go down his throat.

Miss Suzy called the doctor,
The doctor called the nurse,
The nurse called the lady with the alLigator purse
The doctor said it's measles,
Mumps said the nurse,
Chicken pox said the lady with the alligator purse.

A dollar for the doctor,
A dollar for the nurse,
A dollar for the lady with the alligator purse.

Miss Suzy was so popular she had two songs. This was the favorite because of the double entendre. We had no idea of that phrase was, but we loved the song because of it.

Miss Suzy Had a Tugboat

Miss Suzy had a tugboat, the tugboat had a bell,
Miss Suzy went to heaven, the tugboat went to
...H-E-L-L-O operator, there was a piece of glass,
Miss Suzy fell upon it and broke her little
ASK me no more questions, I'll tell you no more lies.
Miss Suzy told me all of this the day before she ...
DYED her hair in purple, she dyed her hair in pink,
She dyed her hair in polka dots and washed it down the sink I think.

From search on "Google Images"
Jolly Peppers

High, low, jollypeppers

Sleepy, salty, jolly peppers
High, low, jolly peppers
Sleepy, salty, jolly peppers

High = bring the rope up about six inches and the jumper has to jump over it
Low = rope just swings side to side, for some reason we always called this bluebells
Jolly peppers = hot peppers. The rope goes really fast
Sleepy = jump with your eyes closed
Salty =Rope spins the oppsite way, we called this "backdoors"  (counterclockwise) and you have to jump in.

24 Robbers

Not last night but the night before, 24 robbers came knocking at my door...
As I jumped out (jump out of the swinging rope) to let them in, (Come in "backdoors", see above)
Asked them what they wanted and this is what they said,
"Spanish dancers turn all the round, Spanish dancers touch the ground,
Spanish dancers go upstairs, Spanish dancers say your prayers,
Spanish dancers turn off the light, Spanish dancers spell goodnight
G-O-O-D-N-I-G-H-T, Goodnight"

I have no idea why we were invoking Spanish dancers but we didn't question it.

Then there was always the tried and true, each grade had a different action but I can't for the life of me remember them all. I just remember that third grade was "bluebells" (see above), 11th grade was hot peppers and twelve you had to come in "backdoors".

From search on "Google Images"


S-C-H-Olly, Olly L Spells school and out (jump out of the spinning rope)...

I don't remember what grades you did what action. Getting old I guess...

What were some of your songs/jump rope jingles that you remember?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

If You Can Color in a Coloring Book, You Can Paint

Tole Painting For Your Home

 Painting is so much fun. I think you'll enjoy it too. Tole painting allows you to create really
beautiful and unique things for your home and makes wonderful gifts for friends and family. So grab your surface, your patterns, your paint and your brushes and lets begin this adventure together!

Your first task is to find a pattern you like and determine what surface you are going to put it on. For demonstration purposes, I choose this Halloween piece because I love the quaint, nostalgic vibe this pattern gives off. It feels like you just stumbled upon a box of old vintage Halloween decorations from the 1940-1950's and, you lucky duck, get to take them home... but reality then sets in that that's not the case so if you want it, you got to make it. I also choose this pattern because it has a cool technique that you can use to "age" things or easily make "snow" that you don't usually get with patterns.* Feel free to pick any pattern or surface you want because we are showing you more the technique here than a specific project.

Prepping Your Surface

Once you've chosen your surface,  you are going to need to prep it. In this case I'm using wood, so that means I have to sand it and then remove any sanding residue with a tack cloth. If you've never seen or used a tack cloth, they are typically found in the paint department of any diy or big box store and typically run you about $1.89 for two. These are really necessary as you don't want to get painting only to have globs of sawdust in your paint. Essentially they are simply a gummy, coated piece of cheesecloth that helps you pull up the sawdust without wetting it. WATER IS THE ENEMY TO RAW WOOD. Do not simply rinse your wooden piece. It will cause the grain to rise and then it's a lot of sanding to get the wood usable again.

Most Important Step: Seal your surface.

Now if you are using something other than wood, the next step would be your first. After cleaning your surface, you must seal it. Sealing your surface prevents paint seepage on porous surfaces, prevents wood from warping or plumping up the grain in your wooden pieces and gives your smooth surfaces "tooth" for your paint to adhere to. NEVER skimp or skip sealing your surface, you'll be upset if you do.

Neat trick: To keep your wet painted
piece from marking your surface or
getting stuck to the paper, set down
some plastic bottle caps to create a
"ledge" for your work to rest on while
you work on it.

After the sealant dries, it's time to determine what size your piece is going to end up. Rarely if ever is your piece in the book the same size as your surface. Here we have to figure out what is visually pleasing to your eye and what size you need to reduce or enlarge your piece to comfortably fit your surface. The math is relatively easy on this one. If you are reducing as I am here, Take the total size of the design in your pattern as drawn either vertically or horizontally, depending upon which size is most crucial. Then take your surface and estimate about at least an inch of "breathing space" on either size and this is the finished size you want the piece. If you are reducing the pattern, take the smaller number and divide by the larger size. If you are increasing the size, divide the larger number by the smaller number.


Once we've reduced or enlarged our pattern we have to make it usable for transferring to our surface. Using tracing paper, carefully copy all the lines in ink pen. Once transferred, we need to apply this to our piece. If you are working on a dark piece as I am here, use white graphite transfer paper found in any craft store. If your surface is light, you can use black. Make sure it's graphite paper and not carbon, carbon doesn't erase well.

Position your piece on the surface of choice and when you have it where  you want it, tape it down with painter's tape at one end. Gently slide your graphite paper, copying side facing your piece, between your surface and the pattern. At this point, just trace the outlines of  your pattern, not all the details. There is no need to transfer all the details at this point as you'll just be painting over it.

If your surface is dark, I highly suggest at least two coats of white paint to fill in your area. With dark backgrounds, your paint can appear darker or "muddy" because of the surface underneath it. By basing that area I
n white before you paint, you allow those
colors to "pop".

       Flat Angled             Small Flat            Round Liner

Using a brush to fit the area, start your paint in the largest portion of the area you are filling in and brush it out to thinly fill in the edges of your piece. If this is your first painting piece, the main three brushes you'll need are:

1. Flat angled brush: This will allow you to fill in large areas and also help you when we
    come to shading, especially edges.

2. Small flat: This gets into small places that the flat angled brush can't get to.
3. Small round brush. This is the brush you are going to use for a lot of liner work.

Additionally don't forget that a brush has two ends, the brush end and the handle end. Need to make a round dot on a project? Turn your brush around, dip it in paint and dot. Instant circle.

Now we need to talk about paint. For most of the work I do, I utilize acrylic paint. Some people work in oils but I find that acrylic is very easy to use, can be mixed with several mediums (fabric, candle, etc.) and dries fast. In home tole painting, we aren't going to get fancy with a palette either. Any washed Styrofoam packaging can be reused as your painting palette and when you are finished, toss it away!

The last tools you'll need are water, a paper towel and an old hairdryer for drying areas quickly.

Now it is time for what you came here for: PAINTING!

Base Coating

Base coating is just like coloring. You are filling in the spaces in between lines with the colors your pattern calls for. On your "palette" put a small amount of the paint your pattern calls for. Then taking the largest brush that will fill in the area without overshooting it, dab some paint on your brush and, starting inside the largest portion of the image, slowly fill in the void with the paint striving to pull the smallest amount of paint near the edge. What we are trying to avoid here is a "lip" that you can physically see and feel as it looks very "unprofessional".

 It will take at least two or more layers of paint to make your piece opaque so once it dries, add another until you are happy with the effect.

Use your liner brush to "write" any words. the trick here is to let the paint "glide" off the brush (make sure it is damp) and off the end rather than a brushing motion.





What Makes  Your Image Dimensional

Shading/highlighting is what brings your piece to life. Before you shade, everything is pretty much one dimensional but once you shade, you are adding perspective to your work.

Shading/highlighting is the same process just using different colors to suggest a light source on the work. It begins with a  damp brush. Damp, not wet. Dip your brush in water and then, taking your paper towel/old towel, pad it to a damp state. The water becomes a "floating medium" to pull your paint down the brush into nothingness. By wicking down the length of the brush, you create a more natural shading effect with no visible stopping point.

Dip only one side of your brush in the paint...

....then start "walking" the paint along your brush like so to distribute the paint along part of the length of your brush. It may take a couple of times to get an effect you like. If you do put it on the piece and it is too obvious, you can rinse your brush and with just a damp brush go over your shading to make the end of the shading less obvious.

Many or most patterns do not tell you where
to shade/highlight only what paints to use to do it. This is where pattern reading comes into play. Look at your pattern to determine
where the author shaded her/his finished piece to determine where your piece should be shaded.

Pattern reading is often necessary to determine where a
highlight or shading is to be put.


Once you are happy with the background shading, you can dry your piece with a hairdryer if you are ready to continue painting or let it air dry if you aren't in a rush.
Now begin the process again, but don't add the final details until you finish your basecoating.


Check that it transferred.

Begin base coating.

Finish base coating.



Add details.

Stand back and admire.

Optional Treatment: Fly Specking

Fly specking is an optional treatment that you can perform to your piece to "age" it or add snow or in this case stars. You can fly speck your entire piece or as in this case, use your tracing as a mask over portions of your work you don't want effected. Simply dip an old toothpaste brush tip in your paint of choice and, using your thumb, rake it across the bristles to flick small portions of paint on your piece to mimic stars/snow/age. The closer you get to the piece and the amount of paint on the brush will determine how large or small your spots are on the final piece.
So you see, it's not that hard and you definitely have the talent to make wonderful things for your home or gifts for your families. Try your hand at tole painting today. You'll find lots of decorative pattern books out there over many different subjects and once is perfect for you. Let me know how your piece turns out. I'm sure it'll be wonderful! Happy Painting!

* (This pattern is from "Of Signs & Seasons" by Jill Ankrom and it is still available here: ) or cheaper (for $1.49, here: