Month: September 2012

Support Your Local Orchards

  It has been a rough year for Michigan fruit growers and it’s only likely to feel worse for them in the next few months when they have no fruit to sell in what would usually be the heart of the harvest season.

  The abnormally early, hot spring followed by the return of “normal” spring weather killed essentially all of the tree-borne fruit in our area.  If it has to flower out and then be pollinated to become a fruit, it’s dead.  The freakish dry spell didn’t do anybody trying to grow produce any favors either.
  That means, now that fall is here and the trees are changing colors and there is a nip in the air, that traditional yearning for apple cider is more of a pipe dream than something you can just hop over to the local cider mill and grab.  That’s bad news for local orchards.
  We wanted to make sure that we supported the orchards around us, cider or no cider, so we headed over last weekend.  The orchards near us plan to ship in apples from out of state, to at least have cider on hand, but they’re rather at the mercy of the other growers.  For now, we enjoyed seeing the animals on the farm…
  …checking out the tractor…
  …seeing how big we’d gotten…
  …playing in the hay maze…
  And of course, DOUGHNUTS!
  If you’re in an area that was hit by the strange weather this year, please support your local farmers.  Stop in and pick up a dozen doughnuts, grab some cider if they’re importing it, take a hay ride, buy a ticket to their petting zoo.  
  We all want to make sure that next fall they’ll still be around!
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Little Boys’ Pocket Pants

  So does anybody remember these pants?  Kudos if you do, it means you’re a long time reader, and you’ve been paying attention!  Well, it took me 8 months, but I finally finished them.

  It was the end of January when I started them.  I put the pockets in and set them aside.  Classes and online tutoring got too overwhelming for me to finish them and G had plenty of pants anyhow.  Then we had such a warm, early spring that he needed shorts, not long pants!  So I left them aside so I didn’t make them only for them to be too short this fall.  Good thing too, G grew a couple of inches over the summer!
  Now it’s fall and my growing-like-a-weed little man needed some pants!  Very little from this past winter still fits, and what does seems to be stuff with buttons and snaps that aren’t a great idea since we’re potty training.  It was time for me to finish these!
  They’re a hair long, but since he has been growing so much lately, I figured rather safe than sorry. He loves having pockets he can tote his toy cars and trucks around in.  Plus, big, contrasting pockets make it easy for him to know which is the front of his pants so he can put them on himself, very important at 2 and a half!
  One work in progress completed…only like 87 to go….

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

  Today’s recipe has two versions, the normal version that the original recipe suggests, and the “weapon of mass destruction” spicy version that I accidentally whipped up because I’m freaking adorable.  Consider it a buy one get one free deal.  Except you don’t have to buy the first one.  Clever you.
  Here’s what we’re making:
Here’s what you need:
Original version

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 orange pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
3 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 small chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce, minced
¼ cup chopped cilantro stems
Kosher salt
1 bottle dark beer
1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 lime (optional)
sour cream (optional)
Erin’s Psycho Hot and Spicy Version:

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 orange pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp cayenne powder (hey, that’s what’s in chili powder anyhow, right?  …right???)
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
3 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 dried chili de arbol (because what’s a few steps on the Scoville rating chart between friends?)
Kosher salt
1 can beer, whatever you’ve got on hand
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
sour cream (oh my god, it’s NOT optional)
  The instructions for both versions are the same, just substitute in my items if you’re crazy enough to try the spicy version.  I didn’t wind up buying any cilantro for this, since it was a late in the week recipe and I didn’t want the herbs to wilt.  Feel free to add it in if you’re a fan.  If you’re making the spicy version you probably won’t be able to taste it anyhow though.  Oh, and don’t mince the dried pepper if you use it…throw it in whole and fish it out before it gets into anybody’s bowl and nukes their face off.
  Start by heating your oil in large pan over medium heat. Add your onion and peppers and saute until soft (about 5 mins).  Add garlic, cumin, and chili powder and continue to saute for about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, beans, chipotle, cilantro stems, and 1 teaspoon salt. Turn heat to high, and stir in beer. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add sweet potatoes.
Continue simmering until potatoes are tender (about 20 minutes). Taste for seasoning. Spoon chili into bowls and garnish with cilantro leaves, a squeeze of lime, and a dollop of sour cream.
  …so it turns out that “improvising” when it comes to peppers might not be the best of ideas.  My Mr. is a huge fan of spicy food, so he LOVED how my version turned out…but poor G took one bite and was ready for a grilled cheese.  I ate my whole bowl, but my nose was running and my eyes were watering by the time I was done.  It was really good, but next time I think I’ll try and follow the recipe a little more closely.

Things I Never Buy (and Some I Really Should Stop)

  I’ve mentioned before that I’m trying to cut down on the clutter in our lives.  Obviously some of that requires taking possessions we already have out of our house, but a big part of it is just not bringing new clutter in.
  Any home or organizing magazine will give you tips about keeping junk mail out of your house, or using reusable grocery bags to keep from accumulating plastic bags, but what about the things you’re buying?  As an idea of things you can stop bringing into your life, here is a list of things I never buy…and a few I’d really like to get myself to stop buying!
Things I Never Buy*
*We all know better than to say “never”, these are close enough to never I feel honest.
**This drives my Mr. batty.  He loves his blue ammonia based stuff.
Things I Ought to Stop Buying
  • Lipstick- I only wear it once or twice a year…that’s enough to remind me that it’s messy and high maintenance.  Problem is, I just loooove all the pretty colors…
  • Writing implements- That line about a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils?  Yeah, I have enough pens, pencils, markers and highlighters to fill a garden at this point.
  • Fabric- The picture in this post just hints at the fiber-hoarding I’ve been doing.
  • Clothing- See above.  I have the ability and certainly the supplies, besides, I already have too many clothes!
  • Basically any cosmetics.
  We all have our weak spots when it comes to buying things we don’t need.  For me, it’s vanity products.  Clothes, perfumes, cosmetics…anything that has the potential to make me prettier (and… pencils?).  We buy these things, not because we need them, but because we get an emotional high from it.  It’s easy for me to not buy cleaning supplies, because, well, I don’t really like cleaning.  It’s hard for me to not buy vanity items because I love playing dress up and finger painting on my face with makeup.
  Breaking the habit of that quick “retail therapy” high is really, really hard, especially because every store you’re in is working to keep you buying, but I’m trying to keep at it.  Slowly but surely I’m curating my possessions down to those that really suit me, work well and are high quality.  It helps me to remind myself when I have that shiny new bauble in my hands, just begging to be bought, how much work I’m going to have to put into maintaining it.  That it’s going to have to be stored somewhere…I’ll have to find space in my closet, or my bathroom or my dressers for it.  That it will have to be washed or polished or maintained in some fashion.  
  I don’t want to live in a house filled to the brim with half used bottles of fancy lotion and once-tried eye shadow.  But to get the house I want, I have to stop bringing those things home in the first place!
  What are your impulse-buy weaknesses?  

Slow Cooker Taco Soup

  Today’s recipe is for “taco soup”.  What makes taco soup different from slightly watery chili?  Got me.  But, it’s delicious, so we’ll let it slide.  Besides, it’s a slow cooker meal, so it’s easy!
  Here’s what we’re making:
  Here’s what you need:
2 cans kidney beans
2 cans pinto beans
2 cans corn*
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1 can tomatoes and chiles
1 packet taco seasoning
1 packet ranch dressing mix
1 lb browned ground turkey or hamburger
shredded cheese and sour cream
* I personally can’t stand the taste of canned corn, so I used 1 lb of frozen
  Start by browning your meat.  I still don’t entirely understand why ground meat has to be pre-cooked while chunks of beef or chicken or whatever can get tossed right into the slow cooker, but it seems to be the rule….so cook it and drain the extra fat before putting the meat into the crock pot.
  Dump your taco seasoning and ranch dressing mix on top of your meat and then add the rest of your ingredients (except the cheese and sour cream) to the pot.  Your beans should be drained and rinsed but your tomatoes and corn should be dumped in whole hog.  I was a little nervous that using the frozen corn rather than the canned wasn’t going to leave me enough liquid, but it seemed to work out just fine for me.  Set your cooker to high for 4-5 hours or low for 8-10.  Serve garnished with cheese and sour cream.
  This makes a ton of food.  Be ready for freezing leftovers or use this meal to feed a crowd if you make the full batch.  Everybody here enjoyed this.  G had to be bribed to try the first spoonfuls, but once he’d gotten a taste for it he ate his whole bowl.  Like I said, I’m not entirely sure what distinguishes this from a chili, but it is delicious.  Make a batch for your next get together with friends or try a half batch for your family.  It’s perfect for the fall weather that’s sneaking in!

Dies the Fire (A Novel of the Change)-A Review

  First off, let me say that, like Feed, this book is a part of a series, and because I’m a reading junkie, I’ve of course torn through a good portion of it.  I’ve read 3 books out of the series so far and I’m pretty sure the 4th is kicking around the house here somewhere.  I’m sure I’ll read it the next time I run out of reading when the library is closed.  As to how many books there are in this series?  I can’t rightfully say.  A lot.  This is a writer who seems to go quantity over quality all the way… but we’ll talk about that in a second.

  So I’ll start by saying this was another recommendation from my Mr.  Like I’ve said, he has a type when it comes to books, and that type is tall, dark and apocalypse-y.  That’s kind of fine by me, since I’ll read just about anything, but don’t go into this expecting Sense and Sensibility.
  Dies the Fire starts out with the whole world undergoing a “Change”.  The characters in the book never find out exactly what caused it, so neither do we, but the most bandied about theory is that some higher being decided humans had gotten too big for their britches and needed to be taken down a notch.  Whatever DID cause the Change, it altered the way that the rules of nature work so that most of the technology from the past 200 years doesn’t work. Weee!
  Swallowing the Change whole hog takes more than a little suspension of disbelief, and I’ll admit, I think it was a little lazy on the part of the author to just be like “it happened, deal with it, I’m not explaining it”, but I suppose the rules of nature “breaking” shouldn’t be any more difficult to pretend than what we routinely accept from full-on fantasy books.  Besides, it is a rather interesting premise.  How screwed would you be if you couldn’t use Google, let alone your car??
  Once past the deus ex machina introduction, we get into the meat of the story.  There are two main groups of characters we follow: Juniper McKenzie and her rag-tag band of pagan misfits, and Mike Havel and the family of wealthy business tycoons he was flying to their Oregon wilderness vacation home.
  Both groups of characters are interesting and fairly well developed, but I found myself rather annoyed with Mr. Stirling during quite a few of the passages describing the pagan group.  In his introduction to the book he gives thanks to friends or acquaintances who provided him with information on paganism, and in this first book especially it’s painfully clear that his knowledge is all second hand.  I can’t claim I’m an expert on paganism either, but if I were attempting to write a novel, I certainly wouldn’t use details of a culture I wasn’t at all familiar with for one of my main characters.  It comes across a bit as gauche cultural tourism.
  The story itself is engrossing.  Obviously there are plenty of challenges for both groups to face with the entire infrastructure of the world more or less collapsed, and they handle it in different and equally inventive ways.  It’s easy to get caught up.  The only problem is occasional bouts of immaturity in the writing.  Most of the story is well written and flows well, but every once in a while it feels as if the story’s editor fell asleep at the wheel.
  Over all I would recommend this series with the caveat to not expect a classic.  It’s interesting reading with colorful characters, but be ready for the occasional urge to yell at the author to strike.  Consider it to be the action-adventure equivalent of a cheap romance novel; cotton candy for your brain.

Finally! Completed Maternity Top with Sleeve Details

  Well, it took me almost a month, but the Megan Nielsen top I started way back in August is finally done:
  Took my freakin time about it, I know, but I actually used a lot of new techniques and figured out a few design elements that took forever.  All for a pretty simple top.  Silly me.
  This is the first finished garment I’ve actually used a double needle on.  I also had to figure out the logistics of adding the straps to draw the sleeves up…how long they needed to be, which side to add the D-rings to and how to add the “leather” details to them…
  I wound up using brown vinyl…because apparently I had blocked out the bad memory that was the summer I worked at a pontoon boat factory making seats.  Vinyl is evil, unforgiving material and if you can at all avoid working with it, I’d suggest you do.  Because it’s not made out of fibers and is just basically a plastic sheet, anywhere your needles goes in, you leave a hole.  That means there are no second chances.  Once you sew, you’re done.  Evil.  I wound up sewing on all the details by hand, something that the hat I’ve been working on has been good practice for, but is still not my favorite way to spend an afternoon.
  I have a couple of modifications I think I’ll be making to this yet…the sleeves are rather baggy, which I think I’ll be changing (my belly is going to be huge, my arms are not, might as well show off the parts of me that are still slim), but this is finally wearable.
  All in all I’m happy with how it has turned out and I think it’ll probably get a lot of wear once my belly actually fills it out.  As you can see, I’m not there yet, but if my pregnancy with G is any indication, give me another month, month and a half and I’m going to go from “mild college student beer gut” to “how many kids are in there anyhow?!?”
  The straps took me forever, like I said, but they weren’t hard once I figured them out, and I really like the detail they add.  Would anybody be interested in a tutorial of how I did them?
  New here?  Take a look around.  You can find my most recent projects here.  Only interested in sewing?  Those projects are here.

Honey and Orange Glazed Pork Chops

  Today’s recipe is one that I pawned off on my Mr.  He has a really awesome grill that he got this spring, and he enjoys using it, so far be it for me to stop him when there’s a dish that needs grilling!
  Also, you know, I don’t actually like cooking, so I hand it off whenever possible.
  Here’s what we’re making:
  Here’s what you need:
6 pork chops
½ cup honey (divided)
1 cup orange juice
1 Tbsp orange zest
½ tsp ground cardamom
2 cloves garlic, minced 
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
  Start by mixing together all of your ingredients to form a marinade to pour over your pork chops.  Only add 2 Tbsp of your honey at this time and reserve the remaining 6 Tbsp.  Pour the marinade over your pork chops and allow to marinate 30-60 minutes but no longer.  …this is probably about the amount of time your grill will need to get up to temp anyhow.
  Removing the pork from the marinade, pour the liquid into a small pan, add your remaining honey and allow to simmer on your stovetop until it reduces by about half and begins to resemble a glaze.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  Place your pork chops on your grill and cook over medium high heat until they are nearly completely cooked.  In the last few minutes, brush the chops with the marinade several times to create a nice thick glaze.  Turn the meat to coat both sides.
  These were delicious.  The honey and orange juice add a great sweetness to the pork and it all just caramelizes so wonderfully on the grill.  Yum.  We all enjoyed this and the leftovers were fought over.  (G stole the last remaining chop from my Mr. and ran off squealing when my Mr. tried to eat it for lunch).  The original recipe (linked below the picture of course) says they occasionally adapt this recipe for the stove top when the grill isn’t an option, and I’ll think we’ll have to try it!

Slowing Down

  10 days from today I’ll have been writing this blog for a year.  I’ve really been enjoying it and have loved watching people discover it, and look forward to seeing it continue to grow.  That being said, with my return to school, a year of posts under my belt and my second kiddo on the way, I think it’s time for me to slow the pace a little.

  Don’t get me wrong, I still have lots of projects planned and am going to share them all with you, but after a year of 6 posts a week, quick and easy projects are getting a little thin on the ground.  I don’t want this to turn into a kitch blog where I’m making seasonal wreaths out of muffin tin liners and googly eyes because that was what I had on hand and I didn’t have another idea for the next day.  I want this to be a place where you come to get inspired to make beautiful things that will make your life easier or more enjoyable…not just somewhere that spews out crafts for the sake of posting every day.
  Remember, as well as being all about making my own stuff, I’m also very much about not having junk just for the sake of having something new.
  I have quite a few projects in the works that are taking a long time.  You can see I’m making progress on the hat I started at the end of August (it’s behind me on the couch in the picture above), but hand beading takes forever!  I want to do it, because it will be beautiful and I think it will be a wonderful addition to my wardrobe, but it hasn’t exactly been post friendly.  I probably will have to work on it for at least another month before it’s finished.
  I’ve mentioned that we moved my sewing room/office downstairs to our former guest bedroom because we are re-doing the old office to become G’s room.  I want to show you that as we work on it, but as of right now, we’ve only gotten so far as to empty the room and spackle the holes made by nails for pictures.  A lot of work on our part, but not exactly impressive progress when it comes to showing photos to other people.
  Speaking of G, we’re potty training him…so that’s taking a ton of my time as well.  THAT post would mostly be swearing.  This isn’t that kind of blog.  (Actually it’s going surprisingly well, but it IS something that takes a lot of time and focus…this is the book we’re using: Oh Crap. Potty Training)
  I’m in the process of transitioning my closet from clothing that fits me at my “normal” size to things I’ll be able to wear for the next few months…and while I AM considering a post on how to buy non-maternity clothing that will flatter you whether you’re pregnant or not, I’m not sure any of you would be terribly interested in a post consisting of “I put this shirt away because it made my growing baby look like a beer gut” and “These pants get put away because they made the fatal mistake of pointing out that my butt, has indeed gotten bigger at the same time as my belly has”.
  Basically, I plan to keep writing for you guys, and hopefully writing a lot, but I want to make sure to keep the quality high, instead of just swamping you with quantity.  As always, if there is a particular process or craft you’d love to see me try, let me know in the comments, via email, on the Facebook page or on Twitter and I’ll do my best to fit it in.  Otherwise, for now I’m going to start by dropping my Wednesday updates and see where we go from there.
  Thank all of you for reading…I love all of your comments and feedback and I hope you’ll keep coming back to see what else I have up my sleeve!

A Better Way to Reheat Pasta

  I’ve mentioned in the past, in a few of my lasagna recipes for example, that I’m a big fan of splitting my pasta recipes into two pans, serving one for dinner and saving the other for another night when I don’t have the time or the energy to make something.  Thing is, pasta doesn’t always reheat so well.  The bottom wants to stay frozen and the top dries out…yuck.
  Luckily I’ve found a better way.
  Here’s what you need:
A mostly thawed dish of pasta
A dish big enough to fit your frozen dish into
Water
  Nestle your pan full of pasta inside the larger dish and pour an inch or so of water into it.  You don’t want TOO much water, because keep in mind that you’re going to be having to lift this whole thing OUT of the oven once it’s scalding hot, and if there’s anything more awful than sloshing yourself with lukewarm water, it’s splashing yourself with boiling.
  Cover the top of your pasta loosely with tinfoil and place the whole thing in the oven.  Reheat as usual.  (I typically reheat my lasagnas at 350 for around an hour).  The water in the bottom pan gets nice and hot, makes sure that the bottom of your pasta gets heated through, and as some of it evaporates into your oven, it makes a nice steam bath that combats that gross dried-out freezer dinner thing that nobody likes.  You wind up with pasta that tastes like you just cooked it!