Wednesday, September 26, 2012

End of Summer Treats

Behold a sassy jalapeƱo margarita, padrone peppers with pancetta, and an heirloom tomato salad with figs, arugula and feta. Thanks, Healdsburg Bar and Grill!

What are your favorite foods to eat during Indian summer?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Save Those Vanilla Pods!

If you buy the real vanilla beans and not just the extract, pat yourself on the back. You're cooking like a pro! But wait, just because they've been scraped clean doesn't mean they're rendered useless.

Rinse them off and let them dry. Then throw them in you sugar jar! Baked goods will have an extra boost with vanilla scented sugar- and the pods last a looooong time.

My friend throws whole vanilla beans in her hot tub, but personally, I'd rather have them flavor my coffee.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

An Overview of Jam Making

If you haven't been seeing so much of me these days, it's probably because I've been busy canning. That's right, Chuck and I have a new obsession, and when we aren't talking about it or doing it, we're thinking about it. As a newcomer to canning, this is the best time to be obsessed with it, as it's been peak season into next month.

For detailed recipes, fantastic directions and supplies, check out the Ball website, or better yet, get a Ball Blue Book guide to preserving.

I know you have a slew of mason jars lying around, so this is the chance to put them to work. Sterilize them in a pot of boiling water for several minutes, then store in a 200 degree oven while you wait for the mixture to be ready. Every recipe is different depending on the fruit, use of pectin, and total amount, so I'm not listing a specific recipe. You can adjust your recipe according to how much fruit you have, or just follow a recipe from the Book.

For our first jam, we used freshly picked blackberries. Mix pectin into sugar and add to the boiling mixture.

After the pectin is cooked, pour the jam to the top of the jars, leaving no gaping air space between the jar and the lip (it can affect the jam's shelf life). Use a clean cloth to wipe the brims, then place the cover on. (The quick wipe helps the vacuum.) Screw the lid until closed but not tight, and place in the pot of boiling water. We boiled for 15 minutes, according to our recipe. When you pull out the jars, the lids pop when they seal.

The only question is what to can next?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Revamped Switch Plates

 I've been in my new apartment for three months and it's cute as can be- except for the light switch covers. They're just terrible and awful and I'm offended every time I see them. 

This one is by far the worst.
And this one isn't that much better. Don't get me wrong, wolves, turtles, sea bass and cheesy nature scenes have their charm in the right place, but definitely not in my decor. This weekend, they were ready for an extreme makeover.

I pulled pages from an old dictionary and set to work making a smarter, more neutral decoupage to fit my aesthetic.

And best of all, you just need a little glue and a sharp edge for trimming down. For the more interesting pictures on pages, I lined them up in the switch plate frame, glued them down, evened out the edges and folded them over the back like so. When laid flat, then the hole for the switch can be cut out with a clean edge.

Paint the decoupaged surface with Mod Podge to add an extra coating. Yes, a new adhesive to work with! (I'm a big fan of projects involving glue, in case you didn't know.) This helps projects last longer, especially if using fragile materials.

Here are the rest I made.
This one is my favorite. It's going in the bathroom, of course.

Sorry, Wolfie, it was time for you to move out.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bat in the House!

Bat in the cave! No, that's not code for a booger in your nose, that's a video of an actual, live, wild bat who let himself in when I was housesitting. I tried to capture him on video without screaming, but that was a challenge when he insisted on dive bombing me. Repeatedly.

Yep, that's pretty much the most exciting nightlife I've seen in a while.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Curing Cast Iron

If you're like me, you love cast iron so much you want to see it treated the way it deserves- frequently and with respect. Nothing breaks my heart more than cast iron that sits in the back of the cupboard, never used.

I rescued one of these pans, a 4 1/2 quart dutch oven with handle. It wasn't in bad shape, but had never been seasoned properly.

I already have a newer "Lodge" mini cast iron (just right for frying a single egg). They are already seasoned for you, but I figured I'd give it another coat if I'm seasoning the dutch oven anyway.

Isn't it fantastic? It's amazing what some people don't want. I sanded off the rusty spots and scrubbed the pot out with soapy water (this is the only time to use soap- before you season it).

Then I dried it over the stove top and covered the entire surface with bacon grease, both inside and out.

Put into a 350 degree oven for at least an hour. The house will get a slight metallic smell to it specific to curing pans, but once you make that association, it's kind of a comforting smell. Turn off the oven and leave the cast iron in until completely cooled.

Once it is cured, do not use soap when cleaning. This improved a lot, but could probably use another seasoning at some point. Luckily the more you use, the better the seasoning. Maintained cast iron will last your lifetime and well into your grandchildren's.

I never knew what the numbers meant, since it was clearly not an 8 quart pot. I found a chart by PanMan, listing each model number and capacity.

There are zillions of cast iron enthusiasts out there, but a couple other sites I found with helpful info and recipes:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tahoe, Days 2 and 3

After a day at Tahoe without much hiking, the next two days needed maximum mountain use. My dad and I went on a beautiful hike up to Dardanelles Lake.

I scrambled down some rocks to the water so I could get my feet wet. With no one around, it was easy to jump in without a swimsuit, even if you're a modest Midwesterner like me.

Then I found a delicious piece of slab not too far off the ground, so I horsed around on that in my clumsy hiking boots.

Here's a closer look.

The cypress trees around are enormous!

 And the meadows are absolutely breathtaking.

Our reward after 7+ miles was a martini by the lake. Or two or three.

We set out early on our last day for a progressive drive home (we had multiple stops scheduled). On a back road off hwy 89, we took in this view.

My dad and I took a picture where we both look great. It's kind of a big deal. (I usually only publish the ones where I look good, so this is a rare one for him.)

We hiked around Echo Lake.

This was my favorite house- I always pick the littlest one.

Will be back, Tahoe!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tahoe- Day 1

A couple weeks ago I went to Tahoe with my dad and his friend, Maddy. It's a three hour drive from the East Bay, which means that you still get the better part of a day after you get there. Our first stop was the lake, of course, where we found a couple new friends.

The irony was that the little guy was a far more enthusiastic swimmer than the retriever.

At Tallac Historic Site, we got to walk on trails by the lake and get a little culture at the same time. This once upon a time resort had a museum and restored cabins capturing the essence from its heyday at the turn of the century.

Here's an old icebox from the kitchen. I love old kitchens.

And old laundry rooms. It makes my visits to the laundromat not seem so bad.

I took the opportunity to snuggle up with Smokey the Bear. We were next to the big fireplace in the lobby, but he didn't seem to mind.

The grounds were full of beautiful gardens to explore.

This is where I would sleep if I lived here- the nanny's bedroom!

When there's more time relaxing on the porch than walking, it's a good indication that happy hour is near. Until tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Dress Up an Old Hat

Believe it or not, this lonely old sunhat was sitting in a pile of free stuff, ready to be kicked to the curb.

Until I snatched it up.

I found a cheery ribbon, a little glue, and voila!

Thank goodness we still have a couple more months of summer to put this baby to work.

Have you "up-cycled" anything lately?