Thursday, November 1, 2012

Best Homemade Gifts: Food, Fiber, Photo and More, Pt. 1


Part 1 Food




The Holiday Season is coming up fast.  It used to sneak up on me like a thief in the night.  There I was, out in the crowds frantically trying to snag last-minute gifts, when I wanted to be home baking cookies, or just enjoying sweet Christmas music while admiring my decorated tree and candles glowing in the windows.. 


I still have to do some shopping.  Let’s get real.  I can’t make everything. 

But I can make a lot.  And I do.  Right now I’ve got four knitted gifts on the shelf for gift-giving. 

I get into the full swing starting this month, November, and continue right on up to the big day.  I keep finding things to make…thank you, Pinterest!

Knitting and crocheting pretty much finished, I'm looking at food gifts now.  Here are some of my favorite.


I’ve had more raves on food gifts than anything else.  People like to eat!  We make jams and jellies in the summer months,  and some of these turn into Christmas gifts.  Just tie a ribbon or rafia around the top of the jar, and that’s it. 

I like to make winter jam, though, expressly for Christmas giving.  And one of the best I’ve made is “Christmas Jam” from my Southern Heritage Gift Receipts Cookbook. 


                                                                                                                      
Christmas Jam                                                                                                                              

1 (8-oz.) jar maraschino cherries, undrained
1 (20-oz). can pineapple chunks, drained
2 (6-oz.) packages dried apricots
3 ½ cups water
6 cups sugar

Drain cherries, reserving juice;  cut cherries into quarters and set aside.

Combine reserved cherry juice, pineapple, apricots, and water in a flat-bottomed kettle; stir well.  Let stand 1 hour.

Cook fruit mixture over medium heat 20 minutes or until apricots are tender.  Reduce heat; add sugar, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves.  Bring to a boil; boil stirring frequently, until mixture registers 216 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Add reserved cherries, stirring constantly, until mixture registers 220 degrees, or until mixture sheets from a cold metal spoon.  Remove from heat.

Quickly ladle jam into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 –inch headspace.  Cover at once with metal lids, and screw bands tight.  Process in boiling-water bath 4 minutes.  Yield: 3 ½ pints or 7 half pints.


The above jam is beautiful in the cute little Ball jars, colorful with the cherries.  It just looks like Christmas.  And it tastes scruptious.  I tied red satin ribbons around the jar necks, and that was that.


About three years ago, and again last year, I made Orange Marmalade.  Seems like schools in this area have the students sell oranges, and I always buy a box.  That’s why I decided to make the marmalade.  And citrus is just good in the winter months.  I’ve had more raves over the Orange Marmalade than anything.  It’s hard to make enough for us to keep because it is that good. 


 I used Sure-Jel from the grocery shelves for this one last year.  The recipe that comes inside the box uses lemons as well as oranges.

One warning:  Orange marmalade is not so quickly made compared to other jams and jellies.  The trickiest part is cutting the rind off the fruit and then scraping the white pith off with a sharp knife.  I hate that part, and Gary (my husband) did it for me last year.  Then you slice the rind into thin strips and boil them with baking soda before adding them to the rest of the fruit with the sugar. 


It always turns out perfect  for me when I add about a half-minute more to the suggested final boiling time.  I got that from my mother-in-law years ago.  She said she always extended the called-for boiling time for her jams and jellies about an extra 30 seconds.  Then she turned the heat off and let the mixture stand on the burner, while she got the jars out of the hot water and lined them up on a towel.  I do the exact same thing.

My Southern Heritage Cookbook, mentioned above, has a recipe for Orange-Lemon Marmalade, and it’s a good one, just a little longer to make.  I might make it this year again.

                                


                                                                                                                                               

Here in my community, neighbors take food gifts around to the houses to give.  One neighbor down the road makes homemade sausage.  We really look forward to that.  Another makes a tin of fudge, or cookies some years.  Cookies are the most popular.  My mother-in-law gave gifts of her homemade jams and jellies on Christmas day to the neighbors. 

We are a gluten-free household because of my youngest son having celiac disease, so all of our baked goods are minus gluten.  The best  cookie we’ve made, gluten-free, are the pressed spritz sugar cookies.  Last two years my son and granddaughter have made them.  They’re practically melt-in-your-mouth.

If you aren't gluten-free, you will still think they are one of the best, lightest cookies ever.

I can’t remember where I first got the recipe, but here it is:
  
  


Gluten-Free Spritz Cookies                                                        

2/3 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp almond extract
1 ½ cups white rice flour, ½ cup potato starch, ½ cup tapioca flour (or 2 ½ cups white flour blend like Bob’s Red Mill)
½ tsp xanthan gum (unless it is included in the flour blend)
½ tsp. salt

Cream butter and sugar.  Add egg and extracts.  Beat few minutes.  Combine dry ingredients and add to mixer.  Mix about 30 seconds.

Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes, until edges are lightly browned.  Watch carefully, depending on your oven, because these bake fast.

We decorate them by brushing tops with beaten egg white and then sprinkling with colored sugar.  Or making tinted confectioner’s sugar icing and using sprinkles. 

                                                                                                                               



One year I gave my nieces a basket of oranges with one of the Pampered Chef citrus peelers.   Another year I baked pies for them in glass pie plates they could keep.  They were newly married, so this was a good addition to their bakeware. 

Then I’ve made the hot chocolate mixes, which everyone loves.  The mocha mix was a big hit.  You can’t beat homemade fudge.  We like the Hershey’s Cocoa recipe, which I’ve made since I was a child.  We also can devour platters of peanut butter fudge, made following the recipe on the jar of marshmallow cream for chocolate fudge, switching the amount of chocolate for peanut butter.  This is one truly addictive treat.

I made a trail mix for my mother-in-law one year, after she’d eaten some of what I made to take on a long driving trip.  So I made her a bag of her own. 

I put just about everything in my trail mix…remembering we are gluten-free.

Nuts, both dark and white raisins, chopped dried apricots and cherries and/or cranberries, chopped dates, chocolate chips or M & Ms, as many kinds of nuts as I can (sunflower, pistachio, and walnuts or pecans make for a good texture).   Sealed in gallon zipper bags, these are good for a long time.

Homemade bread is a great gift, and even better if you wrap it in a pretty kitchen towel.  That’s a double treat gift. 

Since we can and preserve so many foods from our garden, we never run out of gift-giving ideas.  When our bees were doing well—I think our queen flew away—Gary always had jars of honey for gifts.  People loved them and continue to ask for more.  One year he sent off and bought those plastic honey bear containers.  We tied ribbons around the bears’ necks.  What a great gift that was.

In this economy, making your own gifts is a great way to save, and I’ve found over the years that everybody loves homemade.  Teachers, pastors, mailmen, school bus drivers, co-workers, bosses, friends and family. 

The teachers in our family have said repeatedly they prefer gifts of food rather than anything.  When I taught adult court reporting, one of my favorite gifts was Godiva coffee!  




Now is the time to get going, seeing what you can make, finding innovative containers and decorations, and stocking those edible gifts away for the big day. 



Part 2, Fiber, I’ll have my favorite knitting, crochet, and sewing gifts from past years and this year.  It’s more than just pot holders!

Part 3, Photo, features the gifts I've made centered around photos, including scrapbooks of course, but many, many others using pictures.


For anyone interested in the Southern Heritage Cookbooks collection, I found them on Amazon.  Mine were a Christmas gift many years ago.  I might order these for a gift for someone else.  There are so many recipes on the web now, it hardly seems practical to have hardbacks, but I kept the best on my shelves when I downsized.  All the rest, boxes full, went to our library.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Simply Special: Don't We All Have Special Needs?



Jeff is getting stronger every day.  He does man's work now.  He loaded these monster sized logs into the truck this morning.  Most importantly, because it needed to be done.  For no other reason.

He can't stand to see work left undone.

When Dad is tired and ready to rest, Jeff pushes on.    When Dad wants to move on to a new job on the farm, like this morning, Jeff goes ahead and finishes up the job left from yesterday.

Some people think people with special needs can't do as much as "regular" people, but they don't know our Jeff.

And they don't know that everybody has special needs.  You, me, everybody.  Think about it a bit.

Jeff has baseball tonight, Buddy Ball in Clarksville.  He's not as good as some of the other players.  But he can sure load a truckload of heavy wood.  And he will go out to the shed this winter with his wagon, when the inside firewood stack gets low, and stock us up for a few more days.



Just thought people might want to know this.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Apples & Prayers


Apples are weighing the trees to the ground this year.  So many to work with.  While I try to decide how many I'll can, how many for cold storage, I mull over the debate I did not watch last night.  Do I even want to watch a video or read the enormous mountain of comments?  I avoid Facebook for now.

Why is this election getting under my skin so badly?  

I feel like I want to scream out loud, "Leave me alone.  Leave me to my quiet, simple existence."  

Lies.  And so much hate.  So easy to see.    

Today I have apples.  I will store a lot in the two big drawers in the extra refrigerator.  I will can some to later use for apple pies and freeze pre-made apple pie filling.  

If I could buy refrigerated pie crusts for pies, I could fill my freezer with pies for the long winter.  Not so lucky.  Gluten-free pie crusts don't make up fast.  I have to do it though.  I have a boy who loves apple pies.  Don't we all?

I thank God today for my Apple-Peeler/Corer.  I've got the Pampered Chef one.  I celebrate the day I bought it at one of those fun parties.  

You probably think those apples on my counter in the above photo don't look like the beautiful, shiny ones you buy in the store. Ours are real apples.  No chemicals or wax shine on them.  Just plain, organic, crisp and sweet, real apples. Not even sure what kind they are.  My father-in-law planted the trees many, many years ago.  

I'll edit a chapter in my book and work on apples.  Keep my mind on what's good in life.  I think I'll make the "Frosted Big Apple Pie," from my Farm Journal's Complete Pie Cookbook," copyright 1965, that my husband's cousin Mary gave me as a gift a long time ago.  After we all flipped out over that Frosted Big Apple Pie she made.




Frosted Big Apple Pie

4 tsp. lemon juice
5 lbs. peeled, thinly sliced, tart apples (about 12 to 15 c.)
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Confectioners sugar frosting

Egg Yolk Pastry:  
5 c. sifted flour 
4 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 c. lard
2 egg yolks
Cold water

Roll out half the pastry into rectangle and use to line 15-1/2" x 10-1/2" jelly-roll pan.  Sprinkle lemon juice on apples.  Place half the apples in bottom of pastry-lined sheet.

Combine remaining ingredients, except apples and frosting.  Sprinkle half the mixture over apples in pan.  Spread remaining apple slices on top and sprinkle with remaining sugar-spice mixture.

Top with remaining pastry, rolled out; seal and crimp edges.  Brush with milk and sprinkle with a little sugar.  (Cut vents or prick with fork as for all 2-crust fruit pies.)  

Bake in hot oven (400 degrees F.) 50 minutes.  When cool, drizzle with confectioners sugar mixed with milk to make a thin icing.  Cut in squares to serve.  Makes 24 servings.

Another good pie in the Pie Cookbook is the Orange-Frosted Apple-Raisin Pie.  Mary made that one too, and she made it like the "Big" Pie.  

I found it on Amazon.  Let me know, if you make the Frosted Big Apple Pie, how it turned out.  

Try to keep your life simple.  Think about apples.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Family Recipe Friday...Skyline Chili


Having been at Skyline last weekend in Cincy, learned they have a gluen-free menu!  Of course the chili bowl is usually what we get for Jeff, but the GF menu had things I'd never thought of.  

The Five-Way Potato!  Yes, a baked potato with all the fixins.  Or how about the coney dog five-way.

I always double (or triple) the recipe because it freezes really well.  

I love making it from scratch at home...the spicy aroma all through the house.  

Homemade Skyline Chili
  • 1 quart cold water
  • 2 lbs ground beef (I've also made with ground turkey)
  • 2 cups crushed tomato
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa (allergic people can leave it out-mostly for color)
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 whole bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • cooked spaghetti to serve chili over, optional

Preparation:

  1. Add beef and water to a 4-quart pot. Bring to a simmer while stirring until the ground beef is in very small pieces. Simmer for 30 minutes and add all the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Simmer on low, uncovered, for 3 hours. Add water as needed if the chili becomes to thick.
  3. Refrigerated the chili overnight, and the next day remove the layer of fat from top before reheating and serving.
The Cincinnati "Skyline" Chili Ordering Code

1-way: just the chili

2-way: chili served over spaghetti

3-way: chili, spaghetti, and grated Cheddar cheese

4-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, and onions

5-way: chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions, and beans

All "ways" are served with oyster crackers.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Photos as Story Starters...Almost Wordless Wednesday

Sorting through old photos day.


Circa 1948, Grandpa's Morrow, Ohio Farm...Step-Grandmother Elva
Looking around corner holding baby.  On Steps, me holding sister
Phyllis, and is that cousin Ronnie?  Toby?  

Grandma Dean with arm around her mother?  Seems likely...
Great Grandmother Maria Weber Wehrle.  From my
Aunt Dorothy's collection.  Circa 1920


Very old photo of Hughes High School, my Alma Mater, when it was
much more modern looking, in 1961.  Photo from cincinnatimemory.org

.
Vine Street, two block away from our home at 2606 Sander Street,
in Corryville, where Phyllis and I used to walk to almost every
day just to window shop and browse through the "Dime Store."
Where I bought my paper dolls when someone gave me a dime to spend.
Location of the public library, where I hung out for hours upon hours.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Writing Seasons

Fall means it's time for Cincinnati Oktoberfest!  

Just read another blog where the author commented that writing was hard during the summer months.  Tell me about it!

Something about the cool, crisp air of fall beckons some of us back to our groove.

Heat clogs my brain and creative juices.  A slight chill wakes me.

The shorter days make me start earlier.  There's more urgency to get it done.

What wakes you up?  What place and setting stimulates your creative self?  Please leave a comment.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It's Time

My blog title is a double-entendre.  I chose the title "finally" first, seeing as how I've been missing for so long.  Then I thought of what's been on my mind most over the last several days, and that is definitely "time."

Now in my seventh week of rehab, I've finally got up the energy to do something.  After all, this surgery carries a six-week sentence of no work for those gainfully employed.  No driving, no long trips if someone else is driving, all kinds of fun stuff.  Of course, I never felt like doing any of that anyway.  I can't really remember what all I've done over the last six weeks.  Nothing of any real value for sure.

So "It's Time" means today I feel like venturing back out into the land of the living, at least for a little while.  My doctor recommends it.

The other side of the title is that I'm organizing my time.  After so many days of not caring about the hours and minutes wasted, never to be recaptured, my time has become a rare jewel, something for spending wisely.

I'm working on simple things starting back -- gardening, a little creative cooking, a bit of shopping all on my own without a designated driver, and this meager attempt to get back to writing.

To my surprise, last week at therapy three other patients admitted to me that loss of creativity was the hardest part of the whole ordeal.  I thought I was the only one who felt this.  One said she'd sit at her sewing  machine in her beautiful craft room, look around, and get up and walk away.  She couldn't bring herself to do what had given her so much joy, crafting beautiful projects.

Another gave up her needlework, intricate intarsia knitting as gifts for her family and friends.

The third admitted it was even hard for her to read, her favorite pastime.  I told her I had this same problem but was finding solace in listening to audio books.  There were days I did nothing but listen through my ear pods to one book after another on my living room couch or bed.  What a blessing this has been to me.  Listening to a melodic female voice tell a good story helped me more than anything over these past weeks.  I became very picky about book narrators.  I'd throw a book back simply because the reader was bad.

I'm still listening to my books.  Sometimes when cycling on the machine in therapy, or walking the laps prescribed for me on the rubberized track.  When I think of it, I'm probably in the best physical shape I've been in for years, just with some pain still.

My rehab friends and I chalk up the loss of creativity mainly to the pain meds, which are sorely needed for longer than we anticipated.  This is not a wimpy surgery and recovery.  The robust men complain as much as us females.  It changes you.

I'm planning to shoot some photos of my gardens, my knitting projects, other things I'm working on, and reconnecting with the world.  It feels good...and long awaited.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Evernote for Organizationally Challenged

Today I'm cleaning out my email boxes.  Purging.  Acting on.  Archiving.  Scheduling.

I'm a ZeroInbox-er.  Google "Inbox Zero."

I read Daniel Gold's book: Evernote: The unofficial guide to capturing everything and getting things done. 2nd Edition.

And David Allen's Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.  Popularly known on as the popular GTD philosophy gone viral.

Gold's book shows how GTD works hand-in-hand with Evernote for optimum performance.  Truly Getting Things Done.

My email program is as good as I can get it, but some major flaws of my own keep it from really working for me.  I keep my inbox clean by daily sending messages to the respective folders I've assigned them.  Some messages are automatically filtered to their folders, but the bulk of my mail I prefer to process as it arrives.

I use folders to sort the daily inbox messages.

  1. DO / READ
  2. REFERENCE
  3. PENDING
  4. ARCHIVE
This works...that is, if I follow through and go to those folders regularly and take action.  That's where the system falters.  My own fault.  Eventually I purge the messages that are expired, too late to act on.  

This is no way to keep up with life's happenings and opportunities.  


I'm now forwarding all of my important email messages to my Evernote.  Yes, you can email to your Evernote Inbox.

Why is this different? Well, because Evernote operates on "notes."  I use Evernote to schedule projects  and work on projects.  I can work in Evernote all day, even send items to Facebook and Twitter.  Work back and forth with Feedly and my news feeds, sending important news I want to keep or act on in Evernote.  I also blog on Evernote and send to Blogger.  It's my office desktop.

I don't do New Year's Resolutions, per se, but I do set goals. Organization is my top 2012 goal.

My Family History Memoir is almost finished with the help of Evernote, where I store all of my downloaded documents and research.  This is handy when I'm away from home with Evernote on my smart phone.  I'll be visiting the Cincinnati Library soon, and instead of carrying boxes and physical notebooks, I'll just use my phone...well, and my laptop.  Gotta love technology.

Back to organizing.  One last word.  I do not work for Evernote.  I'm just one of thousands, maybe millions, on the web talking about how they use it.  Check 'em out!




Friday, January 13, 2012

Feedly Friday

With fresh snow outside my window, I'm spending today reading my organized "magazine" of the past week's news feeds for all of my blogs and sites of interest.  I use Feedly as my assistant.  Through the week, while I'm writing and reading books, both enjoyable fiction and research oriented, I try not to get waylaid by the constant incoming streams of updates.

You know the deal.  Click on just one attractive link and end up somewhere in cyberspace you don't know how you got to, while your work got left sitting in Word three hours ago and is now locked and frozen because that's what Word does when you leave for too long.  

I like using Feedly to take care of all my stuff until I'm ready to devote time to reading it.  This solution also works better for concentrating on the incoming new feeds.  I can save any posts to read later while I'm scanning through the week's bundle, especially if they're long or involved, while I take a few minutes to read shorter ones and delete as I go.  

Feedly also displays my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and youtube streams in a sidebar, providing a sole interface for gathering information from all my venues.  I like efficiency.  Comes from my years of ladder-climbing in the institutions and corporations of working-world America.  

Feedly has made a big difference in my weekly workflow and production.  It's a keeper.  You can find it at feedly.com   

Watch for my upcoming post on Evernote which is my other sidekick for keeping me sane.


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