Project Babystar

I made something super cool. It’s kind of expensive. I’m blogging about it here.

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Sssucculentssss

Yeah, I speak Parseltongue.  Team Slytherin. What of it?

Just kidding, Gryffindor all the way. ¬†Except Bellatrix is totally my favorite character from the movies. She’s horrid in the books but all la-la-la, skipping around tossing out unforgivable curses in the movies. ¬†In the books, it’s Hermione 4¬†lyfe.
Either way, I clearly slept through Professor Sprouts classes because I cannot keep succulents alive. ¬†Remember my cool hanging succulent terrariums from LA? ¬†Yeah, they aren’t doing so great.
And I tried again with some potted ones recently. ¬†Two out of three are already dying/dead and I don’t expect the third to make it much longer.
I suppose it makes sense.  They thrive on low water and lots of light.  I have to keep them inside to keep them from being saturated with rain (east coast problems) and I have barely any natural light in my home (condo problems).

I found some succulents that work in my house though.  In the basement no less!  They will never die.

Yay CSA

We finally got around to joining a CSA this year. ¬†I’ve loved the idea for a while, but it definitely involves some pre-planning, a trait at which I do not excel. For those of you that don’t know, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it means you buy a share in some farmer’s bounty but you have to pay the farmer way before harvest time. ¬†You know, when they need the money to plant things, and fertilize the soil, and buy new boots or something. ¬†Now for twenty-five weeks we’ll receive a surprise mix of fresh local crops. ¬†We picked up the first edition last Thursday. Behold.

Our food comes from the Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative (www.lancasterfarmfresh.com). ¬†They have a drop off at Sean’s church which is our sole reason for choosing this particular CSA. ¬†No research required but great recommendations from Sean’s peeps.

I’m excited to play this personal version of Iron Chef (is that the cooking show with the secret ingredients?) for the next several months.

Fun fact: I’ve never cooked or even¬†liked¬†radishes before. ¬†Probably because my only radish experiences are raw radishes in salads or on tiny fancy sandwiches. ¬†My biggest challenge this week will be finding a yummy way to make these into a side dish this week. ¬†A little internet research tells me I can roast or braise them, so I’ll let you know how that goes.

The asparagus (SPARGELFEST!) is gone already, grilled and consumed with Monrovia Farm steak last Friday.  It was super delicious, but how could asparagus in May suck?

Anyone want to play CSA-along?  Like Iron Chef but less Bobby Flay and everyone wins?

Retro as Hell

I¬†finally got around to hemming and hanging my 2014 Spoinflower tea towel calendar. Best thing on the internet (Spoonflower tea towel calendar artists). This year’s was by mrshervi.
I know it’s April. Dude, I HAVE a calendar. ¬†But my sewing machine broke last year and I just haven’t invested in a new one.
The in-laws moved recently and one of the treasures in their magic basement was a 1910 Singer sewing machine retro-fitted with electricity and a (stubborn) pedal.
Holy bananas, it worked.

I had concern as the bobbin was already threaded and carried me through this project. Also, I’m pretty sure I threaded the thing way wrong but it worked.

I checked Singer’s site but the manual is not available online (surprise?). I’ll call them tomorrow.
After some investigation, I found the bobbin. It was tricky.
Couldn’t figure it from there.
It lifted up! But that wasn’t helpful at all.
But then I figured out through fifty trials and fifty errors that the silver panel SLIDES. I CAN reach the bobbin. Hopefully someone at the Singer 800 number can help me thread it tomorrow when they open.

Corner Chair

Meet the chair in the corner of my office:

I kind of love the lines of the back, but that gray vinyl was not doing this chair any favors. So yesterday I decided to recover the poor thing. Wait, that’s a lie. I actually decided to recover this chair when I bought it over six years ago for $75 at a flea market with three of it’s friends and the wooden table that now poses as additional counterspace in the kitchen (and I would like to keep this sentence going as long as possible). Since then, I’ve sold two of the chairs, and the fourth is in a basement somewhere. I think. BUT. This little guy was hanging out in my office and in need of a makeover.

I didn’t want errands or money to be involved in this spur-of-the-moment, after work project. Luckily, I have a bin of fabric in the craft closet because¬†doesn’t everybody?¬†

How about this one?

No. How about this one?

No. Wait, maybe. It’s¬†reversible!

Perfect.

So I set about removing the staples in the gray vinyl. All 52 of them. And surprise! There’s another horrid seat cover under that one.

I then removed 55 more staples to discover, YEP, another awful seat cover under that one.

I suddenly realize I’m dealing with the Russian matryoshka doll of chairs here. I start to get really worried about what is under this layer. And then really excited. What if it’s a treasure map! Will Nicholas Cage help me!? Will he even take my call?!?

After 49 more staples, it turned out to be just a nice, clean cushion. I must have sold the one with the map. Those lucky unsuspecting Craigslisters!

The cushion was stapled nicely around the edge and didn’t smell bad or anything. Yes, I checked. Since I didn’t really go into this project with any upholstery foam lying around, I thought it best to use it as is. My original half-formed plan was to triple up on batting;¬†this was way better. I then just cut some batting and fabric, lay the naked seat upside down on top, and started stapling everything to the bottom of the seat. After a few staples to secure the batting and fabric, I cut away the extra. Then I stapled and stapled and stapled.¬†Staple guns are super fun, by the way. I totally get the staple overkill. I did it myself.

Voila!

From Scratch: Canned Pears

Last night I continued my Adventures in Canning with mixed success canning the pears from our trip to the orchard last weekend.  Here you go, step by step.

Rinse the pears.
Peel the pears.
Put them in a bowl of cold water and a teensy bit of vinegar to keep them pretty while you finish.
Do you have any rounded measuring spoons like this?
Use one to scoop out the seed bits.
Meanwhile, boil some water and add however much sugar you are comfortable with. I am not comfortable with lots of sugar so I made a¬†very¬†light simple syrup. You can add more for a heavier syrup and you’re still eating whole foods you made yourself so go ahead and feel great about it.
Do the lid simmer thing.
Put the pears in the jars.  Add the simple syrup to the jars, so that the pears and liquid come to just below the glass thready bit.
Wipe the tops of the jars with a clean, dry cloth.
Put on the metal lids, screw on the metal screwy part, and get them in the canning pot.  Just like with the applesauce, cover, wait for it to boil, and set timer for twenty minutes.  Then take them out and let cool on a towel lined counter.
Like I said, mixed success.
About half of the jars looked like this.
But the other half looked like this!
I blame the wide mouth mason jars.  Next year I will try again with regular jars.  And this week I will eat a lot of pears.

From Scratch: Applesauce

For the past four years, I have spent one Saturday in October making applesauce with my mother-in-law. I make about twenty jars for the year. One for myself and the rest for sweet, adorable children. ¬†(Take a hike, mean babies.) It does not actually take an entire day to make twenty jars of applesauce if you are pressed for time. ¬†But it does take us an entire day because it turns out the only apples in the world come from an orchard an hour and a half away from my house. Which makes it over two hours away from the in-law’s house. ¬†So off we trek, party of four (with our respective husbands), to the only possible place on earth to buy apples. ¬†I will admit that they are very delicious. ¬†But. ¬†BUT. There are like twenty thousand farmer’s markets that I can think of, just off the top of my head, within a fifteen minute drive from my house.

Nope.
So every year we stop for coffee, drive to the apples, check out the tiny ornamental squash,
drink a paper cup of free cider (yum!),  take a photo in front of the pumpkin pyramid,
consider buying a pumpkin to carve,
decide against the pumpkin carving, choose some other fruits or veggies or pies or cookies or jams or berries from the cute little shop,
load our goodies and apples into the trunk, and drive away.
My goodness, it’s already afternoon. ¬†Of course we¬†simply must¬†stop for lunch.
Do not misinterpret — I love Fall Festivities Day every year. And this year is bittersweet because the in-laws are moving to Myrtle Beach soon, so next year will probably not happen quite the same way. I say probably because I already know that they will drive 2.5 hours for apples. Maybe they will drive 10 hours for apples. ¬†I cannot say for certain that they will not.
Also, this year they left early and I made the applesauce myself. It seemed a natural progression.
Year One I mostly watched, took notes, and peeled apples.
Year Two I helped.
Year Three I was supervised.
And now Year Four, I was on my own.  I documented the process so I could do this again next year.  And YOU can too!
Get some apples and some mason jars. I got pears for extra credit but haven’t gotten to those yet.
You also need one of these giant canning pots with the jar separator insert.  Take a minute to figure out how the separators work before everything gets hot.
Then you need to peel and cut up one million apples. ¬†Pro tip: Fill a large bowl halfway with cold water and a tablespoon or so of vinegar. ¬†Add the peeled, cored, cut up apples to this water so they don’t turn brown while you peel the other 999,999 apples. ¬†Also, make sure you get ALL the peel off of the apples, because the peel contains something called pectin. Which is used to make jelly. ¬†And will do weird things to your applesauce. ¬†(According to my MIL, anyway. ¬†She seems to know what she is talking about.) ¬†Of course, this knowledge made me immediately want to skip ahead to making jelly from scratch, but I know I’m not quite ready for that. Maybe next year…
When you have more than you think you need, add them to a pot on the stove on medium heat. No, you do not need to add water. ¬†You will want to, at first, but don’t do it. ¬†The apples will cook down and turn saucy. ¬†Stir them a bit.
Add some sugar if you want. ¬†(I did not add sugar this year because I knew baby Vera would be sharing this year’s bounty.) ¬†Add some cinnamon if you want. ¬†(I did add a little cinnamon for flavor.) Add whatever you want. ¬†You are the boss of your applesauce. ¬†MIL suggests adding a few candy red hots. ¬†They turn the applesauce pink/red and give it that sweet, spicy, cinnamon flavor. ¬†I need to try this sometime.
While the applesauce is cooking down, simmer some water in the giant pot, only a few inches. ¬†You don’t want to put a glass jar full of hot applesauce into a pan of cold water. ¬†Also, simmer some mason jar lids (the flat bit, not the spinny bit) in a shallow pan. ¬†These need to be very hot when you put them on the jars to get a seal.
When the apples are sauce, you can optionally put them through a hand held, crank operated food mill. ¬†I like to puree it for the sweet adorable children, but it’s not required.
The next bit got intense and I failed to photograph the action, but this is what you do.
Make sure your jars are clean.
Get a cool jar funnel and scoop the applesauce into the mason jars.  Fill them to just below the glass thready bit.
Take a butter knife and run along the inside of the jars, careful not to to ding the glass, making sure there are no air bubbles between the sauce and the glass.
Wipe the top lip of the jar with a clean, dry cloth.
Take a heated lid from the simmering pan that should already be on your stove (use tongs) and put it on the jar.
Screw the other metal part on top.
Place it in the big pot. ¬†Those metal separators lift up so you can fit in the jars and keep them from touching while you do the actual ‘canning’ part. ¬†It’s a tricky puzzle, so figure it out before you get to this step.
When all jars are in the pot, the water should come up to just below the metal tops.  If it does not, add some warm water.
Put the top on the giant canning pot and turn up the heat.
Once you hear it start boiling, set a timer for twenty minutes.
Use this time to line a counter that is blocked from any draughts with dish towels (or regular towels). You want to make sure you are not placing a boiling hot glass jar onto a cool surface.
After twenty minutes, turn off the heat and take off the lid.
Use tongs and pot holders and whatever else you need to not burn yourself, and take the jars out of the canning pot and place them on the towels you just laid out.  Make sure the jars do not touch each other.  Make sure they are not susceptible to draughts of air from a fan, open door, air vent, etc.
Pour a glass of wine, go sit by the fire, and start listening for the satisfying pops that mean the jars have sealed.
The next morning, check to see that all of your jars are properly sealed.  You can tell if it is sealed by pressing the metal bit in the center of the jar lid.  If it bounces, it did not seal.  If it looks like this, it did not seal.
See that little nick on the side there?  Yeah, put that one in the refrigerator and eat it soon.
SIDE NOTE (or actually BOTTOM NOTE because I am pretty much done here): ¬†I used a mix of regular and wide mouth jars this year because that is what I had. ¬†I have never had problems with the regular jars not sealing, but two of the wide mouth jars did not seal this year. ¬†Maybe only use regular ones unless you’re making pickles or something. ¬†I don’t know how to make pickles. ¬†Maybe next year….