Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mid-South Meanderings Part Two

Hello! After two plus days in the Baltimore area last week, it was time to pack our bags again and begin the trip home. We drove close to 600 miles our first day heading west, going from Hunt Valley, MD to Lexington, KY. 

That may sound like a long day on the road, but thanks to the scenery and to part of the route being new to us, the day went by fast. 

By scenery, I mean mountains, rolling hills, rivers and historic towns. I know that the mountains we encountered are nowhere near the size of the ones out west, but we traversed some in Maryland that top out close to 3,000 ft. That's taller than anything in our home state of Michigan, so that's good enough for me!

The hills continued, of course, as we crossed into West Virginia. Previously we'd only traveled through a small portion of this state, but on this day we went from its north-central side to its western end near Kentucky. My husband plans the majority of our driving routes and loves to take new routes when we can. I'm fine with that too, especially if the route leads us to new stops. 

Alas, our only stops in West Virginia were a lunch stop at a rest area (we'd bought take-out food at a grocery store food court before we left Hunt Valley) and a gas fill-up near the town of Jane Lew. So basically, what I mainly saw as I drove our rental car up and down those hills was the scenery around us - and the quaintness of place names like Jane Lew, Strange Creek and Big Chimney. Would like to get off the interstates in WV sometime and drive around on the lesser roads. 

Lexington, KY was our stop for the night. Drove into town to have dinner at the Good Foods Market and cafe food co-op. We'd eaten there last year for the first time and had enjoyed it. Many healthy food choices among the offerings at the hot food and salad bars, and it's fun to browse in the market section of the co-op too. 

We returned to nearby Berea the next day. We'd gone there for the first time last year as well but had visited on a Monday. There wasn't much going on in Berea that day, plus we only had a short time to look around. This time my husband promised a longer visit, and as it was a Thursday, I hoped there'd be more to see. 

Demonstration loom at the Berea Welcome Center, located in the Artisan Circle section of town. Under the direction of one of the women at the information desk, I did two rows of weaving. It was a lot of fun and had me daydreaming of getting my own loom. 

Kitty-corner from the welcome center was the Weaver's Bottom shop, where several looms were at the ready. The man there explained how he'd found one of the looms in pieces at a barn sale and eventually put it back together. A black and white runner was being woven on it. 

Also nearby was Gallery 123, a new business in town. Inside, friendly printmaker Grace Wintermeyer showed us her studio, where I took a few photos:


Her sketch of Queen Anne's Lace


And the sketch recreated as a printing plate. 

The photo I took of one of her Queen Anne's Lace prints didn't turn out well, but my picture of another of her prints did:


I love squirrels, so that image was a sure photo-op for me. Almost bought that print, but resisted the urge. Now I'm sorry I didn't.

Wintermeyer explained that Gallery 123 is meant to encourage younger artists to stay in Berea after graduating from the college there. To that end, studio space is free, which she certainly appreciated. 

Berea is a cute town, and Berea College is a pretty campus, but there was occasional light rain, so I didn't take any more photos. Instead, I poked around in some of the college-run shops. Students' endeavors in broom corn, woodworking, weaving, jewelry and ceramics are sold. 

I also greatly enjoyed the Appalachian Fireside Gallery, where crafts, books and more are available. Just as I enjoy regional foods when I travel, I also like to check out the crafts and book subjects of a region during our excursions. So often one hears that our country has become one great Walmart/fast food/big box store, but that's not true if you pay attention to what each state or region has to offer that makes it unique. Sure, one can find old-time crafts anywhere, but the down-home, mountainy flavor of the arts and crafts in Berea makes them seem quite different from the handcrafted goods sold in my more northerly environ. 

Even though we had more time in Berea than what we'd had last year, the afternoon still went by too fast for me. It was hard to pick among so many interesting things for sale. So instead of buying a handmade broom or a charming book, I bought organic Delicata squash at the Berea College farm store. Besides produce and meats from the college farms, local and regional foodstuffs are offered - things like barbeque sauces, unshelled pecans from a local pecan farm, and more. Nice store, worth a visit. 

But the biggest foodie stop of all was coming up the next (and last day) of our vacation: the incomparable Jungle Jim's in suburban Cincinnati. It's a HUGE grocery store. The wine and beer section alone is probably bigger than some grocery stores. I left my husband there to poke around for craft beers and I steered a shopping cart toward the produce section. As I headed there, I took notes of the dairy department. There are cheeses from around the world, which is the norm in smaller grocery stores nowadays too. But how many countries are represented in a typical grocery store butter case? At Jungle Jim's, all sorts of imported butters abound. 
Passed the large in-store bakery area, the freezer display of exotic meats, and more. Finally I was in produce. Good prices and quality, so I got a few things to save on a grocery store trip when we returned home. 

All too soon, my husband caught up to me with his shopping cart of craft beers. Knowing I could readily spend hours at Jungle Jim's (and I'm sure I'm not the only one who would do so), he kept me hustling through the rest of the store. Bought a few things in the Oriental, Latin American and Italian sections (their private label olive oil is very good), but sadly could only glance at the small rooms along a side wall that house the foods of various European countries. 

Jungle Jim's strength is in its vast international foods offerings, but products from all over the US are represented too - lots of hot sauces, plus honey, maple syrup and jams from different states as well. I'm sure there's even more I could take note of, but although I've been to Jungle Jim's several times, I always feel that I've yet to see it all. 

It's well worth the stop if you find yourself in the Cincinnati area! But home beckoned, and that's where we ended the day. Last year's vacation at the same time of year had ended with us walking into a house partially waterlogged by a burst pipe. Thankfully, everything was in order this year!

It had been a busy vacation - but a good one. 






 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mid-South Meanderings Part One

Hello! Eager to escape the piles of snow that were melting ever so slowly in our yard, my husband and I took a trip to what I'll loosely call the Mid-South last week. Our vacation began with a flight to the Baltimore area. Why there? Partly because we like that part of the country - and oh, Southwest had a pretty darn good fare sale from Bishop Airport (Flint, MI) to BWI Airport(Baltimore-Washington International).

It was dusk when we landed at BWI on a Sunday night, so no chance to see how far spring had sprung. But the next morning, when we took the light rail train into downtown Baltimore to pick up our rental car, we saw greening grass and the blooms of daffodils and pansies. Nice!

We picked up the rental car at the downtown Hilton, where I noticed a large sign welcoming the honorees of the NFL's Ed Block Courage awardThis award was going to be presented at the hotel that evening, so I looked around eagerly to see if any of the NFL players who would be receiving it were around. But truthfully, I'm not likely to recognize football players out of uniform, so even if the two guys in expensive suits chatting in a corner were from the NFL, I wouldn't have known it. 

We were near our favorite museum, the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM), but it's not open on Mondays. So instead we drove to another favorite stop of ours, the Amish enclave of Lancaster County, PA.
We used to live about an hour east of Lancaster County and I never tired of the pretty scenery there and the old-fashioned ways of the Amish. The county is more than an hour away from Baltimore, but is still easily doable from there.

One stop on our excursion was Shady Maple, a huge grocery store that draws people from well beyond Lancaster County. We picked up baking supplies in the bulk food section, and then I checked out another must-see (at least to me) part of the store: the potato chip and pretzel aisle. 

I don't know why, but this part of the Keystone State seems to be the king of those snack foods. I love hunting down regional foods when I travel, and what could be more regional than eatables made within a half hour or less of the store? I took a few pictures:

I bought these; the box was labeled "low salt", which was fine with me. I do enjoy a good pretzel, but I often find them too salty. This brand comes from Akron, PA, 11 miles from Shady Maple, and these are very good pretzels!


I've not had this brand, so I don't know if Good's is good. These are made in Adamstown, PA - also 11 miles from Shady Maple, but in a different direction. 

Another big box of pretzels, Uncle Henry's from Mohnton, PA - a whopping 15 miles to the north. 

There are other local brands besides these three; I just didn't have time to take pictures of all of them. It's nice to see local brands in the midst of heavy hitters like Snyder's of Hanover (also made in Pennsylvania; Hanover is south of Lancaster County). 

I didn't just ogle snack foods this day, though - we also went to Ephrata, home of the Ten Thousand Villages flagship store. TTV is a chain of fair trade stores run by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). I wanted one of just about everything I saw, but settled for some window shopping, like the beautiful wall hanging made from embroidered sari scraps:

Some close-ups:

 

Very pretty fabrics and needlework! 

Headed back to our hotel in suburban Baltimore, and the next morning we used the light rail system again to return to the downtown. Got off at Camden Yards and walked a few blocks to AVAM:

Unfortunately, only exterior photos such as the one above are allowed at AVAM, which is a shame since the art therein really is fantastic. It's home to "outsider art" - works dreamed up by creative types from all walks of life, most of whom are self-taught. 

The current themed exhibit, "The Visionary Experience: Saint Francis To Finster" was very interesting and thought-provoking. Dreams, visions and "inventive new spiritual groups" fueled art that featured biblical sayings, references to cosmic consciousness, scientific theories and more. The works on display, and the stories behind them, made for fascinating viewing and reading!

Upon exiting the museum and its cool gift shop (bought a few small trinkets there), we strolled around the Inner Harbor. It was sunny and in the upper 60's, so many people were out and about. It was St. Patrick's Day, which added to the holiday feeling. 


View of the "Chesapeake", one of several museum ships moored at Inner Harbor. Behind the ship is an old power plant that's now home to offices and retail businesses - Phillips Seafood, Barnes and Noble and Hard Rock Cafe are visible in the photo. It's an impressive building. 

A different kind of watercraft:

These paddle boats are called "Chessies", a play not only on "Chesapeake" but also on Nessie the Loch Ness monster. A short while later, we encountered more Chessie paddle boats, but these were electric. I guess if there's electrified bikes, there might as well be electrified paddle boats as well!

One last picture, taken as we were walking back to the train station:

Above, the oldest church edifice in Baltimore in continuous use; it  dates to 1785. Once the home church of the United Brethren of Christ denomination, it now is part of the United Methodist Church.

Note the ultra-modern office building behind the church - do you think it'll still be standing 230 years from now?

That's all for now - my next post will cover the second half of our trip.







 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Made It: Stitched Tulip Necklace

Hello! I'd recently picked up a craft booklet loaded with fun projects. Some of them were a bit country-cute for me, but I always look at such designs with the idea that I can change them to suit my tastes. 

For instance, one project in the booklet featured a counted cross stitched sunflower design made into a heart-shaped necklace. Now, I have nothing against sunflowers, but I associate them with late summer. 

In honor of my town's favorite flower, I'd also recently purchased a booklet of counted cross stitch designs, some of which are tulips. (it, like the booklet with the sunflower design, were thrift store finds). Lo and behold, the stitch height and width for one of the tulip designs is identical to that of the sunflower - perfect! 

The tulip necklace was very quick to make: simple cross stitching, then all I had to do was cut out the stitched fabric in a heart shape, sew it to coordinating backing fabric, lightly stuff the heart, and add a cord and blanket stitching. 

The directions called for six strands of embroidery floss to be made into a length of single crochet; that was to be the cord. My crocheting skills are rusty, so instead I braided three strands of green crochet cotton and attached that to the heart. I used a single thread of the same crochet cotton to do the blanket stitching. 

Here's how my tulip necklace turned out:

And here's a close-up:

Like I'd said, simple stitching, but I think this necklace will be cute to wear when the local tulip festival makes its annual appearance in about six weeks. 

By then, I hope to be dealing with real flowers (and vegetables) in our yard - so I thought it was good to have this necklace done well before then!


Monday, March 16, 2015

Made It: St. Patrick's Day Crafting

Hello! Spring is in the air, with snow melting and patches of our yard visible for the first time in many weeks. So how about showing off some more green - as in a couple of St. Patrick's Day crafts I made recently? 

Above, a small cross-stitched shamrock. The funny thing about this is how I found its chart, as that was very random. Several days before St. Patrick's Day, I pulled out an unopened package of Charles Craft brand fiddler's cloth for cross stitching to use in a different project. When I opened up the package, out came a paper from the company, proclaiming that today was my lucky day since I had chosen their fine product. Seriously, that's basically what it said.

(Actually, I'd purchased their fiddler's cloth because it was an excellent price at a thrift store, but let's not tell the Charles Craft folks that little detail, shall we?)

To further emphasize the consumer's luck in buying their brand, Charles Craft included the chart for a "Lucky Shamrock". I don't know what exactly makes it lucky, but I thought the timing of finding this chart so close to St. Patrick's Day was pretty cool, so I stitched it up. 

Once completed, all I did was glue a bit of batting to a piece of matboard, then I glued the stitched fiddler's cloth over that. Glued a piece of green felt on the back of the matboard and lastly, glued a piece of variegated green yarn around the edges. I think it turned out pretty well.

The second craft project, a small collage,  was a bit more complex:

Materials used:
  • mat board piece
  • vintage time card
  • card stock scraps
  • shamrock definition cut from 1940's children's dictionary
  • vintage button
  • off-white art paper scrap
  • shamrock cut from paint sample 
Well, not fantastic - collages can be kind of hit and miss sometimes, and I don't think that's just me. I've seen other collages shown off online and on occasion think to myself - eh, that's nothing special, I wouldn't show that off if that had been my collage. Now here I am doing the same thing!

True, neither of the two projects I've shown off in this post may look like much.  But sitting underneath my tabletop feather tree, they fit right in with my modest St. Patrick's Day's decorations, as seen here.

It's been fun doing crafts that represent the "wearing of the green", but now it's time to switch to the pastels of Easter and springtime. Never fear, I've already done so, and will soon show off a craft to prove it!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Get Carded: Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Hello! As far as I know, I don't have a drop of Irish blood in me, but that didn't stop me from crafting for the upcoming St. Patrick's Day holiday. With the very cold and snowy February we just had, it's been a pleasure to use springlike greens in my projects. 

Green happens to be my dad's favorite color as well, so I decided to take advantage of this by making him a St. Patrick's Day card:

Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • card stock scrap
  • shamrock shapes cut from paint chip sample (leaves) and card stock scrap (stems)
  • shamrock shape stamped in green ink onto scrap of vintage time card (time card chosen because of its green stripes)
  • "Happy Saint Patrick's Day!" lettered in black ink 

Close up of the larger shamrock shape:



This card was easy to do, although I found that cutting out small pieces of paint chips was a bit of a pain. 

I got the idea for making shamrocks from paint chips from this site. Hers look more elegant, but I think mine turned out okay - and the part of the chip I used was a green whose name actually is "Shamrock". Can't get more appropriate than that for a St. Patrick's Day card!


 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Bang For A Buck #2: The Extra Mixing Bowl

Hello! I've rarely used my hand-held electric mixer since my husband got me a Kitchen Aid stand mixer for a birthday present several years ago. Still, I've kept it because there's times when having a second mixer is handy - namely for those recipes that call for egg whites and egg yolks to be beaten separately. 

One such recipe happens to be an important one - a cake my husband requests every year for his birthday. I'd whip the egg whites to stiff peaks with the power of the Kitchen Aid stand mixer, then beat the egg yolks until they were thickened with my hand-held mixer in a different bowl.

All was fine until the hand-held mixer began to sputter. It still works but seems to have lost the highest speed or whatever. It took longer to beat the egg yolks to the proper consistency, but I was reluctant to do anything to improve the situation, such as buying a new hand-held mixer or buying another bowl for the stand mixer. After all, I didn't really bake many things that called for egg separating (a laziness about the extra work involved, I admit!).

Then last summer I happened upon a nearby garage sale, and lo and behold, a very nice lady was selling a Kitchen Aid stand mixer bowl for one dollar. I snapped it up, knowing that she could have asked more for it. Thrift stores would have likely charged at least five dollars for it, if not more.

I now use it more than the bowl that had come with my stand mixer, for my "new" bowl has a handle and that makes it easier to move and carry around. The other bowl doesn't have a handle.

Here's the bowl in action earlier today:

(that's masa dough for tamales in the bowl; the Kitchen Aid stand mixer did a nice job on it!)

Oh, and remember when I said the garage sale lady could have asked more for this bowl? If ordered from Kitchen Aid's website, it would have cost $49.99 (shipping costs not included).

Granted, my bowl isn't brand new, but it's in fine shape. I know I could find a like-new bowl online, but I'm sure the asking price would be considerably more than a measly dollar - and shipping fees would likely be charged as well. 

Is it any wonder that I was delighted with my bang-for-a-buck mixing bowl? Now I can delight my husband for years to come with his favorite cake on his birthdays - and who knows, maybe I'll now seek out more recipes that call for separating the egg whites from the yolks first. 




 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Eats: The MSU Meat Lab Store

Hello! Because of its roots in agricultural sciences, Michigan State University is sometimes derisively called "cow college" or "Moo U" - particularly by people from a certain in-state rival school. To those who jeer in such manner about my alma mater, I say, "So what?" I mean, we all have to eat, right - no matter where you went to school or whose sports teams you follow. Therefore, the ag research done at "cow colleges" benefits everyone.

Well, one benefit of colleges with ag research programs is the retail operations based on that research and the students' hands-on training. Currently MSU runs a very popular dairy store, has a food truck featuring products grown or raised on campus farms, and offers compost and seasonal produce for sale at the MSU Surplus Store. I know there's a student-run seasonal farm market too, but haven't gone there yet. 

And then there's the Meat Lab store. I don't know how long it's been in operation, but I just learned about it last fall in one of the regular e-newsletters we get from the school. It sounded worth checking out, so that we did while picking up our daughter at MSU for Christmas break (yes, she followed in her parents' footsteps - and no, we did not pressure her to go there). 

The Meat Lab store is really just a small room in a wing of the same building that houses the Dairy Store. There's one small counter with the cash register (credit cards accepted) and a small counter that runs the length of one wall. On that counter, and on the wall above it, are various signs and a white board listing what's currently available. Prices seemed to be competitive to grocery store meats, if not a little cheaper in many cases. 

It was a little overwhelming, so I just asked for a pork roast. Virtually everything is sold frozen, so a student employee went to a walk-in freezer to fetch our order. 

When I cooked up the pork roast at home, it really did look nice and fresh - the color was better than similar grocery store offerings and the quality was good. And it was good knowing that not only did we know where the pork had come from, but we were supporting research efforts and the students' hard work as well.

The student employee mentioned their email list, so I signed up for that. I knew we wouldn't drive to East Lansing every week, especially when bad winter weather set in, but I thought it'd be interesting to see what they offered. 

Saw Canadian bacon on the email list one week. That sounded good, and the employee had commented that the regular bacon is always a hot seller when they offer it. Another week, sides and 1/2 sides of beef were available. I liked the attached pdf, a list showing the cuts and poundage obtained from those sides. I'm sure that's typical when selling sides of beef, but I noticed several different handwriting styles on the list - a sign, I assumed, that different students had worked on the processing of the meat. Talk about a group project - quite a project indeed!

A couple of weeks ago it was announced that fresh chickens would be available, courtesy of the Avian Science Club's efforts. Whatever fresh chickens were left after a short selling period would be frozen and then sold that way. 

Yesterday another MSU break began - the spring one this time - so back we went to the campus to pick up our daughter. But before we did so we stopped back at the Meat Lab store. This time I was better prepared since I had gotten their latest email just the evening before. I purchased one of those whole chickens, plus a package of beef soup bones and a package of Italian sausages. There was really a lot more I could have purchased however - many more beef and pork cuts, plus lamb too. 

Here's what the package of Italian sausages looked like:

And here's a close-up of the label:


That's a very straight-forward ingredients list - just the meat and various seasonings. 

I cooked up the sausages to have on hand for lunches and had one today for that meal. The flavor was mild and the texture was very good. I wouldn't hesitate to buy them again. 

The only downside to the Meat Lab store, I think, is the limited hours of operation - as in no weekend or evening hours. I believe the exception to that is MSU football Saturdays; the store is open then to sell brats to tailgaters (or so I seem to recall reading when I first learned of the store).

If you'd like to learn more about the Meat Lab store, go HERE.