Sunday, August 30, 2015

Thrifty Acres: Kitchen Capers

Hello! For this academic year, our daughter has opted to live in a room-only residence hall - as opposed to the more typical room-and-board dorm with its much higher cost and food that may or may not look better than it tastes. We were happy about her choice - not only does it save a lot of money, but I had once lived in the same residence hall myself! (each room comes with a 10 cubic-ft refrigerator, and there are full-size kitchens for meal prep)

Our daughter was home for the summer, so occasionally I'd remind her that she needed to consider what kitchen supplies she'd use at school. She never bothered to do that, even as the time to head back to campus loomed ever closer. Her roommate said she could borrow her kitchen things, which was nice, but what if both of them wanted to eat dinner at the same time? That wouldn't do, so I finally decided to take matters into my own hands. 

Made the rounds of three local thrift stores the day before we were going to take her to her residence hall. The shelves were pretty bare of bakeware, pots and pans. We live in a college town of sorts ourselves, so perhaps students needing to stock their  kitchens beat me to the punch. 

Note to self (and to our daughter: don't wait until the last minute to find kitchenware in a college town!)

But I still found flatware, measuring cups, measuring spoons, bowls and various kitchen utensils. So at least she'd start out with a few basics of her own. (I'd already given her some extra plates, drinking glasses and food storage containers)

The day after we dropped her off, I saw a notice for a moving sale, so I checked it out. And I came home with this:

Behold, a 2-quart saucepan and 7" skillet. There's only one lid for both pans, but I love its red color. I also like the design:


The woman running the sale said this set had belonged to her grandmother. Not sure how old this is; couldn't find a manufacturer's name anywhere and a brief online search didn't turn up the same pattern. However, I saw enough similar pans that I figure this is probably from the 1970's. It's classified as enamelware. There's no chips, although the saucepan does have some scratches. The skillet has none.

Customers must have been infrequent at the moving sale, for the seller insisted on throwing in a pile of bakeware. I didn't even look at it that closely; I just let the seller put it all into the tote bag I'd brought with me. 

Once home, I learned that she'd included a one-quart saucepan, one modern 9x13 cake pan, one vintage 9x13 cake pan (probably from the seller's grandmother again; it comes with its own slide-on lid), one tart pan, one 9x9 round cake pan and one pizza pan. 

The vintage cake pan and the pizza pan were in need of some elbow grease to clean them up, but the other pans were already in good shape and just needed to be thrown in the dishwasher. 

All this - plus the saucepan and skillet - set me back only $5.00. Not bad! I'd spent around $7.50 the other day for kitchen stuff at the thrift stores, so I'm doing pretty well. 

Our daughter's only been in her residence hall a couple of days, but reported one guy had already ruined a skillet. Hmm, maybe I'd better stockpile a couple of extra skillets when I see them around at secondhand sources in case our daughter accidentally does the same. 

I hope she doesn't - I kind of like the vintage pot and skillet I got at that moving sale. I'm half-tempted to keep them for myself!


 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Eats: Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

Hello! A friend of our daughter's did a big favor for her last week. Our daughter presented her friend with a handmade thank you card and some gifts as a token of her appreciation, but I wanted to thank the friend as well. I turned to my recipe clippings for inspiration.

I came across a recipe entitled "Sugar Cookies (Old Fashioned)", cut from a community cookbook. I've used a number of sugar cookie recipes in the past, but this one intrigued me for several reasons:

a. It only had to chill for 15 minutes.
b. The dough was supposed to be rolled out to 1/2" thick. That's rather thick for this type of dough, but it would mean that forming the cookies would be rather quick, and the baked cookies would be sturdy.
c. The recipe specified the use of a "large crinkly edged cutter". Obviously, any size/shape of cookie cutter could be used, but I happened to have the very cutter, which I'd purchased at an estate sale a few years ago:

It measures nearly 4" across, which I thought was large enough. 

Now on to the recipe:

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies (adapted from a community cookbook)

1/2 cup shortening (see note below)
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 3/4 cups white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream shortening and sugar together. Beat in eggs well; add vanilla and mix in. 

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt, then add to creamed mixture until blended. 

Chill dough for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 while dough is chilling. 

Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out to 1/2" thick on floured surface. Cut with large crinkly edged cutter. Put on ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes. 

Note: I used 1/2 cup (ie one stick) butter instead of shortening. 

The mixing/baking directions were vague; I actually elaborated a bit on some of the steps. 

This recipe yielded eight cookies made with the above cutter. I used a similar, but smaller-sized cutter (about 2 3/4" in diameter) to also make four smaller cookies that our daughter and I could enjoy. 

And here's how the cookies turned out:

They look pretty and tasted good too! It's a basic cookie recipe, but was quick and easy to make. I used green-colored sugar in honor of Michigan State, where our daughter and her friend met. 

Because of their thickness, the cookies did, indeed, travel well. Nice to know in case I want to make these for anyone else who lives out of town!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Eats: Jalapeno Bread And Butter Pickles

Hello! As mentioned in my previous post, I really enjoyed sampling all the goodies at Galena Canning Company's two stores in Galena, IL. It was so hard to choose a favorite or two for purchase that I ended up not buying anything. I came very close to purchasing a jar of their jalapeno bread and butter pickles though.

I normally prefer garlic dills to the sweeter pickles, but when jalapenos are the main item in the jar, the combination of sweet and hot was a good one. When we returned home I decided to see if I could find a recipe for jalapeno bread and butter pickles online. 

And I was in luck with this recipe, which comes from Elise Bauer's Simply Recipes blog. I'm not a canner, but with Bauer's recipe the pickled veggies are stored in a refrigerator after being made - no further processing is needed. She says they'll last for a year or two thus stored.

(For those that do canning, she does mention that possibility at the end of the recipe.)

Minus a couple of the spices called for in the recipe and two pounds of jalapenos, I had everything for the recipe already on hand. So needless to say, I headed down to our Farmer's Market yesterday and got those jalapenos. 

Once home, according to recipe instructions, I cut off the jalapeno stems, then cut the peppers in half. I was supposed to remove the seeds and ribs next but left them in to keep the heat level up. I can handle a LOT of chili pepper fire, plus Bauer says that the bread and butter jalapenos seem to lose some of their punch after awhile. 

Skipping this step made the cutting-up prep go much faster too! But I don't advise bypassing the de-seeding if you want a mild level of heat. 

Added one pound of sliced onions and the specified type of salt to the veggies - either canning, kosher or sea salt can be used. I used sea salt because that's what I had on hand. 

Here's the cut-up jalapenos, onions and salt:

The mixture had to sit, covered, in the refrigerator four hours, then rinsed of the salt a couple of times. 

Then it was into a pot along with white and apple vinegars, sugar and various spices:


You may recall earlier in the post that I had all the spices on hand except for two - star anise and a cardamon pod. Did I go to the upscale spice shop downtown to see if they had these? No, instead I looked up other jalapeno bread and butter pickle recipes online to see if they included those spices in their recipes.

They did not, so I felt comfortable in staying away from the spice shop. However, I did notice that one of the other recipes included 1 1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder, so I added that. 

(Note: I later learned that typically bread and butter pickles don't call for cinnamon and cloves, but Bauer's recipe did, both in whole form. I have these on hand, so I put them in the pickling mixture. You may experiment with leaving these spices out if you don't have cinnamon sticks and whole cloves in your pantry.)

Above, the jalapenos and onions are simmering in the pickling mixture. Bauer says to cook just until the jalapenos turn from bright to dull green. This step only took a few minutes. I stirred several times so that the peppers would evenly cook. 

Then it was just a matter of placing the mixture into two one-quart jars:


One mayonnaise jar, one canning jar - and one cook eager to see how the pickled peppers turned out! In the recipe's comment section, Bauer suggests waiting a day before sampling. Instead, I waited only until they cooled down, then tried one. Fantastic! And they really did taste very close to the ones I'd tasted at Galena Canning Company. 

Added some of the peppers to my lunchtime sandwich earlier today:

The jalapeno bread and butter pickles turned out to be a delicious complement to a turkey and Swiss on homemade potato bread (along with Farmer's Market lettuce and tomato plus some other yummy stuff). Hey, do I eat good or what? 

And I know there'll be plenty of good eating ahead with these spicy-sweet pickles. I am sure glad I made them - and now you can too if you go to the link above. 

(By the way, one quart jar of similar pickles at the Galena Canning Company cost $7.99, which isn't a bad price for a tourist town business. I estimated that the total cost for my two quarts of pickles was somewhere between $4.50-$5.00. Obviously, it helped that I had all the ingredients for the pickling mixture on hand except for two that I felt comfortable leaving out.)





 

 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Let's Go To Galena

Hello! My husband suggested one last family excursion before our daughter heads back to school, and I was fine with that. I was a little taken aback when he suggested we go to Galena, IL, but he reminded me that I'd expressed an interest in that town in the past. 

That's true - from reading Midwest Living magazine off and on for years, I'd read several articles about Galena, with most of them highlighting all the shopping one can do there. There's also some history, due to the presence of President Grant's house (now a museum) and the early wealth of the town due to then-flourishing lead mines. 

However, by now I've been to a number of quaint, restored towns that cater to the tourist trade, so I've become a bit immune to such places. It can be a bit of downer to visit a well-known town in a far-off state and discover that it looks just like a well-known town in your own state. 

But since I'd never been to Galena, I was up for a look. The trip began with a Friday night stay in the Chicago area, and then we were up early the next morning for the almost three-hour ride to Galena. 

It takes a little while to get there in part because the last stretch of road is a two-lane. It was very scenic though - the Galena area was spared the land-flattening effects of Ice Age glaciers, so the terrain was much hillier than most of the rest of Illinois. We saw vistas that rival the views seen from many parts of I-80 in Pennsylvania. 

But what would Galena itself look like? As soon as we drove onto Main Street I was charmed. We were on a narrow street bordered by narrow sidewalks and nicely-restored commercial buildings. We snaked our way through downtown and parked at its edge, near the Little Tokyo restaurant. As we walked to Little Tokyo we passed a brick apartment building with a sign identifying it as dating to 1840. 

Since it was such a hot day and we were going to have a hearty dinner elsewhere, we opted for a light lunch of sushi at Little Tokyo. It was decent quality. The restaurant is in an 1890's building that used to house an ice cream parlor, so I took a pic of the tin ceiling:

After lunch we split up to go our separate ways, although the downtown is small enough that we ran into each other a few times. Here's a view of the downtown area as I left the restaurant:

Visible from a side street just off the main drag is the Dowling House:

The plaque in front states that the house dates from 1826, making it the oldest house in Galena. 

We didn't tour the Grant house and I barely had time to glance at the Grant-related displays in the visitor's center. Both are worth more time, I'm sure. I did notice that the Grant family buggy, on display in the latter facility, bore a sign reminding visitors to keep off it or else Grant would be angry. 

What would happen - would Grant's ghost show up to whack the trespasser on the head? Maybe I should have gone here to find out:

Alas, Amelia's Galena Ghost Tours are only offered in the evenings, when we would be long gone, but I'd be up for a tour had we been spending the night in the area. "Amelia" is the name of one of the ghost tour owners, but I don't know if that's her likeness on the sign. 

There are other, more sedate tours one can take of Galena, ranging from a self-guided walk past old buildings, a trolley tour, hot air balloon rides, and more. 

My husband opted to walk along the Galena River Trail, but as it wasn't shaded, he didn't go as far as he would have on a more temperate day. It was sunny, humid and in the low 90's the day of our visit. We've not had much hot weather this summer, so our bodies aren't used to the heat!

Our daughter and I kept cool by ducking in and out of the many  shops downtown. I was happy to see that very few of them were of the tacky variety. True, there were the shops one sees in every tourist town that caters to people with money to burn: stores devoted to flavored popcorn, olive oils, chocolates, upscale clothing, etc. But perhaps the old-fashioned aura made everything seem more interesting. 

For instance, the ice cream parlor where our daughter beat the heat with a dish of blue moon. The space had clearly once housed a hardware store, for a long wall of wooden drawers was still in place:

The bottom photo shows that the drawer had once held shellac. 

A few more pics from downtown Galena:

The Midwest Garlic Festival was being held the same day in nearby Elizabeth, Illinois. Appropriately, this poster was spotted inside the Galena Garlic Company. (Despite that name, it seemed to carry more olive oils and vinegars than garlic-related products). 

My favorite foodie store - or should I say favorite two foodie stores - was Galena Canning Company. The business has two stores, across the street from each other. Store #1 features sweet and savory goodies - jams, jellies, dips, etc. Store #2 is for those who like to pack heat - in their bellies, that is: salsas, barbeque sauces, flavored mustards, pickled jalapenos, spice rubs and so on. All in all, a dizzying variety!

The majority of items in both stores are made by Galena Canning Company, although there were a number of products from other companies in the hot sauce store. And both stores feature ample opportunities to sample the goodies. Unfortunately for me, just about everything I tasted was so good I couldn't make up my mind what to buy - so I left empty-handed.

I would have taken photos in either store, but both were too crowded with other shoppers scooping up sample tastes on tortilla chips, pretzels and baby carrots. I met a friendly, 20-something couple while trying some salsas. They were from the Chicago area and mentioned it was their first visit to Galena too. They said they were really enjoying themselves. 

I do have other interests besides food, so I checked out Ink & Stamp With Sue (rubber stamps, art supplies, scrapbooking), several antique stores, and art galleries. 

A few more photos:

The first two photos show off more of the Main Street architecture, while the bottom photo is from the block above the downtown. A church and the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum are visible.

This post only scratches the surface of what there is to see and do in Galena. I'm sorry that I doubted my husband's suggestion to go there, and I'm eager to return some day. Hopefully not when it's 95 in the sun, but it was definitely worth the trip!






 




 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Made It: MCC Relief Kits

Hello! Back-to-school shopping is in full swing now. Even though my school days are way behind me, I did my share of such shopping last week to help out MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) relief efforts. 

On its website, MCC states that "Notebooks and pencils are treasures for families who struggle to afford basic school supplies. School kits often are requested after disasters and help bring normalcy to children whose families have been forced to flee their homes."

The supply list for each school kit is modest: four 70-page spiral-bound notebooks, one ruler, one large eraser, eight pencils and a package of 12 colored pencils. I took advantage of these items being on sale this month and bought enough to fill several bags.

Bags? Yes - if desired, one can make a fabric bag of a specified size; this becomes a carryall for each school kit. MCC accepts the supplies without the accompanying bags, but eventually all school kits are packed in fabric bags before being distributed. MCC reports that the recipients really enjoy having their own bags, filled with their own school supplies. 

A homemade fabric bag with a few school supplies may seem like a small thing, but when you're forced to make do with very little, a MCC school kit may seem like a big thing! 

The sewing for the fabric bags is very easy, and I have enough fabric on hand, so I whipped up a bag for each set of supplies. Here's a couple of filled bags, ready for their new homes:

The MCC website mentions that relief kits, hygiene kits and blankets are currently in urgent need. Well, I'd already sent them a blanket (as seen in this post), so I decided to make a couple of hygiene kits as well. Each hygiene kit consists of one hand towel, one toothbrush, one nail clipper and one large bar of soap. Each kit also goes into a fabric bag, the same size as the school kit bag, so it was easy to sew up two more. 

These kits are a relatively easy way to help out those in desperate need, and I was glad to play a small role in this facet of MCC relief efforts. 

If you'd like to learn more about these relief kits, go here.
 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Towering Flower

Hello! I am 5'3", which isn't that tall for an adult. However, I'd consider a flower that height or taller to be pretty tall. 

For example, the Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum 'Gateway') I have growing in my backyard:

I bought this plant as a young perennial several years ago at a local nature center's plant sale. The accompanying tag said that it could be planted in either sun or partial sun. I have more of the latter than the former in my yard, so I figured this plant would work for me. It was supposed to grow to the 5'-6'range and would have "enormous, fragrant flower clusters up to 18" across" that attract butterflies. Sounded good to me! 

I brought the Joe Pye Weed plant home and placed it alongside the neighbor's fence. It grew fine for several years, but never got any taller than 4' high.  Didn't get much bigger around either, and I didn't get those enormous flower clusters. I was disappointed and thought perhaps I hadn't sited it well. I considered moving it to another part of the yard but didn't do so.

Then last year, for no apparent reason, it dramatically increased in height and spread, and did the same this year. It is now around 7' in height, and has spread enough that I occasionally cut some of its stems just so I can walk through that part of the yard without feeling I'm in a jungle. 
 
These stems, cut further down, made for a nice arrangement in a vase along with some rudbeckia:

May not look like much, but the vase itself is over a foot tall. The height of the tallest stem is over 2' tall. This arrangement is now adding some flower power to our dining room. 

I'm glad I hadn't gotten around to moving my plant to another spot, as it's obvious now that it's quite happy where it is! Guess I just needed some patience to let it do its thing.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Thrifty Acres: Old-Time Laundry

Hello! A number of years ago, I had a volunteer job doing the weekly laundry for an ailing elderly woman. She used to jokingly refer to me as her "old wash lady" to her friends when they called her up on the phone. In reality, I was over 40 years younger than her, so of course she was just teasing. We got along great and I still miss her some 10 years after her death. 

Well, I felt a bit like an "old wash lady" earlier today when I hung up the vintage linens and quilt blocks I recently got for free (discussed here). They were rather musty, but an Internet search mentioned several ways to freshen vintage fabrics. I opted for a wash cycle with borax. This worked well - musty odor gone! 


Air drying was recommended, so I did just that:



Waving gently in the breeze:



Not only do I have vintage fabrics hanging on the clothesline, but the clothesline itself is vintage. I obtained a Cordomatic retractable clothesline at an estate sale for 50 cents a few years back. At the time I was quite excited by the retro look and the chance to save money by air-drying our laundry. 

But when I got home and put the laundry up, I discovered that although the clothesline retracted just fine, there was a LOT of slack in the line. So I'd have to fiddle around with figuring out how to hang wet clothes up on the clothesline without them sagging to the ground. Didn't bother to do so, so the Cordomatic clothesline just sat around in the garage.

Decided to give the clothesline one more try today, hanging the base from a large hook that was already on the garage and winding the other end around the top of our neighbor's fence to create enough tension. 

Here's what the base of the Cordomatic clothesline looks like:

Since it's merely hanging from the hook rather than being mounted like it's supposed to be, the base has turned sidewise. It's a little dirty from being stashed in our garage, but I like the retro lettering. 

These go for considerably more than 50 cents on eBay, even with at least one seller admitting that he'd not tested the clothesline for tension. A quick search of the listings didn't reveal an age, but most sellers were labeling this model as mid-century.

I have a vintage clothespin holder as well:


I think this might have been in my late grandmother's things, but I don't recall for sure since I've had it a long time. 

I do have vintage clothespins as well - the wooden kind with no springs - but I prefer the ease of using the kind with springs. (I buy the vintage ones to use in crafting). 

It's a pleasant day outside today - warm and sunny - so I felt happy hanging my vintage fabrics out on the line. It's several hours later now and they're dry, but I'll let them stay out a bit longer. I like seeing them hanging up. 

The elderly lady whose laundry I used to do probably hung many a load of laundry up outside when she was young. I have a feeling she'd like seeing what her "old wash lady" did today!