Friday, December 2, 2016

Holidays: More Ornaments With Meaning

Hello! My mom died on Christmas Eve in 2010, so for the next Christmas I made ornaments for my siblings and their kids in memory of Mom/Grandma. My efforts can be seen in this post. 

Well, earlier this year my dad died, so once again I decided to make Christmas ornaments in memoriam. He loved to read, and especially toward the end of his life, his reading reflected several keen interests. Thus, when it came time to divide up his belongings, I took three books to use in this craft project: Handbook Of Denominations In The United States (Frank S. Mead, revised by Samuel S. Hill; chosen because of the pages devoted to the Roman Catholic church, Dad's faith), That Fine Italian Hand (Paul Hofmann; chosen to represent Dad's birth country), and Reader's Digest Fun & Laughter; chosen because Dad loved to tell jokes. I'd gotten him this volume at a thrift store).  

Since they were going to be cut up, I also selected these three because they were either dated and/or already beat up. I didn't want to deface books that still had plenty of life in them. None of the above books are newer than 1990. The oldest, the Reader's Digest tome, came out in 1967 and some of the jokes are now shockingly dated.  

I began my project with two sets of blank wooden ornaments that I'd found at a thrift store and a rummage sale. One set was bare wood in three different tree shapes. The other set was various shapes - angels, birds and stars. These had been painted a rather gaudy gold and had red ribbon hangers. 

Neither set looked all that great as is, so I decorated them to improve their appearances. The bare wood trees were painted with green acrylic paints, stamped with holiday designs, and then embellished with light coatings of gold glitter paint. 

The gaudy gold on the other shapes was toned down with ivory acrylic paint, and I added stamped holiday designs to these ornaments as well. 

I removed those ugly red ribbon hangers and replaced them with gold cord. I had to drill holes in the tree shapes, and put the same gold cord through those holes for hangers. 

And here's how my ornaments turned out - first, an example of the ones I made for my 16 nieces and nephews:

Angel and bird.

Close-up of the angel:



And an example of a tree ornament for my six siblings:


A close-up:

Actually, the above ornament is one I'm keeping for myself. Couldn't resist the "I dream that I'm telling fabulous jokes" phrase, since my dad fancied himself doing just that (even when dementia caused him to say the same jokes over and over). 

I'll include a note to the recipients explaining why these seemingly random statements are on their ornaments. Otherwise, they might scratch their heads in puzzlement!

Yes, it took awhile to alter each ornament, cut out various phrases from my dad's books, and arrange and glue on those skinny strips of paper. But it was a labor of love, and as a memory of our late dad/grandpa - it was well worth it. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Bang For A Buck #5: Happy Thanksgiving!

Hello! Happy Thanksgiving to all those celebrating the holiday today - may you enjoy wonderful food and wonderful company. And hopefully you have much to be thankful for today as well. 

In honor of the occasion, I'll show off this rummage sale find from a few years back:


An outdoor Pilgrim hat hanging, purchased for $1.00 at that rummage sale. It was in its original packaging, with the price tag of $14.95 still on it. 

Now, even at $14.95 this wasn't a super-valuable find, but I've noticed that thrift stores will often price something higher if it's still in its original packaging, especially if the price tag is still on it. Guess they figure that if you can see what the item would have originally cost, they can justify pricing it for as much as 50% of the first price. Maybe that seems fair, but I don't go to thrift stores to pay half off something - I want a bigger discount than that!

So I was more than happy to pay a mere buck for this unused Thanksgiving decoration. And I've enjoyed hanging it up every November since. I love the cheery colors, which are very welcome on an overcast day such as today. But it'll be sunny in my heart when I gather with family later on today. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Eats: Roasted Butternut Squash With Spicy Onions

Hello! Still deciding on a vegetable side dish for your Thanksgiving dinner? Or just want to try a new butternut squash recipe? Well, then, I've got a great one for you:

Roasted Butternut Squash With Spicy Onions (adapted from a Bon Appetit magazine recipe)

Spicy Onions

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, sliced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey

Assembly

1 cup pecans
2 large butternut squash (about 4 lb.), peeled, seeded, sliced 1/4"thick
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
salt, freshly-ground pepper to salt
seasonings to taste (I used an all-purpose no-salt blend)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Spicy Onions: heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook onion, stirring often, until lightly charred and softened but not falling apart, 5-7 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and toss to combine. Remove pan from heat and stir in lemon juice and honey. Can make up to three days in advance; cover and chill. 

Assembly: preheat oven to 350. Toast pecans on small rimmed baking sheet, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 6-8 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop. 

Increase oven temperature to 400. Toss squash and 1/4 cup olive oil in medium bowl; season with salt, pepper, and seasonings of choice. Divide between 2 rimmed baking sheets; reserve bowl. Roast, undisturbed, until tender, 15-20 minutes. 

Return squash to bowl; add pecans, parsley and spicy onions, and toss to combine. 

Transfer squash mixture to a large serving platter; crumble feta over, and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Yield: 8 servings. Can be served at room temperature.

And here's how this dish turned out:



It was really good! I made a half recipe since I was going to be the only one eating it. I had to restrain myself from gobbling up the whole thing in one sitting (I made it last for three servings).

In fact, I liked it so much, I bought more butternut squash at our farmer's market last week so I could make it again. 

I have a confession to make, though - I made a number of changes in the recipe, either because I didn't care for an ingredient (I like lemon juice, but not the original inclusion of lime juice) or else I didn't have it on hand (don't typically buy goat cheese, so I used feta instead). 

However, if you'd like to try the original recipe, look here. 

Whether you make the original version, or make as many changes as I did, do give it a try if you like butternut squash. I'm guessing that other winter squash varieties, or even sweet potatoes, could be used instead - but that's a change I didn't make! 
            
    

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thrifty Acres: Seasonal Reading

Hello! I've developed a liking for seasonal reading - books or magazine columns that describe life through the course of a year. Traditionally country folks are more in tune with the changing of the seasons than city slickers, and the seasonal reading I've done reflects this. All the writers lived (or live) in the country. 

So when the calendar changed to November, I dug out the two seasonal books I currently own. The one I've had longer is this:

Jean Hersey's The Shape Of A Year (1967). I first read this book in the early 1990's, when a co-worker who was a devoted gardener loaned it to me. I liked Hersey's month-by-month descriptions of her life in the Connecticut countryside. Not only did the Herseys have a thriving organic garden, they also had a greenhouse where dozens of orchids luxuriated. Hersey painted, hiked, traveled, cooked (several recipes are provided) and entertained family and friends. She also wrote gardening articles and gave talks to garden clubs. 

I enjoyed reading this book but of course had to return it to my co-worker. Online booksellers weren't around then, so what were the odds I'd find my own copy? Well, I did, a few months later in a used book store. As you can see in the above photo, mine is getting pretty beat up, but that doesn't detract from my reading pleasure. 

The second book became mine earlier this  fall:


I'd been wanting to read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (2007) for awhile, and finally got my chance when I bought a copy of it at a used book sale. 

This book describes the efforts of Kingsolver and her family as they decide to become localvores for a year. They worked the land of their Virginia property, and it was very hard work indeed: produce was prepared and preserved in various ways, chickens and turkeys that they'd raised were "harvested" (ie killed and butchered), and many meals were planned around their bounties. I got rather tired reading of their activities, but I admired their can-do spirit. 

I doubt I'll become a localvore to the extent that the Kingsolvers did, but the book did make me think of some steps I could take to lessen winter purchases of produce that was grown far away. Thus, I took advantage of our tomato season with this recipe for oven-roasted tomatoes and froze several bags' worth. It'll be nice to avoid those rather tasteless winter versions, which I'd always forced myself to buy since I don't consider a sandwich complete without tomatoes.

As with Hersey's book, there are recipes included. I bought a five-pound pie pumpkin recently at our farmer's market so I can make Pumpkin Soup In Its Own Shell. I've never made anything like that before and it sounded interesting. 

I didn't take a photo of another source of seasonal literature, a series of "Simple Country Pleasures" columns penned by Jo Northrup. These writings appeared in Country Living magazine, which my mom subscribed to in the 1980's and 1990's. Mom would pass her magazines on to me after she was done with them. I got rid of the magazines during a pre-moving purge but kept the SCP columns. Northrup wrote from Southern locales, discussing flowers, farm markets, her childhood memories(I loved her description of the local country store at Christmastime), trips, dogs, antiquing, weather lore and other topics that qualified as "simple country pleasures". 

I've owned other publications with seasonal themes. I liked Barbara Webster's The Green Year (1956), in part because her southeastern Pennsylvania property was only about 20 miles from where I was living when I found her book at a 1990's rummage sale.

Gladys Taber wrote many books about her Connecticut country home, Stillmeadow, and her 1948 The Book Of Stillmeadow has a seasonal theme. I used to own it, but had read it enough times after purchasing it at a 1980's garage sale that I tired of it and gave it away. But I still recall her discussion of making the most of ripe strawberries (they grew their own at Stillmeadow): make strawberry shortcake - and have that be your entire dinner. That way you can really indulge in this treat, rather than trying to save room for it after dinner. Every June since, I've told my husband that Taber's idea would be a good one to follow, but I haven't been able to convince him yet. 

I also bought Rachel Peden's Rural Free (1961) in the 1980's, at a used book sale. I enjoyed reading about her family farm in southern Indiana, but as with Taber's book, it eventually lost its luster and I gave it away. I decided to give it another look and checked it out via inter-library loan this past summer. It was nice to read it again. Hmm, maybe I should check out Taber's book to read again as well? 

It's good to pause when we can and take note of what each month has to offer us - and seasonal reading is a great way to do this!