Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Get Carded - Simple Birthday Card

Hello! My handmade greeting cards vary in their complexity - for a special occasion like a wedding, I'm likely to fuss quite a bit. But when time is short or if I have several greeting cards to create, I will take a simpler route. 

I had several items to mail out today, so the writing of short greetings and the packaging of various items meant that I would make a fairly simple birthday card. I still think it turned out nicely though:

It's overcast here today, so the card didn't photograph the best. Take my word for it - the color of the card base was a creamy pale yellow, not the dull beige that you see above. 

Every component of the card came from a thrift store or garage sale except for the rubber stamp and the stamp pad. Here is what I used:

- blank window card in pale yellow
- mat board square from the creative reuse store Learning From
  Scratch, painted over with red acrylic paint
- vintage pale yellow crochet cotton thread
- flower shape cut from a vintage matchbook
- vintage button
- "happy birthday" stamped in blac StazOn ink

Here's a close-up of that floral element:
As you can see, the mat board piece fits perfectly in the card "window" - and this with no trimming. I love it when things fall into place like that!

Like I said, this card was simple, but it needed to be if I wanted to get my mailing taken care of this morning. I'll have to make more of these mat board pieces to have on hand - then I can use them to embellish future cards!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Thrifty Acres - Community Cookbooks

Hello! I'm a sucker for community cookbooks (in case you're not familiar with the term, it's used to describe the fundraiser-type cookbooks put out by churches, service clubs, PTO's and other organizations). These cookbooks are easily found at garage sales, thrift stores and used books sales like the one the local AAUW chapter had last month. They are usually very cheap. I've paid as little as a dime or less for such cookbooks, and no more than a dollar. 

No matter what the cost, I'm choosy about the dates of these volumes. Any older than the 1950's, the recipes tend to be too vague to follow. Any newer than the early 1980's, the cookbooks start to look too slick. 

One main disadvantage of these cookbooks is that the recipes are often repetitive, and there are whole sections whose recipes sound amazingly bad. It sometimes seems that there had been contests going on to see who could put the most weird ingredients in a casserole or jello mold! 

Nevertheless, there are often real gems as well. One of my husband's favorite muffin recipes came from one such cookbook, and the deep dish pizza that I make as an occasional treat came from another community cookbook. So I will continue to snap these up as I find them. 

Now, I'll highlight a couple of recent cookbook finds:

Being a church cookbook, it wasn't surprising that there were some large-scale recipes, like the one that yielded 15 coffeecakes. I wondered if such recipes had been used for fundraising meals at the church. 

I've never been to North Dakota and had certainly never heard of Monango. It wasn't listed in our Rand McNally road atlas, so I turned to the Internet. Learned that Monango is in southeastern North Dakota - and as of the 2010 census, has a population of 36. That's actually an improvement from the 200 census, when the town only had 28 people. 

Thus, I wondered if the church has much need now for large-scale recipes - or if the church is even still open. Made me a little sad. Nevertheless, it was an interesting cookbook, for there were a couple of things about it that I hadn't noticed in other cookbooks. For example, a few of the recipe submitters had included their home addresses underneath their names. I surmised that these ladies had moved away from Monango but wanted to stay in touch with the folks there. But I've never seen another community cookbook that included one's home address!

The chapter on German cooking caught my eye as well, as it included a number of recipes I wasn't familiar with, like "stirum" (a sort of fried dumpling, it appears) and "blachinda" (or "blagenda"; both refer to a baked pastry with a pumpkin filling). Guess it goes to show that I don't know that much about German cooking. 

This cookbook, alas, suffers from some bad line drawings that delineate the chapters, such as:

I get that the drawing is supposed to depict tomatoes and a head of lettuce (or cabbage,perhaps) - but what are those weird shapes with x's drawn in them supposed to be? And this is one of the better drawings in the cookbook!

From North Dakota, we go to the East Coast:

These are your "favorite hometown recipes" if you're from Frederick, MD. The cookbook was produced by the Ladies' Committee of the Frederick Elks Lodge 684. Given the coastal location, there are a number of mouthwatering crab recipes. Some of the gentlement of the Elks also contributed recipes as well.

And if you look at the top left side of the photo, you can see my bookmark sticking up. That's to mark the page the recipe for Peanut Butter Penuche is found; I want to try it sometime. You see, when I was a kid the mom of the twins in my class always made a delicious peanut butter fudge for classroom parties. As an adult I've looked for recipes that would replicate that candy. I've tried one for peanut butter fudge that comes close and is easy to boot, but it always seems to set up a little dry in texture. My classmate's mom's peanut butter fudge didn't have that dry texture. Thus, the bookmark. 

I have more community cookbooks to show off - perhaps in my next post!



Friday, October 26, 2012

Eats - Seasoned Pretzels

Hello! Halloween means parties and since there's already a lot of candy and other sweets associated with this holiday, I opt to bring the following snack to Halloween get-togethers. Note cooking variation and other tips after recipe instructions.

Seasoned Pretzels

6 cups pretzels (I prefer to use the smaller sizes, as they're easier to measure and to stir.)
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 package Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Optional: Tabasco sauce, or other hot sauce, to taste

Preheat oven to 250. Place pretzels in large shallow baking pan. In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients and pour over pretzels; stir well. Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Pour onto waxed paper to cool. Store in airtight container. 

Yield: 6 cups snack mix

  • I've used as much as 7 to 7 1/2 cups of pretzels per batch, and they still come out flavorful.
  • I use the microwave to cook these - saves a lot of time! My  directions are for a 9x13 glass casserole dish and a 1,000 watt microwave oven. I cook the mix for two minutes on high, stir, then cook for two more minutes and stir again. Then I cook for one minute, stir, and look to see how dry the pretzels look. If they still appear a little "wet", then I cook them for a minute longer. Be careful and make sure to stir the mix well because it can burn. However, by this I mean that some of the pretzels on the bottom may burn - I've never burned an entire batch.
  • The original recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt, but I don't put it in. Between the ranch dressing mix and the pretzels themselves being salted, I figure that's enough salt already. 
Of course, this snack mix is good anytime, not just for Halloween parties! I have also mailed it as presents to out-of-state nieces and it has traveled just fine, they tell me. 


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thrifty Acres - Halloween Costumes

Hello! Read an article today in the paper about saving money on Halloween costumes. DIY aspects such as going to the fabric store or using accessories to help create a costume were mentioned, but I must say I was surprised that thrift stores  weren't discussed. 

For the past several weeks, local thrift stores have had racks of clothing set aside for this holiday, with garments ranging from actual Halloween costumes to vintage clothing to feather boas, funky straw hats and other accessories. (I wonder if anyone bought the straw hat with the Kroger grocery store logo on it and if so, what they were going to do with it?)

I have written already of using thrift stores when our daughter  portrayed various historical figures for school assignments. For the earliest of these depictions, I considered it a bit of a challenge that she, then a 5th grader, was supposed to dress up as a scientist from the 16th C. Thrift stores came through for me, as they have every time since. Of course, her outfit wasn't 100% accurate, but it was close enough! (In case you were wondering what she wore, I purchased black velveteen pants that I shortened to knicker length and a fancy white top with a ruffled neckline. These pieces were a reasonable representation of what a learned man of the 16th C wore.)

You can read my post about a more recent "dress-up day" here.

 Although I've discussed school assignments, not Halloween, the same principles apply: pick a time period or famous person - then go to the thrift store and see what you can come up with! 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Thrifty Acres - Vintage Vegas Postcard

Hello! In yesterday's post I discussed the purchase of vintage postcards from a local thrift store. Among the many I brought home was this gem - Vegas from the mid-1970's.

The Las Vegas Marina Hotel and Casino:

 A close-up at the meal prices on the sign:

Shrimp cocktail for 49c sounds good to me! 

If you wanted to stay near the airport, then you had the Airport Marina Hotel:

How about a close-up of that couple on the left?

I'm sure that at the time they personified 70's sophistication, but now they call to mind those syndicated murder mystery shows that my dad watches on WGN. When I watch them with him I love to laugh at how bad the fashions and hairstyles look to me now.

I've not been to Las Vegas, so I don't know if either hotel still exists today - or if so, if they've been remodeled to reflect current tastes. 

And as for Mr. and Mrs. Sophistication, I hope that they've moved on from 70's fashions as well!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Get Carded - Using Vintage Postcards

Hello! I troll the thrift stores in search of vintage items that I can use in my craft projects, and one of my favorite things to find is vintage postcards. Not only are they fun (older styles of clothes, cars, motels, and tourist traps) but they can be educational (scenes from places I've yet to visit). And at the thrift stores, vintage postcards are often very cheap as well. 

If I really like the scene on the postcard, I may hang it up for awhile just to admire, but for craft projects, I'll paint and/or stamp over it, or else leave unaltered, but inevitably it gets cut up to use in a greeting card or glued to some sort of wood base. 

However, two vintage postcards from Greenfield Village were left as is to adorn the front of a couple of greeting cards I made. These cards were sent to two women who happen to live in Dearborn, home of Greenfield Village, so I felt the postcards were appropriate. 

Here's what the two cards looked like:

Both cards were crafted the same way: white card stock, off-white art paper scraps, altered paper scraps (stamped and painted by me), vintage Greenfield Village postcards, and "remember when" printed twill tape.

The top card shows the Rose Cottage and the bottom card is a scene of the Loranger Gristmill. The postcards measured 3 1/2" by about 2 1/4", so they didn't need to be cut down for this use. They were part of a set of 20 Greenfield Village postcards. Judging from the clothes and hairtstyles of the people shown visiting the various sites within the village, I'd say these postcards date from sometime in the 1950's. 

And remember that I'd said vintage postcards are often very cheap at thrift stores? Well, the set of 20 Greenfield Village postcards was included in a bag of other vintage postcards from all over the US as Europe. I paid $2.00 - for a bag of almost 300 postcards. Needless to say, this find will last me awhile!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hello And Welcome Holland Sentinel Readers!

Hello! And a big welcome to the readers of the online edition of the local newspaper, the Holland Sentinel. 
I've been blogging since March 2011, but recently have agreed to have this blog linked to the Sentinel's website, thus putting me in their "community blogger" category. This means that I will be blogging more frequently, but the content of my blog will stay the same - a focus on saving money in creative ways and having fun doing so! 

For new readers, the story behind my blog's name can be found here .

And for those who have been reading my blog all along but would prefer to follow it from the Sentinel's site, their link is here.

Lastly, I want to supply yet another link, to one of my favorite money-saving websites, The Dollar Stretcher. If you haven't followed this site yet, I urge you to do so. It covers a wide range of topics, from the number-crunching of personal finance to DIY repairs to ways to save on groceries, cosmetics, etc. You name it, they've probably covered it. Their site can be found here. I've learned a lot from it!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fall In Pennsylvania

Hello! Last weekend we headed east for a short trip to north-central Pennsylvania. Although we didn't see much sun while we were out there, the fall color and the hills still made for some gorgeous scenery. 

Since we couldn't leave until last Saturday around lunchtime, we only went as far as Pittsburgh that day. Stopped at Salvatore's in the Youngstown, OH area for dinners of solid Italian food. We made sure to take doggie bags - not only did the portion warrant that, but we wanted to save room for Handel's Ice Cream, which was kitty-corner from  Salvatore's. I'd just learned of this small chain and wanted to check it out. You know a place has good ice cream when it stays open all year, doing walk-up business even in the winter! I think it was some of the best ice cream I'd ever tasted. They have locations primarily in eastern OH, but are in a few other states as well (not MI, alas), so check out their website for more info:

Our destination was Williamsport, PA. Our time there was short - Sunday afternoon and Monday before returning home on Tuesday. We made the most of our visit by stopping at one of our favorite places, Purity Chocolates of Allenwood, PA. I always enjoy seeing the chocolates being made in the small workroom just beyond the retail store:

Above, an employee is making up boxes of assorted chocolates while chocolates that have recently been unmolded stand nearby.

A huge chocolate turkey awaits decorating. You can see the mold used to make it in the background.
In the retail store, an acorn-shaped chocolate box has been filled with assorted chocolates - very attractive! 

Cute cats - perfect for a Halloween party!

Not a great photo, but here's the monster turkey wrapped up and ready to wow someone.

Since this was the biggest chocolate turkey I've yet to see at Purity, I took a photo of its price tag. My husband and I speculated how much of the turkey would be left by Thanksgiving if we bought it on the day of our visit and ate a little bit every day through that holiday. It would be fun to lug home, but instead we bought a few goodies elsewhere in the store. I always pick up chocolate-covered pretzel "seconds" from the bargain basket, and they always taste great to me!

Switching gears, after lunch we drove to Worlds End State Park in Sullivan County, PA. We have been to this state park many times before, hiking on the various trails that are in, or go through, it. This time we did the Butternut Trail, which was 3 1/2 miles long. That doesn't sound long, and it isn't, but there was a steady climb up, and a steep, rocky climb back down. 

The vista at the top of our climb had nice views:

 We had started our hike down at the creek, the Loyalsock, so you can see that we had had a bit of a climb up.

Met a charming older couple on "holiday" from New Zealand while on the trail. They had done some sightseeing around NYC and eventually were going to fly to Seattle to visit their daughter, who lives there. How they found their way to a rather remote corner of north-central PA, I'm not sure. The woman was afraid of seeing a bear, so they hadn't hiked very far. We'd yet to see a bear on the trails in the area, we told her - but had once seen one run across the freeway near Williamsport!

Shortly after leaving Worlds End State Park, we drove across this:

This covered bridge, which is in Forksville, PA, spans Loyalsock Creek.

The apple crop in our area had been hit very hard by unfavorable weather this past spring, so I stopped at an apple orchard called Marshalek's on the way back to Williamsport:

Above, the view up the hill outside the retail store. I bought a half peck of Golden Delicious apples for eating and for making applesauce and apple butter. I make both in my crockpot. 

And that is a bit of what we did and saw in Pennsylvania. Our trip was too short, but we enjoyed it!



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Made It - Anonymous Art Again

Hello! Just received a nice reply to a post I'd done last year on what I call "Anonymous Art"; it can be called "Guerilla Art" as well. The commenter's post reminded me that I wanted to mention I'd recently started a new round of this "top-secret" form of creativity. I've been upset by the negativity of discourse during this current election cycle, so my little pieces of art are my response to what's been said and done in the name of trying to win elections. 

I don't know what good my actions are, but at least I feel a little better for doing this. Recently took a trip through three states and had fun spreading my anonymous art around everywhere we stopped!

The post I'd done last year on anonymous art can be found here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Eats - Tomato Mania

Hello! It seems that I can never resist the lure of home-grown tomatoes and I have the hours in the kitchen - and a full freezer in the basement - to prove it. The local farmer's market was ready to comply with my tomato mania. I started out with half-pecks of Romas, which I used to make tomato sauce and salsa. I also filled a quart bag full of dried tomatoes (I'd purchased an inexpensive food dehydrator several years ago on eBay).

But last week I spotted something at the farmer's market that made my bargain-loving heart sing: a large cardboard box piled with a variety of heirloom tomatoes. Orange, red, green, burgundy - they were a feast for the eyes - and were only $10.00 for the whole box. They were so inexpensive because they were canning grade, which meant they had to be used up quickly. There were soft spots forming on some of the tomatoes, which would lead to spoilage soon. 

Alas, I neglected to take a photo of these tomatoes, but I'd estimated there were over 30 pounds in that one box. I sorted them out when I got home, setting aside the ones in the best shape for sandwiches and for a pasta sauce that uses raw tomatoes. 

I'd already made so much tomato sauce that I didn't really need to make anymore, so looked through my recipe files to see what else I could try. I decided to try making something called "Tomato Essence" (unknown source; it's a magazine clipping). 

The recipes calls for pureeing 10 lbs of tomatoes through a food mill, but as I have a Vita Mix, I could skip this step. Instead, I cut up the tomatoes and put them in a large pot.

You can see the various colors of the heirloom tomatoes bubbling away.

As instructed in the recipe, I cooked the mixture until it was reduced by half. The next step called for was straining the tomatoes through a fine sieve. This is where the Vita Mix came in handy - I just pureed the tomatoes until the skins and seeds were liquified along with the pulp. I don't know if other blenders are powerful enough to do this, but it sure saved me a lot of time and mess!

Above, the reduced tomato mixture has been pureed and is now ready to be cooked down further. The recipe indicated that the mixture is to be cooked until it's been reduced to four cups. At this point, it needs to be stirred often to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pot. I used this time to tackle a cleaning job in the kitchen, stopping my scrubbing every few minutes to stir the sauce. 

Here's the four cups I ended up with:
This recipe had appealed to me because of its description:  "To add an intense burst of tomato taste to soups, vinaigrettes, sauces, or juices, use tomato essence...You can also freeze this essence, so it's ready for you to use whenever you want to enjoy the incomparable flavor of homegrown tomatoes." 

That sounded wonderful to a tomato lover like me! But I tasted the mixture once it had cooled and discovered that it tasted a lot like...tomato paste. I was a little bummed at first, since after all tomato paste doesn't exactly taste like "homegrown tomatoes" - it just tastes like, well, tomato paste. But then I cheered up a bit - after all, I'd gotten a good buy on those heirloom tomatoes and had enjoyed them on sandwiches and pasta before cooking the rest.  And since I froze my tomato essence in small amounts, it'll be handy to use in recipes - and will hold me over until next year's tomato crop comes in!

I admit I'm a little tired of tomato cooking by now, but still am happy with what I had accomplished.

Cute, no? This is one of the flaps on the box of heirloom tomatoes, turned upside down!