Friday, November 30, 2012

Eats - Sour Cream Coffeecake

Hello! For various reasons, our daughter had three occasions at school in November which warranted the bringing in of a breakfast treat. Doughnuts were an option, but she insisted on supplying the same homemade baked good each time, a sour cream coffeecake. You know a recipe's good when it's requested that often! Her appreciative classmates and teachers gobbled it up each time.

This coffeecake has become popular in commercial establishments too; I have seen variations of it sold at coffeehouses, and the Ann Arbor food paradise known as Zingerman's (highly regarded nationwide) sells it by the slice or by the whole cake. It can be shipped through their mail order service, at prices starting at $40 for a small coffeecake (serves 5-7) and $55 for the large size (serves 10-12). 

I don't know if my recipe is identical to Zingerman's, but I suspect it's close, so give it a try if you want a homemade breakfast treat also! It's easy and relatively inexpensive to make:

Sour Cream Coffeecake

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped nuts (can leave out if desired)
1/4 cup brown sugar (when I'm omitting nuts, I increase this to 1/2 cup
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a Bundt pan. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, sour cream and vanilla; beat. Add flour, baking powder and salt; blend all. Set aside. 

To making filling: in a small bowl, combine nuts (if using), brown sugar and cinnamon. 

Spoon 1/3 of batter in bottom of Bundt pan. Sprinkle half of filling over batter. Add 1/3 more batter and remainder of filling. Add remaining batter. 

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until browned and tester inserted in cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes before
turning out onto cooling rack. 

Serves at least 10-12. Cake is not too sweet but is rich and moist. 

Don't happen to have a Bundt pan? The recipe actually calls for a 10" tube pan; I make it in a Bundt pan because I think it looks prettier that way (Zingerman's must agree, as their coffeecakes are also baked in Bundt pans). 

Don't happen to have either type of baking pan? No problem - just head over to a local thrift store. Both pans can often be found there; that's where my Bundt pan came from!

Oh, and to whet your appetite, here's what the coffeecake looks like:

All ready to slice, serve and eat!


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Things You Can Always Find At A Thrift Store #1: Chirstmas Cards

Hello! My friend Libby suggested I mention that Christmas cards are plentiful in thrift stores this time of year (and in our town, at least one thrift store has Christmas items for sale the year round). This suggestion ties in perfectly with a blog category I'd been meaning to start: things you can always find in a thrift store. Instead of buying common items at the usual retail stores, save money by purchasing these items secondhand! 

By way of "research", I visited a local two-store chain, Bibles for Mexico, this week to see what Christmas cards they currently have on hand.  Both stores  had a good selection, including some never-opened packs. There were some nice quality cards, too, like a set that had originally been produced by the Museum of Modern Art (though it came to the thrift store via TJ Maxx)  Unopened packs seemed to generally range from $1.00 - $2.00.

However, last week I got an unopened set of 24 Christmas cards, made by Ikea, for 25c. Am I going to send these out for Christmas - heavens no! I'm punching them out with a 1" circle craft punch, and then I'll glue the circles back to back on a cord to make a nice little garland. 

Besides the unopened packs, there are many bundles of cards that would have come from opened, partially-used boxes. The amount of cards per bundle, of course, depend on how many cards had been unused from the original set, but I saw many attractive designs among these cards as well. Prices varied, but these were less than a dollar per bundle.

There are even single cards for sale; I think these are a dime each. Might be a nice way to find a special card for someone. 

Perhaps it goes without saying, but I'll add that all the cards do come with their matching envelopes. 

So, use them to send out your holiday greetings, or use them for crafting - you'll save money either way!


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Eats - Instant Hot Chocolate Mix

Hello! Unfortunately, cool weather seems to be here to stay (no surprise, I guess, since after all it is almost December!). One way I like to keep warm is by sipping hot chocolate. I'm not crazy about those canisters or packets of instant hot chocolate mix; I don't think they taste all that great and come with lists of weird ingredients as well. 

Homemade recipes for instant hot chocolate mix abound, and I've tried several. One of the more common recipes calls for non-dairy creamer and chocolate drink mix. More weird ingredients - no thanks. Others are much the same but call for baking cocoa - better, but it doesn't dissolve as well. Same with those recipes that call for adding chocolate chips to the basic dry ingredients - adds a richer chocolate flavor, to be sure, but the chips also need more stirring to dissolve. 

Then, a few years ago, I found the following recipe on the Internet; the person who posted it said it had come from Sunset magazine. But  when I just completed an Internet search for more info about the recipe, different Sunset recipes for hot chocolate came up instead. But here's the recipe I use (there will be variations listed at the end):

Instant Hot Chocolate Mix

3 cups powdered milk
2 cups chocolate baking chips  
1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows (optional)

Put half of the powdered milk in a blender or food processor, add half of the chips and whirl until finely ground. If using a blender, stop motor once to scrape mixture away from blades; do not continue mixing after finely ground or the mixture may clump. 

Pour mixture into a bowl and repeat to grind remaining milk and chips. Stir in marshmallows if using. Spoon into jar (or jars) and cover tightly. Can be stored for up to six months. 

To use: place 1/3 cup of mix into a mug and add 3/4 cup boiling water; stir until well combined. 

Makes 4-5 cups mix, enough for 12-15 servings. 

- use other flavors of baking chips
- used 1 1/2 cups malted milk powder in place of same amount of the
  powdered milk
- add 1/2 cup instant coffee powder with the powdered milk
- add a teaspoon of your favorite spice, such as cinnamon, nutmeg or
- add a tablespoon of grated orange peel
- come up with your own variations


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all! May you enjoy good times and great food with the people you have gathered around you today. 

Safe travels as well, and if you're going to brave the crowds tomorrow, good luck on your Black Friday shopping! 

(Image is of a vintage postcard that reads "A Friendly Thanksgiving Greeting", postmarked Nov. 24 1925. It was mailed from Chicago to a town in Wisconsin. Can't read the town's name "Heartiest Thanksgiving Greetings" is all the sender wrote.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Eats - Ultra-Easy Pie Crust

Hello! Since my husband doesn't like pie, I rarely make one, and so I haven't had much practice in making pie crusts. Nevertheless, when we go to Thanksgiving Day dinner at my dad's, I'll be taking three homemade pumpkin pies with me. 
Will I have made my pies with  store-bought pie crust shells or with some of those pie crust sticks? No, indeed, I'll be using this ultra-easy recipe, which from Marcia Adams' Cooking From Quilt Country:

Pat-In-Pan Pie Crust

For a 9" pie:

1 1/2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons cold milk

Place the flour, sugar and salt in the pie pan and mix with your fingers until blended. In a measuring cup, combine the oil and milk and beat with a fork until creamy. Pour all at once over the flour mixture. Mix with a fork until the flour mixture is completely moistened. Pat the dough with your fingers, first up the sides of the pan, then across the bottom. Flute the edges. Shell is now ready to be filled. 

For 10" pie, use these amounts:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons cold milk

Ms. Adams describes this pie crust as "quick, crisp and tender". I've used this recipe in the past and it's been well-received. One year my nephew, who loves pumpkin pie so much that he likes it instead of cake on his birthday, asked if I would make him a pumpkin pie for his next birthday. He said my pie crust was better than his mom's!

Note: since this recipe is not meant to be rolled out, it can't be used as a top crust. But it's perfect for pumpkin pie!


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Farewell To Fall

Hello! Next Sunday will be just one month from Christmas, so I give a fond farewell to fall today by showing seasonal color both indoors and outdoors.

Part of my tabletop feather tree, which changes with the seasons. Above, a bridge tally card that dates from 1960. Unopened pack of 12 for 50c at a thrift store. 

Goofy pinecone, felt and pipe cleaner turkey, which also hangs on the feather tree. Thrift store purchase; bag of several small items for $1.00.

Squirrel-shaped basket, one dollar at a thrift store. He's holding three miniature squash.

Vintage pottery planter, purchased inexpensively at a garage sale, also holds miniature squash. 

Page from Childrens' Party Book, published in 1935 by the A. E. Staley company.

Our burning bush is nearly done "burning". 

Crabapples and crabapple leaves with maple tree in background.

Pie pumpkins on a vintage wire rack that I purchased at a thrift store last year. These pumpkins will be used to make pies for Thanksgiving. 

Statue of squirrel mother and her offspring; gift from my husband several years ago. I will bring this in for the winter, but I wanted to enjoy it outdoors through Thanksgiving. 

And speaking of Thanksgiving, this always perks me up:

Besides the colors that mimic fall leaves, I also like the fact that it cost me a mere dollar at a rummage sale a few years ago. The original price of $14.95 was still on the package. 

And now it's time for me to fall into my kitchen: I'm going to get a head start on the Thanksgiving dinner!



Thursday, November 15, 2012

Made It - Small Gifts

Hello! Made a couple of small gifts recently for a friend's birthday. The first one is of my own design, although I'm sure others out there have made similar projects:

Behold, a handmade "flower". The center is a small styrofoam ball studded with gold sequins that are held in place with beads and sequin pins. The petals are made from a vintage restaurant menu that I'd altered. For a little extra finish, I glued a piece of art paper to the back of the flower. (the flower shape itself was traced from a clothing tag I'd saved years ago). The stem is a vintage pipe cleaner that I glued to the flower base, and then I shaped the leaves. 

This was pretty quick and fun to do. Made with red flower petals, I think these would look nice for Christmas. 

I made this flower for my friend because she'd given me the styrofoam balls and the gold sequins. I thought she might like to see what I did with them!

I was sewing her another gift when my sewing machine began acting up. Took it to the repairman, which meant that I had to come up with another, sew-free project. Fortunately, I had gotten this book earlier in the year at an estate sale.

The projects in Felt Wee Folk  are seriously cute! But I was feeling a bit lazy about the wrapping-the pipe-cleaner-body-with-embroidery-floss part, so instead, my doll looks like this:

This little doll is about 4" tall. Her body is made from a gold pipecleaner and her head is a wooden bead that I painted. Her hair is made from doll hair and her hat is an acorn cap. Her dress is made from vintage felt and the belt is hand-dyed cotton string. Hand embroidery was used to decorate the dress and to sew it together. 

She turned out well enough that I was reluctant to give her away, but of course I can always make one for myself! 

The author is quite particular about the craft supplies she specifies for the projects in her book, but I used what I already had on hand. I think she turned out just fine anyway!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Get Carded - Another Simple Birthday Card

Hello! Another birthday, another simple but fun-to-make birthday card. This card is identical to the one I talk about herejust the colors are different:

The card was made using the following:

-window card
-mat board square painted with blue acrylic paint
-hand-dyed cotton string (dyed with Easter egg dye)
-flower shape cut from a vintage matchbook
-vintage button
-"over the whole harbor" cut from 1930's grammar book
-"happy birthday" stamped with blue StazOn ink

Here's a close-up of the flower design:

Since the matchbook was from a seafood restaurant, and since the card recipient and her family own a sailboat, I felt that the words I added fit.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald

Read  in the local paper this morning that today marks the 37th anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. I can still well recall when this disaster happened. I was a teenager at the time, growing up in southeastern Michigan, so my family got news from the Detroit and Flint media markets. The news coverage of the ill-fated ore boat's last voyage was huge, and rightly so. It was a real tragedy and a very sorrowful time.

Living in the Great Lakes region, my family was well-used to seeing the ore boats and freighters out on the open waters of Lake Huron. Even from a distance their massive size was apparent. It never crossed my mind before the wreck that one of these behemoths would ever sink. Shipwrecks? In the late 20th C? Wouldn't weather forecasting prevent such a disaster from occurring? 

Thus, I remember feeling very shocked at the time when I heard the news. I'd like to think that today's vastly-improved weather radars will prevent a shipwreck of this magnitude from occurring on the Great Lakes again, but I don't know if this is so. The forecasting of Great Lakes weather seems to still remain challenging at times. 

Then, slightly over a year after the sinking came the Gordon Lightfoot masterpiece, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". I was blown away by this song, for it told of a true event, and one that had happened fairly recently. It told the story very well, with near-perfect lyrics and melody. It became a huge hit in this country (and in Lightfoot's native Canada), proving that the song had appeal beyond the Great Lakes region. One of my sisters was a foreign exchange student in Sweden at that time and she even heard the song played over there.

In tribute to the crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a touching video can be found here.

And for more information on the song itself, read this.

Now I live even closer to a Great Lake than I did as a child, so I see freighters even more often (and from our house, I can hear their horns blow when they enter or depart the nearby commercial docks). I still enjoy seeing them on their water-borne journeys, and always hope we will never hear of another shipwreck on the lakes. 

But today, I remember the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Get Carded - Operation Christmas Cards

Hello! I have so much stuff for making greeting cards that I occasionally make and send them in bulk for distribution to others. In the past I've done Valentines For Vets, and recently I learned of another opportunity called Operation Christmas Cards. Cards sent to this organization are then given to military personnel who are deployed during the holidays. 

Cards need to be sent to the Shrewsbury, MA office by Nov. 25th, so I need to get moving on this! But I'm throwing out there now for any other card crafters  who like to help out others. I think it'll be fun to do and may cheer up people who might be very lonely around Christmas.

For more information on Operation Christmas Cards, go here. Once at the website, click on "Participation Info" to get the details.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cross Country!

Hello! The high school cross country season ended yesterday with the state finals at the MIS track near Brooklyn, MI. Needless to say, this event drew a huge number of people from all over the Lower Peninsula (the UP has its own meet, which this year took place on Oct. 20th in Munising). 

We made the trip to support our daughter's high school, which had one boy and one girl competing (they were individual qualifiers from last week's regional in Allendale). With so many spectators in attendance, it's hard to cheer on the runners, but we tried our best. We watched the start of their races (Division 3) at about 1/2 mile out from the starting line, then headed over to the finish line to yell our fool heads off for them. Our runner in the boys' race had a very strong performance, and hats off to our girl runner, who finished 5th in her race - good enough for all-state honors! There's a great photo of her nearing the finish line here.

We also cheered another local school, Saugatuck, which competed in the Division 4 races. There were other high schools from our area in attendance as well, and a recap of how local runners performed can be found here.

The end of this cross country season meant the end of our daughter's involvement in the sport, as she graduates from high school in the spring. Through her, we have seen her school's team evolve from a club sport with a limited schedule to a varsity team whose runners have received all-state honors. This progression, which has happened in a rather short time span, is a result of the hard work and dedication by coaches, student athletes and yes, the parents as well (I'd say at least some dedication is involved with us parents helping to run home meets and cooking up team dinners - glad to have done it though!)

Neither my husband nor I were involved in team sports while in high school (I might have considered cross country myself, but my high school didn't have a girls' team then), so being involved in one now was new to us! Although there were times when I would have preferred to sleep in on Saturday mornings (one meet in previous years had us getting up at 4:30am to get our daughter to school for a 5:30am departure to Carson City), it got to be a routine with us. 

This year we ended up as unofficial timekeepers at the one and two mile marks. I got pretty good at identifying our runners from long distances away so that we could be aware of when they were approaching those mile markers. 

Try writing down those mile times in pencil on the coach's list while standing out in a chilly, pouring rain! That's what I did during a meet at Calvin College a few weeks ago. (getting those times at our school's races that day meant that we stood out in the rain for nearly 1 1/2 hours). But as I watched all the runners in such poor weather I was full of admiration - you have to be tough to run under such conditions! (However, our daughter says that they don't really even notice the rain during such races). 

Of course, other sports demand mental and physical toughness as well. But what makes cross country unique, I feel, is that each course is different. Some are relatively flat but others have challenging hills. Try running up a steep hill in 80+ degree weather - then imagine having to do it twice in a race (as the team did at the Saranac course early in the season). Even hillier is the course at Hesperia! See what I mean by tough? 

Cross country is also unique in that it seems to allow for a wider range of abilities than other high school sports do. In cross country, everyone on the team races from start to finish - there's no riding of the bench as one tends to see in other sports. Injury or illness are the only factors than prevent a runner from competing on a weekly basis. We have seen kids who are developmentally disabled running in meets, as well as a vision-impaired student-athlete. Good for them! These kids are likely to be more at risk for injuries in the sports that involve more contact, so I'm glad that they could participate in a school sport via cross country. 

In short, it was a great run (no pun intended) for our daughter while it lasted, and cross country is something we will always promote, especially to those parents who'd like to see their kids involved in sports but aren't sure if they're cut out for other team sports. It's a great sport!