Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Eats: Raspberry Cobbler

Hello! As far as homemade summertime desserts go, it's hard to beat strawberry shortcake and ice cream. And while both are great, my vote for the best homemade summertime dessert goes to:

Raspberry Cobbler!

I'm not sure when my affection for this dessert began. Although my mom would make strawberry shortcake, I don't think she ever made raspberry cobbler. Since raspberries are expensive even in season, she likely thought it'd be a pricey treat to make enough to feed our family of 10. 

Nevertheless, when as an adult I saw raspberry cobbler on the dessert menu while dining in Akron, PA, I decided to order it. It was love at first bite! I wished I'd skipped the hamburger I'd just eaten and had gotten two servings of raspberry cobbler instead. 

This memorable meal took place back in the early 1990's, but it set me on a search ever since for a raspberry cobbler recipe that could compare to the restaurant one. And thanks to Marcia Adams' Cooking From Quilt Country, I think I've found a great homemade version. 

Raspberry Cobbler (adapted from Cooking From Quilt Country)

Raspberry Base:

4-5 cups raspberries (see note below)
1/2 cup white sugar (see note below)
1/2 cup brown sugar (see note below)
2 tablespoons flour (see note below)
1/2 stick butter, cut in small pieces
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg


1 1/2 cups flour (see note below)
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup milk, approximately
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

White sugar and nutmeg, for sprinkling on top of dough

Preheat oven to 350. Place raspberries in greased 1 1/2 quart casserole dish with medium-high sides. Add the sugars and flour; toss. Dot with butter; sprinkle with lemon juice and nutmeg. Bake for 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, make the dough. Place the first four ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Cut in the butter. Combine milk and vanilla, and add to flour mixture. Stir with a fork until a stiff ball forms, then turn out onto a well-floured pastry cloth or board and roll out approximately 1/4" thick. Shape the dough to fit the dish you are using and transfer on top of warm fruit. Slash the middle of the dough, then sprinkle a bit of sugar and nutmeg on top. Return to oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the juices bubble up through the slit and the crust is lightly golden. Serve warm, preferably with cream (see note below). Yield: 6 servings. 

Notes: Adams calls for black raspberries, as she thinks they have a more pronounced flavor when baked. They're harder to find than red raspberries, though, so I've always used red when making this. No complaints from me!

The amount of sugars used for the raspberry base makes this dessert quite sweet. Raspberries can be rather tart, but I still like the cut back on the sugars a bit. 

My only complaint about this recipe is that the amount of flour specified didn't seem to thicken the raspberry juices enough. I decided to try a double amount of thickener this time, and used cornstarch instead of flour. This change worked well; no more runny filling!

As with most of my baking, I use 1/2 white wheat flour and 1/2 white flour for the dough. 

Although Adams suggests serving this dessert with cream, I've never done that. But when I've had vanilla ice cream around, I've sometimes used that instead. However, I find raspberry cobbler just fine on its own. 

Perhaps one reason why I like making raspberry cobbler is that my husband doesn't like it, and our daughter can take it or leave it. Thus, there's more for me! But really, I don't need six servings of the stuff all for me, so I cut the recipe in half and bake the cobbler in a small casserole dish. Three servings isn't nearly as piggish - even if I ever decided to eat two servings of it at once and call it a meal.

As in my mom's day, raspberries are still pricey, but this is one recipe that I'll gladly splurge on!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Thrifty Acres: My "New" Kitchen Toy

Hello! As someone who does a lot of food prep for meals, I'm always looking for ways to cut down on time in the kitchen, and this quest extends to dealing with fresh vegetables and fruits. Sure, I've got a food processor for dicing large amounts of carrots, celery and onions for big pots of soups, but that machine is too large to haul out for smaller prep tasks. 

I'd looked into buying a mandoline, a tool that's supposed to speedily slice, dice and julienne produce. I got confused reading over the many online options. Some looked cheap, some looked rather bulky, and some looked kind of scary. You don't mess around with a mandoline; the blades are very sharp. So I left the Internet and stuck with my paring knife. 

But then a couple of months ago I encountered this at a thrift store:

The Borner V-Slicer Plus, made in Germany. I took it out of the box and looked it over; the set seemed complete and looked unused. It was priced at $4.99, so I didn't have much to lose. The original price tag of $49.99 was still on the box. 

I was a little intimidated by my purchase at first - as I'd said, mandolines aren't to be messed with, and I had to familiarize myself with the directions and the various parts. But finally I made up my mind to practice with the darn thing and see how it went. 

And here's how it went:

The beginnings of a lunchtime salad. 

The V-Slicer Plus made quick work of radishes, red onions, cucumber and green pepper. It's far quicker than I am with my paring knife! And I love the uniformity of the slices too. Even if I felt liking laboring over a radish, I doubt I could cut such even, thin slices by hand.

Above, here's what the tool looks like - shown is the thin slice side of the slicing insert. If I'd flipped it over, I'd get thick slices. Not shown is the safety guard, which is used to hold the produce in place while using the V-Slicer Plus. Thus, one's hands stay free of those very sharp slicing blades.

There's also inserts for two julienne cuts, thick or thin. These are handy for stir fries. 

The instruction manual gives directions for dicing or chopping. Both tasks involve making cuts into the produce after placing it into the safety guard, then using one of the julienne inserts. I haven't done these tasks enough on the V-Slicer Plus to master them to my satisfaction, but that'll come with practice. 

Clean-up is easy - just a quick rinse in the sink, or a quick dunk in soapy water, then a rinse. 

Storage is easy too, as the whole thing stores in its own case:

It doesn't take up much room on my counter, as the unit measures about 15" x 5"w x 4"d. 

There appears to be newer versions of the V-Slicer Plus over at Amazon (perhaps mine had been stuck in someone's closet or cupboard for years). For one thing, the company is now called Swissmar Borner. S-B has several mandoline models for sale, but this one  seems to be closest to my model. 

In general, the Swissmar Borner mandolines have very good ratings over at Amazon, and I am satisfied with my mine as well. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Made It: Garden Whimsies

Hello! Although I admire the "decor" that goes along with formal garden landscaping - the statues, matching urn-style planters and attractive edgings - my own gardens are far from formal. And so my garden "decor" is far from formal as well. 

Instead, I'll go for DIY projects, and the cheaper and quicker, the better. After all,  gardens mean watering, weeding, deadheading and other chores to keep up with. 

I've recently completed two whimsical garden projects - one was very quick, the other took a little more time. But both were easy on the wallet and fun to do.

Awhile back, I purchased eight rather rusty items at a thrift store that looked like giant nails (about 8" long); they were 35c each. I don't know what their original purpose was, but I thought it'd be fun to transform into a bit of garden art. 

My first plan was to paint these "nails" with my DecoArt Patio Paints, but rust-removal efforts weren't entirely successful. No problem, I decided, I'll just cover up the rust with fabric strips. I have a bagful of rather exotic-looking stretchy fabric scraps (garage sale purchase) that would work well. 

So it was just a matter of cutting the fabric into narrow strips and winding them onto the "nails", securing with glue along the top and bottom edges. I tied a small strip of contrasting fabric near the top and then glued bits of costume jewelry (estate sale finds) on top. 

Here's how these turned out:

My set of eight, ready to go outside. 

I placed them among a perennial bed in our front yard: 

Above, orange print fabric contrasts with a blue/green turtle that had formerly been a pin. 

Purple and pink, topped with a silver vintage button. 

Granted, these aren't waterproof, although the glue is (Quick Grip brand). They are a bit sheltered from the elements because of the plantings they're mingling with. And as quick, easy and inexpensive as this project was, I can just add more fabric if needed, or remove the original strips if the glue isn't too stubborn. 

The second yard whimsy took longer to make even though it's supposed to be a kids' project called "Stickville". It was featured in an issue of the late, great Martha Stewart Kids magazine. This publication was around in the early-mid 2000's and had cute crafts with kid appeal. I was sorry when it folded.

"Stickville" refers to various structures made from that old kids' crafting staple, popsicle sticks. A snack shop, a sailboat, a delivery truck, Adirondack chair, road sign, tree hotel, and house were shown. I liked the tree hotel the best, and that's what I made:

The magazine had included instructions for putting a branch in a small pail and anchoring it with modeling clay. I sit out on our deck in nice weather as much as I can, so I hung my "tree hotel" on a tomato cage that's supporting a cherry tomato plant. I also tied the base of the "tree hotel" to the cage to further secure it. 

A close-up:

If you can make out a bit of red on the base, and a bit of yellow on the "ladder" leading up to the base, those are little people I made from bits of colored wire. What's a "hotel" without people in it? (Martha Stewart Kids showed plastic toy animals as hotel inhabitants). 

Yes, of course, this is totally frivolous, but it makes me smile when I see it. And after all, this post is titled "Garden Whimsies"!

If you and the kids in your life would like to try this tree hotel project, you can find the directions here.




Thursday, July 14, 2016

Rug Hooking Art

Hello! According to Wikipedia, rug hooking in the US got its start as a means for poorer families to have nice flooring at a time when machine-woven carpets became available (after 1830)to wealthier families. 

However, from thus humble beginning, a truly beautiful art form has emerged. I visited the "Tomorrow's Heirlooms Rug School" show yesterday in Holland, MI to see the creations on display. 

I viewed a wide variety of rug hooking styles, ranging from very fine pieces that would rival the detail of a fine Oriental rug to more primitive looks. (The more narrow the wool strips used, the finer the detail, and vice versa.) Colors could be muted, day-glo bright, or anything in between.

My preference ran toward the brighter designs and strips that were in between the spectrum of narrow versus wide. Thus, that's what I'll be showing off here, but this isn't meant to be a slight toward any of the talented rug hookers whose works I viewed. All were marvelous works of art!

I liked this pattern. 

Loved the colors in this rug. 

A close-up:


Nice colors on this piece as well.

Meow! Cute cat next to what I think was an ottoman covered with a hooked design.

Happy campers. 

A close-up:

A rug-hooking club displayed a project in which each letter of the alphabet was represented on a rug-hooked square. I took pics of a couple of the letters:

Doesn't look quite like a blue jay, but the creator was correct; that bird does "jabber all the day". 

And of course, "R is for Rug hooking, which we all love". 

I thought this rug resembled an Impressionist painting. 

Its close-up:

Beautiful shading!

My one exception to the more brightly-rendered designs:

I liked the sentiment stated in this piece: "Remember them when they cannot remember", presumably in honor of a loved one with an age-related memory loss. 

All in all, a very nice show that displayed a very nice art form. If I didn't have so many hobbies and so many partially-completed projects already, I'd consider doing it myself!


Friday, July 8, 2016

Made It: A Little Paint Always Helps

Hello! We inherited a rather drab, dark blue doormat when we moved into our house. It had been left on the front porch, but we rarely use the front door (it's rather a pain to open and shut), so eventually the doormat made its way to the deck. Much handier there during gardening months, but it was still drab.

Of course, I could have easily purchased a new doormat, but recently it hit me: why not try dressing up the one I have with a little paint? I had DecoArt's weather and water resistant Patio Paints  and plenty of stencils on hand, so I figured I could easily improve the appearance of the doormat. 

And that I did:

Materials used:

A vintage (1977) stencil set and DecoArt's Patio Paints in Geranium Red and Cloud White. I chose these two colors because a. red and white on a blue background seems like a nice, summery color scheme and b. I had bigger bottles of these colors than I do the other colors of Patio Paints that I own. 

And I needed a fair amount of paint to fill in the stencils, as the numbers are about 4" high and up to around 3" in length (the bottom part of the number 2). 

The doormat has a coarse weave, which also contributed to the amount of paint I had to use. I applied two thick coats to get the coverage I wanted. Although it wasn't hard to do the painting, I was glad I had chosen a simple design (numbers that represent our house address.) I had to really work the paint in! But if I feel like it, I can always add a border later. 

So now you know (if you didn't already) - a little paint always helps! You may not have a drab doormat that needs some improving, but you might find something else around your house that does! 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Get Carded: Cards I Don't Like To Make

Hello! I actually enjoy making greeting cards, so what do I mean by "cards I don't like to make"? I like to think of crafting cards for happy occasions: the neighbors' new baby or a nephew's high school graduation.

But then there's cards for less-than-happy occasions, such as thanking someone who sent you a sympathy card, get-well wishes to an elderly aunt who broke her hip, or a sympathy card for a cousin whose son died all too soon. 

I would have rather that the occasions that warranted the sending of these cards not have happened, but they did and so needed to be acknowledged. 

The thank you card went to an out-of-state relative who had been very fond of my dad and thus had sent me a very nice sympathy card. I wanted her to know I appreciated her kind words and sweet remembrances of my dad. 

Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • green plaid scrapbook paper
  • flower stamped in green ink on vintage pale pink recipe card
  • white flower embellishment
  • "Thank you for your Thoughtfulness" stamped in black ink
A close-up:

For the aunt now in rehab for her broken hip:

Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • metallic gold art paper scrap
  • pale blue art paper scrap
  • floral art paper scrap
  • flower embellishment
  • "Hope you're better soon!" stamped in black ink on vintage wallpaper scrap

And this card's close-up:

It's always very sad when a child precedes his or her parents in death; this happened in my own family when a sister died while only 40. My cousin's son was also only in his 40's, too young. Sympathy cards are the hardest to make. 

Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • pale purple art paper scrap
  • purple art paper scrap
  • floral art paper scrap
  • fringed ribbon"May all your precious memories help bring you peace and comfort through the days ahead" stamped in black ink onto vintage wallpaper scrap
The close-up:

As you can see, all three cards are rather muted in color, which   befitted the occasions and people the cards were meant for. But I think I still made cards that will please the eyes and minds of the recipients. 

Nevertheless, I hope it's awhile before I have to make such cards again!