Saturday, February 25, 2017

Eats: A Nice And Easy Soup Recipe

Hello! It's not really been "soup weather" most of this week, what with temps that felt more like May in these parts (mid-60's some days!) Nevertheless, I made a nice, easy soup a few days ago to ease my cold symptoms. Today is definitely a "soup weather" day, though (30's and a light coating of snow), so I'll post the recipe I used, with adaptations explained after.

Easy Soup (adapted from Marcia Adams' Cooking From Quilt Country)

1 large onion
4 stalks celery
2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil (Adams specifies the larger amount, but I've found the lesser measurement is plenty)
4-6 cups broth of choice (turkey, chicken, beef or vegetable, see note)
1 15-ounce can navy beans (see note) 
1 15-ounce can tomatoes, drained and chopped (see note)
1 10-ounce bag frozen mixed vegetables (see note)
1/4 cup quick-cooking pearled barley (see note)
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme, optional (see note)
1 cup mashed potatoes (see note)
1/2 cup half and half (see note)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (see note)

Chop onion and celery. Heat oil in large kettle; cook onion and celery until the onion is transparent. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the potatoes, half and half and parsley. Cover, bring to a boil over high heat, and then lower heat to simmer for 10-12 minutes, or until barley is tender. Add the potatoes, half and half, and parsley, and simmer 5 minutes longer. 

This may look like a lengthy list of ingredients, but they're ones that are common (except maybe the barley), so you may have them on hand already, and prep time is short. And once the soup kettle ingredients have come to a boil, the total cooking time is a mere 15-17 minutes. I'd call that easy for a soup recipe! 

Now on to the notes:

I think that 4 cups of broth makes for a very thick soup, so I increase the amount to 6 cups. Try it either way. 

Adams calls for 4 cups of turkey broth, since she designed this recipe to be prepared with stock made from the carcass leftover from a Thanksgiving dinner. And I admit, I do make it that way (she supplies the turkey stock recipe on the preceding page of this cookbook). I haven't hosted a turkey dinner in awhile, but buy one when they're on sale in November and stick it in the freezer until I feel like cooking it. Same with the carcass - I freeze it as well, until I feel like making Adams' stock recipe. 

Of course, the better the broth, the better the soup, but feel free to substitute other flavors of homemade or commercial broths.

The recipe calls for navy beans, but use any other cooked beans that you may have on hand. I cook large amounts of dried beans in my slow cooker, then package them up for freezer storage. Then I just pull out whatever type I feel like on soup-making day. 

I use a can of petite-diced tomatoes to save on the mess of having to chop whole canned tomatoes. 

I usually buy a 1-pound bag of soup vegetables to use with this recipe. Since Adams created this recipe "for the busy Thanksgiving can add any leftover vegetables from the holiday dinner or any other fresh vegetables you prefer." In other words, feel free to use what you have on hand.

I didn't have quick-cooking pearl barley on hand when I made this a few days ago, so instead I added a half-cup of small-size shell pasta, whose cooking time matched that of the recipe's. I think I could have increased that amount to 3/4 cup or even a full cup of uncooked pasta.

I did use all the specified seasonings listed, including the optional dried thyme, but also added a small amount from a "soup seasoning" mixture I'd gotten in bulk at an Amish grocery store. If you use other seasonings when making this type of broth-based soup, you can add them instead if you wish. 

I'm guessing that Adams stuck mashed potatoes in her soup since, again, they were likely a leftover component from her Thanksgiving dinner. (Her recipe for mashed potatoes follows this soup recipe). I had just the right of leftover mashed potatoes in my freezer, but I'm sure you could use leftover boiled potatoes, or cook a potato in advance to add to the soup. 

I don't use half and half for this recipe, just milk.

I had fresh parsley in my freezer, harvested and frozen in the fall from my deck planting. You can use dried parsley, but fresh really is nicer. 

Adams states that this recipe yields "12 hearty servings", which seems a little low for a soup that begins with only 4 cups of stock. You also may have noticed that there's no meat in the recipe, so perhaps she meant for this soup to be served as a light lunch for house guests over a Thanksgiving weekend. Feel free to add turkey, chicken, beef, etc. to your soup if you prefer. I've sometimes added turkey, but didn't this time since we'd recently come back from a trip and had thus had been eating richer foods than we usually do. 

Even when making this with 6 cups of broth, I'm not sure that "12 hearty servings" is realistic when using this as the main dinner course. But it would likely serve 4-6 people that way. 

Okay, I think that's enough talk about the recipe, now here's a pic:

And yes, it tasted as good as it looked!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Get Carded: Happy (late) Valentine's Day!

Hello! Because of out-of-state travel on Valentine's Day, my husband and I were late in celebrating the occasion. But we eventually got around to it (heart-shaped pizzas, ultra-rich brownies and candy gifts). And I eventually got around to taking a photo of the card I made him, so I can show it off now - along with two others, that were mailed in time to the recipients.

Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • mailer card from 1960's tourism publication (chosen because city listed on card is a well-liked vacation spot of the recipient); card altered with stenciled red acrylic paint
  • "Be My Valentine" heart cut from Cavallini paper product
  • heart-shaped yo-yo made by me
  • heart-shaped button
  • paper tape piece with pointed finger, another Cavallini product
  • "Heart" stamped in red ink
The recipient had recently given me a gift card to Fris, a local art-supply store, for my birthday. I spent that card pronto on two Cavallini products, the Valentine-themed paper and a paper tape set, so I thought it'd be nice to show the recipient how the gift card had been used. 

Card #2:

Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • Kraft  paper altered with stenciled red acrylic paint
  • "My Valentine" cut from Cavallini paper product
  • heart cut from paint chip
  • Kraft paper tape
  • sliver of altered Kraft paper glued behind paint chip heart
  • "Special Delivery" paper tape from Cavallini(the "S" is missing because it was the beginning of the paper tape roll, but I didn't want to waste that piece!)
Card #3:

Materials used:
  • white card stock
  • ad from 1960's tourism publication
  • "Hello Dear!" heart cut from Cavallini paper product
  • heart cut from altered Kraft paper
  • white plastic heart, pulled off old sachet I was discarding
  • ruler designs stamped in red ink (placed on left edge of card and underneath white plastic heart)
  • red paper tape with pointed finger design; Cavallini product
  • two hearts stamped in red ink
  • "Love" stamped in red ink
You may have noticed that I used some of the same materials in all three cards, which is a habit I have when making more than one card at a time (or for the same occasion). This saves time and effort since I just leave my supplies out until I'm done with this round of card crafting. Yet each of these three cards looks quite different from the other.   

I had fun making these cards and like how they turned out! On time or late, a Valentine's Day card is always enjoyable to create.

Friday, February 17, 2017

San Francisco Sojourn #2

Hello! The second half of our trip to the Bay area began with a Sunday visit to San Francisco Botanical Garden, located within Golden Gate Park. It was another sunny, mild day, perfect for this outdoor activity. 

The microclimate of the Bay area means that this botanical garden has plants from all over the globe. We saw many plants we'd never seen before, as well as those that we'd only previously seen in conservatories. We were familiar with camellias and magnolias, but not used to seeing them bloom in February.

I took several pictures:

A large magnolia tree

This is called a paper bush.

This tree had an interesting form, I thought.

A close-up of its branches.

Vivid red camellia blooms, so nice to see when everything is gray back home.

There's lots more pictures I could have taken, but mostly I was in awe of the vast variety of plantings I saw. Redwood Grove? Check. Andean, Southeast Asian and Mesoamerican Cloud Forests? Check. Gardens representing the Mediterranean, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Temperate Asia? This botanical garden has all that too. There's even an Ancient Plant Garden, which was fascinating. And there were some other garden themes as well - Native California, Fragrance, Moon Viewing, and so on. 

So all in all, a very enjoyable visit. If you like botanical gardens, you definitely should check this one out if you visit the Bay area. 

Lunch (leftover food from the dinner we'd packed to eat at the airport before we flew out Friday evening) was eaten at the botanical garden - allowed, but people are discouraged from feeding their meals to the wildlife. We saw others ignoring this request, which probably explained the rather aggressive friendliness of the squirrels and Canada geese there. Saw one of the latter literally walk right up to a family eating on the grass near a pond, clearly expecting a handout. 

After visiting San Francisco Botanical Gardens, it was time to head across the Golden Gate Bridge to go to another hotel in San Rafael. Once settled there, we ate dinner at

Crepevine, in downtown San Rafael. This place has a big menu, and as you can see, it's not just crepes! They also serve sandwiches, salads, various egg dishes, even a few pasta items. I had the Mediterranean sandwich and my husband ordered the Kyoto Crepe. Both came with a choice of potato and a salad of organic mixed greens. 

Monday we headed up the road to Petaluma, a cute old town with many cute old downtown buildings. I headed straight toward one of them, Petaluma Seed Bank - housed, of course, in an old bank building. This store is owned by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, which means you'll find seeds you won't see in the racks of your local garden center. I had gotten their catalogue, so I'd come with a shopping list. Nevertheless, I was still overwhelmed by rack after rack of seed packets. I did end buying several packets, and look forward to sowing them as soon as I can!

My husband and I wandered around a bit, and eventually ended up at McNear's Saloon and Dining House for lunch. Fun vintage tavern decor, but I can't say I was overwhelmed by the California sandwich I'd ordered. My husband said his burger was good though. 

We split up after lunch to mosey around to our hearts' content for awhile. Since it was a Monday, some shops were closed, but there were still plenty around to tempt me. I stayed clear of most of them, though. With Petaluma being a wine country (Sonoma County)tourist town, I figured the boutiques were likely on the pricey side. 

So what did I do? Visit a couple of downtown thrift stores, of course! And why not - after all, sales at Alphabet Soup benefit the local school system, while Sack's proceeds go to a hospice. I felt good about trying to help out both. I was sorely tempted by some vintage housewares at Alphabet Soup, but realized there wasn't room for them in our luggage. But it was a different story at Sack's, where fabrics were half off that day. I had no trouble selecting several remnants of vintage fabric. 

I took a few pictures around Petaluma:

Funky painted building; looked to be an old corner gas station, but not used for anything right now. 

The imposing facade of St. Vincent de Paul church. 

And across the street from the church, a small Victorian house with a large palm tree in its front yard. I love seeing palm trees growing, since of course they don't grown where we live. 

Yeah, I should have taken more pics in Petaluma, but to tell you the truth, I was pretty tired by then. It seems to take me several days to adjust to jet lag when we fly out west. (I didn't get a decent night's sleep until that night, our last night there.) 

So instead of traipsing further around Petaluma and more of Sonoma County, we headed back to our hotel in San Rafael. And when it came time to get dinner, we returned to Crepevine. This time I selected the Parisienne French Toast, which is French toast made with cinnamon-raisin bread. Very good! My husband had the tofu-egg scramble, which came with home fries and toast. Sometimes it's just fun to have breakfast food for dinner.

The next day, Tuesday, was fly-home day. It was sunny and in the mid-60's when we stopped at El Super Burrito in Millbrae for lunch before heading to the airport. We'd first eaten here in 1997, back in pre-Yelp days. We were staying at a hotel in Millbrae then and looked through the Yellow Pages for a dinner place. El Super Burrito sounded good and it was, so it's become a go-to place when we're out there. Their burritos are "super" indeed, as in super-sized. I got the steak and avocado, while my husband got one stuffed with shrimp. The women behind the counter also stuffed them with rice and pinto beans. We finished them at lunch - but were still full enough when we landed at Midway Airport (Chicago) several hours later that we didn't need any dinner!

And speaking of airports, we flew into Oakland and departed from San Jose. We've found that if the fares are competitive, it's much nicer flying in and out of smaller airports rather than the bigger ones. Far less congestion, both in the terminal and on the tarmac! We were lucky in that we got TSA pre-check both times. It took all of about 30 seconds to go through security at San Jose! Can't complain about that. 

We flew on Southwest Airlines. Because it was Valentine's Day when we departed, some of its employees passed out fancy heart-shaped cookies and lollipops to the passengers. I declined the candy but took the cookie. Ate it the next day, and it was very good! I don't know if other airlines did something similar that day, but I appreciated that Southwest Airlines had done so. 

We returned home to chillier weather and duller vegetation. Sure do miss the beauty and milder climate of the Bay area! But we were glad to have visited it again.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

San Francisco Sojourn #1

Hello! My husband gets a mid-winter break of four days off, so he decided we should spend it in San Francisco. We've been there a few times already, but it's so nice there, we always look forward to returning. 

Got in late last Friday to our hotel in South San Francisco, so it was dark when we arrived. Woke up the next morning to bright sunshine - and lush green grass, flowers, and blooming trees all around us. Such a nice change from a Midwestern winter! We had sunny days and highs in the 60's all through our visit, and that was a lucky break. Heavy rains prior to our trip had led to some closed roads due to flooding, mudslides and washouts. And if you heard about the dam whose dangerous condition had prompted a large evacuation, it's located in the region. (national and local news have been covering the situation extensively.) And more rain is forecast for later on this week. Like I'd said, we got lucky!

With such nice weather greeting us Saturday morning, we were raring to go and were in downtown San Francisco by 10:30. I made a beeline toward Britex, a fabric store that has been in the Union Square area since 1952. I first visited this institution in 1989 and have been wanting to go back there ever since! The business is housed in an old building, with four stories of fabrics, buttons, trims and other such goodies. 

My favorite floor is the 3rd, which is where hundreds of buttons, ribbons and other "accessories" are found. A few pics:

Silk ribbons in a rainbow of colors.

A wall of buttons, plus a close-up:

The buttons shown have been affixed to box lids, indicating that more of the same are within these boxes. The variety of buttons must run into the hundreds, if not thousands. Too many choices to make, so I didn't even try. But it was fun to see all the choices!

Another wall, this one of ribbons, partially shown above. I did buy several kinds of ribbons from this wall, just to have on hand for crafting projects. 

Also seen on the 3rd floor:

In a section of appliques, this Italian-crafted sequined number will set you back $200. I'm guessing it's meant to be attached to a neckline. 

As for the other three floors of Britex: floors 1 and 2 have fabrics and floor #4 has remnants and a few sale items. The fabrics are very nice, but very expensive. 

All too soon, my husband showed up to collect me; it was lunch time. We ate at a little hole-in-the-wall place, El Rincon Yucateco. Good  Mexican food, with fresh, handmade tortillas as the base for my tacos. 

My husband had originally promised that I could return to Britex after lunch to do more shopping, but that promise was squelched when he saw closing-early signs while strolling around during my pre-lunch visit there. Apparently various stores were taking that action in advance of the big Chinese New Year's parade that evening. My husband felt we'd better get out of the city before it got too close to parade time; the congestion would be fierce. And he was likely right - that night's local TV news estimated the crowd of spectators was around 1,000,000!

If we wanted to see more of the city, we had to do it now. So we walked UP - and then down - Mason Street to make our way to Fisherman's Wharf. Hadn't walked on this street before, so I groaned a little when I first saw the steepness of the hill that loomed before us. But it really wasn't too bad. 

Seen when we were almost to the waterfront:

San Francisco Love Tours: showing off the city in a psychedelic VW van. Far out! Two even older forms of transportation, cable cars, are behind the van.

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Fisherman's Wharf is crowded with shops and restaurants, so of course it was crowded with people. We did buy a souvenir for our daughter at one of the shops, but this was our main reason for walking down to the waterfront:

Riding a cable car may sound touristy, but it's not to be missed when in San Francisco! It's like riding on a slow-moving roller coaster, going up and down those amazing hills and seeing various neighborhoods along the way. Loads of fun! 

All too soon, it was time to leave the city to escape the pre-parade madness. (we noted the bumper-to-bumper incoming traffic as we were departing). It had been a busy day, so it was nice to relax back in our hotel in South San Francisco. Dinner was downtown in that city, at Thai Satay. My noodle dish really hit the spot!

Being a dedicated thrifter, I was pleased to see a thrift store just a block away. It was small but the prices were mostly reasonable. I got a book for my husband that he'd been interested in, plus an art journaling book for me. And so ended our first full day in the Bay area. 

Part #2 will follow shortly. 


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Made It: Pom Pom Garland

Hello! After seeing pom pom garlands on Pinterest, I decided to try making one myself. And since it's wintertime, I decided to make it with white yarn. I already had some yarn of that color on hand, left over from some long-ago project. It wasn't enough to make the garland length I wanted, though, so I scouted thrift stores for more. It's easy to find small amounts of yarn, very cheap, left over from others' projects. I grabbed cream-colored as well as white yarn.

There are a number of ways to make pom poms, ranging from winding yarn around pieces of cardboard, forks, and fingers, to pom pom crafting tools. I used an example of the latter, a pom pom making kit I'd bought with a Target gift card. (the gift card amount wasn't much, so I figured it best to buy something inexpensive with it). 

The photo I took of my pom pom making kit didn't turn out well, but you can see what it looks like here. If you view the link, you'll see that there's just a few reviews, one of which is negative. But I thought these worked just fine, and I liked the cute animal shapes too. 

I used the medium-size pom pom maker (it looks like a stylized sheep), which resulted in pom poms about 2 1/2" in diameter. I lost track of how many I made, but I believe it was 40. They were easy to craft.

Then it was just a matter of threading a tapestry needle with a length of yarn and stringing the pom poms on. I knotted each end of the yarn so that the pom poms wouldn't come off, but didn't feel the need to do anything to keep them in place on the yarn. They seem to stay in place pretty well on their own. 

My garland of white and cream-colored pom poms, ready to hang up. 

The pom poms don't show up really well in the above photo, so here's a close up:

I like how these turned out - they have a light, delicate look, but also have a touch of whimsy. Or so it seems to me. 

The possibilities are endless for this type of garland - a red, white and blue one for the 4th of July, or maybe make one in school colors to support an alma mater?

And of course, pom poms can be used for other projects as well. On Pinterest recently, I saw a display of small pom poms in various bright colors, glued to twigs that had been stuck in a vase. Very eye-catching! 

Hmm, I may need to hunt for more thrift store yarn...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Get Carded: Valentines For Vets!

Hello! It's the 1st of February today, which for me means another crafting session of Valentines for Vets. For the past several years now, I've made cards for the Valentines for Vets program. The cards then get sent to a regional veterans' hospital for  distribution to some of the deserving folks there. 

Here's a portion of the valentines I crafted:

All the cards began with white card stock bases, then squares cut from various papers (scrapbook, altered pages from vintage books, or printed examples of wallpaper designs) were affixed to the card stock. Heart-shaped yo yos I'd made from vintage fabrics were glued to the squares. Lastly, I glued round or heart-shaped pearl buttons (the buttons came from a thrift store lampshade)to the yo yos and stamped the word "Heart" below each decorated square. 

A few close-ups:

Printed wallpaper design paper, yo yo heart, round pearl button

Altered page from 1950's home model book, yo yo heart, heart-shaped pearl button

Altered page from 1930's gardening book, yo yo heart, round pearl button. 

I started the project by picking out the yo yo fabrics from an assortment of vintage quilt squares. Then after making the yo yos, I had the fun of mixing and matching them with various papers. I like playing with paper, I like playing with fabrics - and for these Valentines for Vets, I got to do both!

The only problem with using the yo yos is that they added considerable bulk to the cards. If I was mailing these out individually, I'd likely need a padded mailer for each valentine. I don't think these would go through a sorting machine very well if sent in a regular envelope. 

But since my cards are all going to the same address (a regional VA hospital), I'll just stick these cards in regular envelopes, then put all 24 in a large padded mailer. The added bulk from the yo yos will be no problem when sent out that way.

And even though it took time to craft these valentines, that was not a problem either. I am glad to do this every year for our veterans!

If you'd like to learn more about the Valentines for Vets program, go here.