Thursday, November 8, 2012

Get Your Accordion Ready For The Holidays!

Not too many people have the ability to play this charming instrument, but almost all of us can fold paper and thus create accordion pleats.  This easy and fun project has so many uses- cards, mini-books, photo albums, gift tags, and little journals.

They make memorable handmade gifts that don't cost a fortune or require a bunch of tools. You just need paper, scissors or craft knife, ruler and glue or glue stick.
You can really experiment with this project.  Try different sized paper, but be sure you have a square.  You can make as many pockets as you want or just use one for a tag or ornament.  
My favorite part of this project is choosing the paper!  The thinner the paper the easier it is to fold, but you can still use heavier papers such as scrapbooking paper or cardstock.  Here is an idea- have your kids color and decorate paper that you then fold into the pockets. Finish by adding photos of the kids, creating a special photo album for a family member.  

This project came from a wonderful book called Origami Card Craft by Karen Elaine Thomas.
In this book the author goes over the basic folds and also provides illustrations with directions. To make this even easier I found this video clip of the author demonstrating this project!  Now there is no excuse not to try this out.
With over 25 projects you could keep yourself busy folding for weeks on end, of course with accordion music playing in the background.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Repurposed Container Gardening

        When is a milk crate not a milk crate?  
Yes, it is an old milk crate.

I like container gardening.  Actually I like gardening that involves the sun and in my yard that means using containers because the sun that exists in my yard is primarily to be found on my patio. So I'm a dedicated container gardener.  
Until recently I've always been content with using terracotta pots, but this summer I've fallen hard for whimsical containers.  Particularly unusual containers that once had a previous life outside of gardening. 
Planter using a golf ball bucket.
You are really only limited by your imagination and the ability to provide good drainage when it comes to repurposing items into planters.
Coffee bean bag planter - Sarah Starkey
Toy truck - FundementoDesigns
Repurposed teapots
When you use wire framed items for containers you'll need to line them with some type of netting and moss to keep the soil from washing away-
As far as what to put into these containers, I'm very, very fond of succulents because they need so little soil to grow, aren't water hogs, and are easy to propagate. One plant will eventually give you lots of little new plants.
Tool box planter 
Tool box planter
My local nursery's vertical frame overflowing with succulents.
My old 3 tiered planter filled with propagated succulents.

Here is my short tutorial on creating a succulent planter-
1) Find a container that either has the ability to drain or that you can drill holes into the bottom.
2) Fill with cactus/succulent potting soil.
3) Gather together enough succulents to pretty much fill the container.  Try asking friends and neighbors for cuttings.  These you can just stick straight into the soil.  Or watch out for small succulents at your local nurseries.  These should only cost a couple of dollars.
4) Gently place your plants into the soil and tamp down the soil around the succulent.
5) Finish by gently watering your lovely new planter.

Here is my list of ideas I'm considering for repurposing as planters: tea cup, shell, shoe, colander, wheel barrow, rain gutter, wagon, bathtub, old dresser, shopping cart, pail, and a watering can.  Am I missing anything?  Oh yeah, the kitchen sink!
There are some wonderful books published on succulent gardening, as well as, container gardening.  Give these a look:

P.S. Come take a look at our beautiful deck at Fairfax Library.  It recently received a makeover with many lovely container plantings of succulents, all done by our wonderful Teen Advisory Group. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

I welcome back my trusty camera with a Panzanella salad!

Zion National Park in Utah
This long break between postings is the fault of my camera.  It went on vacation without me and I was surprised to learn my camera took great pictures without me behind the lens.  My poor ego!
Zion National Park
Escalante Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park 
Looking out towards the Continental Divide in Colorado
The camera took a two week car trip to Neveda, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming and Colorado while I stayed home with the kitchen remodel (see below for current status). I didn't cook once, unless you consider making popcorn cooking.  Mostly, I microwaved frozen dinners, fixed breakfast cereal, and snacked on cheese and crackers.
Kitchen remodel after 11 weeks

The new kitchen arch

Insulation made from blue jeans
So to get myself back into the temporary garage kitchen I made Panzanella, an easy and simple Italian bread salad.  The nice thing about this versatile salad is you can tailor it to suit your taste.  The core ingredients are bread (quality crusty bread), tomato, cucumber, onions, olive oil and vinegar.  If you look around you’ll find a slew of recipes. 
Traditionally, stale bread is used in this dish because it soaks up the dressing nicely.  I like to toast my bread, which is not authentic, I prefer my bread lightly moistened rather than overly soggy.  Experiment, be creative, and  have fun making this great summer salad, but make sure to get the best tasting tomatoes you can find.
I adapted this recipe from the July 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated.

6 cups of rustic Italian bread cut into 1 inch pieces
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil (I probably used a bit more than ½ cup)
Salt & pepper
1 ½ pounds tomatoes, cores, seeded, and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced thin
1 shallot, sliced thin
¼ cup chopped fresh basil (I used ½ cup)
3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar (I used Balsamic vinegar)
My extra additions:
Corn, avocado, mixed greens, feta, and toasted almonds.

1)  Adjust the oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss bread pieces with 2-4 tablespoons olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt.  Arrange bread in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Toast bread until just starting to turn light golden, 15-20 minutes. stirring halfway through.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

2) Gently toss tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt in a large bowl.  Transfer to colander and set over bowl to  drain for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. (I also use all of the juices from the coring and seeding of  the tomatoes, which was approximately ½ cup of liquid.)

3) Whisk remaining 6 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, ¼ teaspoon pepper, reserved tomato juices.  I also  added a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard.  Add bread pieces, toss to coat and let stand for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally.  (I use just half of the dressing and I let the bread sit only 5 minutes so it is just slightly soft.

4) Add tomatoes, cucumber, shallot, basil and any other ingredients you choose and gently toss with the remaining dressing.  Serve immediately.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Kitchen Chronicles - Part 1

Biscotti in the Garage
After 15 years we are finally redoing our 1970’s kitchen.  When we moved into our house we slapped some paint on the walls and cabinets and said to ourselves “some day.”  Well “some day” has arrived. It has taken a fair amount of saving and a huge dose of courage.  I had lived through a remodel at my parents’ home and hadn’t enjoyed doing the dishes in the bathtub and existing on microwave meals.  This time around I am extraordinarily lucky to have a husband that has the experience and desire to recreate a temporary kitchen in our garage. 
Kitchen before demolition
Breakfast room
Current state of kitchen
Breakfast room 
I’ve never ever liked our garage, partly because parking in it required a fair amount of courage that I wasn’t going to scrape off the paint on our cars as I backed out.  Also getting into and out of our cars in the garage required a yoga type contortion that my body just never enjoyed.  Well, I take it all back.  Little garage, I will never bad mouth you again.  This garage will keep me sane and somewhat patient over the next 4 or 5 months.  It now houses all of our appliances and a few of our cabinets from the old kitchen.  And for this I will be eternally grateful. 
The Kitchen Garage
The temporary kitchen was christened this week with my first batch of cookies.  I chose to make biscotti for a friend.  These are the best cookies to make as gifts because they refuse to go stale and are sturdy enough to handle packing and travel.  In fact, these ancient cookies were originally made for travelers, soldiers, sailors, and even Christopher Columbus took them on his voyages.  Many other cultures have their versions of biscotti.  In the United Kingdom there is the rusk; in Germany it is the zwieback, and the Easter European Jews call it mandelbrodt.

The literal translation of biscotti is “twice cooked.”  While these cookies can keep for up to 3 months they are too tasty to stick around that long. This is a versatile recipe.  If the classic Italian anise isn’t to your taste, try lemon or orange.  You can also add toasted nuts or dried fruit or chocolate chips.
Traditionally in Italy biscotti are served with a drink into which they can be dunked.   This recipe is from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere.  I’ve made a slight alteration by substituting some of the flour for cornmeal. I prefer a fine grind of cornmeal, but medium grinds work too.
 Aunt Victoria’s Biscotti
½ cup butter
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla, lemon, orange or anise extract
2 cups plus 2 tablespoon flour (or 1 ½ cup flour, 2 tablespoon flour and ½ fine ground cornmeal)
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Optional: Liqueur- 1 tablespoon grappa or sambuca or pastis or anisette or pernod and 1 teaspoon aniseed

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.
Beat in the eggs until mixture is smooth.
Add the extract (and liqueur if you are using it).
By hand fold in the flour, baking powder, and salt until just mixed
Now add nuts or chips or seeds if desired.

On a lightly floured board or counter, gently make two equal sized logs.  
Set them on a baking sheets and bake them on a middle rack in the oven for 25 minutes, or until they are set and lightly brown.
Cool the logs for 5-10 minutes.  Then slice them diagonally about ½ inch thick.
Lay slices back on the baking sheets and return to the oven for approximately 10 minutes to toast them.  Turn the slices over to dry for another 10 minutes.  Cool and then store in a tightly covered container.
toasted biscotti