Monday, August 31, 2009

What have I gotten myself into?

My friends talked me into getting a table at Chester Bowl Fall Fest.

I tried to tell them all of the reasons I couldn't sell bags. I told them it takes too long to cut out all of the fabric. They organized a fabric cutting party so they can help me. I told them I don't want to stand there all alone all day, hawking tote bags. They offered to help me man my table. I told them I don't even have a table. They said they do, and I can use them. Then they talked about putting 3 tables in a u-shape, and covering them with pretty fabric, and then with my bags. My friend Charity works at Maurices Corporate and even asked people in her office what they would look for in a tote bag or purse.

And so, I went to the Chester Bowl office and bought the very last table. Then I bought some graph paper, looked through some catalogs to figure out the perfect tote bag size, and set to work making a pattern.

And here is my prototype. I found a couple of pattern issues, but they're easy to correct and I think that pattern #2 will be perfect.

This is the inside. See the zippered pocket? I wanted to add more pockets, but friends, I have to sew at least 20 of these by September 19. I have to keep it simple.

And this is tote #2. Same pattern. I made the pattern so that I take 1 yard each of two different fabrics and make mirror image totes. Does that make sense? So one bag takes one yard of fabric.

These two yards are Amy Butler. I always look at these two fabrics and swoon. I am really excited to make a bunch of bags in combinations I have been imagining. I have so many swimming around in my head right now!

I am going to make a bunch of these kid totes, too. They are perfect for a coloring book and a box of crayons, or a few books, or some guys, or a water bottle and some snacks. The possibilties are endless. I am making some in Halloween prints so they can go out trick or treating.

I am kind of scared about this whole thing. I will have to sew a bag every day from now until Fall Fest in order to have 20 totes for adults. Plus I have to squeeze some kid totes in there, too. Good luck to me!

If you're at Fall Fest, come and visit. I'll be looking for you!

Friday, August 21, 2009


Oh, how I had been dreaming of making pickles!

Nora and I got up really early on Saturday and went to the farmer's market in search of pickling cucumbers. I bought 2 pounds, but we ate those all up that same day! Crunch, crunch!

And so on Wednesday, I got up really early and went back, hoping to buy many more. Except that there were none. Fortunately, one of the farmers told me she was planning to harvest on Thursday. So I gave her my phone number.

Today, she called! It totally made my day. I have had a bottle of vinegar and a box of pickling salt sitting on my kitchen counter for over a week.

So this afternoon, we ventured out to the farm to pick up 1/4 bushel of pickling cucumbers. Luckily, the farm was not far from our house.

When we got home, we scrubbed the kitchen sink and then filled it with teeny tiny cucumbers and cold water.

Nora helped me scrub the little buggers with a vegetable brush (she scrubbed one and then asked if she could eat it). Then I cut off all of the blossom ends because I read somewhere that they contain an enzyme that makes pickles get mushy. Which sounds pretty gruesome.

Then, we put 10 pounds of ice into our camping cooler, put the clean cucumbers on top, and poured in some water. The cucumbers swam around in this icy bath for several hours while we walked next door to pick grape leaves, dill and raspberries.

Don't they look so eager to help me? Actually, they did an amazing job. We set up an assembly line, with a bowl each of peeled garlic, grape leaves and dill heads. Each girl put these into five jars, for a total of ten jars, and then filled them up with icy cold cucumbers. (FYI I also read in several places that grape leaves ensure crunchy, crispy pickles.)

While the girls played with Polly Pockets, I boiled the brine and ladeled it into the jars, then put on lids and did a 5-minute process. I also had to call my mom in to rescue me when I ran out of brine and had no more vinegar. She brought a bottle over even though she was busy with other things.

You're supposed to wait 8 weeks to try them, but I am not sure I will make it that long. I really want to go try one now, even though they are still warm, and warm pickles don't sound that great. I'll let you know how long I can contain myself and how they taste.

I am already dreaming of pickle spears and hamburger chips. Though that might have to wait until next year.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lots of Baking

I am so thrilled that my freezer is full of strawberries and raspberries! My kids love frozen berries and I love smoothies, plus I love baking. Clearly.

So my parents have a little raspberry patch that is absolutely bursting right now. Every other day, we go out and pick big bowls of berries. So it only made sense to make a raspberry dessert for Sunday dinner.

I chose this gorgeous raspberry white chocolate cheesecake with homemade raspberry syrup. It was incredible! Except that it only used 2 cups of raspberries and hardly made a dent in the harvest.

On Monday morning, my mom showed up at my house with 2 dozen canning jars, including a dozen jam jars. And so I planned to make raspberry jam in proper sized jars.

This morning, though, Dana begged to make a raspberry pie. She even got out a big sheet of paper and "wrote" out a recipe for raspberry pie and then set to work getting the ingredients together. She filled a bowl with hot water, mixed in 2 cheddar bunnies, and started heading for the sugar. Adorable as it was, I couldn't allow her to proceed. I know of no pie that calls for a gallon of water.

But I did know a recipe that called for no water and four cups of raspberries. Dana did most of the mixing. She is becoming quite skilled at mixing, and didn't even mash up the berries.

Now, I must have rolled my crust a bit thin, because I had a big ball of dough left over after making this pie. So after I got it in the oven, I rolled out the leftovers and lined my mini pie plate. Then I went rummaging in the fridge and found some blueberries.

And, since I only had enough dough for a single mini-crust, I made a crumb topping.

Tonight, after dinner, I sliced the pies and passed dessert plates out. I set Dana's down on the table and she gave me a very concerned look. I was truly expecting joy, as I had spent the hottest day of the year baking this at her request. Instead, she said, "I don't know if I like this. I wanted to make it for everyone else." Which made me simultaneously annoyed and very happy. Because I myself don't really love pie, but my two blonds adore it, and it makes me happy to bake their favorite desserts. I know exactly where she's coming from, this wee one.

Anyhow, I have enough berries to make a batch of jam, hopefully tomorrow.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sour Cherry Slab Pie

Yesterday I realized that my parents' sour cherry tree was full of ripe fruit. I am almost positive they love growing fruit for me to steal, so I did just that. I got out the step ladder and picked every single cherry I could reach. My dad wouldn't let me get all dangerous and dumb and made sure I didn't stand on the second to highest step, which was clearly labeled "Do NOT stand on or above this step!" Is it sad or funny that my dad still had to keep an eye on me while I picked cherries? Anyhow, there are still cherries on the top of the tree, but only birds and people over 5' 3" can reach them.

I think they look quite cheerful in my colander. Little do they know they are about to be turned into a sour cherry slab pie...

OK, I know this doesn't look like much straight from the oven. I mean, anything could be inside. But trust me: it gets better.

See? Tell me that doesn't look like a little bit of heaven!

I used the Smitten Kitchen all-butter pie crust recipe, which is unbelievable. And the tart filling pairs so perfectly with a sweet-tart glaze of confectioner's sugar and lemon juice. Oh, man! I think I ate three slices of this stuff today.

I love this concept of a slab pie. I am looking forward to trying other fillings now that pie crust doesn't scare the heck out of me. Goodbye, waistline!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Raspberry Jam

Last week, Kevin's parents picked us 30 pints of raspberries from his Aunt Linda's farm. I cannot begin to tell you how excited we all were about this! We love raspberries in this house. In fact, Nora sat down and ate an entire pint herself immediately.

I know you only counted 29 pints. Remember what I just told you about Nora?

We ate many, many fresh raspberries, but 30 pints is a whole lotta berries. I froze about 2 billion berries for future use, and then I made jam.

I have to tell you that the recipes out there on the world wide web are sort of scary. They include ratios like 4 cups of berries to 6 cups of sugar. Why not just eat candy? I finally found a recipe that called for 4 cups of crushed berries to 3 cups of sugar.

See my "new" canner? My friend Tracy told me someone was offering a hot water canner on Freecycle, so I emailed the offerer and somehow managed to snag this for free! I have been dreaming of jam, pickles, canned peaches and green beans ever since.

Two cups of mashed raspberries. I enjoy mashing berries with my potato masher. Why is it so fun to squish them up?

I obviously used a cooked jam recipe. Basically, I heated up 4 cups of mashed raspberries over medium heat. When it was hot, I added the 3 cups of sugar. Once it came to a boil, I stirred and stirred for about 15 minutes, and then I poured it into the hot jars for processing. Pretty easy!

I thought I had jelly jars, but it turned out I had pint jars. I ended up with 6 pints of jam, which should last us a while!

And take a look at the Raspberry Incident of '09. It's good for a laugh.