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Archive for December, 2011

Handmade Traditions

Every year, the Saturday before Christmas, the entire side of my mom’s family (with a few exceptions of those who are too far away) gathers at my parents’ house to celebrate.  This year there promises to be about 40 of us there.  The youngest will be my 2 week old niece Cassandra, and the oldest will be my 86 year old Grandpa.

First we arrive to appetizers…  my uncle’s notorious nacho cheese and my cousin’s chicken nacho dip, along with one or two cheese balls, cheese and crackers, and plenty of sweets to snack on.  When everyone has arrived, we feast on my step grandma’s chicken and noodles, along with a ridiculous  amount of traditional side dishes, followed by even more desserts!

By the time we’re done eating, the kids can’t wait any longer to open their gifts.  We try to open them in an orderly fashion, but it always ends in chaos!  As I’ve grown older and now have kids of my own, it’s becoming very emotional for me to watch my Grandpa as he just sits back and observes the younger generations with happy tears in his eyes.  His legacy includes 4 children, 12 grandchildren, and 17 great grandchildren (and another one on the way)!

One of everyone’s favorite traditions of this Christmas gathering are the home-made gifts my mom gives to everyone.  She gives each person a “personalized” dessert… banana cake for one of my cousins, rice crispy treats for my other cousins, chocolate cake for my aunt… and so on.  Every year they can count on those gifts, along with my mom’s apple pie in a jar and zucchini relish.  Every summer she turns the overabundance of zucchini from her garden into the highly anticipated relish, and every fall she buys wine sap apples from a local orchard to supply everyone with her amazing apple pie in a jar!

Apple Pie In A Jar

  • 28 cups peeled & sliced apples

    Syrup

  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt

    Mix well.  Add 10 cups water.  Cook until thick and bubbly.  Add 3 Tbsp lemon juice.  Pour over apples.  Fill jars and process in water bath for 20 minutes (or pressure cooker @ 5 pounds pressure for 10 minutes).  Yields about 7 quarts.

Zucchini Relish

  • 5 cups zucchini, shredded with skin on
  • 3 cups celery, shredded
  • 3 cups onion, shredded
  • 2/3 cup green pepper, shredded

     Mix 6 cups water and 1/4 cup salt.  Soak vegetables in salt water mixture for 1 1/2 hours.  Drain and rinse well.

     Heat

  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 2 Tbsp mustard seed
  • 1 tsp tumeric

      When heated well, add to drained vegetable mixture.  Cook for 10 minutes, then can.  (Pressure cooker just bringing up to 5 pounds pressure, then turn off burner.  If using boiling water bath you may need 20 minutes at full boil to seal lids.)

Every year I say I’m going to do more home-made Christmas gifts.  Some years I’m more successful than others.  I thought for sure with the Handmade Holidays going on here at Not Dabbling I would do better this year.  However, as I’ve been focusing on the Dark Days challenge, I’m realizing I’m running out of time yet again!  I’ve at least gotten some great ideas for next year from the girls here at Not Dabbling…  What are you making for gifts this year (or next year!)?

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When I decided to go local and package-free, one of the things I had to do was learn to make sweets, since I have the sweet tooth to end all sweet tooths (sweet teeth?).

This has been a less-than-successful effort. While I’m pretty good with cookies, my quick breads never cook all the way through and I’ve thrown away more pies than I’ve eaten.

I also canNOT get jelly to set. Here’s the whole sad tale (but don’t worry, it has a happy ending.)

Cucumber jelly- fail
I’ve made lots of jam and preserves, but what started me on the whole jelly thing was this irresistible recipe from Dabblings and Whimsey, (how could I resist a blog with “dabbling” in the name, right?) which I found via that preservation goddess Punk Domestics. I mean, whoa, something new to do with cucumbers, amirite?!  Problem: didn’t set, ugly color, because I used evaporated instead of crystal sugar. Probably not enough sugar.

Lemonade from lemons: Sage Advice cocktail
1 oz. cucumber simple syrup
1-2 oz. sage-infused vodka
3-4 oz. sparkling lemonade
garnish with lemon slice, cucumber slice and sage sprig
serve over ice

Apple jelly-fail
Once again, too little sugar?

Lemonade from lemons: Apple leek potato salad with Apple mayonnaise
1/4 cup apple syrup
1/2 cup homemade mayonnaise
1/4 to 1/2 of a whole nutmeg, grated
ground white pepper to taste

Peach jelly-fail (ish)
Using the recipe from the pectin box. This one set, but I apparently boiled it too long, and it got hard.

Lemonade from lemons: Chocolate-covered peach jellies
Reheat, in a double-bottomed pot over very low heat, until completely melted. Pour into glass pyrex baking dish, about 1/2 inch depth. Allow to set again, then cut into 1/2 squares. (Don’t make them any bigger, these are very very rich.) I used those chocolate melting dots that you can buy in the produce section, and coated each square in chocolate. Harden on a sheet of wax paper. My friend’s husband wants to marry me because of these.

 Apple jelly-fail redux
Again, recipe from the pectin box. I put the *@&^$()$%# pectin in after the sugar. (Repeat after me: pectin first, pectin first, pectin first).

Lemonade from lemons: Spiced cider liqueur
2/3 bottle of middle-shelf vodka
1 cup apple syrup
1 cinnamon stick, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 nutmeg, crushed, 1/4 teaspoon whole allspice, zest of 1/4 orange
Mix ingredients together in the vodka bottle. Store in cool dark place for 2-4 weeks. (Another great Christmas gift, decanted into decorative bottles.)

Cucumber jelly candies dipped in white chocolate TADA!
I finally ended up with the item I set out to make. I didn’t give up on the cucumber jelly, and after the peach jelly save, it occurred to me that a cucumber jelly candy in white chocolate would be amazing. And yes, it’s true. I used D&W’s recipe again, but doubled the pectin and kept it at a boil for more than 30 minutes, until it “sat” on a spoon. Several people now getting these for Christmas.

  

Having finally ended up with what I started out to make, I’m feeling ambitious. Next up–green tea jelly! What do you think?

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Here at Not Dabbling in Normal we love to celebrate diversity. After all, we’d all be normal if we weren’t different. So today we have a guest post from a friend that celebrates the holidays differently than those of us here at NDIN. Oh, did I mention she brings a recipe? Probably one of the most celebrated Hanukkah recipes ever? Please welcome Stephanie from The Winding Stitch (and then go make some delicious latkes!!)!

***

We didn’t do much, Jewish observance-wise, when I was growing up, but we always had latkes for Hanukkah. In the Jewish belief system, Passover is the most important holiday, but Hanukkah has a story even a Jewish Atheist like my father can get behind: you don’t let a bunch of  Syrian-Greek invaders push you around, and tell you what you can and can’t do. Also, he likes latkes better than matzah and macaroons.

In our younger years, my sister and I would take turns grating the potatoes by hand, spelling each other when our arms got tired. Grating the onion was always my father’s job, however: he is the only person I know who can grate onions without his eyes tearing up. Once we left home, my father had to grate the potatoes too. “I told your father, you want latkes, you grate the potatoes,” my mother told me during one of our weekly phone conversations.

And grate them he does. One year, when my parents were over my place for Hanukkah, he saw me pulling out the food processor and exclaimed, “ Your grandmother never used a food processor.”

“Believe me,” I told him, “if she knew from food processors, she would have used one.”

He shook his head. “It won’t be the same.”

“So,” my mother called from the living room, “you want latkes, you grate the potatoes.”

(By the way, you can get the same texture with a food processor, or least get close enough for my liking: do the Joan Nathan thing and use the shredder disk and then pulse them with the blade.)

He now fries the latkes too, because my mother finally tired of him standing over her, making sure they would be crisp on the outside and moist (not gummy) on the inside. Texture is key with latkes.

Some years ago, my mother gave me her battered copy of Jennie Grossinger’s The Art of Jewish Cooking. There’s a crease in the spine that corresponds to the page with the recipe for potato latkes. I have a typed and laminated copy of the recipe that I use now, to spare the book. This is our family’s latke: light, crispy, not too eggy, not too dry. As my Grandma Friedman liked to say, enjoy, enjoy!

Potato Latkes

(from Jennie Grossinger, The Art of Jewish Cooking, 1958)

  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups grated, drained potatoes
  • 4 Tbs grated onion
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs cracker or matzoh meal
  • 1/2 cup oil
  1.  Beat the eggs and add the potatoes, onion, salt, pepper, and matzoh meal.
  2. Heat half the oil in a frying pan and drop the potato mixture into it by the tablespoon. Fry until browned on both sides.
  3. Keep pancakes hot until all are fried, adding more oil as required. Serves eight.

Friedman Family Annotations

  • Serve with sour cream, applesauce, and, if you want to be really Old Country, jam.
  • This recipe serves eight only if you’ve got lots of other food people are eating. In my family, it serves four. I always double it (or more) for our annual Hanukkah party.
  • Four or five good-sized potatoes will usually give you three cups grated, but check. One small onion will usually give you four tablespoons grated.
  • Remember, that’s grated, not shredded. You are making latkes, not hash browns.
  • Drain the potatoes over a bowl, then pour away the liquid. Scrape the potato starch out of the bottom of the bowl and add it back into the potatoes.
  • The grated potatoes will turn slightly rust-colored as they oxidize. Don’t worry, they’ll turn white again when they cook. Just don’t let them sit so long that they start to blacken; then you’ll have grayish latkes.
  • The oil needs to be very hot, so use an oil that has a high smoking point.
  • Use two pans if you can; you’ll get done faster. Yes, you’ll use more oil, but you’ll also get to eat them with everybody else, rather than having to sneak one or two while you slave over a hot stove.
  • Flip the latkes once the edges are browned and the middle looks mostly cooked (you’ll see the potatoes whiten, even if they haven’t oxidized much). If you flip them too early, the centers will be gummy. If you flip them too late, the edges might burn or get too crusty. Don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it eventually.
  • Latkes are best right out of the pan, but you can keep them hot in a 200-250 degree oven before serving, if you can keep people from coming into the kitchen and taking them. Don’t let them sit too long, though, or they will lose their delectable crispiness.
  • Yes, your entire apartment or house will smell like cooking oil, even the next day. This is not a bad thing. It’s festive, okay?

Stephanie Friedman is program director of the Writer’s Studio program at the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MA in English from the University of Chicago. She blogs at windingstitch.blogspot.com.

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Be sure to see what our “East” (quotes deliberate!) Challenge participants have been cooking up, in today’s companion post. Here in the (kinda) West, our recappers Jen, Miranda, Xan, and Sage have made their own Seasonal, Organic, Local, Ethical meals.

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Chicago finally made it into winter this week. Here by the lake I (Xan) awoke to the first light dusting of snow for the season just yesterday. Although I think some our neighbors in the western suburbs and a little farther north have had a couple of inches, it’s extremely unusual to have such a late first snow. On the plus side, I’ve still got harvestable chard and parsley, although I did finally have to pull the last of the root vegetables before the ground froze hard. For my first official SOLE meal, I made a lovely heirloom bean cassoulet with local bacon; I confess to Spanish sherry as an ingredient however. The picture of the cassoulet is at Mahlzeit; here’s the bacon! (sorry vegetarians).

***

A bit north of Xan and on the other side of the lake, I (Jennifer), was able to procure some locally raised beef. I’m giddy that my dairy farm also sells their own organically raised pork, beef, and chicken, as well as eggs and raw milk cheese. With the stash of root veggies I’ve saved from the last farmers market days, I put together a nice stew.

It’s not only a healthy, seasonal meal, but inexpensive too! I used leftover stew meat and soup bones to make the rich and hearty meal. I let my stew cook down slowly for at least four hours, until it falls apart although the veggies went in a bit too early this time around. A bit of Michigan red wine was used to deglaze, but some non-local tomato past was added to help keep all those flavors together without separating into oil and broth. I only wish I planned enough in advance to bake up a good loaf of bread from local wheat!

beef stew

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Out in Oregon, I (Miranda) am still struggling with the limitations of temporary apartment (read: a gardener with no garden) living, zip for a food budget and lack of active farmer’s markets. BUT i did pretty well this week with a stew that fed us for at least two days. It’s definitely stew season! Along with Jennifer, several of my western bloggers were cooking up stews this week. I cooked my very FIRST stew, so i feel it worth mentioning despite the glut of stews in the challenge. In my stew i used the last of our locally harvested potatoes, carrots from my mother’s garden in southern Oregon, and grass fed beef raised by an old high school mate of mine (in northern California). I admit to adding onions from the store as we’d used up the last of our homegrowns brought with us from Texas, as well as commercial worchestershire sauce and salt/pepper. I also got the cumin from the store, but the other herbs were homegrown. If you’re having a hard time with this challenge, you’re not alone! I promise i’ll try harder next week to stick to the challenge!

Like Jennifer, i really wished i’d baked some crusty bread to go with it. Instead, i served our stew with some Oregon baked “Dave’s Killer Bread” the first night, and some Corvallis baked sourdough the next.  The best part of this stew (other than the fresh-as-heck meat) was definitely the mushrooms we’d picked and put up in the freezer a few weeks earlier. Nom!

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Well, I (Sage) am obviously “challenged” in more ways than one!  Usually 90% of what we eat comes right off our farm. During the worst drought on record this year our well went dry for six months, so for the first time ever, there was no garden and nothing to preserve. Because of our remote location, our closest farmers market is a four hour round trip. Eating well has recently become a monumental effort.

Aak wall soot

For this week’s SOLE meal I learned that cooking and blogging don’t always go well together. Let’s just say I kind of forgot I was cooking and the meal was burned beyond recognition. (Does this happen to you, too?) It’s something I admittedly do from time to time. However, I was quite surprised to discover my kitchen was also burning! Oops!

Exhaust after fire

Please do not try this yourself–this is NOT the recommended way to brighten the dark days of Winter! Apparently the flames (after melting the stove knobs and scorching the wall) caught the exhaust filter on fire, which melted some wiring and pushed the flames to the cabinets above. It was all quickly put out with a lot of screaming and a couple of pails of water. You know how white kitchens are all the rage now? Gray is the new white. Soot is also an amazing way to discover all those pesky hidden cobwebs left over from Halloween (or earlier holidays).

The weirdest thing is the spring water in a plastic jug about six feet away took on the most rancid taste it had to be tossed, yet the bottle was not deformed in any way by heat. It was as if the water served as some kind of room purifier.

Farmer Rick–who I might add is the most understanding husband on the face of the Earth, loving me through all my foibles, even making me feel good about getting our kitchen remodel, um, started–had just asked me moments before the fiasco what I wanted for Christmas, so it looks like Santa is going to have to fit more paint, a new stove and range hood on that sleigh. Sigh.

***

What did those of you in the “West” group make this week as your SOLE meals?

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Now that we have all of our members on board and people are starting to get their Dark Days Meals up on their blogs it’s time to recap all these fabulous meals. For the EAST group this is our ON week, so the member’s meals are listed below. If you’re in the WEST group, check back later today for the DD meals of your leaders and to see if they’ve posted a recap of your meals on their individual blogs. We apologize if we missed your meal, we’re doing the best we can while still trying to iron out all the wrinkles in this challenge. If you are in this group and don’t see your meal listed below add the links in the comment section. Make sure you e-mail links to your group leader by Wed of each week to make sure it’s included in these recaps.

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OHIO VALLEY with Susy from Chiot’s Run
(photos link to respective blog posts – some have recipes,
to read about each meal click on the photo)

These past two weeks were tasty ones here in the Ohio Valley. My group members were cooking up delicious goodness for sure.

Margo from Thrift at Home made two tasty meals: Macaroni and Romanesco and Crock Pot Stroganoff. Shayla from Life On Fire After 40 struggled a bit and is searching LocalHarvest.org and a few other places to find more local ingredients. She managed to get a nice batch of Butternut Squash Soup going for her first meal.


Allison from The Life of a Novice made oven baked grass fed beef patties, roasted beets and roasted purple potatoes. Gabe from life, from the ground up. made delicious maple pork chops with collar greens (now that sounds like a perfectly southern meal to me even though Gabe is in Ohio).

Jenelle from
Delicious Potager cooked up some wonderful looking Roasted Butternut Chowder with Apples and Bacon her first week and Butternut Squash Carbonara her second week. Learning to love squash is a great way for us northerners to make it through the Dark Days Challenge with ease!

Other Participants, didn’t get meal e-mails from them, I know a few of them are behind & haven’t officially started yet.
Put Em’ Up: A Chronicle of Making Stuff
Our Rural Home
SOLE for the Soul
C & J Homemade
Martha who’ll be adding her meals in the comments

UPPER NEW ENGLAND with Ryan from Phoenix Hill Farm

It is only the second week and I am already inspired by all the SOLE and TASTY meals my group has been cooking up. I am also excited to see how our 100 mile circles overlap in ingredients.

Barbara  from the crowing hen  is looking forward to embarking on this challenge and hopes that she is opened to a new world that will result in great positive changes as when she participated in the 25 Things for Charity. Her first meal was a simple, potato and carrot with a bit of bacon soup topped with green onions and cider vinegar.


Emily  from finicky farmer had my mouth   watering as soon as I opened her blog to see a big picture of a kale, potato frittata. She combined all the seasonal items I love the most and put them into one meal.

Anne-Marie from green(ish) monkey, feeding a family with an assortment of tastes, cooked up Acadian Quesadillas with homemade buckwheat flatbread/ployes, homegrown butternut squash and a great assortment of fixings, all from local farms and her CSA share.

Fred from grown away started his meal off with a too sweet butternut squash soup that he served with a crostini topped in melted cheddar. The main course was a delicious garlic and horseradish marinated sirloin steak with roasted carrot and turnips.

Sherry from the onion flower made bison stew with dumplings with root vegetables and fresh frozen vegetables from her garden.

Lindsay from  eat local 365 had my mouth watering with her step by step guide to making potato gnocchi with tomato sauce served with arugula, beet, and peach salad and some hard cider.

Lella from 31 and holding found the first week easy as she was able to use her CSA ingredients to make a Pan fried cube steak with roasted root beets, carrots, sweet potatoes and potatoes.

Bryne from You Got Me Cooking made homemade tortillas and burritos. Her burritos started with sour cream, then local beef,  Cabot cheese, and home canned peach salsa.

Stephanie from This Little Monkey cooked up some chicken stew and dumplings all from local ingredients that she found when cleaning out her fridge.

Lindsay from 100 Mile Locavores made what she called a truckstop meal, potato and carrot latkes,  with fried egg and maple breakfast sausage, but I’m not sure I have ever been to a truckstop that has made a meal of such quality.

Bethany from prosperous pantry focused on using up her leftovers from her locally sourced Thanksgiving and made a tasty turkey soup. Amy from My Vegetarian Paradise also made a meal from an assortment of leftovers from Thanksgiving.  Kimble from A Localvore Lost in Urbanity used her new meat CSA to make an herb roasted chicken with a turnip au gratin.

Caitlin from Nine Lives n More made chili, served over rice, with corn bread on the side. Rachel from Great Faith in a Seed prepared bacon, slivered cabbage and sweet potato, sliced apples and caramelized onions fried in a cast-iron pan and sauced up with her homemade maple syrup.

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SOUTH with Emily from Sincerely, Emily

Jes (VA) at Eating Appalachia is creating, sourcing and cooking vegan. She rolled up her sleeves and dug into the fridge and freezer to create a mostly local (and beautiful) meal. Pumpkin Cream Pasta with Kale and Chickpeas.

AnnieRei (MD) at AnnieRei Unplugged cooked up a spectacular local salad, sweet potato galette service with local turkey utilizing her local CSA and a local winery too. Visit her blog for links to her local sources.

Monika (NC) at Windy City Vegan has prepared a sprouted tofu with red bell peppers, shitake mushrooms, caramelized onion and shredded roasted brussel sprouts. How about adding some local while miso to toast? Check out her blog and see what she is up to.

Susan (VA) at Backyard Grocery made marinated smoked venison, compliments of her bow-hunting hubbie and made radish chips on the side. Go see her recipes for the radish chips, I don’t know about you, but I am inspired!

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Rebecca (VA) at Eating Floyd has made a beautiful pan fried trout (local!) complete with homemade tartar sauce. She added homegrown roast butternut squash and homegrown canned green beans to her meal. If that wasn’t enough, so look at her beautiful and artistic apple dumplings for dessert.

Liz (VA) at Family Foodie Survival Guide prepared a salad, not just any salad, but a steak salad a la Nicoise! Utilizing foods from their garden and local farmers market and farms. Visit her blog to directly link to her local gems.

Jessica (SC) at Eat. Drink. Nourish.  presented a roasted pork loi with cauliflower, carrots and pearl onions. Using one pot from stove top to oven she has more time to enjoy eating her meal (and her husband only has to wash up on pot!)

Jackie (NC) at Southern Fried Goodness cooked up a huge, I mean HUGE Sunday Brunch/ Blueberry buckwheat pancakes, spinach & cheese frittata  and rounded it off with sausage patties.  Stop by her blog to see where she sources her local ingredients, including organic wheat berries and flour!!!

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Victoria (MD) from The Soffritto has a great organic local grocery near by. She prepared bison patty melts with roasted vegetables with homemade marinara sauce where she used her homemade chili powder. Visit her blog to read about her experience.

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LOWER NE/MID-ATLANTIC with Emily from Tanglewood Farm

Sophie from Late Bloomers Farm has been working with spaghetti squash to start out the season, first in alfredo sauce and then as spaghetti squash latkes – how unique!

Angela from Bumble Lush Kitchen Garden told me that she was making “simple” meals as if it wasn’t enough effort, but honestly her meals seemed just fine and dandy to me! She started with some ground beef stuffed peppers. Her next post was about a delicious looking potato, pepper, tomatillo and spinach omelet, with rosemary. Yum!

Stacey from Fessenden Farmstead has enjoyed pork chops with fig jam from her community garden, and has been using lots of greens from her garden. She also made a beautiful roast chicken with roast potatoes.

Monica from Monica Tries to Cook made a breakfast-for-dinner omelette from local eggs, sausage and cheese. The omelette in the picture was stuffed with sausage.. looked good to me!

It would appear that Karen from Prospect the Pantry is no stranger to cooking with local, seasonal foods. Her entries were amazingly detailed, including turkey hash (I didn’t even know you can make a hash from turkey. Cool!), parsnip pear soup and ginger-scallion fish on a bed of chard and squash. Her posts include beautiful photos and detailed recipes.

Lea and Derek from A Lighter Footprint made a meal of pumpkin pappardelle with sausage bechamel, crimini mushrooms, arugula and roast squash. This meal sounds as intricate as it was beautiful!

Samantha from Listen, Foodie! has diligently eaten local foods, multiple meals a day, including poblano pepper porridge for breakfast and roasted cabbage for dinner.

Shirra from Knit and Be Happy managed to make it to the farmers’ market for her meal which consisted of venison sausage with peppers and butternut squash with rosemary. She also picked up some seckel pears at the market, as well as local honey. She’s a lucky lady to have access to such a nice market.

Jenny from The Suburban Road Less Travelled used brussels sprouts from her local co-op as well as carrots from her own garden to make soup (along with a few other veggies), though she did have an adventure finding her frozen broth, mistaking tomato sauce for it at one point. While she did mention that this wasn’t the best soup she’s ever made, it was a great example of using seasonal foods! The second week she made a meal of locally pastured pork, pulled and mixed with barbeque sauce, and honeyed beets using honey and beets from her own yard!

Kaytee from Gardening to Preserve used her own barbeque sauce to whip up some sloppy joes, but when she discovered she didn’t have bread that fit the SOLE profile she decided to use up some sprouting potatoes to make sloppy joe potatoes! Necessity is the mother of all, eh?

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We hope you enjoy traveling around the regions, reading about the East participants and what they prepared for the challenge. Be sure to click on the links to their blogs to read more about their individual challenges in preparing their dishes. Not only will your read about their individual challenges, but also find some local resources that maybe you didn’t know about.

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I learned to sew when I was 15 or 16 years old. My mom bought me a machine (the same one I still use) and I had some basic lessons from the store where the machine came from – more to familiarize you with your new machine that actually teaching you how to sew. I then started some proper sewing lessons from a family friend. I remember Making a sweatshirt was my first project. In my 20’s I sewed some clothes from time to time and made a few simple curtains for our house. I would patch things too. In my late 30’s I started making napkins and placemats. Nothing fancy, but very functional.

Recently I have taken a few classes to brush up on reading patterns and re-learning techniques like zippers, elastic, shirring and alterations. I found a great teacher and have re-learned some old things and learned a ton of new things as well.

I am not a seamstress, but I am so glad I have a sewing machine (affectionately called “The Dinosaur” – after all it is over 30 years old and weighs about 40 lbs.) I have made many gifts with my old trusty machine and it is time to dust it off and make a few more…  Christmas and wintery napkins for my brother and his kids. Today over at Sincerely, Emily  I have taken a little walk down memory lane about growing up using fabric napkins. I hope the gift of these napkins will create some good memories for my brother and his kids.

When I started making many napkins I decided to make a template out of tag board. With the template I didn’t have to keep the measuring tape out each time I cut a napkin out, I just use the template and cut around it. I had to make a new template and this one was made out of cardboard. Instead of cutting directly around it (it is pretty thick) I used a disappearing ink pen (specially made for fabrics) and traced the outline and then cut. (! Sorry for the TERRIBLE photo – not sure what happened there…)

Template for napkin

I wanted a 17” square finished napkin and I fold under a full inch on each side so my template is 19” square.

Depending on the width of your fabric and shrinkage, and also the size of your napkin, you can usually get 4 napkins in 1 ¼ yard of fabric. Always wash your fabric in warm or hot water BEFORE you do any cutting. Sometimes fabric can shrink quite a bit. You want to make sure that shrinking happens before you start your project, not after. With napkins that isn’t as devastating as it would be if you made a pair of pants. Make it a habit to wash your fabric first.

I am not an expert at sewing (or the proper sewing terminology). “Pictures are worth a thousand words” so if my words confuse you I really hope the pictures will help.

Now that you have cut out your napkins, start by pressing under ½”. Do this on each side. Steam on your iron helps set that fold or you can use a spray bottle with water to mist your fabric before ironing. It is important that those pressed lines hold and create a nice crisp edge.

Press your edges in

Continue around again, pressing another ½” under. Remember to use steam or your spray bottle. You want those pressed fold line to show as we continue on.

Unfold your pressed edges. You are using the fold lines in each corner to cut away a bit of your corner to help create a nicely mitered corner

Showing your cut line & 2nd fold line (dot)

I have drawn on the fabric so you can see the fold lines easier. I have also drawn the 45 degree angle line where you are going to trim the corner of your fabric off. There are two purposes for cutting this corner. You don’t want any fabric to stick out under your mitered corner, but it also helps reduce the bulk of the fabric you have to sew through at each corner.

Your cut

In the two above photos you also see where I have placed a dot – that is the reference point you are using to make your second fold. Stay tuned… that is coming shortly, but I wanted you to notice that reference point now.

Make your first ½” fold again.

Now it is time to use that reference point (the dot) from the above photo. Fold the corner down at a 45 degree angle. The fold line should be on that reference point. Press that fold to help hold it in place.

2nd fold - fold line is on the dot

Fold over ½” again. Your initial pressed lines should help. Your corners should come together and meet creating a nice mitered corner.  Press.

3rd fold and press

I tend to complete one corner at a time before moving onto the next. Pressing along the way to keep all the folds neat.

You are now ready to sew.

I don’t like to start right in the corner.  I start about 1” before the corner. That way, when I come back around I can sew directly over that first inch of stitching, locking in my threads, and end in the corner. There are no rules here, do what ever you are comfortable with.

My starting point

Sew in once continuous line. Pivot at the corners and continue until you have gone all the way around.

Showing overlap as you come around

Trim your ends.

You are done. Mitered fabric napkins.

Are any of you sewing some holiday gifts this years? What are you making? Add a link to your comment if you have posted about it on your blog.

Sincerely, Emily

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Everywhere you turn, these days, we are bombarded by cupcakes. My god there are a lot of cupcake shops. I’m pretty sure this isn’t just a Michigan thing, either. Cupcake station, Cupcake shoppe, Just Baked, etc. etc. etc. They’re everywhere!

While I admit readily (and loudly) to my soft spot for cupcakes, I absolutely cannot stand the crap they sell in most of the shops around here. They’re full of corn products (high fructose and otherwise), vegetable oil, preservatives I can’t pronounce, soy products, and more. Cupcakes are simple, though. They’re cake and icing, and somewhere along the line we decided it was more important to have long lasting baked goods than baked goods containing whole ingredients. The biggest problem with cupcakes, or any cakes, is that they’re difficult to transport.

I would love to gift my family a series of gourmet cupcakes from my personal recipes, but honestly it’s just not going to happen without loads of unnecessary packaging.

There is but one solution…

Whoopie Pies!

The recipe I desperately needed to try today was for a close friend whose birthday is tomorrow. Things she loves? Peanut butter, Sugar and Chocolate… Things that don’t grow in Michigan? Peanuts, Sugar and Cocoa. *sigh* I’m trying to stick to the Dark Days Food Challenge this winter, eating S(ustainable) O(rganic) L(ocal) E(thical) foods. You know, actually, I tried to grow peanuts last year and managed to grow seven of them! It was pretty exciting…

So I managed to find fair trade organic cocoa at our local grocery store, Plum Market, and the cane sugar I used was also organic. The peanut butter is USA grown and organic… Ah well. I tried, right? At least the flour fit the profile, as did most of the other major ingredients.

The recipe I used for the cakes was actually borrowed from the Martha Stewart web site. It was the only recipe I could find online that didn’t include shortening (ew ew ew!) The buttercream filling came from my own brain, but it’s pretty darned basic since it’s an American buttercream. Anyway, I’ll share the recipes below the following amazing delicious inspiring num-num photo…

Whoopie Pie Chocolate Cake Base
Makes 2 dozen sandwiches

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Peanut butter buttercream frosting

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift together flour, salt, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside. Line two baking pans with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Beat until well combined. Slowly add dry ingredients. Mix until combined.

2. Using a 1-ounce ice-cream scoop, (I used a piping bag for mine – they were much more uniform) place cookies onto lined baking pans, twelve per pan. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Repeat with remaining batter.

Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting

3/4 c peanut butter
1 c butter (room temperature)
1 c powdered sugar
1 Tbsp sea salt

Whip together peanut butter and butter until smooth and light. Once thoroughly combined, begin to add the powdered sugar in a few additions, whipping between each addition and checking the texture. It’s pretty easy to get the texture/taste you want. Want more peanut butter flavor? Add more peanut butter.

Spread or pipe 2 tablespoons of frosting onto each of half of the cookies. Sandwich together with remaining cookies. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days… if they last that long. Mwahaha.

Once you’ve assembled your whoopie pies, you can serve them how you see fit. I packaged mine in tiny plastic bags (oh geez… feeling guilty there. ick.) for presenting to my friend Katie (and our other mutual friends) for her birthday.

Have you ever made whoopie pies? There are so many options! What are your favorites?

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.

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