Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Membership drive!

There was a segment on the news a couple of weeks ago about Spam. Although the economy is pretty dismal right now, the workers at the Hormel plant are working overtime, churning out more Spam than ever before. A little research showed that on one day shift, nearly 150, 000 cans were produced!

A high-school classmate of mine posted on FaceBook that he worked a total of nearly 90 hours last week! With all of the layoffs, cut-backs, etc., what company is that busy??? He works in the Armour-Dial plant outside of town...which makes such favorites as vienna sausages.

I have been thinking a lot about this in the last day or so. More and more people are cutting back and really making an effort to feed their families more economically-minded. Spam and vienna sausage-type products are cheap, meat-based replacements for more expensive lunch meats, etc. But you got to admit, they really aren't that good for you in terms of content and ingredients.

Every week, I wait for Tuesday afternoon for the grocery ads to come out. Then I check prices, review my coupons, and stock up. For instance, shredded cheese is 99 cents a bag this week at Hy-Vee... and shredded cheese freezes fantastically! I will probably buy at least 10 bags and throw in the freezer. Imagine all of the homemade pizzas, quesadillas, lasagna, casseroles, etc. that can benefit from a good cheese stash ☺ Being a one-income family, I am working hard and doing my part to feed these guys well!

So... what am I getting at?

My idea is to start a separate, recipe-related blog. I would choose a category, such as "side dishes", each month. Then the members could post recipes related to that category. They could be family recipes, tried-and-true favorites, something you got out of a magazine, etc. Then, throughout the month, we could try the recipes that appealed to us, take photos of our results, and give our family's reaction or rating. The recipes should be family/kid friendly, with practical ingredients. With garden bounties right around the corner, that would be a bonus to incorporate into the recipe suggestions!
At this point, I haven't quite decided on the blog format and the technicalities. First and foremost, I want to see if I have a group of people large enough to make this happen!
So... who's interested?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Strawberry jam

What a fantastic, Spring-y week this was! I was happy to spend time outside (with dirt on my hands) and inside, with the windows open. Even during the rainy times, it was just peaceful to hear the "tap-tap-tapping" on the windows and roof.

This is the time, most every year, that I make homemade strawberry jam. You can get nice, fat red berries for 99 cents/lb or less at the grocery store quite consistently; the small, homegrown ones are REALLY good, but since you add so much sugar to them to make the jam, I prefer using the large, store-bought ones. They are just easier/faster to clean and prepare.

I started with a 4 lb. box of strawberries, which I cleaned in a sink-full of cold water. Then I simply cut off any bad/white spots and the stems.

I decided to puree them in my new food processor instead of slicing them. If you like a slightly chunky jam, you can slice them or use a pastry cutter to crush them. As they cook, they will break down more.

Mmmm... and nice, smooth strawberry puree! What a time-saver!

I did a little bit of math and adapted the recipe found in my trusty Better Homes cookbook. To my largest stockpot, I added the strawberry puree (which was approx. 7 cups from the cleaned 4 lbs of berries), a 4 lb bag of white sugar, a Tbsp butter, and two 1.75 oz. boxes of Sure-Gel (pectin). Stirring pretty consistently, I brought it to a boil. Let it boil for about 2 minutes, then remove from heat.

(Note: Make sure you use a large enough pot while cooking the jam, and continue to stir often. If you fail to do this, it will probably boil over...I had this happen ONCE and it is a horrible, sticky mess to clean up)

Using a wide-mouth funnel (found with the canning supplies), fill your clean jars up to 1/4 inch of headspace. For jam, I prefer to use half-pint jars, but pints will work in a pinch. Wipe the rim of the jar clean, apply the lid/band. Process in a boiling hot water bath for 5 minutes, then remove and allow to cool. (This is how I do it, following my trusty, 8-year-old cookbook. USDA guidelines for home-canners change, so check their website for the most recent recommendations).

Whenever I can something, I always set the hot, processed jars on dishtowels, then cover with another dishtowel as they cool. (This is how my family did it ☺). There is nothing more exciting than hearing all of the little "pop"s as the jars seal themselves. From all of my berries, I think I made approximately 8 pints-worth of jam. I calculate it cost about $1.11 per pint to make ☺

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Hot (digital) dog!

Etsy is an amazing place, isn't it? You never know what you might find. I was surfing around the internet one day, and came across a site that was spotlighting a really fantastic Etsy shop, Hot Digital Dog . This lady makes absolutely adorable, old-timey-looking portraits of animals. She sells prints, but will also make a custom portrait of your pet!

Later on in the day, I was posting in the forums...and as luck would have it, HotDigitalDog made a reply to one of my posts! What are the odds? We talked a bit, a convo was started, and we started scheming up a plan. She sent me the result via email last night...I think it speaks for itself:

I'm sorry, but it DOES NOT get any cuter than that, so don't even try! My idea was for Tiffin to look like a old-time newsie, and her results were even better than I could have imagined ☺ I have always thought Tiffin looks like one of my favorite Muppet characters, Emmet from the 1977 Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas:
With their similar little brimmed-hats, they could be "Brothers":

Check out HotDigitalDog and be prepared to laugh your butt off at the adorability...hey, it's a word!
Have a fabulous weekend, everyone!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Beady buddies

(My little bead-boy from Variation, who just made friend with my post-Easter find from today)

A while back, I stumbled upon a new Etsy shop that I found extremely charming. Though open less than a month at the time, she was pushing 30 sales! I was impressed. Her creations are the type of unique, "why-didn't-I-think-of-that" sort of thing that all of us creators are constantly striving for.

Variation makes little bead-people out of vintage beads and findings. Almost as charming as the people themselves are the PHOTOS on her listings. I can't imagine the time she puts into them. I told her she really needs to start a side-business of selling prints of her images ☺

I LOVE this one in particular! Consequently, she purchased some of my chenille pups, and they seemed to get along very well with her own little bead-friends:

Check out Variation on Etsy and Flickr !


In other goings-on, my husband is working diligently in painting/staining/varnishing and hanging trim for me. Can you believe that we have lived here for nearly 2 years and I have little to nothing hanging on my walls?? I can't wait for the big unveiling so that I can hang up some lovely artwork from my bloggy-friends Bunzi, Mushy, and Jenny . Can't wait for the unveil? I am sure you can scour their blogs and find the trade-details ☺ For now, I must go make some more "balls in shells" for supper!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Balls in shells

Brianna loves to sit up on the butcher block and watch me cook. Last week, I decided to make a big deal out of her cooking supper for everyone! Being 4 1/2, she looked at me nervously and said, "I think I'm going to need some help..."

My beloved Taste of Home magazine has changed it's format. Some changes (such as the ad-free magazine going more commercial) were a big difficult to adjust to. However, there are some new gems to be found in it, as well. There is now a section with a recipe targeted towards kids. The most recent issue had a delicious-sounding recipe that seemed like it would be a fun project for Brianna's first dinner-making experience:

Easy Stuffed Shells

*1 package (12 oz) jumbo pasta shells

*1 jar (26 oz.) spaghetti sauce

*36 frozen cooked Italian meatballs (1/2 oz. each), thawed

*2 cups (8 oz.) shredded mozzarella cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and rinse in cold water.

Place 1/2 cup sauce in a greased 13 x 9 inch baking dish. (We halved the recipe, since we don't need to make that much food!).
Place a meatball in each shell.

Transfer to prepared dish.

Top with remaining sauce and sprinkle with cheese.

Cover and bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake 5-10 minutes longer or until bubbly and cheese is melted.

Mmm... this recipe was fabulous!! It was a really simple cross between lasagna and ravioli. We ate it with garlic bread and salad. Since we only made half the recipe, we had a fun time counting out half the shells and meatballs. Great job, Brianna! This recipe is definitely a keeper ☺

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sincerest wishes

(My favorite vintage postcard, circa 1909)

I hope everyone had a lovely, food + family-filled weekend!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Easter blessings

Back in October, my dishwasher begame very loud while running the wash cycles. I called and found out that our 1 year warranty ran out in April...and with the holidays looming, I decided to put getting it fixed off a while. I mean, it was WORKING (for the most part), and since the warranty was expired, why pay for them to come fix it right away?

So yesterday, after consistent nagging from the husband, I finally got the Sears repairman here. Immediately, he knew what was wrong: the motor/pump was going out of it. The part alone was over $300!! My heart sank. The man told me to hold on a second, he needed to go out to his van to check on something...

"The 700 Club" was on tv, and I sat down on the couch and started to pray. "God, please let there be something...ANYTHING... that he can do to fix it without such an expense. I don't want to pour money into this broken appliance, but we can't afford to go buy a new one, either."

The man came back inside and had news for me. Since our dishwasher is a Kenmore Elite series, the warranty is a bit different. On this specific model, there is a 2 year warranty on the motor/pump only! And we had TWO WEEKS left on the warranty. Isn't God amazing?!

I think sometimes we tend to forget how God works in our lives. Not just at Easter and Christmas, but every single second of every day! I try to remember to thank Him over and over again for everything he has done for me. I hope all of you will, too ☺
As we prepare for the Easter celebration this weekend (and make our grocery runs), I thought I would share a recipe with you that my sister-in-law made with her kids a few years ago. The results are meringue cookies that are crispy and delicious!

1 cup whole pecans
1 tsp vinegar
3 egg whites
pinch salt
1 cup sugar
Ziploc baggie
Wooden spoon

*Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (this is important - don’t wait until you are half done with the recipe!)

*Place pecans in baggie and let children beat them with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces. Explain that after Jesus was arrested, He was beaten by the Roman soldiers. Read John 19:1-3

*Let child smell vinegar. Put 1 tsp vinegar into mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross, He was given vinegar to drink. Read John 19:28-30

*Add egg whites to vinegar. Eggs represent life. Explain that Jesus gave us His life to give us life. Read John 10:10-11

*Sprinkle a little salt into child’s hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into a bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus’ followers, and the bitterness of our own sin. Read Luke 23:27

*Add 1 cup sugar. Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us. He wants us to know and belong to Him. Read Psalm 34:8 and John 3:16

*Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12-15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. Explain that the color white represents the purity in God’s eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus. Read Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3

*Fold in broken nuts. Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper covered cookie sheet. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. Read Matthew 27:57-60

*Put cookie sheet in oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Give child a piece of tape and seal the oven door. Explain that Jesus’ tomb was sealed. Read Matthew 27:65-66

*Go to bed! Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus’ followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed.Read John 16:20 and 22

*On Easter morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice thecracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow! On the firstEaster, Jesus’ followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty! Read Matthew 28:1-9

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bunny Pieces

The days have been getting away from me. I had hoped to have a whole gaggle of bunny-kids in the shop in time for Easter, and here we are nearly a week until E-day!

I did have enough time to get a handful of sweethearts done, and I hope to get them photographed and listed soon...hopefully by tomorrow! That should give me a couple days worth of sales that I can get them shipped out in time for Easter ♥

Today we took the girls to the big egg hunt in our town. Bella's age group (1-2) was first, of course. She got upset and just plopped down on the ground, crying. The parent's aren't supposed to help, but we were kicking eggs her way and trying to convince her to pick them up and put in her basket. She ended up with 2 pieces of candy and vouchers for TWELVE oatmeal cream pies! LOL

Brianna, on the other hand, really got into the action this year. She was very focused and excitedly picked up so many eggs! She got quite a few little candy bars, plus vouchers for a small can of root bear, 4 cartons of chocolate milk, and two bags of chips. She also had a $1 in an egg, which she bought some gum with and shared with us. What a good little girl ♥

We have so many free promotional pictures (plus a set of professional ones) of the girls with chicks, bunnies, and lambs from this year, I may end up doing a whole post dedicated to that soon!!