Monday, September 27, 2010

Of Projects and Peaches

It has been an uncertain entrance into fall with some of the 90 degree days we've had so far, but at least all of the rain we did not see all summer is arriving at once. As someone said recently, it will take a whole lot or rain just to get us up to zero and clear the backlog of dryness we have experienced. Let me say that I'm grateful for the rain nurturing the lettuce and cilantro seedlings in the garden. I'm also grateful to have a computer repairman who accepts hot peppers as payment for pc repairs, as mine went crazy after a brief power outage we experienced last week.

In other news, I finally completed the table runner that I had pieced a while ago, with that beautiful April Cornell for Moda charm pack I picked up as a treat.

The pattern is called "Country Charm" and like all patterns, had its quirks. But I really do love the design. This project was my first attempt at free-motion machine quilting with a darning foot that I purchased for my sewing machine. This method allows you to make beautiful curly-cues and circular stitches that would be impossible with your regular foot.

Let me just say this about free motion quilting: It is not for sissies. The combination of keeping the pressure even while sewing at an even speed to ensure uniform stitches is a daunting task. Maybe you get better at it with practice. When done correctly, I can imagine it is both a fast and lovely way to knock out some quilting projects.


What a way to start off the sewing season- with a completed project!

Do you still have peaches in your area? This time last year I was cooking them on the stove top with dumplings, a recipe I still recommend! But this year I found a new peach crumble dessert that we really enjoyed. It was rich and satisfying with just the right blend of delicious. What stuck out to me with this recipe is that it uses an egg in making the topping, instead of the usual oatmeal-sugar-butter crumble mixture.


Peach Crumble
  • 6 cups sliced peeled ripe peaches (the equivalent of canned peaches would work.)
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel (I don't know that this added anything to it, so feel free to omit)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • TOPPING:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
Place peaches in a greased shallow 2-1/2-qt. baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, lemon juice, peel and cinnamon; sprinkle over the peaches.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Stir in egg until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over the peaches. Pour butter evenly over topping. Bake at 375° for 35-40 minutes. Makes 10-12 servings.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

An Herbal Harvest

It seems the drought we've had this summer is causing an early fall. My thoughts are already turning to the things we need to do around here to get ready for the cooler weather. We may be stocked well for some things, but there are still a few items that would make the coming winter a little cozier. I've been shopping for dutch ovens (for the Mister's annual winter camping trip, which I've mentioned here before) flannel sheets (a winter necessity at my house) and I always have an eye out for food storage items (for when the mice arrive).

But for right now, it's all about cleaning out the garden. This year it was one of my goals to harvest my fresh herbs and figure out what to do with them before frost. Now as some of my readers with longer memories may recall, last spring I acquired some new varieties to try out (rosemary, oregano, and lemon verbana) and they have all done fairly well in pots on my front step, and are now safely past the seedling stage.
Those herbs were in addition to my round of regulars- chives, basil, parsley, cilantro, dill, thyme, and lavender. I selected most of these for use in cooking, except for the lavender which just smells good. It's my intention to incorporate a few new ones each year so that eventually I'll have a more well rounded selection. But these are the ones that get used most in my recipes.

One thing I am terrible at is trimming the herbs and harvesting them regularly, which actually helps their growth.

Cutting them and hanging herbs upside down to dry must be the hands-down most popular way to save herbs. Unless you are fortunate enough to have a dehydrator, and then you can use that to dry them. Another less popular method is to densely pack your herbs into ice cube trays, fill with water, and make herbed ice cubes which you can add to soups or defrost later to use the leaves. I tried that in the past (I even tried a complicated method to freeze basil leaves, involving layers of wax paper) but found that after months in the freezer, the herbs no longer retained any iota of taste. What a disappointment! But I did have had success with freezing one herb- rosemary. Whole, on the stem, and just placed in a freezer bag, rosemary stays green and tasty for an extended period of time. This is great since I love to chop its leaves and bake it into bread.

This year I'm drying oregano and thyme, which I'll then place in an airtight container and chop or grind as needed, and the chives will be frozen whole to use the same way.

Lemon is one of my favorite flavors, and my lemon verbana has been so useful. As it grew tall and spindly on its woody stems, sprouting fragrant leaves, I started to ponder ways I could enjoy it even more besides smelling it when I walked by. Of course I've done the obvious, drying some for tea and chopping the leaves into fine bits and sprinkling it on fruit salad. Then I discovered how to infuse it in a sugary syrup, which added to (what else?) lemonade makes for the sweetest and most delicious glass of lemon drink you could ever enjoy. This is one herb that I would consider freezing in ice cubes, because it would be nice to add those cubes to lemonade.

Making pesto is my favorite way to harvest basil, and the one way I've found to retain the most taste with storing basil. Pesto is easy to make in the food processor, and it freezes well. Then, you can simply defrost it and use it in place of sauce on pizza, on baked potatoes, toasted bread, or with pasta. You can make it with or without pine nuts (which are expensive) or use walnuts instead.

By far, my most mysterious herb is dill. One year I planted a half row of Mammoth Dill so I could do a large batch of pickles. This dill was 3-4 feet hight, and we couldn't use all of it, but enjoyed what we could. After the heat got to it and it went to seed, I noticed new dill plants springing up all over our backyard. Even though we haven't planted dill since, I could probably find some growing somewhere on our property right now. It's the herb that keeps on giving. My favorite way to eat it is to put a few sprigs in green salads.

Of course being a gardener, I forever live in "next-year land" and am already exploring some new varieties for next year. And of course, I'd love to hear what herbs do well for you ad what you use them for, so please share!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What I Did On My Summer Vacation


Last week I took some time off to wrap up canning projects, see some family, tackle a few sewing projects, and do about a hundred other things that I otherwise don't have time to do. It feels a little funny when people asked me how I was enjoying my "vacation" since I was not exactly at the beach or taking a trip or anything. But if a vacation can be defined as a break from the daily routine, than that is what the last week had been.

In so many ways this has been both a summer of renewal, and a summer of new discoveries if such a thing can be possible. For the first time I have discovered the joys of reading Anne of Green Gables, yes, at this late date. How did I get to be this old without reading it? Carelessness? Apathy? Negligent parents? Oh sure, it's a famous enough book that I knew all the characters and plot, but had never actually read it from beginning to end for myself. All I can say is, what a treasure those books are. And to think that L.M. Montgomery lamented that she never wrote the one truly great novel that she always wanted to write, even after penning the masterpiece that is Anne.

Also this month, it finally worked out that I could visit with a cousin whom I had not seen for twenty-five years. It's not unusual for me to go long periods of time between visits with my cousins, as our family is geographically scattered far and wide, even on other continents. I have some that I have never seen, and some I only see about once every ten. And on average I meet up with a new one every few years. But when Cousin Grace and I got back in touch recently, we were surprised to see how much we have in common after all this time. After a year of correspondence, we set a date to visit. What a wonderful blessing to renew an acquaintance with someone that you haven't seen in decades only to discover that you still like them as much as when you were fifteen! Cousin Grace chatted constantly in the car as we cruised the country side looking for good deals and hidden bargains, and all the while I kept making wrong turns on all too familiar roads. At the Reuzit shop we discovered our mutual love of rose ticking fabric, and at our lunch we discovered that we both have the same specific form of dyslexia, and lamented how our school teachers never knew what to do with us. In hindsight, a day that will really make memories is one in which you are too involved to pull out your camera and document it. That is what my day with Grace was, and we plan on many more of those days to come.

Then, I took my special birthday coupon to the quilt shop and found the perfect pattern for that fabric I won, planted spinach and lettuce, and am only beginning to clean off my desk which is littered with unopened mail, newspapers, and catalogs. My week at home was symbolic of my desk in that it was not always peaceful, but it was productive.

I also worked on doing a guest post at Saloma's blog. To be honest, that was difficult to write, a real challenge, and yet, important enough to be written. To many of my close friends who read this blog who already know a little about my family life growing up, much of it will not surprise you. And for others, well, lets just say I'm a little nervous about feedback it could generate.

Finally, the last ping of the canning jars happened exactly 24 hours before I was due back to work, providing a chime that signaled the official end of my canning season. What a relief. All the lovely apples were turned into sauce and pie filling, and the last gleanings from the summer vegetable garden are now chow chow relish. As if on cue, you can feel a little crispness in the air these days, bringing in just a touch of fall. Not exactly my favorite season, so you can't pry flip flops off my cold feet until mid-October. But every year I do rediscover that I love a change in the seasons, a new routine, and some rest.

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