Category Archives: Homekeeping

All things for establishing and maintaining your home oasis

Have You Tried Wool Dryer Balls?

Wool dryer balls – the greatest thing to happen to laundry since the invention of the washer and dryer!

Ellie’s Best Wool Dryer Balls

I am a bit of a tree hugger, but I draw the line at sacrificing quality or efficacy when looking for eco-friendly cleaning solutions.  A few years back I went thru a phase of trying every “green” laundry detergent and fabric softener I could find – even making my own.

I discovered it’s not eco-friendly when you have to wash something twice because your all-natural detergent stinks.  And it was rage-inducing when crazy expensive, “green” dryer sheets repeatedly left grease stains all over my clothes.  I can’t use liquid fabric softener because we are on a septic system (and hey, I guarantee you your municipal water supplier doesn’t appreciate you using it either), and dryer sheets have their own drawbacks.

One, they coat the sensors in your dryer with a waxy film.  Unless you wipe the sensor strip(s) down before every load, your dryer can’t tell if your clothes are dry or not.  It then runs waaaay past the point it needs to.  Hard on your clothes and your wallet.  Two, I’m not super keen on coating all my clothes – and thus my body – with all those petrochemicals.

I recently saw an advert for wool dryer balls and thought, “what the heck is that?!”  Never heard of ’em.  A few minutes on “the Googles” told me they are all the rage, and for good reason.  I was skeptical, but I bought a set of 4 to give ’em a whirl, and immediately bought 4 more after using them.

These babies are little woolen miracle balls!

What are they?  Wool dryer balls are tennis ball sized dealios made of felted wool.  You pop them in the dryer with your clothes (4 for a small load, 6 for a medium load and 8 for a large/bulky load).

How do they work?  They tumble around with your clothes, absorbing a bit of moisture, but mostly keeping your clothes tumbling freely.

What’s in it for you?  LOTS!

  • Your clothes will dry faster. The dryer balls keep your clothes from clumping and twisting together.  Free-tumbling clothes dry faster.  Faster is not only cheaper, but it’s better for your clothes because the most wear and tear your clothes receive is in the dryer.
  • Your clothes come out WAY less wrinkled.  Again, this is because your clothes will be tumbling much more freely.  I hate wrinkles and religiously iron, and I can’t believe how much less ironing I’m doing.
  • Your clothes come out softer than with fabric softeners.  Not kidding – baby bunny soft!  Even jeans and towels.
  • They are safe to use on towels and other items that should NEVER be treated with fabric softener.  The balls don’t coat your laundry with anything, so there’s no need to separate out loads by what can and can’t have fabric softener.
  • No need to constantly stop the dryer to untangle stuff.  There’s nothing worse than taking out a set of sheets to find half of them dry and the other half wadded in a damp ball.  Major time waster!  Even our king sized flannel sheets tumble so much better.
  • No need to clean the dryer sensor strips each load to eliminate wax buildup.  Wool dryer balls deposit nothing on your clothes or your dryer.
  • 100% eco friendly and a renewable resource. No petroleum products, no perfumes, no waxes, no trees leveled, no plastic jugs, no greasy goop going into your or your town’s septic system.
  • Way, way cheaper than fabric softener.  These babies last for hundreds of loads.

There are no “downsides” that I can think of.  I was a little concerned they would “beat up” my clothes, but haven’t seen any evidence of that.  I’ve been using them for a few months, so I think I would notice if that was happening.

I was also afraid they would be hard on my dryer or make a ton of noise.  They are very soft and very light.  Yes, you can hear them if you are near the dryer, but they are no way clobbering your machine or making a racket.

I bought Ellie’s Best brand dryer balls, but there are many brands, even some handcrafted ones on Etsy.  And if you are crafty, you can probably whip up some for yourself.  However you get them, GET SOME!  Even if you don’t care about the eco benefits, this is a superior product.  Full stop.

Peace lovelies! E <><

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Quick Tip: DIY FREE Potscrubbers

Every once in awhile two problems collide to solve each other…

Problem one:  I love my hand crocheted washcloths because they are fun to make, easy to clean/sterilize and gentle on my dishes.  They are, however, useless when confronted with a stuck on mess.  I refuse to use plastic scruffies because they are expensive, impossible to sterilize so they quickly get nasty, and fall apart after a couple uses.

Problem two:  I am on a mission to reduce the amount of plastic in my life.  I am obsessive about recycling, and I hate it when something plastic has to go in the trash.  So, a few years ago when I started buying shallots in 1lb bags at my warehouse club, I hated throwing out the rather substantial plastic bag they come in (the purple netting above).

Then inspiration struck…

Those plastic netting bags are the PERFECT substitute for a plastic scruffie!

You can fold them into whatever size square you need.  I sometimes insert my washcloth into the bag to create a combo scrubby-washcloth.

When you are done, they unfold completely to quickly and easily clean in soapy water.  They dry practically instantly so NO opportunity for germs, bacteria, mold, etc. to grow!

If I use them on something particularly germy or greasy, I just toss them.  I keep a little bag of them under the sink and grab one whenever I need a bit of scrubbing power.  All kinds of things come in these plastic mesh bags – garlic, citrus fruits, avocados, onions, etc..  I bet you throw out at least one of these a week.

I just LOVE finding a way to reuse something that would otherwise end up in the trash!  Enjoy…  E <><

Holiday Decorating Tips

I REALLY love decorating my home for the seasons and holidays.  Over the years I’ve developed a system that makes it easy and fun and hopefully keeps things looking fresh and festive.  Here are some tips to get your holiday decorating going:

Keep Your Stuff Organized

If you don’t know where stuff is or it’s hard to get to, the whole process is just frustrating and “unfun”.  Have separate, labeled, clear plastic bins for each holiday or season.  Using clear bins is essential so you can quickly see what is in each bin without having to open or rifle through it.  Keep your eye out for sales – Walmart and Target often have storage bins on deep discount.

Bonus tip:  if your closet space is tight and you find a magical arrangement that gets the most stuff in there – take pictures!  When you start taking boxes out to use them, you will never remember how they go back in!  Don’t ask how I know that…

Clear Bins are key – you can see what is inside without having to open or empty the bins

In each bin keep a list of its contents – putting things away goes so much faster when you know what fits in each box!

Store your collections together.  I am obsessed with trees and I keep them all in one big bin.  This way, when I put out my arrangements I don’t waste time looking for a specific tree and I’m never surprised by a random tree that I now need to rework a vignette to include.

My trusty work table with the “Trees” bin unpacked and the rest of the bins ready to be unpacked. I DID say I’m obsessed with trees, didn’t I?

Clear the Decks and Create Space to Work

One of the best things I’ve done to make seasonal decorating easier is buy an adjustable, folding table from Costco (see above).  It easily slips in the closet when not in use, but it gives me a great place to plop stuff as I unpack without worrying about scratching my dining or coffee tables.  And it adjusts to a comfortable height to work from (bending over a coffee table to pick out tree ornaments is no bueno on a middle aged back).

When decorating a space completely clear off the area you are working on (you can see above my mantle is ready for its Christmas gussying).  This is a great chance to take a damp cloth to all your everyday tchochkes and give your shelves, etc. a good wipedown.  It also gives your eye space to imagine a new arrangement.  If you leave a big picture or object in place you will be “working around” it and you might not get to the best arrangement.

bonus tip:  I no longer hang anything on the wall over my mantle.  I place large objects like pictures and mirrors on the mantle and lean them into the wall.  This way, I can take everything off and I don’t have some clashing painting looming over my holiday mantle, or a hole in the wall I need to disguise when I take it down!

Shake Things Up

It’s easy to fall into a rut of “tree goes here, baby Jesus goes here, advent calendar goes here” but fight that urge!  Your old favorites can seem new and fresh if you use them differently each year.  I always do a slim tree in the kitchen decorated simply with food themed Old World Christmas ornaments.  Last year I swapped in a new white tree and wow!  My ornament collection popped right out and the whole thing looked so much better in my white kitchen!

Do you have a “village” collection that always gets plopped out in the same location in the same layout?  C’mon!  That thing is a giant Fisher Price playset begging to be played with! I have a large collection of Snow Village and I move it all over the house.  Last year I didn’t use the houses at all – I created mini vignettes with my people, cars, trees, etc. on silver serving platters and placed them around the house.  That was so FUN!

Here are a few snaps to show how things have moved around our house the past few Christmases –

Dining room buffet 2014

 

Dining Room Buffet 2015 – as you can see a fabulous mirror from Ikea joined our family in 2015

 

Several years saw parts of the Snow Village on the mantle or the hearth.  Wow – that ugly brick really needs to be painted… : (

 

 

Items from previous year’s dining room decor sparkle on the 2015 mantle

 

2016 Mantle – I swapped out the Merry Christmas sign and the creches and this display worked through January

 

A few Easter and Halloween looks –

Easter tree in the Kitchen – which had just done duty for Christmas in the front hall with little glass Cardinals clipped to its branches

 

Easter Mantle – I found those “chocolate rabbits” last year and went to heaven!

 

Easter Mantel

 

Easter Dining Buffet

 

Halloween mantle 2015.  See? the permanent art on the wall is CLASHY!

 

Halloween Mantle 2016

 

Halloween Dining Buffet 2017

 

Hall Bench 2017 – I put up the leaves in Sept and the Happy Halloween blocks in Oct

 

Halloween Mantle 2017

Spread the Love

Put little pops of joy everywhere, especially places that are “just for you”.  Sure you hope friends and visitors enjoy your decor, but at the heart, your holiday and seasonal decor is for you and your family to enjoy.  A Christmas tree in your bedroom seems luxurious, but can be had on the cheap.  Walmart, Target, Michael’s and Hobby Lobby all ofter a few inexpensive prelit trees – you just have to jump on it early in the season.  I also collect mini creches and I always keep a few over my kitchen sink – a bit of cheer while doing the dishes!

Swap out your kitchen linens, coffee mugs, hand soaps, salt & peppers, etc. for seasonal ones.  These little touches make “everyday life” more fun.  I have a large collection of holiday coffee mugs that I love, love, love, and I swear coffee tastes better in a mug that tickles my soul.  HomeGoods and TJMaxx are your friends if you want to score some great holiday mugs, bowls and serving pieces dirt cheap.

Two of my fave Easter mugs. Those cotton tails slay me every year!

You don’t have to gut your home of all your “everyday” decor to make it look festive or seasonal.  Adding a bit of Christmas greenery to your existing displays or a few fairy lights here and there makes a world of difference.  Swapping out one little thing makes everything else look fresh and seasonal…

I swapped in a bunny catchall on my nightstand for Spring/Easter

 

a shelf gets a bit of Easter cheer by popping in a painted egg that matches the items that normally live there

 

Edit, Edit, Edit!

Don’t be afraid to say goodbye to things that don’t bring you joy.  Some things are classics you use forever, but many things wear out or just start looking dated and sad.  That’s okay – give it a mental hug, thank it for making your home festive in the past and pass it on to someone else (or toss it if it’s just gotten tatty).  Nothing sucks the joy out of your holiday decorating like a few things you feel “obligated” to put out but just don’t like.  Why do that to yourself???  And this goes triple-double for stuff people have given you.  If you don’t like it or it doesn’t “go” with your stuff, give it away!!!

I do a “gut check” every year as I unpack everything and again as I put stuff away.  If I’m not excited about putting something up, it goes in the giveaway bin.  And after the season if I feel something has “run its course” it goes in the giveaway bin, not back in storage!!!

Bonus tip:  Don’t give people decor gifts.  Just don’t.  The chance of your picking out something they will love and that will work for them is nil.  Most people will feel obligated to use your gift, so you’ve just given someone the gift of guilt and unhappiness.  Probably not what you meant to do.

Keep tweaking till it sings.  Don’t knock yourself out trying to get it all perfect in one pass.  If something looks off with a display and I can’t figure out why, I walk away from it.  I let it sit for awhile and look at it from different angles and in different light.  I keep moving things around, adding (and probably more helpful) subtracting things until I love it.  Don’t get frustrated – decorating is a creative way to celebrate the seasons and holidays.  It’s not a competition and you shouldn’t be doing it to impress others.

Build your collection of decor items slowly and thoughtfully.  Don’t buy something just because it’s cheap or it “goes”.  Empty space is far better than space filled with “meh” stuff you don’t really love.  A house full of “meh” is sad and you will feel that.  If you are not palpably excited to bring something home, leave it in the store and your $ in your wallet.

So how about you?  What’s one thing you can display differently this year?  What needs to be bid a fond adieu from your collection?  I hope I’ve given you some tips you can put into practice this Christmas and throughout the coming year!

Coffee Reheating Hack

Coffee has a profoundly special place in my life.  If I saw irrefutable proof that coffee shortened your life by many years, I’d be like “see you soon, Jesus!”  Yep, I’m one of those crazies who buys fancy beans, grinds ’em herself in a fancy burr grinder, and brews it all up in fancy ways that use precise combos of time and temperature to get the best cuppa I can.  I even have a way-too-big (not really) collection of seasonally appropriate coffee mugs, because TRUTH coffee tastes better in a cute cup!

These are a few of my Easter mugs – that cotton tail kills me!

Sadly, I am also an easily distracted piddler who always abandons said perfect cuppa long before it’s finished.  For many reasons I hate thermal mugs, so it’s off to the microwave.  But, haven’t you noticed that a cup of coffee reheated in the micro tastes, um, well, gross?  To me it just gets burnt and flat tasting, which is hella disappointing considering the drama I go thru to make that cup!

I was pondering why that happens and it hit me.  Coffee is pretty sensitive.  It has to be brewed at very precise temperatures – too low and you’re losing out on flavor compounds and body, too high and you may as well drink charcoal water.  What if, when I’m reheating my cuppa in the micro, I’m overheating it and torching the flavor? BINGO!

I tried reheating my coffee at 40% power for the shortest amount of time necessary to get it drinkably hot.  Et voila!  That gently reheated coffee tastes exactly like it did when I first poured it, not like nasty ol’ burnt leftover coffee.  Here’s what I do:

  • heat the coffee at 40% for 30 seconds – STIR!  The microwave doesn’t heat your items evenly so stirring prevents flavor ruining scorched areas.
  • Repeat for 20-30 second intervals till your coffee is the temp you like.  Try it – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
  • Bonus tip:  if you’re not brewing your coffee into a thermal carafe, the minute your coffee finishes brewing TURN THE MACHINE OFF!  No good comes from leaving coffee on a scorching hotplate for any length of time.  You’re better than that!

Happy coffee drinking, friends!

FreshWorks – Miracle Boxes for Your Produce

freshworksY’all need to get yourself a set of these babies, STAT! (as ever, my product reviews are my own, unsolicited opinions – I don’t get anything for sharing about products I love).

Some people impulse buy in the candy aisle or the shoe department.  Not me.  I impulse buy in the produce aisle.  Those jumbo boxes of baby greens at the warehouse club are my crack.  Trays of Persian cukes, bags of organic sweet peppers, sleeves of sugar peas and haricots vert.  Can’t get enough.  And a Farmer’s Market?  Forget it – I will come home with my own weight in everything available.  Since it’s just the man and me, that means a lot of delicious, mostly organic, expensive veggies find their way into our compost bin.  Those baby greens are the worst.  You know what I mean – you open the bin, take out a few cups, go in there the very next day and blammo – slime city.  So frustrating.

Enter the FreshWorks bins.  I saw an ad for them and ordered a set from Costco. I figured if they didn’t work I would take advantage of Costco’s very generous return policy and get my $ back.  The set was $30 (currently on sale for $24!) and included 2 large bins and one medium bin.  The large bins hold 1 lb of baby greens (those big tubs they sell at the warehouse clubs) or 2 heads of butter lettuce or a large head of Romaine.  The medium bin holds a pound of green beans, sugar peas or a quart of berries.  I have a counter depth fridge (which I hate), and the two large bins fit on one shelf, front to back, with space left over, so not tooooo much of a space bully.  As I eat stuff down I combine different types of produce in one bin.

These things are MAGIC!  You actually get to eat all the baby greens!  The remains of 3 huge heads of butter lettuce and romaine I got at the CSA 2 weeks ago are still crisp and green.  The last few sugar snap peas I bought 2 ½ weeks ago were sweet and crunchy in our salad tonite.  My sister told me she got one and it kept raspberries fresh for 2 weeks.  I don’t know what kind of voodoo the magic membrane in the lid conjures, but it keeps produce fresh for days and days.  My guess is it keeps carbon dioxide in and oxygen out, but who cares?  It keeps your produce fresh and tasty and out of the compost bin!

Bird Feeding Tips – Keeping “Undesirables” Out of the Feeders

We have an amazing assortment of birds who come to our backyard and porch feeders.  I keep a list going in my bird guide and to date we have seen over 30 species in our yard!  Unfortunately we also have a few four-legged, furry varmints who try to horn in on the goodies.  We’ve had good results with three different types of “squirrel proof” seed feeders.  As ever, my opinions are my own – I receive no compensation or perks for any of my product reviews.

  1. Woodlink Absolute II Squirrel Proof Feeder:  This big boy holds over a gallon of seed and is pretty much squirrel proof.  The perch bars are spring-loaded so anything heavier than a bird pressing on them lowers doors over the seed trays.  The occasional smartyboots realizes he can lay flat on top and streeeeetch down and around to get his paws on a few seeds.  But for the most part the tree rats are thwarted.  Deer however, are another problem.  They just stroll up and lick the seed out of the tray.  Deer don’t like walking through tall bushes or grasses (I guess they are afraid a predator could be hiding in there) so we situate the feeder in the midst of perennials they don’t like, and that cuts down considerably on deer feeding.
    We keep this big boy tucked in the perennial garden to keep birds fed and deer at bay

    We keep this big boy tucked in the perennial garden to keep birds fed and deer at bay – even on snowy winter days.

     

  2. Brome Squirrel Buster Classic:  This large hanging feeder is awesome!  It holds about 1.5 quarts of seed so we don’t need to refill it every day, it vents the seed tubes to keep the seed safe to eat, and the design keeps the vermin away.  The outer metal cage is spring-loaded so if anything heavier than a bird lands on it or hangs on one of the perches, the cage slides down and closes over the seed cups.  I’ve watched squirrels jump on it and boo hoo, no seed for you!
    With four staggered perches there's plenty of room for hungry babies to hang out and wait for Dad to rustle up some grub

    With four staggered perches there’s plenty of room for hungry babies to hang out and wait for Dad to rustle up some grub

    Let's not think too hard about what's actually going on here! #kindagross

    Let’s not think too hard about what’s actually going on here! #kindagross

  3. Brome Squirrel Buster Mini:  This is the first Brome feeder we bought and it also works great.  It too is spring-loaded so anything heavier than a bird drags down the outer cage and closes the seed cups.  The only drawback is its size – it only holds 3 cups of seed, so we were filling it daily, sometimes twice daily.
    Male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

    Male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

    House and Goldfinches share the feeder

    House and Goldfinches share the feeder

We also like to offer suet to the birds year ’round.  At first the squirrels and the resident ‘coon ate us out of house and home, but then we discovered suet made with Cayenne Pepper.  This kind costs a few cents more so shop around for the best price (our local Ace Hardware consistently has the best price, and sometimes I even catch a sale).  Mammals hate its spicy taste, but birds do not have any pain receptors for capsaicin (the chemical that makes peppers hot) so they couldn’t care less about it.

We soon discovered, however, another type of “undesirable” at the suet feeders:  birds that are not true suet eaters!  Finches, cowbirds, thrashers and others sat at the suet cakes and tore them apart to get at the seeds inside, scattering most of the suet on the ground.  We were going through 3 or 4 of these pricey suet cakes a week, so it was very annoying to see so much waste.

While we were at our local Ace stocking up on black sunflower seeds and suet cakes we spied a funky looking suet feeder, the Songbird Essentials Recycled Upside Down Suet Feeder.  As you can see this feeder is a little recycled plastic house with access to the suet only on the bottom.  We could not imagine how a bird was going to flip upside down mid flight to get at the suet, so we read some reviews and other users swore the birds quickly figure it out.  Indeed they do.  Only true suet eaters are capable of or “like” feeding upside down, so this feeder perfectly suits the birds you want at the suet feeder – woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, wrens, bluebirds and the like.  As a bonus, the squirrels can’t get at it either, so we can forgo the extra expense of the hot pepper suet!  We are now going through about a third of the suet cakes we used to, so this baby paid for itself in about 3 weeks.  Win, win, win!  Here’s a few of the beauties who now have exclusive use of the suet feeder:

Female Downy Woodpecker

Female Downy Woodpecker

 

Male Downy Woodpecker

Male Downy Woodpecker

 

Baby Boy Downy Woodpecker - even the babies figured it out!

Baby Boy Downy Woodpecker – even the babies figured it out!

 

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

 

Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

 

Black-Capped Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

 

Carolina Wrens are my heroes. They are small but mighty, curious, industrious and they do things their own way. This guy was not injured - he was just having fun!

Carolina Wrens are my heroes. They are small but mighty, curious, industrious and they do things their own way. This guy was not injured – he was just having fun!  Like he was working on his Triangle Pose while grabbing a snack.  Don’t you just want to rub that fuzzy buff tummy?

 

Container Gardening & the Perfect Grape Tomato

Juliet Grape Tomatoes

Juliet Grape Tomatoes – plump, firm and perfectly tomato-y!

I am not much of a gardener, but I simply couldn’t do without my little container garden that I cram into the only corner of our back porch that gets any sun.  I love being able to nip out while I’m cooking and grab a handful of fresh basil, oregano, mint, lemon thyme, rosemary or parsley.  This year I added dill, cilantro and Mexican tarragon to the gang.  I have no idea what Mexican tarragon is, but it looked irresistible with its tiny golden flowers.  I also upgraded to new containers this year – some faux half barrels that I found at Lowes.  They are cute, sturdy, and the price was right!

The real tip I want to pass on here is a recommendation for a fabulous grape tomato that is perfect for container gardening – Juliet.  I have grown Juliet the past two summers and couldn’t love her more.  She produces gobs of tomatoes in grape-like clusters.  The fruit is firm and easy to slice, with a minimum amount of um, I believe “jelly” is the polite term (aka tomato snot), and the flavor is excellent.  The fruits are thumb sized and resemble wee little San Marzanos (see above).  The Park seed catalog classifies Juliet as a “saladette” tomato – somewhere between a grape and a Roma.  Never heard that term before!

Because they are so sturdy and don’t have gobs of jelly, they are perfect not only for salads, but also for roasting, sautéing for a quick pasta sauce, topping a pizza, or just dunking them, still warm from the vine, in blue cheese dip and popping in your mouth.  Heaven!  The sturdy, fleshy fruits last for about 2 weeks in a bowl on the counter – which is good because one Juliet will produce a good pint of tomatoes per week for about 4 months.   My porch doesn’t get a ton of sunlight, so just imagine how she would produce in full sun!

Juliet is not a common variety around here, but I have found plants at both Lowes and Walmart, and you can buy seeds from Parks.  I use organic garden soil which contains fertilizer that is supposed to last 3 months, so mid Summer I start feeding all my plants with Alaska Fish Emulsion (very smelly, do not get that stuff on your hands!), and the tomato gets the occasional dose of Epsom salts and finely crushed eggshells (use a spice grinder).  This year I am going to try Alaska Vegetable and Tomato Dry fertilizer, which has all the fishy goodness of fish emulsion with lots of the calcium tomatoes really need around here.

Juliette produces thumb size tomatoes in grape clusters

Juliette produces thumb size tomatoes in grape clusters

 

Even in partial sun Juliette is a vigorous producer

Even in partial sun Juliette is a vigorous producer.  As the stems grow upwards I tie them to a tomato cage and then train them to cascade back down again, making sure to evenly space the vines for good air and light penetration.

One more tomato growing tip I’ll pass along is something I discovered last summer.  Our hot, humid Southern summers can do a number on garden plants, and my Juliet developed quite a few brown, droopy leaves.  Since this plant is on my back porch I wanted to tidy up the look, so I carefully removed every browned leaf cluster on the plant.  To my surprise, everywhere I removed a leaf stem the plant regenerated a whole new one!  This regeneration kept the plant lush, full and bountifully producing all through summer right up till frost.

If you take a few minutes to remove any browned leaf clusters, the plant will regenerate itself.

If you take a few minutes to remove any browned leaf clusters, the plant will regenerate itself.

Safely Thawing Frozen Fish

You learn something new every day – at least I try to!  Despite living fairly close to the Atlantic Ocean, one has to work hard to find decent fresh fish around here, so I tend to buy fish individually quick frozen (IQF).  And YES, I always check my Seafood Watch app to make sure I am buying a wise, sustainably harvested, healthful choice!  I highly recommend that app if you are health or eco conscious about your food choices.

Anyhoo, IQF fish is always vacuum sealed in a pouch that says “remove before thawing”.  Not being one to blindly follow directions, I have in the past ignored that statement and thawed the fish in the pouch.  I mean, I thought it helped keep the fish moist or something, and what could go wrong in a vacuum-sealed pouch?  Well, I looked that up today, and plenty is the correct answer.  Ewww!

Yeah, that warning is there for a reason

 Yeah, that warning is there for a reason

IQF fish is susceptible to a kind of bacteria that can make you very sick, namely clostridium botulinum.  This critter only grows in an anaerobic (airless) environment, so if you thaw the fish in the pouch it can multiply and possibly cause food sickness (botulism).  Thawing the fish outside the pouch eliminates the danger from this nasty beastie, so lesson learned!

Safely thawing Tilapia loins. I also learned today that Tilapias have "loins". Who knew???

Safely thawed Tilapia loins. I also learned today that Tilapias have “loins”. Who knew???

What to do With All Those Tomatoes!

One of the blessings of summer is having a garden that gifts you with ripe, luscious tomatoes. But at some point those tomatoes are piling up on the counter, and even your friends don’t want any more.  What to do?  We grow a mix of heirloom and hybrid “slicing” tomatoes, and they are too watery for canning or making sauces.  Some people freeze them whole, but (a) I don’t want to devote that much freezer space, and (b) what are you going to do with a mushy thawed tomato?  You can’t use them like fresh, and they are too watery for sauces.  This year I came up with an idea that I think is genius – slice, roast and then freeze them!  This process eliminates all that excess water,  concentrates the flavors and makes the ‘maters much smaller to package.  Win, win, win!  The process works equally well for slicing tomatoes and grape/cherry tomatoes.  Here’s how (and I apologize for failing to photograph most of the process!):

  • Preheat oven to 350 and place rack in lower third of the oven.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment – tomatoes will stain your bakeware!!!
  • Wash and core your tomatoes.  No need to peel them.  See below for a pic of my favorite tool for coring tomatoes and hulling strawberries.  Got it at Crate and Barrel

    this little gem is great for coring tomatoes and hulling strawberries

    this little gem is great for coring tomatoes and hulling strawberries, as well as digging out rotten spots on any produce

  • Slice regular tomatoes into ½” rounds, and slice each round in half.  Slice grape/cherry tomatoes in half.
  • Place tomatoes, cut side up, on the sheet, leaving a bit of space around each piece.
  • Bake 30-45 minutes.  You are looking to reduce their volume by half, not incinerate them.  The cherry tomatoes will develop a bit of caramelization – bonus!  Do not disturb tomatoes while they roast or they will completely fall apart.
  • Remove from the oven an allow to cool, undisturbed, till room temp.
  • Pack tomatoes into an ice cube tray and freeze.

    Tomato pops!

    Tomato pops!

  • store your tomato pops in a freezer-safe tupper.  Now you have summer flavor at the ready!

    Ready to be stored away for bringing summer deliciousness to a grey winter day...

    Ready to be stored away for bringing summer deliciousness to a grey winter day…

As soon as I can get them up I’ll share 2 recipes starring these glorious, roasted, homegrown flavor bombs.  One is an appetizer, and the other, wellllll…here’s a teaser…

Italian Mac & Cheese

Italian Mac & Cheese – starring 3 Italian cheeses, fresh basil & oregano and your roasted tomatoes

My “Other Bible”

 

 Broken spine, frayed dividers, pages falling out and stained with ingredients - that's one well-loved cookbook!


Broken spine, frayed dividers, pages falling out and stained with ingredients – that’s one well-loved cookbook!

Ah, the 1950 Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book.  This book is precious to me.  As an avid cook and foodie, I have dozens of cookbooks, which I have read cover to cover (I know, weird!).  However, this is my only cookbook I would save in a fire, so great is its sentimental value to me.  If you had asked me “why?” last week, I would have answered, “because I spent countless contented hours poring over its pages when I was a child”.  But today I would also have to add, “because this book had a profound impact on my life!”

Earlier this week I decided to make some room on my shelves for newly purchased cookbooks  – I just can’t stop myself , nor do I want to!  As I was pulling a few unused and unloved volumes from my collection, my hand landed on this beloved tome.  So absorbed in all things Ina Garten, Lidia Bastianich, Martha Stewart and Cooks Illustrated, I hadn’t cracked its cover in ages.  I spent the next few evenings rereading my beloved 1950 Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, and I was rewarded with both a flood of happy memories and a few new revelations!

My mother received her Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book as a new bride in 1950, and some 25 years later as a young child I read and reread it, and learned to cook using these simple recipes.  This was more than just a cookbook – it was a “lifestyle” book.  On its pages are depicted idyllic scenes of family and community life, all enriched by healthful, well-prepared food, elegantly but simply presented.  This was a fantasy world into which I retreated as a child, and thus began a lifelong love of homemaking and hostessing, and a desire to be the very best I could be at it – not for the sake of that achievement, but for the sake of blessing the people I love.

It had been such a long time since I perused this book that I was surprised to realize how much its philosophy of purposefully gracious homemaking and hostessing had influenced me.  Probably also explains my obsession with aprons.  Love them, and wear them almost every day!  : )  And rereading this work brought back so many happy memories of countless cakes, cookies and lemon merengue pies made and shared with family and friends.  The torn pages covered with food splatters are testament to how often this precious resource was put to use!  It was also fascinating to see where American cookery and the food industry was in 1950.

I'm making these brownies for friends tonite, and it's pretty obvious from the condition of these pages that this recipe has been made a few times before!

I’m making these brownies for friends tonite, and it’s pretty obvious from the condition of these pages that this recipe has been made a few times before!

I have resolved in the next few months to cook my way through this book to see if I can rediscover some old recipes that should still be in my rotation, and to challenge my modern butter-soaked, overstimulated palate to appreciate simple food economically prepared.  Toward that end, today I ordered a modern reprint of this 1950 edition.  My original copy is too fragile, and I want to be able to write my usual “tasting notes” in the margins.   I’ll be posting my discoveries and sharing the recipes I think you may want to try.  Blessings….

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