Eat, drink, (garden, knit, quilt, think, fix, read) & be merry

And now for something a little different

It’s no surprise a lot of knitting goes on around here.  I love knitting because it’s so portable – a few stitches on the bus, before class, while waiting for a doctor – and soon something beautiful arises from those stolen moments.  It took me several years before I was good enough that I actually liked what I made.  Most of my early projects were “frogged” over and over because, in my opinion, they weren’t worthy of existing.

But during break I have time at home which means it’s time to set aside the knitting and pursue the crafts that aren’t as portable.  I love sewing because it’s faster and the possibilities are limitless.  Unfortunately, because I’m less practiced and almost entirely self-taught, I’m not often pleased with the results.  And unlike knitting I can’t just “rip-it, rip-it” and start over.  No sir – once the fabric is cut it’s a done deal, which makes sewing even more intimidating.  But only practice is going to improve my skills, so I’ve spent some hours in front of the machine and here’s what I’ve come up with:

I’ve made two pairs of mittens using this fabulous tutorial.

Here’s P’s pair, made from his favorite sweater that finally got too hole-y to wear.

I lined them with horse print flannel because his name means “lover of horses” which gives us no end of amusement around here.  As a side note – I took scrap pieces of the sweater and needle felted them on the wrong side of the hole-y bits and you’d never know there had been holes if you weren’t looking for them.

I put these in his Christmas stocking and he said that it was one of the best presents he’s ever received – on par with the quilt from his mom and grandma.  🙂

Here’s my pair, made from a thick, felted, thrifted sweater and lined with fabric from XL wool/cashmere pants I once found in a garage sale free pile (score!!)

I needled felted on some fall-colored leaves with green yarn for a stem.  I’m not thrilled with the needle felting job – but every little bit of practice helps, right?

You’d never know from looking at them how many times I ripped sections out to sew them again.  sigh.

I’ve been dabbling a bit in making stuffed animals.  Again, the photo hides it well, but my skills are seriously lacking.  It’s cute, but it’s not what I wanted it to be.  Alas – practice, practice.

I do love this little infant-friendly felted wool tail!

I made this little wristlet using this fantastic tutorial.  It came out so cute!  It’s the first time I’ve inserted a zipper, and I’m very pleased with the results.  This cute little bag will be going with me on vacation next week!

It even has three little pockets on the inside.  If I were to make it again, I’d probably make a pocket on the opposite side to hold my phone.

P and I bought new curtains for our front room to replace the old-lady lacy ones that came with the house.  We ended up with linen I*KEA curtains that you cut to your desired length and then use iron-on fusible web to “hem” them.  As a result we ended up with lots of long, narrow scraps of linen.  I used a few of those scraps to make… napkins!

It’s my first time doing fusible applique so I was just playing around a bit.  I cut the flower and leaves freehand and used cookie cutters to outline the rest.

You can tell from the “Minnesota” napkin that there is a reason the instructions tell you to cut out your images in reverse!  Ooops!

I used this tutorial to make this adorable little fabric basket (how did people learn to craft before the internet and people’s generous tutorials??).

I found one slight error in the tutorial – when you cut the fabric for the lining it says to cut a piece 9 1/4″ x 12″.  That was too small for my basket and I had better luck with a lining that was 10 1/4″ x 12″.  Fold along the 12″ side so the 10 1/4″ sides make the opening.

I think this will live on my nightstand to catch all the little bits that land there – earrings, hairbands, etc.

I’ve still got more knitting to show you, so I’ll be back soon!

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Pickled Jalapenos – A Tutorial

Despite the snow, the preserving season is still going.  I put up the final 7 quarts of tomatoes last night.Canner bound tomatoes

We picked apples this past weekend.  I see dried apples, apple pie filling, and applesauce in our future.  A few quarts of green beans were blanched and frozen last night.   And I’ll likely still freeze some broccoli, kale, and collards although the deep freeze is getting awfully full.

But I wanted to share a tutorial for pickling jalapenos.  These little gems requires little preserving skill or equipment.  The whole process takes less than ten minutes.  And they’re delicious.  I puree them in winter soups, pop them on nachos or pizzas, or use them to add some kick to tomato sauces.  One quart will easily last theses heat-lovers a year.


Get your hands on some jalapenos.  I picked these up at the farmer’s market for around $3.  Aren’t they beautiful?  Last year I made it with all-green ones.  Doesn’t make a difference.

Wash them, PUT ON SOME GLOVES, and get to slicing.  Discarding the tops and ends, put the sliced rings into a clean mason jar – quart or pint.  I’m guessing about 12-15 fit in my quart jar.  About half way through, take the jar to the sink and shake it upside down with your gloved hand over the top.  Eventually the seeds will shake out.  This helps reduce the heat.  Leave them all in if you’re brave enough.

Continue filling the jar.  When there is about 3/4″ of an inch left, pack the jalapenos in and pour in distilled white vinegar to cover.  Shake and store.  I keep my in the fridge, where they easily last a year.  Enjoy!

Pickled jalapenos

ps.  I use a plastic cap as the metal ones corrode from the acidity.  I also don’t use mine for at least a few weeks – they need time to marinate and mellow.

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Yogurt – A Tutorial

A while ago someone asked me to post about yogurt making.  It took a long time – the first time I made it, I forgot to take pictures.  The second time my camera battery was dead.  And the third time – well that was the charm, but then I had computer trouble.  So, here, finally, is my how-to of yogurt making.

I’m not sure how I stumbled on the idea, but about two years ago I decided to start making yogurt at home.  It took a little trial and error, but I think I’ve found my method.  Although I will mention that everyone who makes it at home swears by an entirely different method. Be patient and experiment. Eventually it will work!

Why make yogurt at home when you can buy dozens of varieties in your local market?  Well…  it’s cheaper, has no preservatives, will last longer (because it doesn’t waste time sitting on the market shelf), and doesn’t have extra flavorings, sugar, or other “stuff” you might not want to be eating.

You’ll need:

1 Quart (plus some extra to compensate for evaporation) of good, whole-fat milk

2 Tablespoons plain yogurt with an active culture

1 Quart Mason Jar

1 Cooler

Warm Blankets

Scalding Milk

I use unpasteurized, non-homogenized whole milk because it’s delicious. But I essentially pasturize it when I bring it to a boil. Boiling seems to make the final yogurt thicker.  As it gets close to boiling, watch it carefully – it very well might boil all over your stove.  No need to boil it for long, just let it start bubbling.  Turn off the heat and stir it every so often for around an hour or so – until it’s still warm enough I can barely keep my pinky finger in the milk. Any hotter and it might kill the culture.  Much cooler and the little bacteria can’t do their magical, yogurty thing.

All the stirring sounds picky, but I make yogurt while making dinner or on a weekend morning when I pass through the kitchen a lot. It’s very little work. If you happen to forget about it, I have re-boiled and re-cooled it. Still works fine.  

Mason Jar with Yogurt Starter

I take a clean quart mason jar and put in two tablespoons of any plain, live culture yogurt. Don’t add more! It’s tempting, I know, but as I understand it, too much starter creates too much competition among the bacteria and it the yogurt comes out watery.  Use a measuring spoon and stick to it.

Cooler with Blankets

I then cap and gently shake the jar (turn it upside down about 10 times) and, here comes the weird part, I slip it into a knitted cozy.  And then I put the jar into a cooler with two other mason jars filled with hot water from the tap and loads of blankets or towels. I’ve tried just wrapping it, but the cooler trick works better for me.

I leave it for 12 hours or so.  If it’s firm, I then refrigerate it for a day before eating.

It keeps well for three or four weeks (no transport or shelf-time in the store).  You can flavor it as you’d like.  Having plain on hand is nice for cooking – we’ve used it to cool spicy chili or curry.  I mix it up with honeyed pecans or granola for breakfast.  I pour it on pancakes with maple syrup.  And you can use your new batch as starter for your next batch.  Ah, the gift that keeps on giving.

(As a final note, you can also use your yogurt to make thickened-Greek style yogurt or quark by simply putting the yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined strainer and weighting the top.  Place the whole setup on a bowl (and in the fridge) and let the whey drain until you have the consistency you desire.  We’ve used quark as a substitute for cream-cheese.   It’s delicious!)