putting up the spice rack

October 30, 2009

I have had this spice rack sitting on my counter for about a year. I finally decided on jars last week, which are a light green glass with cork lids (from Spain), and I was motivated to put the rack up on the wall. My mom stopped over tonight to drop off a few things, and she helped me put up the rack.


The process started with a trip to the basement for wood screws. They are different from machine screws, and the way that they are formed makes them grip the wood and hold on better.

Wood Screw

My basement has a whole section of assorted screws, nails, and other odds and ends, left over from my grampa’s house building days. We also picked up a phillips head screwdriver, a tape measure, and a level.


In order to place the rack right in the middle of the wall space, we measured with a handy snap out ruler. Then my mom held the rack while I put one screw in and tightened it most of the way in. Then we used the level to make sure that the rack was in the right place, and held on tight while we added the second screw.


Funny thing is that the spice rack might be level, but it definitely doesn’t match the light switch on the wall underneath..

Spice Rack

And now the spices are all in their new home, not stuffed in plastic bags in my cupboard. I haven’t put any labels on the jars yet, and am not sure if I will. They look really pretty sitting on the shelf with the different spices bright inside.

ChestnutInNestI got a few chestnuts for planting last week. They are now situated in the field in front of my house. I got directions for planting from John Wittrig, owner of J & B Chestnut Farm in Winfield, Iowa. He gave me some to plant from the prized trees in their “North Lot.” According to John, in order for chestnuts to really produce, there needs to be at least two of them. I had already planted 2 seedlings about a month ago, and thought that it might be a good idea to add some more to the field (just in case). I planted 15, so I will have lots of extra seedlings next summer. Just let me know if you want one, and I will save you one for next year.

Chestnut in Cardboard

I used a piece of cardboard to mark my spot, and to mulch the chestnuts and protect them from weeds. I made holes into the cardboard where the chestnuts were to be planted.

DiggingToolTo plant the nuts, I fluffed up the soil a little with a digging tool, and then stuck my dibber down in to make a hole.Dibber The chestnuts should be buried about 2 or so inches down in the earth, and I covered the tops with loose soil. Finished PlotAfter I planted the nuts, I replaced the cardboard, and covered the area with chicken wire to protect against little (and big) animals eating the nuts. I used some logs around the outside of the plot to hold the chicken wire down. I am kind of curious to see how many nuts actually survive the winter, moles, voles, deer, mice, etc. that might come across them, even with the little bit of protection there. I guess that they make it in nature, so some will probably survive!

cozy socks

October 27, 2009

About a month ago we got this beautiful yarn in at the store. It is super soft, one ply, and machine washable. Generally one ply yarns (where there is only one strand vs several strands twisted together) don’t hold up for socks as well as multi ply yarns, but I still wanted to make a pair of socks out of the yarn. They are more of “treat” socks, meant to be worn specially, and not expected to hold up to lots of wear and tear.

Knitting in Tea Towel

I started the socks with my usual 60 stitches on size 1 1/2 needles. I got a few inches down the leg and realized that this would definitely not fit me! The yarn ended up working up much tighter and smaller than I expected. I ripped the sock out and cast on 72 stitches. I decided that since this was a luxury sock, I could afford to have a little slouch in it.


Just to take it in a little, and to add some vertical integration to all the horizontal striping, I added a cable down the side. The cable is a simple 2 by 2 cable, crossing over every 6 rows, and bordered by 2 stitches of garter stitch on either side. It always seems to take me a while to figure out when I am supposed to be crossing a cable, so I really worked on figuring it out on this project. With success! I realized that if you pull the knitting directly to the right of the cable stitches tight, you can see the threads of each row. So instead of keeping track of how many rows I had knit, I just would pull the knitting, and count up the 6 threads, or rows. Much easier!!


I have been enjoying using the yarn over, or afterthought heel a lot recently. I used it here, switching from one skein of yarn to another. I couldn’t decide which color to use, so I ended up with one colorway for the first sock, and a different colorway for the second. The heels and toes are made with the opposite colors, thus tying the socks together (sort of anyway).


I kept the cable to either side of the heel, in order to have it on the outside of each sock. I really liked how the cable travelled down the sock, so I kept it all the way up to the toe. I did this by decreasing on the inside of the cable, pulling it over from the outside of the foot to the inside, where it ran into the other decrease. It is fun to remember sometimes that the decreases/increases don’t have to be in the exact same spot each time!

Almost Finished Socks..

And that is it. I have one sock completed, (blocked and all!) and the other at the heel. I am hurrying to finish them, as the days are getting colder, and warm fuzzy socks have an increasingly large appeal…

roasted chestnuts

October 24, 2009

Roasted ChestnutsThis might be the simplest way to prepare chestnuts (with the exception of eating them raw, which apparently some people swear by). Take a sharp knife and cut an x across the top of the nut, pop as many as you want in a covered dish and stick them in the oven. I cooked mine in a 400 degree oven until they were tender, which I think took about 30 minutes, although I wasn’t watching the clock. I took them out, put a pot holder under the roaster, wrapped the whole thing in a towel to keep the chestnuts warm, and sat down by the fire to enjoy a quick dinner.Chestnuts Wrapped Up

The trick is to keep the chestnuts warm as you are peeling them. Keep most of them tightly wrapped up as you crack open a few at a time. This is harder on the thumbs (mine tend to get a little burned when I am opening the toasty shells). The “x” cut into the top of the nut makes it really easy to peel them. I put one in a cloth napkin in my hands and pressed the nut slightly to crack the shell. Because the chestnuts I used were cured (left to dry out for a few days before refrigeration) the peel came off very easily and the nuts had a deliciously toasted sweet flavor.

This particular batch of chestnuts came from a chestnut farm in Winfield, Ia, about 40 minutes away from me. The farm is certified organic, and run by three generations, a grandfather and grandmother, daughter, and grandson!! They have about 3 acres planted with chestnut trees, that they planted in 1992, and last year they harvested about 6,000 lbs of chestnuts! They sent me home with a baggie of nuts to plant in the field outside my house. I am going to try and have a mini chestnut tree nursery. (Let me know if you want a tree next summer!) The nuts that they gave me were from a tree planted from a chestnut from a tree owned by a woman in Kentucky (I think, or maybe Tennessee). The story goes that everyone in the area knew about her tree, and how wonderful the chestnuts were from that tree, sweet and large. She was very protective of her tree, and wouldn’t give any chestnuts away. Seems kind of silly to me. One night, someone stole into her yard and got some of the chestnuts anyway…

canned pears

October 22, 2009

Pears in Brown BagThere are certain things from my childhood that evoke specific experiences. Canned pears are one of those things. When I was six my family drove out to the desert in southeast Oregon. We drove across country in a converted school bus, and very carefully planned and packed our bus with supplies, including many cans of pears. I remember the smell, texture, and taste of the pears, floating in syrup. I remember eating pears in syrup at dusk, while watching for wild horses in the distance.

When my friend Clint (with the pear tree) gave me another bag full of pears I decided to try canning them in halves, as I remembered. The process of making canned (technically “jarred”) pears is simple. I got the basic directions from the recently revised Joy of Cooking.

Peeled Pears

I peeled the pears and put them in an anti browning solution of lemon juice and water.

Sugar Syrup

Meanwhile I made a sugar syrup using approximately 1/2 cup sugar for every quart of water. Joy of Cooking gives guidelines for how much/little sugar should be used, an I went somewhere in the middle, on the less sweet side.

Then after cooking pears, I carefully placed each slice into warm jars and processed according to directions. When I tried fitting the pear halves into the regular pint jars that I had I realized that they wouldn’t really fit. I decided to get some wide mouth jars as well, so now I have some jars with pear quarters and some jars with pear halves.

Cozy Pears

And thats it! Very simple, and the result I tried for breakfast this morning. The pears were rather firm to start with, so they maintained a nice texture even after cooking and processing in the boiling water bath. I am looking forward to lots of cozy pear treats this fall and winter!

little blue sweater

October 20, 2009

BlueStripedSweaterThis is a sweater that I made up from scratch. I haven’t tried it on anyone yet, so I am not exactly how it will fit, but I think that it should be ok. I am meaning to write a pattern up for it but haven’t yet. Baby sweaters seem to be the way to go for first time designing. For one thing, they are small, so easy and quick to knit, rip out, and reknit. The second plus is that the baby is what most people look at anyway, so the sweater can be a little funny and get away with it!

When I was envisioning this sweater I wanted to see mostly blue, with a little white. The only trick on the sweater was with making the stripes in the right proportions, which ended up being 3 rows blue, 1 row white. I used a circular needle (from my Denise kit) and on the color change rows I simply went back to the beginning of the row after the new color, either knitting or purling two rows in a row. The only place that this caused any problems was in the shaping for the top. Somehow I ended up slipping a few rows back and forth from one needle to the other in order to knit with the right color.bluesweater2

The shaping was really simple. I decreased a good portion of the front and back stitches for the inset sleeves, which was what I wanted. A particularly stated cut into the horizontal stripes. I tried ending the sleeve with white, then blue, and finally decided on the particular composition above. A little white, then a little blue.


There are two buttonholes at the top of the sweater, which I have been debating wether or not to keep. As per usual I still have not attached any buttons, which might be more of a hassle to button up anyway.
I knit the sweater with Limbo yarn on size 5 needles. Knitting with Limbo yarn is always fun! It is 100% machine washable wool, and really really soft. And it wears very well. I had a pair of fingerless gloves made out of Limbo that lasted for years (until I dropped one in the wood stove last winter).


It was definitely tricky to sew up the seams on the sleeves, balancing the increases and keeping the stripes exactly in line. The above photos are of the seam on the side of the sweater (left) and the seam on the underarm (right). I think that if I were to do it again I would have the increases further in from the edge on the arm (they are positioned at one or two sitches in). This would make it easier to sew together. I had to sew up the sleeves several (or more) times in order to get them as I wanted them. The side seams were fine, but sewing the sleeves into the front was a little difficult. I tried to keep a good ratio of stitches to rows (4 rows to every 3 stitches) as I sewed the seam. but it kept on getting mixed up.


October 17, 2009

cabbageheadToday I went to my friend Moni’s house and she showed me how to make sauerkraut! I have been wanting to make sauerkraut for a long time now, and have spent quite a bit of time reading about how to make it, looking at different recipes, and methods, etc. Although it is simple to make, with a basic ratio and set steps, I have been a little shy to try it. But last weekend when I was visiting Heli in Ann Arbor, cabbage was available at the farmer’s market, and I grabbed a few heads to take home. I love cabbage, fresh and fermented, so I figured that I would be able to make use of it even if I didn’t make the kraut. Heli kept telling me that I should call Moni, her friend Daren’s mom, so I did, and not only did she tell me all about how to make sauerkraut, but she had me over this morning, shared cabbage from her garden, and taught me all about how to make sauerkraut. It was so much fun!! We had lots to talk about (she knows all about gardening, canning, and insects, to name a few things), and the process went by very quickly.

Moni has been making sauerkraut the same way her mother taught her. The first step is to prepare the crock (which Moni lent me and is now happily situated in my kitchen). This particular crock is huge!! number5The number 5, stamped on the side, indicates that it is 5 gallon crock, which means a lot of cabbage. The crock must be cleaned thoroughly, and fitted with a plate, which will be placed over the cabbage at the end to weigh it down.


Then the cabbage is cleaned, trimmed, and either thinly sliced or put through a food processor. This year was a very wet year so the cabbage was huge, and some of the heads that we used were even bursting open!

cabbageshredsWe both shredded and chopped our cabbage. Then we added the cabbage to the crock, a little bit at a time, mixing it with salt to taste as we went.


Adding salt to the mixture draws the moisture out of the cabbage, which creates the briny solution that the cabbage ends up “stewing” in. According to Moni, the best time to pick cabbage for sauerkraut is in the morning. The more moisture in the cabbage, the quicker the liquid is released to form the brine.


After all the cabbage was added we mixed the contents of the entire crock to make sure that there was enough salt. We ended up adding more, and as we were remixing, I noticed that liquid was already collecting at the bottom of the crock. By the time I got home with the crock, and added the plate and weighted bottles, the liquid had reached the top of the cabbage.


The plate covering the cabbage is there to keep the bulk of the cabbage submerged in the brine. I placed two clean quart bottles full of water on top of a dinner plate, which fit perfectly inside the crock. On top of all of this I tied a tea towel to protect the contents from any fruit flies or other possible vermin.

Now it is time to wait and let the lactic fermentation take place!!!

I will post more pictures as the sauerkraut develops.

making moccasins

October 17, 2009


I have a pair of moccasins that I found on sale a few years ago. They are short boots with a zipper on the side and thin soles. I have ended up wearing them so much that there are tons of holes on the bottoms, and little rocks are constantly rolling around my toes. I decided that I needed a new pair and did some asking around, and found that the prices for hand made shoes seemed a little high. So I ended up making some. Several friends and I ordered an elk hide online, and I looked online, in books, and at several pairs of moccasins to come up with these shoes. A great reference was Back to Basics: A complete Guide to Traditional Skills, Third Edition, by Abigail Gehring. If you do want to make a pair, let me know and I would be happy to answer any questions that might come up.


elk hide (Elk hides can be found online, and one hide should be enough for several pairs of shoes. It is handy to have the whole hide so that you can use the thicker parts for soles, and thinner parts for the tops and backs of the shoes.)

waxed linen thread (can be purchased at knitting stores or specialty stores. I have mine from a family vacation 14 yrs ago to Door County, WI. A spool will last a long time..)

leather punch, or sewing awl. (I used a leather punch, but would like to try the awl for my next pair)

sharp scissors



Neatsfoot Oil (purchased at farm supplies store)

jars and sticks for mixing

a large brown paper bag

Make a paper bag shoe

Make a prototype with the brown paper bag. Trace foot onto piece of paper and then measure 1″ evenly around and cut out. Measure top of foot from widest parts and add 1/4″. The top part should be a little wider at the instep, narrower at the toes, and as long as you want it to go up your leg. It can be short if you are making shoes rather than boots. Punch holes and sew the parts together, taking care not to rip the paper. Try on and see if it fits (the fit should be snug as leather does tend to stretch) If the shoe doesn’t fit, take it apart and make the necessary adjustments.

Take the shoe prototype apart and trace the shapes onto leather. Cut out leather pieces, taking care to make a left and right bottom piece. I made the top pieces pretty much the same size and it seemed to work out well.

Pieces to cut out

Top (2) the widest part, in the middle, is about 1/4″ inch wider than your across instep measurement.


Sole (2) Traced 1″ around your foot.


Back (quantity 2) Wide enough to wrap around your ankle and meet the top piece. The pieces should overlap, with the top piece overlapping the back piece by about an inch.toppieces

Straps (quantity 4) Straps need to be long enough to wrap around your moccasin several times and tie. They will stretch out with use. I made mine by cutting up scrap pieces back and forth, to create long strips.

Mark holes onto leather

The holes should be closer together on the top and back, and further apart on the sole. This causes the sole to gather around the tops of the shoes. I used the following proportions. The holes on the top and back should be 3/8” apart, and 1/4″ in from the edge, and the holes on the sole should be ¼” apart, and 1/4″ in from the edge. To make the measuring easier, use a piece of cardboard with the measurements marked on with a sharpie.



Start sewing from the toe and heel of the moccasin and work your way around to the sides.


** Note: How to sew the seams. **

The sewing technique is one that I found on an existing pair of shoes. Align the materials so that the sole is on the outside of the top piece. Insert needle into wrong side of top piece, leaving a long tail, and send it through both pieces of leather. Bring needle up and around the outside of the sole piece and back down into the top piece, same hole, and pull thread tight (not super tight, but nicely firm). Then, on underside of work, move to next hole and repeat. Continue in this manner until you have reached about 6 stitches before then end of top piece.moccasinstrap

Make sure to position the strap so that it is directed towards the toe of the shoe. That way it will wrap around front, and to the back, and around again..


Sewing the straps into the main seam.


Finish the whole moccasin bottom with Neatsfoot Oil. Apply a good amount of Neatsfoot Oil with a cloth, rubbing it in as you go. Then apply beeswax mixture (recipe follows). Make sure to wear gloves with this step, and work in a well ventilated area! I applied the beeswax more thickly to the soles, but also added some to the sides as well. The beeswax helps with waterproofing, as well as protecting the leather!

Beeswax mixture

You can warm up the beeswax in a little pan, but be careful to have it far away from the turpentine (which is highly flammable)! Pour it in a jar, let it cool a bit, and add a little turpentine, bit by bit, as the beeswax cools. The turpentine keeps the beeswax spreadable as it cools. I keep mine in a little glass jar with a lid, and stir it with a stick whenever I need to apply a coat.

I have applied it three times so far to the bottoms of my shoes, and it is building up a nice and sturdy finish. Keep applying finish as it tends to wear off, especially when shoes are worn on cement or other rough surfaces.

green tomatoes (not fried)

October 15, 2009

Yesterday and today I made some green tomato pickles. I used two different recipes, one that reminded me of my Grampa, and the other because it called for lime (calcium hydroxide) which I have never used. Both recipes are from The Joy of Pickling, by Linda Ziedrich. I started the pickles yesterday (after a trip to the store for lime) as they required an overnight of soaking before they were ready to process. tomatoecloseup

Freshly sliced green tomatoes. So many shades of green, marbling in and around seeds and cavities.limedtomato2

Tomato slice soaking in a solution of lime (calcium hydroxide) and water. This process creates much crisper pickles. I soaked the tomatoes overnight, and when I took them out of the solution they were stiff as a board! Quite different from the tomato slices soaking in salt for the curry pickles.


After rinsing and soaking, rinsing and soaking, and rinsing and soaking again, I mixed the lime tomatoes with onions and spices and simmered for a little while, and then I had to stuff them into the jars. The lime made them so stiff that I ended up cutting the big ones in order to fit them in.


The second pickle was made with curry powder and other spices. I made them because they reminded me of my Grampa, who always seemed to like spicing food with curry powder. The tomatoes for the curry pickle were significantly softer (no lime, just sitting out with salt).


These are the lime pickles after the jars were processed in boiling water. It is always sad to me when fruits and vegetables lose their vibrant color. They have to sit for at least three weeks now until they are ready to eat!


Heli and I went to an apple orchard yesterday, and picked a lot of apples! Somehow I always end up with more than expected. When we got home we excitedly discussed our options. We both had already made apple butter, but didn’t have any apple sauce, so decided on that. And to spice things up a little we also made some caramel apple jam, with several variations.


When we went to the local plant and garden store this morning (Downtown Home and Garden, which is awesome!), we decided to try some new jars. Usually we use Mason or Bormioli jars, but we fell in love with Weck jars. They have a different sealing system, and glass lids! They are a bit more expensive, but I keep telling myself that I will reuse them for the next 40 years or so, so this is a one-time investment…I will probably always buy new cute jars with this rationale!

When we arrived home, with 5 trays of empty jars, to attack our two mountains of apples we were excited! And now, after canning ALL day, we are rather tired, but all the jars along the windowsills create a nice homey feeling.


Our first project was caramel apple jam with brandy and vanilla. We had to stop at the liquor store to purchase some brandy, and the grocery store for some cinnamon. The apple jam uses apple sauce, which we made with quartered and cored apples (we kept the peels to add flavor and color). We added a little water to the bottom of the pan so the apples wouldn’t stick, and boiled them until soft, and then put them through a food mill.

applesinmillThe fun part of this recipe was making the caramel! You don’t stir the mixture of water and sugar as it cooks, and this creates a crunchy, sticky gooey sugar mess that smells wonderful. When we added the apples, everything sizzled and puffed up, and then turned into little pieces of hard sugar mess.


After stirring the apples and sugar for a while we put the mixture into our new jars and sent them off to a hot water bath. Heli’s stove is about the size of a matchbox, so the logistics were a little tricky. We had to juggle all the pots of boiling liquid from burner to burner, but somehow we made it without any massive burns!


The new jars filled with caramel apple jam! Some with brandy and vanilla, some with vanilla, some with only sugar. And some a mixture of everything all together!