Tag Archives: homemade

Another Year Over

I’m a little superstitious when it comes to the New Year. I believe that the things you do on the first day of the year set a pattern for the rest. I try to spend my New Year’s day on the kinds of activities I’d like to continue or achieve during the coming year. This year I’m planning some writing time and some photography, as well as time with loved ones.

I make resolutions too and try to stick to them. This past year one of our joint resolutions was making crepes on Sunday morning, which we’ve done almost every Sunday this year. Another of my resolutions was to take a yoga class. I’m approaching a year of that as well—one of the healthiest resolutions I’ve managed to keep.

We’ve had a busy December with a graduation, family visit, retirement from teaching, our Solstice get-away, and the usual holiday events with family. Today was our first real day of unscheduled time all month. A couple days ago, I started thinking about a sewing project I’d begun in 2003, something that I’d come across this month in my fabric drawer.

Last night before I went to bed, I got excited thinking about the project again. I decided to devote today to finishing it. It’s just a blouse, peasant-style with gathered neck, back, and sleeves, but off and on throughout the last nearly nine years, I’ve often thought I’d like to wear it, if only it were finished. I’d even cut out the fabric years ago, so it didn’t seem like sewing it up would take much time.

But when I got it out of the drawer this morning and read through the instructions again, I remembered why I’d stuck it in the back of the drawer. It was fussy, with bias tape casings around nearly every edge and little draw-stringy things that require tweezers and a magnifying glass to edge. I was out of fusible interfacing for the one little piece where the drawstrings come through, so I had to run to the fabric store for that, which was okay because I needed thread to hem some jeans anyway.

As anyone who sews knows, half the time sewing is spent ironing, so I set up the board next to my machine and filled the iron with water for steam. I had to iron all the pieces first because they’d been wadded up for so long, but the wrinkles came out easily. I cut the elastic, made the bias tape casings, and started sewing.

I had to adjust the elastic quite a bit for fit but it all went well until the last step, when I looked at the diagram incorrectly. I sewed the bias tape to the wrong side of the fabric and had to rip it out and start again. I was getting tired but I got all the machine work done by sunset. When I went outside for the mail, I heard our pair of great-horned owls in the trees and found them both silhouetted against the day’s last light. I hope that means they’ll nest nearby this spring so that we can see the owlette when it fledges.

I’ll finish my blouse tonight when I hem the bottom edge and whipstitch the casing edges closed.  I love the turquoise paisley design of the fabric and the soft, cool feel of the cotton. I know I’ll wear it a lot on hot summer days.

Just last week I wrote about the value of homemade gifts and how objects made by hand offer a special kind of thoughtfulness. I contemplated that today as I was sewing my blouse. I spent about four hours on the project, not counting travel time, and another hour in 2003 cutting it out. Is five hours too much for making something that’s only a gift to myself? I haven’t sewed my own clothes for years (although I have knit some sweaters) beyond hemming pants or altering second-hand skirts. Today I enjoyed the work but I kept feeling like I should be doing something else, something more practical farm- or work-wise.

But I kept going because I didn’t want that project hanging over my head anymore—and I’m glad I did. Good to clear out the space in the drawer, good to have a new blouse to wear, good to quit thinking I need to finish it, good to end the year with a task completed, but most of all, good to remember that making clothes is real work that takes real skill. And that leads to gratitude to the women—since that’s who sews clothes for the US market—who make our clothes. My gratitude doesn’t improve the conditions under which they work but it does make me realize once again how enmeshed our lives are with people we never see.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. I’ll spend some of the day organizing for the year to come and another part preparing our New Year’s dinner. We’ll have a quiet celebration, just the two of us, New York time, and that will wind down a very busy year before the start of another. We are lucky to have each other, lucky to have the people who walk alongside us, and grateful for each and every one. Have a happy, healthy New Year!

A friend left a gratitude card on a table at a coffee shop and a couple days later, found it posted on the bulletin board!

 

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A Season of Gratitude

 

I had these cards made recently by a local letterpress artist and I’ve been leaving them in stores and posting them on bulletin boards wherever I think the message might be appreciated as a reminder that “fourth quarter,” as the marketers say, is more than just a time of shopping frenzy. The message is also directed at our national political scene, where decisions are being made that benefit those who already have so much rather than showing compassion for the common good.

December can be depressing when gift-giving becomes a stressful burden rather than a way to show love, friendship, or appreciation of community. I know many people who bow out of giving gifts altogether, and I understand why they’d choose not to participate in the craziness that gift-giving has become. But for those of us who do give gifts, it is easy to forget why we’re doing it in the first place: to show gratitude to the people in our lives who care for us and make our lives better.

For me and many people I know, giving a gift means making a gift or giving a gift from the earth that they tend (like honey from bees or herbs grown in a garden). Making gifts takes more time than money, so often the “value” in that type of gift isn’t readily recognized. One year my daughter and I spent hours making hand-beaded candy canes to tie on the packages we sent out of state. When I asked later how the recipients had liked the beaded canes, the answer was, “Oh. We didn’t notice them. They must have gotten thrown out with the wrapping paper.” Not the right folks for that particular gift. Although it would have been nice for the candy canes to have been received with joy, the pleasure was in making and giving them, and we were the ones to receive that.

One year when my students organized the Why Shop? Week consumer awareness project I wrote about in my last post, several of them were interviewed on a national radio program, where they advocated giving handmade gifts as a way to avoid participation in dubious consumer practices. When they were asked by the radio host, “What if your friends don’t like homemade gifts?” the students happily answered, “Get new friends.”

At 18, that may be possible. At middle-age, we’ve made many of the friends we’ll have for the rest of our lives; some craft and some don’t. I am grateful to the people in my life who do make gifts. To me, a homemade gift or card always says, “I took this time to think about you and I enjoyed making this for you.” That doesn’t mean other gifts aren’t thoughtful or welcome, but as a handcrafter myself, I do appreciate the sentiment behind something homemade. I know that handmade gifts take time for planning and designing, gathering of materials, and the crafting itself, often in many different steps.

This year one of our friends referred to his wife as a “one-woman craft factory” in her making of beautiful photo cards and felted soaps for family and friends. I don’t think he meant that she didn’t enjoy it but rather that she had to be well organized. For me, that sounds more appealing than going to a mall in the hustle of cars and frenzied shoppers looking for deals on the season’s latest trends. The popularity of the handcraft web-shop etsy shows that many people agree with me and would rather support a handcrafter than plunk down money at a big-box store.

This year, I am grateful for the many wonderful gifts made for us, from the inspiring quotation handwritten on paper to the soaps and bath salts and confections we’ll use everyday to the adorable ornaments made with care that will decorate our home to the handcranked wool socks that will warm our feet. Let’s think of this time of year as the “Season of Gratitude” when gifts of all kinds show gratitude in both the giving and the receiving.  And let’s extend that practice of gratitude all year for the gifts we already receive every day: the gift of love from the special people in our lives and from the earth that sustains us.

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The Pumpkin’s in the Oven–Let Thanksgiving Begin!

I just put my pumpkin and butternut squash in the oven to bake, signaling the beginning of preparations for the Thanksgiving meal. But not really. Those vegetables were planted last spring, tended all summer and harvested this fall. They’ve been stored in the closet of our coldest bedroom until today. Now they’ve been halved or quartered, seeds scooped out for the chickens, and are roasting in the oven at 350 for a good one and a half to two hours, until the flesh is soft enough to spoon into bowls for the pumpkin pies I’ll make on Wednesday and the squash pear soup I’ll put in the crockpot early Thanksgiving morning.

I love this meal and I do love having Thanksgiving with family and friends in our Sunflower Community Meal. But I have to admit, it can be a lot of work, especially Thanksgiving morning when we’re up before dawn to get the turkey in the oven—something I, as a vegetarian, don’t even eat!

So why do I do it? Of course, spending the day at home on the farm with people I care about is a big reason—the biggest one, I’m sure. But I have to admit, I do love the food, especially my traditional Thanksgiving recipes (some of which you can read here from last year’s Thanksgiving blog).

And I don’t make the meal by myself. Everyone who comes brings something delicious, like my brother-in-law’s pumpkin bread, one sister’s blue corn muffins and another’s gingerbread cookies, my mother’s cranberry relish and pecan pie, and our British friends’ amazing trifle.

But beyond a wonderful day with family and friends, it’s possible I host Thanksgiving because I can’t imagine pie from canned pumpkin. I’m sure it tastes just great, but I made a commitment to pie from scratch a long time ago and I can’t go back now. Just for this pie, we grow heirloom Winter Luxury pie pumpkins with sweet, thick flesh. They’re beautiful in the field, like gemstones of the autumn. Once the vines die back, we bring the pumpkins into the barn to await the end of October for our CSA members to share.

Besides the joy of growing them, I like getting pumpkins and squash out of the bedroom closet, chopping them in pieces and scooping out the seeds for the chickens. I like the way those vegetables feel in my hands, I like their fall colors, and I love how easily they go from raw to cooked. I always marvel that people long ago decided squash was something that could be eaten and even made into a pie, at one time considered more a meal than a dessert.

And now pumpkin pie marks the Thanksgiving holiday, along with other goodies. Maybe the turkey holds that spot for meat eaters, but for me, it’s the pie. I even eat it for breakfast the morning after the Thursday feast.  Here’s my recipe, adapted a long time ago from the back of the Libby’s can.

Stonebridge Homemade Pumpkin Pie

A day or two before you’ll make the pies: Preheat oven to 350. Cut your pumpkin in half; scoop out the seeds and a little of the stringy pulp right under the seeds. Place cut side down on a baking sheet with edges and pour a little water into the bottom for a bit of steam. Bake for 1 ½-2 hours, until a knife inserted in the outside skin pierces quite easily, like softened butter. Cool a bit and scoop out the cooked flesh into a bowl; cover and chill until you’re ready to make the pies. If the flesh seems quite watery, you can cook it down on the stovetop in a pan until it’s firmer. It really depends on the pumpkin—which is why homemade is more work but more delicious than canned.

Old Fashioned Crust

This makes three crusts but since I can only bake two pies at a time, I freeze one-third of the dough for pie some other day. Making it in a food processor saves time but if you like, cut in the pastry with two knives.

3 ½ cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups cold butter (2 ½ sticks)
½ cup cold water
1 beaten egg
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Pulse flour and salt in the food processor until combined. Add the butter in ¼ inch slices and pulse until the size of peas.

In small bowl, combine water, egg, and vinegar. With processor running, slowly drizzle the liquid mixture through the feed tube just until the dough forms a ball; stop the machine so you don’t overprocess the dough. You may not need all the liquid before the ball forms. Divide into three equal portions and chill at least an hour (or overnight) in the fridge in a covered bowl. You’ll need two of these portions for two pumpkin pies so freeze the other or make a pecan pie too.

To assemble two pies:

Roll out two crusts and place in two pie plates. Prick the bottom with a fork and crimp the edge with your left index finger between your right index and middle fingers.

Preheat oven to 425.

Pumpkin Filling:
In food processor bowl, mix
3 eggs
3 cups pumpkin
1 cup turbinado or cane sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ginger
3/8 teaspoon cloves
3/8 teaspoon allspice
1 1/3 cans evaporated milk (1/3 can is ½ cup)

Blend well. Pour half the mixture into each of the two pie crusts.

Place the pies in the oven and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 and cook for 45-50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean (or push it gently with your finger to feel if it’s set).

Cool well before eating. Whip some cream and serve! Each pie makes 8 large or 12 small slices.

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Still Winter Granola

Those of you who don’t live along Colorado’s Front Range of the Rockies would probably be surprised at the vicissitudes of our winter weather. Last weekend felt like spring with sunshine and highs in the 60s. Now it’s bleak winter again: highs in the teens today and ten below zero tonight with just enough icy snow falling to make the roads slippery and dangerous.

As one friend wrote this morning, it’s a good day for seed catalogs. I agree, but since we sent in our orders last week, I’m making granola instead.

I started making my own granola several years ago and couldn’t believe how many years I’d wasted buying granola. As many of you undoubtedly know, making your own granola is really easy, but even better than that, you can customize your own recipe in so many ways, why settle for less? Ingredients, sweetness, texture, and, best of all, toastedness are all under your own control. To make granola, all you need are ingredients—most of which you can buy in bulk, a large baking dish, and half an hour when you’re hanging out near the kitchen taking care of some other domestic task like balancing your checkbook, folding laundry, sending emails, or writing your blog lol.

To me, granola is SO 70s, part of the “back to the land” and “natural foods” movements that inspired me as a teenager. Unlike my memory of my first quiche, I can’t remember exactly when I first tried granola but I did make “Back to Nature” granola cookies in high school from store-bought granola (or “store-boughten,” as we say in our family).

I like making granola because it combines two kinds of activities: mindless and mindful. When I’m mixing the ingredients, I like to be mindful of the textures involved: the round flakiness of the oatmeal with the shredded flakiness of the coconut, the precise size of the walnuts chopped in my vintage chopper, and the smoothness of the honey drizzled gently into the oil and vanilla.

But once granola’s in the oven, you don’t have to think much about it, just enough to stir every five minutes or so until the end, when you better get mindful again or you can ruin the whole batch. The last few minutes are when you need vigilance to attain the perfect shade of brown and crunchy texture for your personal granola. No one can put that in a recipe—you have to discover that for yourself.

This past Christmas I gave my daughter and son-in-law—who have a beautiful new house with a perfect kitchen for cooking—my granola recipe and bulk bags of ingredients. They made their first batch right away and now can adapt the recipe to their liking.

Also last Christmas, a dear friend gave us a huge bag of homemade granola, a wonderful gift because she’d used walnuts AND almonds, honey AND maple syrup, while I always use just one nut and only honey, since we’ve got our own farm hives. It felt luxurious to eat such exuberant granola, a welcome change from our own.

So to celebrate the last day of January by warming up our kitchens as well as our palates, I’m including my Stonebridge Farm granola recipe below in the hope you’ll share your own granola recipes, favorite ingredients, and innovations.


Stonebridge Farm Granola

4 cups organic rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup coconut flakes (I use 2/3 cup shredded and 1/3 cup larger flakes)
1 cup chopped nuts like walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, or pecans
2 Tbl of seeds like sesame, ground flax (or wheat germ)
¼ cup honey (1/3-1/2 cup if you like it sweeter)
¼ cup safflower oil (or same as for honey, plus some for oiling pan)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp good ground cinnamon like Vietnamese cassia
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit like cranberries or cherries or apples

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Very lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking dish and mix first 4 ingredients right inside the dish. If you’re using larger coconut flakes, you may want to reserve them because they brown more rapidly than the shredded kind.

Place in preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes.

Take out of oven and stir well.  (Add large coconut flakes now if you’ve reserved them.)

Bake 5 minutes, remove, and stir. Repeat. (15 minutes total).

Sprinkle cinnamon over granola and mix well.

Mix safflower oil, honey, and vanilla in a two-cup measuring container with a pouring spout and pour uniformly over granola. Mix well.

Bake 3 minutes, remove, and stir.

Now comes the mindful part. Bake another 1-3 minutes depending on your oven and how brown you want your granola. I’d suggest baking for one minute, checking and stirring, and then repeat until you’re there.

Once you’ve attained perfection, stir well, being sure the granola isn’t sticking to the dish. Cool a few more minutes and stir again. If you don’t stir a couple times initially while it’s cooling, it’ll stick to the dish.

If you like your granola chunkier, you could mix 1/8 cup honey with 1/8 cup oil and drop in spots to harden some of the granola into chunks during this cooling period.

Once cooled, add fruit and mix.

Store in gallon glass jar or container.


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SABLE

I learned a new craft term at the Lunafest Women’s Film Festival recently: SABLE—Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy. Everyone in the audience who was a crafter laughed at that one because we know exactly what that means. Boxes and bags and drawers of craft supplies that we plan to get to someday but probably never will.

I think the most longterm project I still haven’t thrown out is a gathered “peasant” style blouse for which I bought the fabric and the elastic but then used the elastic for something else. The pattern and fabric (really cute!) have been in a drawer since (and I blush to write this) 2003. I know because I was teaching a particular class that spring and had planned to make the blouse before the end of the semester.

Besides running out of elastic, I think I haven’t made that blouse yet because I don’t sew much from a pattern anymore. The last thing I made from a pattern needed considerable altering so I’m a little skeptical about the fit for the blouse. Or maybe I’m just not as patient with tissue-thin paper and cutting on the lines as I used to be. Today I mostly alter vintage clothes or sew things for the house like tablecloths and curtains. But someday, I may find the time and the patience again.

I have the craft gene. With two grandmothers who excelled at making useful items out of burlap, cheerios, and sequins and a mom who sews, it’s gotta be genetic, going far back in genealogical history: my great-great-grandmother was a professional dressmaker in St. Louis and she helped my grandmother make her wedding dress, the same one I wore ten years ago.

My grandmothers' dolls; Grandma Smith made the one in the middle for me

My grandmothers’ rural crafting ingenuity is something to admire. They even made dolls out of hand-sized turkey wishbones. They sewed fabric heads and arms to cover the pointy end of the bone and wrapped fabric around the “wishing” part for legs. They embroidered hair and faces and made little blouses and skirts and hats to dress them. I still have those dolls, a testimony to crafting something out of nothing and my grandmothers’ “make-do” spirit for using whatever was on hand.

I started making doll clothes as soon as I could sit at the sewing machine, but the first craft I remember making was a “sit-upon” in Brownies. A sit-upon is an essential part of Girl Scout gear because you need your sit-upon to sit upon at meetings and while camping. Mine was a red and white gingham square of vinyl fabric folded around a one-inch stack of newspaper and whip-stitched with red yarn around the edges, leaving enough yarn at each end to braid for a carrying string. Look at the craft skills we learned: measuring and cutting fabric, stuffing, stitching, and braiding, as well as color coordination.

In Girl Scouts, we also dolls out of a clothespin, presumably because clothespins were easier to come by than giant turkey bones. Plus, clothespins—the old round kind—already had heads. We painted on the faces and, using our new braiding skills, glued braided yarn on top for hair, then sewed tiny sack-like dresses and perky aprons for clothes.

By junior high, I’d graduated from doll clothes to making my own. Hemlines were high in those days so it didn’t take much fabric to make a straight skirt with an elastic hem, usually in plaid. Once I learned how to put in a zipper, I made a lot of dresses too. In high school, I used the scraps from those dresses to make a quilt. It took me three months to quilt it—and I was only grounded one of those months for conduct unbecoming a young lady, but that’s another story.

Somewhere along the way, my Grandma Smith taught me to crochet. My first real project was a red, white, and blue granny square vest. In the 70s, you could wear something like that. I still like to crochet, especially baby things (see my post “Round Your Garden” for the baby hats I’ve been making).

I didn’t take up knitting until my daughter was born but next to sewing, it’s my most enduring craft. I make one or two sweaters a year, all a variation of the same pattern I’ve perfected for fit, which to me is the hardest thing about knitting.

I like to craft handmade gifts, especially for my mom who appreciates old family photographs or bits and pieces I’ve saved from my grandmothers, like this shadow box of my Grandma Smith’s letters and sewing supplies.

Along the way, I’ve accumulated a paper cutter, fancy scissors, exacto knives with various blades, a rotary cutter and cutting board, crochet hooks and knitting needles of all sizes, and lots of different glues.

And then there’s the SABLE. A couple tubs of fabric, most of it vintage, boxes of buttons, and baskets of yarn. Sometimes I “destash” at our knitting group, but mostly, I hang onto it. Every crafter needs a little SABLE. It gives us hope that someday we’ll make the sweater or quilt or blouse we’ve been meaning to make when we finally have the peace and quiet to do it.

And here’s a shout-out to all my crafty friends and to Etsy for all the great crafters they support: www.etsy.com

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