Monday, August 31, 2015

Back to school!

Vintage ad from my collection
Today is the first day of school in these parts, so I couldn't resist sharing this wonderful vintage picture I scanned from an old ad for Alston School Photography.  When I was a child, Alston was the school photographer used by all the local schools.  This advertising pictured here would have been sent home with children to encourage the parents to order more photos for display or gifts.  Funny how the children in the illustration all look as excited as their mom does!  I can't remember that ever being the case at my house!

Happy back-to-school, everyone!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Around the [felt] campfire

Photo by Sam
If you've read either of my blogs for very long, you've no doubt seen a lot of felt food.  I discovered this fun form of handcrafted play food several years ago, and have not looked back!  I've made everything from Christmas cookies ...
 to bacon and eggs ...
to cinnamon rolls ...
 to lemon meringue pie ...
 to toaster pastries ...
 to ripple chips ...
 to cheesecake with strawberries ...
and everything in between!

A couple of years ago, my younger daughter sent me links to some felt projects she thought her kids would enjoy as a group gift.  I looked at them, saved them and ended up choosing one idea -- some felt play mats -- to make for gifts that Christmas. 
Another of the ideas was for felt s'mores and even a campfire! Although I put that idea on the back burner, it started simmering again in time for spring birthdays this year.  I made the campfire for one child and the s'mores for his sister.  It looks as if the Nevada grandkids (the ones whose mom sent me the ideas originally) will be recipients of the same gift projects this Christmas.

Although I got some (blurry) pictures of the marshmallows, the roasting sticks, and the s'mores, I didn't do as well getting a picture of the campfire itself.  Finally,  months after the fact, I asked if my local grandkids would set up the campfire and take some pictures for me.  Did they ever!

I took the next 3 pictures:
Graham cracker, melted marshmallow and chocolate square
This shows the graham crackers, chocolate and melted marshmallow
This gives you a good look at the sticks as well as the marshmallows and how they are crafted to fit together well.
I promised to share links to the tutorials I used, along with the photos.  So, I will start with the roasting sticks and the marshmallows.  There are all kinds of ideas out there, including using dowels for the sticks (not a good idea, I thought) but this is the one I settled on:  Felt Marshmallows and Roasting Sticks.  The sticks are actually chenille stems (pipe cleaners) wrapped in felt casings.

All of the photos below are by Sam:
The kids set up the campfire surrounded by stuffed animals who are toasting marshmallows.
This little guy looks so at home!
This shows the drawback of using chenille stems -- maybe a little too much bendability.
But, on the upside, they do look like real sticks.
Just like around a real campfire, some are toasting marshmallows ...
And some are munching s'mores.  Others are just waiting their turn!
The campfire, logs, graham crackers, chocolate bars, and melted marshmallows all came from this tutorial: Felt Campfire and S’mores. The only part I had to sort of figure out on my own was the campfire ring of felt "stones".  In retrospect, I sort of wish I had attached the stones together into a ring shape, but I felt it would be more fun for the kids to "build" the fire ring for themselves.
A snail and turtle share a s'more
A Dalmatian munches a s'more
Hope you have enjoyed this look at the felt campfire and accessories.  It does make a great group gift for siblings.  For more felt ideas, check out my Fun with Felt Pinterest board!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Potato salad the easy way

My mother would definitely not approve of the lazy way I make potato salad nowadays.  When I was growing up, potato salad was an all-day production.  You started in the morning or the night before if you wanted to have potato salad for supper.  There were no acceptable shortcuts in most cooks' books.  Certainly not in my mother's!  Although I must admit that both she and my grandmother made a great potato salad and they each had their tricks to make it easier and better.

Back then, making potato salad involved 2 steaming saucepans ... one for the hard-boiled eggs and one for the potatoes.  The potatoes had to be the long white or California white type -- the ones with the thin, yellowish-tan skin.  (We had never seen red potatoes!)  They were not to be peeled before cooking; no, just washed, quartered and then cooked.  When they were cooked and cool enough to handle, then came the next sticky step; removing the skins.  Then and only then were the potatoes cubed.  My mother’s secret trick was that she drizzled Italian dressing over the warm cubed potatoes and then put them in the fridge to marinate.

After the eggs cooled enough to handle, they were then peeled, put in a bowl and chopped with a metal chopper.  These were then added to the potatoes.  Now here is my grandmother’s secret trick: an egg slicer.  She put the peeled hard-boiled egg in the slicer and sliced it.  Then she carefully removed the egg (which holds together fine if you take care) and placed it in the slicer the opposite way, then sliced again, holding the slicer over the bowl of potatoes so the chopped eggs drop right in.  This effectively chops the egg just about right for potato salad.  I still do it this way!

Some people would also chop up onion, cucumber, or celery to add to potato salad.  I love the taste of raw onion in potato salad, but not the aftertaste, so I never use it.  My mother’s way was to shake in plenty of onion powder when seasoning.  She used Miracle Whip for dressing and my grandmother used mayonnaise.
We had an outdoor fireplace like this one when I was growing up.  Potato salad will probably make an appearance on that picnic table!
So my easy way for potato salad involves washing and cubing the potatoes — as many as necessary for the group I’m feeding — then cooking them 20 minutes or so until tender.  If the potatoes in question are russets, I peel them; if they are white, yellow or red potatoes, I don’t peel them.  Then I usually cut up some chives (with scissors) and place them on top of the cooked, drained potato cubes. 

I don’t always use eggs, but when I do, I use the quick, easy method of placing them in a small saucepan, covering with cold water and bringing to a full rolling boil.  Then turn the heat off, cover the saucepan and let stand 15 minutes.  Drain off the hot water and replace with cold water and a few ice cubes.  Place bowl in fridge until ready to use, then peel and chop the eggs and add to the potatoes.

For dressing, I use mayonnaise and usually some plain Greek yogurt.  I add dry mustard, salt and pepper and maybe some onion powder or seasoned salt.  Mix the dressing into the potatoes until the salad is the consistency you like.  (Add more mayo or yogurt if needed.)  Taste, then adjust seasoning as you like. Bacon bits, if you like them, are also a nice addition.  Sprinkle the finished salad with paprika if you like.

This can even be served warm if you don’t have time to chill it.  Or, if you have a few minutes, remember this rule of thumb: 15 minutes in the freezer equals an hour in the fridge.  (Just don’t forget and leave the salad in the freezer.  Frozen potato salad just wouldn’t be the same!)

I’m pretty sure my mother wouldn’t approve of my shortcut, haphazard way of making potato salad.  But I’m also pretty sure she would like the way it tastes!  We certainly do!

(Both images on this post are from my collection of vintage magazine advertisements.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Blueberry morning

A couple of weeks ago, friends told us about a hilltop farm where they had gone to pick high-bush blueberries.  Mr. T and I were intrigued.  It has been a long time since we went blueberry picking just for fun, and we have actually never had to pay to pick blueberries.  But we still thought it would be fun and so planned to go this past Saturday morning.  We called first to check on picking conditions and were told we could pick as long as it wasn't raining.

Saturday morning was a bit cloudy, but not rainy, so we went out for breakfast first and then headed for the u-pick farm.  They were having a special since it is so close to the end of the season and many berries were overripe.  Instead of $5 per quart, it was $30 if you picked ten quarts -- so, $3 per quart.  We decided to see if we could get 10 quarts.
There were nice mountain views in the distance.  A lot of the bushes looked like this; we would just touch a clump of berries and there would be leaves and berries literally falling off.
Still, it was pretty easy picking.
Aren't they beautiful!?
As we worked, we reminisced about how much my mother loved picking blueberries.  When she found a perfect looking clump like this one above, she would save it to adorn the full pail of blueberries.

A branch with all the berry colors!
View of some of the bushes and distant mountains.  That is an electric fence to keep bears out!
The sun came out bright and the day was extremely hot and humid.  Nonetheless, we stuck with it, picked our ten quarts and were home by noon.  A fun and profitable morning!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Shades of pink

The weathered wood is a simple structure surrounding my dad's blueberry bushes.
I am trying to be a little more mindful this summer and take the camera along on the short daily trips to my dad's house.  I seldom remember, but I have taken it a handful of times, at least.  I just wish I would get better at using it.  Both Mr. T and I keep saying that we need to just read the book and try to figure the camera out.  (We had loved our old camera and one of us had become quite proficient with it.  Then one day he was fiddling around with settings and the camera just died.  Gave up the ghost.  Thankfully we had a new camera in reserve, having bought one on a Black Friday sale.  But we just don't like this one as well.)

All that to say that I do realize these pictures are not as good as they might be, and some of them are blurry.  But hopefully they convey the beautiful shades of pink I have been seeing the past couple of weeks.
These pink wildflowers are growing at the edge of a field near my dad's mailbox.  Every year I think I will get pictures, but I never do.  This picture was taken a couple of weeks ago.
These two are more recent; I took them Monday.  There were several different butterflies enjoying these flowers, as well as bees, but apparently I didn't capture them.
I didn't intend to get the red hay wagon in the picture.  It sort of clashes!  For the longest time I just couldn't figure out what these pink flowers are.  My friend Mrs. Doug has now identified them as Joe-Pye Weed, and says that butterflies love them.
These are back in our yard now ... pink bee balm with some frothy white aster-like flowers.  I liked the two together.
A closer look at the combination of flowers.
More pink bee balm
And a closer look.  That is a little yellow-green spider in the blossom to the left.

Back at my dad's ... more phlox.  Guess these are more lavender than pink.
I like the contrast of the weathered wood with the delicate flowers. 
 I wish I had paid more attention growing up, but I believe that these phlox and the ones at the beginning of the post were plants that my mother dug up at her grandparents' home place in Vermont.  She then replanted them in her back yard.  I'm hoping to do the same one of these days.

So those are the pretty flowers I've been seeing lately.  As I'm sure you know, clicking on the photos will enlarge them for better detail.  Enjoy these lovely shades of pink as I've been doing!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A gift of a day

How serene!
I mentioned this in passing, in the post I wrote about the hike with the grandkids.  But a couple of weeks ago, Mr. T and I were blessed with the gift of a day.  Early in the week, I had made plans with our local daughter that I would meet her and her four kiddos at the lake on Friday.  A good day was predicted, and I could use some relaxing time.

Surprisingly, Mr. T (who could use relaxation even more than I) ended up with most of Friday off.  We were able to head to the lake together.  I hadn't told anyone he was coming, just in case something fell through and he ended up working.  And also, it would be fun to surprise the kids!

We have a busy life with many responsibilities and -- as I think I mentioned in the post about the hike -- he has a demanding (though enjoyable) job with long hours and sometimes a lengthy commute.  So every day I pray that we might find some time, no matter how little, to relax.  Sometimes it is truly surprising to see God's provision (although we shouldn't be taken by surprise: He is all-powerful, after all!).  That Friday was one of those amazing times.  We would not have thought to ask God for a day off, but He knew what we needed and provided it anyway!
I find this view so calming.

I think she had just eaten some sand in this picture. 

Crawling is even more fun in sand!
Hope you've enjoyed this look at our special, relaxing day!