Tuesday, September 8, 2020

An Ice Cream Conundrum (Triple Mint Chip Ice Cream)

Real Mint Ice Cream isn't Green!
Nearly every recipe for home made ice cream I've made says something along the lines of, "eat within 3 days" or "keep for up to a week in the freezer". Why three days? Why a week? Well, I have personally done some highly non-scientific home-testing on this subject and am here to tell you: Ice cream you make from scratch will keep just fine for longer than a week. It will last even up to four weeks! None of the test subjects lasted longer than four weeks because that happens to also be the absolute and total limit of our self-control... or I might have just forgotten it was in the freezer. Oops.

The only reasoning I could find anywhere for the 3-day/one-week rule was that the ice cream could start to lose it's flavor the longer it sat in the freezer. It may happen to some extent, but it doesn't go from luscious to unpalatable after that one-week mark. I, for one, haven't discerned any noticeable deficiency of flavor in the ice creams I've made, nor did any of them pick up any off-odors during their one to four weeks in the icebox. That said, the chocolate chips, nuts, and other mix-ins will suffer texturally if frozen too long, but the ice cream itself will be fine.
 
So go ahead and make the homemade ice cream more than a week ahead of when you need/want it, just save the textured tidbits for sprinkling on top when you serve it... and don't forget that it's in the freezer! Wondering what kind of iced cream to make? Here's a good one if you really like mint—or are ambivalent about it but happen to have a ton of it taking over your yard...
 
Triple-Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream 
Start with a good, natural (actual mint leaves), Mint Chip Ice Cream recipe. I love this fantastic recipe from David Lebovitz. Then, instead of using just one type of mint, substitute a combination of three different varieties. The three that are growing in my back yard are: Peppermint, Chocolate Mint (a variant of peppermint), and Spearmint. I've found that a 2/3 to 1/3 mix of peppermints to spearmints made a nice balance, but play around with it. Don't sweat it if you can only find two varieties. Just call it "Double-Mint"! Side Note: If you're not going to eat it right away, for heaven's sake don't use the cheap mini chocolate chips like I did one time... the texture was not pleasant.
 
The first time I made this Mint Chip Ice Cream I could not get over how very different it was from store-bought Mint Chip ice cream. For instance, did you happen to notice that the ice cream in my photo is not green? It is the barest hint of green-tinged beige. Real mint-infused foods are not actually green.
 
While the flavor of this ice cream is undeniably mint, it doesn't taste like hyper-flavored fake mint flavoring. It doesn't shout, it whispers. It is not a blast of mint, it is a wafting of it. This is a subtle... lingering... complex... and layered creamy mint that tastes of a late afternoon in the garden at the height of summer. 
 
Which, incidentally, is right now (I don't care what the calendar says)...

Stay cool out there,
Steph

Saturday, August 29, 2020

This is (and isn't) Etegami

My first Etegami: Tomato Arrival!
Etegami means "picture letter" in Japanese and it's a charming way to send thoughts and well-wishes to friends and family. It takes very little to get started: paper, ink, watercolor, a brush or two. There are a few rules of course, but deviate from those traditional confines a little (or a lot!) and you've still got something you can proudly call "mail-art" which you can use to connect with somebody you know. And really, who wouldn't love to get something nice in the mail for a change?

At its most basic, Etegami is a handmade postcard featuring: a seasonal object outlined with a brush and black ink on absorbent paper, a few strokes of watercolor paint inside that outline, a meaningful quote/verse/thought that relates to the image, followed by a signature (hanko or chop)... and then mailed. That last bit is crucial. It must be mailed or it is not etegami. Follow-through is an integral part of the process!

What I love the most about etegami is that anybody can do it: young, old, artistically inclined or not. It doesn't have to be good... in fact, shaky, clumsy, awkward lines and dabs are not only preferred, but built-in (and frankly, guaranteed) by the way you're supposed to hold your brushes! This is an art form created for loosening up, being in the moment, and for genuinely connecting with each other.

The tomato etegami above, ticks many of the boxes for a "real" etegami, but not all. For one thing, I did not use the proper paper. Because Japanese etegami paper tends to be scarce (and/or pricey) state-side, I used what I had, which was watercolor paper. Other than that, the subject was seasonal and in front of me, the sentiment related to the both the recipient and the subject, and there were no shadows or backgrounds to clutter it up.

That was my very first etegami* and was sent to a family member who was going to be visiting us a couple of years ago. At that time, like now, our beefsteak tomatoes had just started to turn red, and their peak would coincide with the arrival of our visitor. The double meaning of the sentiment I chose is very much in keeping with the etegami spirit (playfulness is encouraged!) 

If you want to learn more about etegami, you can find an incredible wealth of generous and fascinating information at the blog: DosankoDebbie's Etegami NotebookSide Note: I have spent an embarrassing amount of time on her blog over the years, it's just such a wonderful and inspiring place to wander around in.
 
Etegami is one of those things that is paradoxically simple and complex. So, while there is plenty of enjoyment for everybody to wade around in, there are also many layers of nuance to uncover should you wish to dive deeper into it.
 
Though still not very widespread outside of Japan, Etegami is so charming and enjoyable, it is definitely deserving of a wider appreciation and participation. And don't fret about the supplies or the rules... it's more important to use what you've got and get them mailed out.
 
Another nice thing: postcard stamps cost a lot less than letter-rate postage! So now that there's nothing to stop you... Go make somebody's day!

Clumsily yours,
 Steph


*My first clumsy attempt. But remember: Etegami embraces clumsiness! Call it "anti-perfectionism" if you will. It's not about how good it is! It's real, it's immediate, and most importantly: it shows a human/personal heart and hand.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

It's Too Hot to Cook! Breakfast Edition

Easy, Healthy, and Delicious... Soaked Muesli
Muesli — it's what's for breakfast at my house... especially when it's too hot to cook (or I just don't feel like it).

Granola is great of course, if you have it on hand... refrigerator oats are an option too, though they tend to be too "soupy" for my liking, and have a strange texture... we've even eaten toasted oats with yogurt which was actually pretty tasty. This acid-soaked method, is an even healthier option (and possibly even easier) than all of the above.

We started eating oats this way a couple of years ago and it quickly became part of the regular rotation of breakfast favorites, especially in the warmer months. The trick to this method is a long soak in acidulated water. I'm not going to get into all the nutritional science (not my forté) but will try to explain a bit of it in basic terms. Oats contain phytates that our bodies can't break down and which prevent access to all of the available nutrients. By soaking the oats for eight to 24-hours (or more) with certain acids, those phytates are broken down somewhat so when we eat them, we get what amounts to a nutritional backstage pass.

As with most things, I found a glut of conflicting information regarding how to do this, why to do this, how long to do this, etc. So here's my caveat: I'm not a health professional. Do your research. Decide for yourself. Eat a variety of foods. Be kind to one another. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...
 

Soaked Oats (aka Muesli for Two)

Soaking it...
Mason jar with lid (10-12 ounce cap.)
1 cup Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats
2 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV), lemon juice, or plain yogurt
Filtered Water
  1. Add the oats and the ACV to the jar, and top with the filtered water leaving a little space at the top. 
  2. Put the lid on and give it a good shake. 
  3. Leave on the counter until ready to eat (aim for 24 hours). I've had mine out for up to 4 days and it's fine.
  4. Shake again once or twice during the day so you feel more a part of the process.
After soaking it (before eating it)...
1/8 tsp Sea Salt
2 tsp Cinnamon
  1. When you're ready to have it for breakfast, dump the contents of the jar into a mesh sieve over the sink.
  2. Rinse well with cold water and drain well. I usually "bounce" it a few times to get as much liquid out as I have the patience for.
  3. Plop the oats into a bowl and mix in the salt and cinnamon. 
  4. Divide the oats equally into two serving bowls.
Eating it...  
I always shred a green apple into our muesli. It's a key element in traditional muesli and also makes it taste awesome. Perhaps because grating releases more juice than chopping? Other types of apples will taste good too, but the sweet/tart of the green apple plays really nicely with the other ingredients.

Split the following between the two bowls of Muesli:

1 large Granny Smith apple (or 2 small), shredded
1 cup Full-fat Plain Greek Yogurt 
Cream (or Raw Milk if you've got it)

Then top with any of these:

Fresh, Frozen, or Dried Fruits
Toasted Nuts and Seeds
Shredded Carrot
Unsweetened Coconut 
Ground flax seed meal
Candied Ginger, diced 
a drizzle of Raw Honey or Maple Syrup 
Chocolate Chips (yes, we did that)
Anything else that sounds good!
 

Why I love it...
This muesli-method of oats served us well during the fires last fall when our power was cut off for nearly week (for our safety!) and we were forced to camp out at home without a means of cooking or storing fresh food. I made four jars of it and was so happy that it didn't have to take up space in our ice chest.

As they have started cutting our power recently due to high heat (and bonus: there are fires again too!)... I thought I'd share this with you in case you are in any situation that could benefit from a super easy healthy customizable breakfast... one that you can make a day or more ahead of time... and doesn't need to be cooked or refrigerated. Perfect for weekdays, weekends, camping, and sheltering-in-place without power!

 

Stay safe and healthy,

—Steph

 

PS... I typed meusli and spellcheck gave me the option of the correct spelling or the word "slime".  Spellcheck: handy and yet so very bizarre at the same time.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Of Gaps, Gapes, and Stretchy Buttonholes (aka mending for modesty)

I have this top that’s really comfortable yet looks crisp even on hot days. It’s down to the fabric: mostly cotton with just a touch of spandex in it. Wonderful stuff that it is, it’s not always so great when it comes to buttonholes and shirt plackets. That nice bit of stretch means those buttonholes will also stretch and can result in the unexpected unbuttoning over ones bust or belly. Yikes. The other thing it does is what my Mom calls “gap-osis”: when you bend, twist, take a breath, make a gesture, put a hand on a hip, and suddenly gaps gape open between the buttons on the placket revealing things we’d probably rather not. In a word: Gap-osis.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had tops in my closet that did this, and it’s not just the stretch-cotton tops either. All manner of button-up shirts and cardigan sweaters can exhibit this behavior. Happily I found a solution for most of them.

This won’t work on every garment that pops, gaps, or gapes, but it has so far put one of my favorite cardigans and four shirts back into my regular rotation and made me super happy at the same time. It’s such a relief to not have to think about, worry about, or fuss with my clothes as I am wearing them. No constant checking to see if the button popped out, or remembering not to make a certain move, or to wear a tank top underneath (just in case.)

Here is the trick, and it’s so simple… sew the dang thing shut! That’s it. Couldn’t be more basic, right?

Now, the disclaimer: It will only work on tops that you can get into and out of without having to unbutton them. So, nothing super tight and probably most regular cotton/woven shirts are out, but the ones with slight stretch built-in and of course, the knit cardigans… should work easily peasily.

Here’s how I approach it, plus some tips to make it as unnoticeable as possible. After all, the goal here is to avoid wardrobe malfunctions and provide peace of mind, not show off your mad sewing skills. I love visible mending, but this fix is not the place for it:

  1. Put your top on and button it the way you would normally wear it. Then try to take it off without unbuttoning it. If you can, you’re good to go. Put it back on, again without unbuttoning it first, just to double-check.
  2. Look in the mirror and decide where the gap-osis is happening the most. Usually it will be bust and/or belly region.
  3. Using pins or paper clips, mark the beginning and end of where you want your line of stitching on the placket. You’ll usually want the stitching to start and stop near a button if possible. If it doesn’t work out that way, that’s okay too.
  4. Find thread that matches the existing top stitching as closely as possible. If you don’t have any, then try to match the background color of the fabric. The idea is to make the new stitching as invisible as you can... or at least make it look like it's always been there.
  5. Decide where you want your line of stitching to go: you can stitch on either side of the placket. Each will give a slightly different look while achieving the same outcome. You'll be stitching over an existing line of stitches or creating a new line (see photo above).
  6. Practice on some scrap fabric while you adjust your machine's stitch length and try to match any existing top stitching on your shirt. You want this new stitching to blend in and be as unobtrusive as possible. Take your time with this step.
  7. Be sure to backstitch the beginning and end of your stitch line, or pull both threads to the inside and knot them securely.
Sometimes, because of the size of the buttons or width of the placket, you won’t be able to get your sewing machine needle/foot/etc close enough to sew over the existing stitch line. Maybe you haven’t got access to a sewing machine? Maybe you just need a fast fix so you can wear it right away? 
 
No worries… Grab a hand-sewing needle and your matching thread, turn the shirt or cardi inside out and stitch by hand! It doesn’t have to be quite as neat this way (bonus), but you do have to be careful to take even stitches that aren't too large. For extra stealth, sew just into the back layer of the top placket so the stitches don't show at all from the front. Watch your tension too, so it doesn’t end up puckering. Just take your time and it will be secure and invisible.

That’s really all there is to it! Gap-ectomy complete... modesty intact... closet happy!

Just sitting here stitching the blues away,

Steph

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Crochet All The Things! (ottoman cover)

...don't call it an ottoman
Hold on to your hats my friends, I've been crocheting everything for the past 2+ years and if you sit still for very long around me, I'm liable to crochet you too! Crochet is pretty addictive but the upside is how very practical it can be. It has its limits to be sure, and there are some things that are just better off knitted, but if you stay firmly within crochet's wheelhouse, there's lots of awesomeness just waiting to be made.

Since I haven't blogged about my obsession with crochet yet, I'll have to back up and share some previous projects before I can show you what I'm currently working on.

My first big project* was to make a cover for our footstool out of all my practice granny squares (pictured above). I finally finished it late last Spring and the cats immediately claimed it for themselves.

When I first started crocheting, I got loads of "how-to" books from the library and a bunch of different yarns to practice with. I ended up with a stack of truly random granny squares and no plan for them.  We certainly didn't need more blankets or sofa throws, but I hated the idea of not using them for something. Then my eyes fell on our shabby-but-not-chic footstool still wearing its aging, "temporary" muslin slip cover. Needless to say, it got volunteered.

I had no real direction or blueprint to go by in order to construct the ottoman cover. I pretty much just winged it and made it up as I went along. That should be obvious by looking. If you're interested, these are the basic steps I took...
  1. Took measurements of everything 
  2. Laid the squares out on the footstool and/or floor, and played with placement... a lot
  3. Took a digital photos when I was satisfied with the arrangement so I wouldn't forget what went where
  4. Added extra rows of crochet around any of the squares that didn't match the others in size
  5. Measured everything again
  6. Bordered all of the squares with a row of single crochet stitches in off-white yarn
  7. Connected all the squares into top and side panels with more off-white yarn
  8. Connected the four side panels to the top panel, then I connected side panels to make corners
  9. Edged the bottom with as many rows of sc and hdc crochet as needed to get it the length I wanted
  10. Wove narrow elastic through the bottom edge of it so it would stay snugly in place yet still be easily removed for washing
I should add that I binge-watched every episode of every season of Den Store Strikkedyst that I could find while constructing this. I won't link to it as I don't know if it's even still available to watch anywhere. It's just like the Great British Bake Off. Except it's Danish. And it's about knitting. It's a competitive knitting reality TV show from Denmark. I think there were eight seasons of it. No subtitles. It was so awesome.

And that's my funky-random-ugly-yet-oddly-charming footstool cover.
I love it (and so do the cats).

Keepin' it cozy...
Steph

* not including the Cloche-hat/Basketball-cozy/Shopping-bag fiasco... as it's come to be known.