I have been attempting simple projects lately to try to improve my sewing skills. Our old dish towels that hang on the fridge have been looking pretty beat so I decided to try a sewn towel topper.
Many patterns online use a button as a fastener, but I wanted to try something easier than sewing a buttonhole. I experimented with a couple of alternate fastening methods, and I think they both turned out great!
Towel toppers only use a little bit of fabric, so if you have some scraps and you want to try an easy and useful project, it might be perfect for you.
You’ll need one 18-by-14-inch piece of fabric. Depending on how you decide to sew your topper you’ll either need a second piece of fabric, 1-by-28 inches or you’ll need a small piece of Velcro. The pattern I hand drew is here:
Tie-up Topper: Fold your fabric strip (the long piece) in half (widthwise) right sides facing each other, and press well. Sew closed, leaving only about 1/8-inch seam allowance. Using a tube-turner if you have one, or a safety pin if you’re like me, open up your tube. Press it flat. Cut the tube in half to make two long ties. Fold in one end of each tie 1/4 inch or so and sew across, finishing them off.
Cut your topper out (cut 2) Pin the right sides of your topper together, inserting the ties at the top.
Sew around 2/3 of the outside edge, using a 1/4-inch seam allowance. Leave 1/2 inch at the bottom unsewn. Also, make sure to leave your bottom end open to insert the towel. Press your seam open. Fold the bottom of your topper up 1/2 inch and press well.
Cut your towel in half. Insert the raw edge about 1/2 inch into the topper. Distribute the towel evenly, creating pleats so that it fits well into your topper. Pin into place. Stitch your topper closed, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the edge, making sure you catch all your layers. Sew a second row of stitching across the edge, this time about 1/8 inch from the edge. Your new dish towel is ready to hang!
Velcro Topper: If you don’t want to fuss with the ties, I tried an even simpler version. Sew up your topper, leaving out the ties. When it’s sewn up, attach a small piece of Velcro on the top of the tie and the middle of your topper.
Super-easy and just as nice!
On a cold winter day nothing beats a good book and the promise of something delicious baking in the oven. Last week when the blizzard hit us I couldn’t resist making a sweet bread using an old-fashioned recipe.
Since my mom let me borrow Grandma’s recipe files I’ve enjoyed reading through her recipes and picking out ones to try. Mom also loaned me a copy of 200 Years of Favorite Recipes from Delaware County, published by the local senior council in 1990. Lately I’ve been comparing Grandma’s recipes to the ones I’ve found in this book.
A generous neighbor gave us a bag of Valencia oranges just after Christmas so I thought I’d try to find a way to use a few. I found a recipe for “Meredith Inn Orange Date Bread” in the 200 Years… cookbook.
The Meredith Inn burned down more than 60 years ago but its recipes live on. This particular recipe originally appeared in Adventures in Good Cooking, published in 1939. Grandma had a very similar recipe (she called it a receipt) for “Date and Nut Bread.” The only real difference is the orange juice/rind and Grandma’s recipe had no added fat while the Inn used 2 tablespoons butter.
I’ve never made a quick bread that didn’t use oil, margarine or butter so I opted to follow the Inn’s recipe, including using fresh juice and rind from the oranges. The bread came out great! It tastes like something I remember eating as a child while visiting older family friends or relatives. I recall eating it with cream cheese as a topping, but it’s terrific plain.
If you are craving something that will remind you of times past and have the urge to fire up your oven, give this delicious recipe a try. You won’t be disappointed!
In December our weekends are free for the first time since March. Spring, summer and fall find us working to grow and preserve our own food and further our self-reliance. Since Jim and I both still work full-time, gardening occupies our free time nine months of the year: from starting plants indoors in March through ‘til the final harvest of collard greens in November. It is a labor of love, but it is still labor!
Winter months allow us to reap the benefits of the garden, without any work at all beyond climbing the cellar stairs. We have the pleasure of pulling down home-canned produce from the shelves of our canning cellar or grabbing home-frozen vegetables to fix delicious meals all winter long.
Winter provides a welcome breather and a chance to focus on indoor projects for a time.
Winter gives us space to dream. Seed catalogs are arriving, and we’re looking ahead to next year’s garden and making wish lists. I already have a couple of ideas for next year. Just one idea I have on the back burner is starting a real herb garden. I have a feeling that deciding what to plant will be a lot easier than figuring out where on our small lot we’ll put the new plot. But for now I’m just looking ahead to harvesting all those beautiful herbs!
Although our lifestyle might seem like hard work, especially to our neighbors I imagine, it’s joyful work. We both love the garden and we love working together to grow food.
Meanwhile, until March rolls around, we will take time out from gardening to sew, read, make music, bake, and maybe just sit by the fire petting the cats.
We make our own relishes and our own pickles, so I thought it would be fun to try making other condiments as well. After doing a little research I discovered that making mustard is super easy, and it can be customized in many ways.
Making mustard turned out to be a perfect winter project. I found a few recipes online and combined them to make my own version. The first hurdle was finding mustard seeds. Mustard seeds come in black, brown, and yellow, with yellow being the most common. Our local food coop sells many spices and herbs in bulk at low prices. I found brown and yellow seeds there at reasonable prices. Next year we will plant our own mustard in an effort to harvest the seeds for making mustard in the fall.
There are lots of possible add-ins to mustard. One that caught my eye is horseradish. Jim and I have talked about growing horseradish next year for our beet relish – now we have another reason – and it will be a great addition to our mustard!
Ready for some DIY mustard? Here’s what you’ll need:
¼ cup brown mustard seeds
¼ cup yellow mustard seeds
½ cup white vinegar or white wine vinegar
¼ cup white wine
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp honey or agave nectar
1 tsp salt
½ tsp each garlic and onion powder
Soak seeds in vinegar and wine in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. Remove the mixture and then add the rest of your ingredients to a food processor or strong blender; puree until it reaches your desired consistency. I like mustard that is somewhat chunky so the seeds don’t bother me – you’ll never get it completely smooth with this recipe.
Put into jars and store in refrigerator.
If you have a DIY mustard recipe of your own, please share it in the comment box. I’d also love to hear how your mustard turns out!
I have written about the 25 pounds of apples we gleaned from abandoned local apple trees. Because we have no real root cellar or good cold storage, our next step was to figure out how to preserve them.
I looked through Grandma’s 1931 Successful Farming Cookbook and through all of her handwritten and clipped out recipes. The only recipe I could find that uses a lot of apples was one for apple pickles. I’ll make pumpkin pickles and even beet pickles, but I have to draw the line somewhere: I am not pickling apples! I made apple bread but still had plenty of apples left over.
I searched online to find a way to can apples and came across a canned apple pie filling recipe. Making it turned into a learning experience and was a good reminder that I’m still learning how to can. … If you have extra apples and want to give it a try, I’ll explain the process I used, including the pitfalls.
Canned Apple Pie Filling
3 1/2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup cornstarch
1 to 2 tablespoons cinnamon (according to your taste)
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
8 cups water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons pickling salt
10 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced
Prepare your waterbath canner. Make sure your jars and lids are clean and put your lids in a small bowl of warm (not boiling) water. Put your jars into your canner and allow them to simmer while putting your ingredients together.
Heat sugar, water, spices, lemon juice, cornstarch and salt on stove. Add all to your mixture on the stove; simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes.
Remove your jars from the waterbath and pack in the apple slices (these are uncooked) TIGHTLY. This is one mistake I made – I didn’t pack the apples tightly enough and ended up with a jar 1/3 full of sauce on the bottom and apples floating at the top.
Ladle the sauce from the stove into your filled jars. Use a knife to remove air pockets in the jar.
Here’s where it got tricky for me. The recipe called for 1-inch headspace, which I carefully measured. This was not enough apparently, as the filling expanded and ran all down the sides of my jars once I pulled them out of the waterbath. None of them sealed properly. I had to remove some of the filling from each jar, use new lids, and reprocess all of them. So I’m not really sure what to say about headspace, but if I was to try this recipe again I’d use at least 1 1/2 inches, maybe even 2. I would also consider cooking the apples right in the brine – that way there would be less risk of expansion in the jars.
However you decide to do it, once your jars are full, place lids and rings on, and place jars in your boiling waterbath. Boil in the canner for 20 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover from canner and let jars sit in the canner for 5 minutes. Remove jars and place on a towel. Let sit undisturbed for about 24 hours. This recipe made just over 7 quarts.
We aren’t big pie eaters but tried the preserves on pumpkin waffles – delicious!
However you decide to use yours – enjoy!
This winter I’m committed to learning how to sew. I have my mother-in-law’s sewing machine. Most of my sewing projects are trial and error, but I’m always looking for excuses to open up the machine and take a stab at putting something together. A recent GRIT Magazine article highlighting “Tie One On Day” piqued my interest.
Participants in Tie One On Day make an apron and a baked good, package them together with an uplifting note, and then present it to a neighbor or friend who can use a lift. What a great idea! For me it was a chance to practice sewing, and to use some of our homegrown bounty.
First I tackled the apron. I searched online to find a simple apron pattern, and found a few that I thought might work. I decided to try the one that looked the easiest.
I have a nice stash of material from my mom, who is an accomplished seamstress. I found two pieces of material that I thought went well together and tackled the project.
As with all my sewing projects, this was a learning experience. I found out that to do a zig-zag I need a special plate for the machine, and I was too intimidated to try to change it out. So I slightly modified the pattern. I am happy with how it came out, though.
The night before the official Tie One On Day, I made a loaf of pumpkin bread using neck pumpkin from the garden. I sent the finished package off with a note to a co-worker of my husband. She and her husband lost a beloved pet last month, and having gone through that myself recently, I know how painful it can be.
I’m so thankful to GRIT for bringing my attention to this rewarding project. I learned a bit about sewing, spent time baking (always a pleasure) and brightened someone’s day.
One of my favorite memories of going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house is eating Grandma’s currant jelly. I remember the beautiful color and the so-sweet but so-tart taste like it was yesterday. Much as I would like to have my own currant bushes, Jim and I haven’t put in any fruit trees. We rent our house and are reluctant to make an investment in fruit trees only to leave them behind someday. So far we just grow watermelon and rhubarb, and pick blueberries on a friend’s property. That’s why I was so excited when I recently stumbled upon two wild apple trees, both loaded with ripe, tasty fruit and both easily accessible.
Riding the bus to and from work allows me to see what’s going on around me – between the walk to the bus stop and looking out the bus window I see more than I would from behind the wheel. Last week as I walked home a noisy squirrel helped me to notice a small apple tree.
The tree sits on a wedge of property owned by a nearby apartment complex. Out of curiosity I picked a low-hanging apple. Wouldn’t you know, although it was small, it was delicious; worm-free and one of the tastiest apples I’ve ever eaten. Jim and I returned to the tree later and picked nearly 15 pounds of these tiny, flavor-filled gems.
A few days later, while sitting on the bus, I noticed a woman crouching below yet another apple tree, this one in the neighborhood where I work. It is on property owned by the state-run college, next to a dormitory. The woman attracted my attention because she was filling a grocery bag with apples she was picking up from the ground.
The next day I brought the car down with our apple-picker to reach the high branches. In about 20 minutes I’d gleaned another 11 pounds of apples.
With just a small investment of time, we had 25 pounds of free apples. We assume they were organic; they certainly haven’t been sprayed like they would in a conventional or even a low-spray orchard. Because they are stand-alone trees, not part of an orchard monoculture, they have very little pest damage. We discovered fewer worms than we’ve found in apples we’ve purchased from area non-organic orchards.
American cities (and countryside) are full of abandoned fruit trees and bushes. Instead of leaving all that good, nutritious food for wild animals, try to gather some for yourself and your family. A helpful tool to locate pickable produce is http://fallingfruit.org, a map of potential picking spots. I don’t think I’ll be putting “my” two trees on the map, however. I intend to keep these trees a secret for next year’s harvest!