Sunday, October 13, 2013
We were asked to make up themed gift baskets for a church women's conference, and my assigned theme was "Coffee and Chocolate". Always in season, but who wants to keep doing the "Starbucks and Godiva" thing? I really wanted to step out and make one that was a little unusual.
Personally, we drink Community Coffee because we think their Medium Roast is the best daily coffee there is - we switched from Folgers a couple of years ago. We can no longer buy the one pound bricks in our local stores, so we order 8 or 10 pounds at a time direct from this small, family-owned company in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There are two different women who pack our orders, and they sign their names to the packing list. They always get it right and I appreciate them. It is great - every once in a while the Community Coffee folks email us a 15% or 20% off sale, and orders over $60 get free shipping. So we have wonderful, perfect coffee on hand.
That is what got me started down the Creole coffee road for my gift basket, and it snowballed from there to include Mexican Chocolate and Cafe de Olla. Partly because these wonderful, traditional American coffee & chocolate drinks are so good they deserve a much wider audience. And partly, also, because all of these can make use of Molasses.
Molasses is "unrefined sugar" to the Nth degree: Sugar cane molasses is a natural sweetener that contains a whopping bunch of naturally occuring nutrition in its unmodified, un-additive, un-messed-with, good, natural form.
Check this out from the World's Healthiest Foods:
Percent of Daily Value of Nutrients in 2 teaspoons of Blackstrap Molasses (notice that "blackstrap" type has about double the nutrition of regular unsulphured molasses - which is also good if you can't buy blackstrap in your local store):
vitamin B6 5% (there are other B vitamins / Niacin too)
Calories per 2 tsp: only 32 (1% of Daily Value)
How cool is that? All these old Southern ways of cooking and eating are actually healthy for us after all. Cooking in iron skillets (to add natural iron to our diets), using molasses, flavoring our spinach and greens with bacon grease (Vitamin K is fat soluble!).... oh I am getting sidetracked here... back to the gift basket!
Here are the recipes I used:
Brew a nice breakfast coffee. To each mug, add 2 teaspooons of molasses and, if desired, 1/4 cup hot milk or cream.
Cafe de Olla (Mexican Coffee):
6 cups of water
6 Tablespoons ground Coffee (regular roast, regular grind)
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons Molasses
1 Cinammon Stick
Evaporated Milk to taste
Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Add all the ingredients except milk, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Strain into mugs and add undiluted canned milk to taste. If the leftover coffee gets cold in the pan it can be gently reheated, just don't boil it again.
Mexican Coffee is very similar to old fashioned cowboy coffee or "creekbank coffee", in that it is made the same way: boiled up in a pan and then strained. The addition of spice and sweetener is a matter of personal preference and availability.
Mexican Hot Chocolate
1 can Evaporated Milk
1 cup of water
1 block Mexican Chocolate
1 Tablespoon Molasses
Stir and heat until the chocolate melts, then whisk until frothy. This is very rich, so this recipe makes 3 servings. The reason there isn't extra sugar is because Mexican Chocolate has unrefined sugar in it already, along with vanilla and a hint of cinammon. If you can't get any in your stores, use powdered cocoa, brown sugar, a half teaspoon of vanilla, and a dash of cinammon.
I just wrote the recipes out by hand and doodled in colored markers to decorate them, then layered them onto a piece of cardboard and wrapped in clear wrap so they would stand up nicely in the basket.
It all came together with a pound of Community Coffee, a bottle of blackstrap molasses, a box of Nestle's Abuelita Mexican Chocolate, a package of Fiesta Brand Cinammon sticks, and the recipes, all fluffed up with some red and green tissue. It is very cute, if I do say so. We will find out what others think when they auction it! :-) If it proves to be popular, I may make some of these up for Christmas gifts.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
My daughter-in-love Sandy asked me to make Tomato Pie for a party they had this past weekend. This is her favorite of my recipes. It is so rich that it can be a main course, and no one will ask where the meat is.
It took me a while to perfect this one, since people are a bit secretive about their tomato pie recipes. Sort of like Marie on "Everybody Loves Raymond", they tend to leave out a single important element or direction. Then one makes it, and it is "almost" perfect... except for that little flaw! Well, that little flaw in Tomato Pie is the soggy crust. I have two solutions that both work well.
Here's my recipe, with complete instructions :-)
Tina's Tomato Pie
1 Deep Dish Pie Crust, pre-baked (see instructions below at the end of the post)
2 pounds fresh tomatos, peeled (see instructions below at the end of the post) - In the winter, use canned whole tomatoes.
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, minced, or 2 teaspoons dried basil, crushed
1 teaspoon Salt
Pinch of sugar
Couple of grinds of fresh ground black pepper
1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of Real Mayonnaise (do NOT use "lite" mayo or yogurt or any substitutes!!!)
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Cheddar Cheese
Pre-bake your pie shell. For tomato pie, when you remove the pie weights, sprinkle the bottom of the crust with shredded cheese to cover, then return to the hot oven to finish baking.
Baking some shredded cheese onto the crust is an important step that will help keep the crust from getting soggy from the tomatoes. I tried several things when I first made this. Brushing the inside of the crust with egg white and then popping back into the overn for the last 5 minute of baking is a good technique too. But the thin layer of melted cheese seems to work best for this dish.
Peel your tomatoes, and chop them coarsely. Sprinkle with salt and put them into a colander to drain for about 30 minutes to 1 hour. I like to set my colander over a bowl to catch the juice. It is good to drink right then, or freeze and add to soup later.
After the tomatoes have drained, stir in a pinch of sugar, then put the tomatoes into the baked pie shell. That "pinch of sugar" is what my grandmother added to every tomato dish - she said a pinch of sugar will "cut the tomatoes", and it does do something that really rounds out the flavor. I can tell the difference without it.
Mince the basil and sprinkle it over the top of the tomatoes, along with a grind or two of black pepper.
In a bowl, blend the mayonnaise and cheese, then spoon the mixture on top of the tomatoes. Use a knife of spatula to spread it out and completely cover the top of the pie.
Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is lightly browned and bubbly.
You can serve it warm, but we serve it fresh baked and cooled to room temperature. And some of us like it leftover for breakfast too! Be sure to refrigerate any leftovers, as this pie will spoil if left out too long.
As promised above, here are the instructions for pre-baking your pie shell, and for peeling fresh tomatoes:
How To Pre-bake a pie shell: Line the pie pans with crust and flute your edges. Make sure there is plenty of dough for overlap on the top edge as the crust will shrink a little. Fork the bottom and sides of the crust all over to make little holes.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, then line the pie crust with aluminum foil (or waxed paper or parchment).
Next, either push another, empty pie pan in on top of this one, or fill your foil-covered crust with dry beans or rice (use some old beans that you will never cook with and save them for this purpose). This will help keep the crust from shrinking and from bubbling.
Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes at 450 degrees. Remove from oven and cool slightly but leave the oven on. Lift the foil & beans out of the crust or remove the other pan. Use your foil to make strips and cover the edges of the crust to keep them from overbrowning.
Then, return the crust to the hot oven for another 5 to 8 minutes, until the bottom is baked. Cool before filling.
How To Peel Fresh Tomatoes: Bring a 2 quart pot of water to a rolling boil. Keep the heat on high and, using a slotted spoon, put each WHOLE tomato into the boiling water. Turn & poke down if necessary to be sure the tomatos all get time under the water.
Leave in for one minute only, then remove each tomato using the slotted spoon. Put these tomatoes into a bowl of cold tap water. Now the skins will just peel right off with your fingers.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
I've been doing more printing lately. This is the first poster I've ever printed. I am pretty happy with it! It was a give-away for my demonstration at our Farmer's Market - we had a bit of a celebration on the first day of the new Cottage Food Law, and I figured, why not promote the really big event of the season: The Harvest Fair! The demonstration was fun and I met a couple of printers - boy they must be right that once printer's ink gets into your veins it never goes away, because nobody gets excited to see my type the way former printers do. It is worthwhile to hold a little exhibit just for the chance to make some erstwhile printers really really really happy! :-)
After I started looking at my little Line-o-Scribe proof press to figure out how to use it for a portable demonstrating press, I remembered a couple of cases of very small wood type that I bought when I was first outfitting my shop and haven't used before. They are small fonts and, lucky for me or I never would have gotten them, were not as desireable at the time for people looking for that large newspaper and poster faces they could print with their Vandercooks. Turns out these are perfect for flyer-sized posters on my press.
Now, here is the wood-type puzzle I mentioned in the title:
A little oddity of note: see that "4" in the lower right (stage right) corner? When I first set it, it was backward! And another small face also had backward - aka not mirror image - fours! I kept turning it upside down to try to fix it, about drove me batty. Then after a couple of days, I looked at the pieces of type again.
Can you solve the puzzle?
Answer is below,
under the photo...
When I looked at the type after clearing my mind, I was able to see that they didn't need to be flipped 180 degrees, but turned a quarter turn.
In both fonts, the number crossbars for the number fours are exactly the same length. Thus, when standing on their crossbars, they look like they are non-mirror-image cutouts. It was just a fluke that they were all turned
wrong in their case, looking for all the world like they belonged that way!
Monday, September 23, 2013
Since the new Texas Cottage Food Law took effect September first, I have been baking bread to sell at our local Farmer's Market. It has been fun, because my bread always sells out and people are very happy to have it! Last week I took some to a small pioneer day event, and sold out there too.
The law requires that we put a label on our foods, and include our address on it. Today in my mailbox was the kindest Thank You note from a customer:
My daughter and I visited Pioneer Day...on Saturday. She bought me a loaf of wheat bread. Oh my, it is wonderful. Had some on Sunday morning with ham and an egg. [here she drew a smiley face] Made me happy all day. Love it. Thank you for sharing your time and talent with others.
Sincerely, [her name] "
This sweet lady and I do not know each other, so I was doubly enchanted by her note. Little kindnesses such as this add joy to life if we focus on "just for today".
This has given me much "food for thought" about this latest hobby, and the potential for good in the simplest things like real home-made food.
I am going to miss these kinds of interaction when the Farmer's Market closes for the season in mid-October.
And I will look especially forward to having veggies to bring to it in the Spring!
Thursday, September 19, 2013
There are some good books out there in the self publishing world today. One way to find some of the better ones is to read the authors' own blogs. That is how I came across a particularly memorable story about a thief and a castle and a wizard..... Author Christopher Taylor (Word Around The Net, linked from my sidebar), approves of my review of his fun chivalrous fantasy novel "Old Habits":
"I expect to get indifferent, happy, and even insulting reviews, but something I never expected was a review that so completely understood what I was trying to accomplish with my story and seems to have crawled inside my head when I was writing it, which is deeply humbling and gratifying all at once. I wanted to share it with everyone so they can learn more about the book."
See? Can this guy write or what? Click over to his blog to read the review - and buy the book!
Maybe if he sells enough of this one he will feel inspired to write a sequel!
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
In January, my future with my employer went away. In February, I started working on designing silver jewelry, and now am ready to launch. I've had an Etsy shop for a while to test a few things, but my main marketing method will be in person at shows and events. The show I will be exhibiting at is a 3-day event that draws about 25,000 people. It should be a good starting point. I am so excited I can hardly stand it. :-)
Here's a somewhat edited version of the press release I sent out to media yesterday:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Local Artist's Handmade Silver Jewelry Celebrates Texas Wildlowers and Our Christian Heritage
Announcing Pecan Corner, featuring fine Artisan and Christian jewelry by Tina Howard. Original designs in Fine Silver, handmade by the artist, one at a time, in Texas, USA.
Artisan Tina Howard introduces a new line of Fine Silver jewelry celebrating the beauty of Texas and our Christian heritage, all handmade in Texas, USA. Howard is exhibiting in Booth #56 at the Brownwood Reunion this weekend, Sept. 20-22.
Created from her original designs and cast in .999 Fine Silver, pieces in the collection range from a large statement "Matthew 6:28 Cross" with Bluebonnets and Sunflowers, and a figural Oilfield Pump Jack, to a series of small charms with individual roadside flowers: Bluebonnet, Wild Geranium, Primrose, Thistle, and Shepherd's Purse. New designs are being added as Howard creates them.
The artist makes each jewel herself, one at a time. She begins by sculpting a prototype by hand, from which a single basic mold is created as the starting point for each successive piece. The nuances of individually molding, firing, and finishing each piece with a significant amount of handwork assures that no piece will ever be identical to any other.
Howard points out that "My pieces look handmade because they are handmade", and notes that you might find her fingerprint permanently cast into a piece once in a while. Even earrings, because each half of the pair is made separately, will vary ever so slightly from its mate. Howard explains that these artistic details are marks of human craftsmanship which machines cannot produce, and anticipates that you, too, will find beauty in the variety.
Howard is proud to offer jewelry that is completely made by hand right here in Texas. In addition, she purchases all of her raw materials from domestic companies and looks for "Made in USA" on her supplies whenever available.
Howard's designs can be purchased on Etsy.com in her shop named "pecancorner".
Tina Howard is a native of Oklahoma, who has lived in Texas her entire adult life, raising her family in the Big Spring/Midland area, and spending a few years in Port Lavaca before she and her husband Paul moved to their current town in 2007, where they live in a tiny cottage shaded by pecan trees.
Saturday, September 7, 2013
We are going to raise a garden again. The deer and grasshoppers ate everything I planted this year, but we are going to fence out the deer and the Farmer's Almanac says it is going to be a cold, wet winter - so goodbye grasshoppers (please Lord?)!
Daddy came this past weekend and plowed the garden spot for us. I was impressed with his tractor skill - he can line that tractor up on a dime. He met right up with the stakes I had put out to define the space. He said "after it rains, whenever that is, I'll come back and plow it again and that will kill a lot of the grass and weeds". And look, we had lovely rain the same weekend - just like washing the car except a GOOD rain-bringer. So I said "Thank you for the rain" to both my heavenly and earthly fathers! You can see in the pictures the difference in the color of the dirt while he was plowing, and after the rain!
We have decided to use plastic mesh as fencing. Our primary goal is to keep the deer out and this product has really good reviews for such an inexpensive solution. It provides a visible barrier to animals and directs them to find another way to go. Eventually, the deer should forget there is food here. We can use steel u-channel posts that will stay permanently in the ground, and simply replace the plastic every few years.
This space was kept in production for many years by the folks who owned it during the 70s, 80s and 90s. The soil, we hear, is fertile. It has a good loamy feel to it. The big rocks in it are nodules of flint, which the Comanche and other tribes used to make their arrowheads out of. I need to do some research, because there is a great lot of this that I think would surely have been removed over time, unless new nodules keep working themselves to the surface. You can see several of them in the photo below
In Texas, we can grow things all year round. I will plant turnips, beets, chard, onions, garlic, and collards for winter growing. The freezes won't hurt them and the extra moisture will be a boon. Swiss Chard, Collards, Onions and Garlic will keep growing year round - they behave as either perennials or biennials. Turnips are wonderful - use them like potatoes in stews or serve mashed and creamed. Turnip seed is cheap, and these root crops are easy to grow. They are good practice for amateurs.
Then, come February, I can start planting for early spring: peas, greens & lettuce, onion plants. We must use "short day" onions here because whether onions make bulbs depends on the number of daylight hours they are exposed to. That is why those record sized veggies come from Alaska, the 24 hour days keep plants growing without stopping to "sleep" at night. In the South, our days are shorter. The longer growing season gives us a longer harvest and perhaps more production but does not give us larger individual produce.
Miss Fuzzy Slippers, of the blog Fuzzy Logic (linked from my sidebar), has a great article about the importance of learning to garden before we need to feed ourselves. For most of us, this is indeed a learned skill, not an innate talent, and we need to begin practicing now to accumulate the wisdom necessary for good harvests in our particular space. Be sure to read the comments too, there are lots of practical tips in them.
Are you gardening this year? If you don't have a space in your yard, see if your town has a Community Garden. The nearest large town to us has very reasonable fees ($35 for the year) that include water and compost. It is a great deal, especially when you consider that using a community garden plot, like the British "allotments", also gives you direct contact with experienced gardeners who can help and advise you as you learn. Contact them now just in case they have a waiting list.
Gardening is good for the body and the soul. There is just nothing quite like knowing you are working with God and His creation to make your own food, just like human beings have done since the very beginning.
Happy harvesting and good eating await!