Friday, October 29, 2010

Who Cut the Cheese?

Years ago I remember wanting to make homemade marshmallows from a story and recipe in Martha Stewart Living.  I got so much flack for that and even though I never made them, I heard comments for months.  Nobody could believe that I would go to the trouble of making something that was so easily purchased at any store in America.  I'm pretty sure you can buy marshmallows at Walgreens and Texaco.  So why did I want to go to the trouble to make something- by hand- that was so easily purchased in a bag from the gas station?   I don't know, maybe because the processed version SUCK.  Really, unless you are putting them in hot cocoa, topping sweet potato casserole, or making a S'more- those chewy little monster's don't have much flavor and compared to the homemade version their texture is pretty gross.  But I'm getting ahead of myself because, at that point, I had never actually tasted a homemade marshmallow; I just thought they looked like they would taste amazing.  Even today, I have never made a marshmallow.  BUT, I have eaten many a homemade marshmallow made by my absolute FAVORITE foodie place in the America... Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor.  They make marshmallows in two flavors-vanilla bean or rolled in cocoa (my favorite).  They come packaged in a cellophane bag tied with raffia making them seem so wholesome!  While I think they are super-dooper good right out of the bag, Zingerman's Bakery also makes the most amazing graham cracker.  Take a marshmallow, a graham cracker, and a small piece of Vosges chocolate and life doesn't get much better.

Ironic isn't it?  Just a few years ago we were mindlessly living the high-life, innocently eating highly-processed, highly-commercialized, highly-packaged foods.  We thought as long as we chose low-fat foods -we could gorge ourselves on whatever those little elves passed off as "food" and we knew we were eating H.E.A.L.T.H.Y.  All the packaged food got mom out of the kitchen and into life right?  We didn't have to spend all day making spaghetti sauce-we just had to pop open a jar of Ragu, throw a foil-wrapped loaf of garlic bread- straight from the frozen-food aisle- into the oven, quick-wash a head of iceberg lettuce and we were off- on to more exciting things.  The problem is, as we moved away from eating recipes imagined by Great American chefs like our grandmother or great-grandmother, using foods she grew in her garden or bought from a local farmer, we got all caught up in the hype.  Now, don' t get me wrong, some things have changed for the better.  I've heard you shouldn't eat anything your grandmother would not recognize as food but that would mean Kiwi Fruit Pomegranates, and Greek Yogurt would be off limits to this Michigan girl.  Never-the-less we need to stop eating foods from Chefs like Betty Crocker (bless her heart) and Duncan Hines and eat more from Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters.

Slow Food, local foods, local sourcing, clean food, clean eating, fair food- all names for the movement away from the processed and packaged and back to what we used to know as "food".  Michael Pollan has written extensively about the way food in America is processed and this knowledge is not for the faint of heart.  The documentary Food Inc, scared me to death.  Not only do we refine the crap out of everything, we ship foods to hell and back because it is cheaper than processing them locally.  Cheaper not smarter.  The small farmer is barely hanging on because the "factory" farm is taking over.  But with these humongous farms come huge waste lagoons that not only smell so bad you can't get within miles of one, but the lagoons are spilling into our rivers and streams, poisoning us all in an effort to provide the huge amount of cheap food necessary to feed the world as our population continues to grow.  But remember that cheaper isn't always better and you get what you pay for.

 The good news is that people are getting more in touch with knowing where their food comes from.  This means staying local, using local farmer's markets or joining a Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA), and finding local-sourcing butchers and restaurants.  There is a a big movement happening in many cities that calls for ordinances that allow the homeowner to keep a few chickens in her back yard, something Martha Stewart has done for years (and yes I know she has a chicken sitter to care for her coop).  One of my local grocery stores prominently display "Made in Michigan" tags on products.  The Kalamazoo People's Food Co-op is planning a huge new store and Food Dance restaurant offers "farm to table" dining experiences- the chef meets the dinners at the farm, shows everybody the fields and discusses the meal and everybody meets later for the dinner.  These are all steps in the right direction but the food industry is so complex and far too many Americas are apathetic to the problem.
Grapes and Sugar
I am no where near getting a chicken for my backyard (partially because the 7 deer who visit each evening would probably scare the chicken) but I am trying to do my part.  I read labels, make my family eat bread with at least 3 gms fiber per slice and we drink organic milk.  We joined an Organic CSA 5 years ago and while I still hate beets and radishes, Farmer Dale produces the must amazing orange and yellow watermelons.  They are so tasty and so juicy- you can't even imagine until you eat one.  Even his common carrots and potatoes taste so much better than anything you find in the grocery store. You can find a CSA in your area by checking the list kept with by the USDA and don't assume there isn't one near you, you will probably find more than one.
A Lug of Grapes

Waiting for their bath
Several years ago I started making grape juice because I love the taste of the homemade juice that I drank as a child.  It isn't very difficult to make: you need only grapes, sugar, water, jars and a water bath.  That's it.  This year I bought a lug of Concord grapes for about $20.  I had 2 more boxes of jars so I went back and bought several smaller baskets but since they cost almost as much as a lug next year I will probably do two lugs.  I now have 70 quarts of grape juice gestating in the cupboard (it rests for 6 weeks).
The color of the juice as soon as it is taken out of the water bath is already beautiful.  If you have ever canned something you know that the lid must give a little "pop" as the juice cools and the seal forms.  I love hearing that little "pop".
Beautiful Color
Now on to something I can eat right away.   Cheese.  Nothing too complex- just ricotta.  I bought a kit from Whole Foods that came with critic acid, rennet tablets, cheese salt, dairy thermometer, butter cloth, and recipes to make fresh mozzarella and ricotta.  I have been a huge fan of fresh ricotta since I was in college. It tastes nothing like the plastic junk they sell at the grocery store.  Zingerman's makes a fabulous fresh ricotta but since they are two hours away and it doesn't keep long, it is a rare treat.   I also love fresh mozzarella.  I loved the buffalo version until I found out it is made with ACTUAL buffalo milk.  Remember when Jessica Simpson thought buffalo wings came from an actual buffalo?  I thought buffalo mozzarella, like buffalo wings, was just a silly name.  I still eat it but my ignorant carefree days are long gone.  

My kit makes both types of cheese but mozzarella is a tad more labor intensive- what with milking the buffalo and all- so I made ricotta.

All done.  Now the wait….

Just 1/2 gallon of whole milk (my favorite) and 10 minutes and you have fresh cheese.  Heat the milk, critic acid and salt over medium heat, stirring frequently and you will see the curd start to separate.  The cheese is done when it reaches the right temperature.
When the right temp is reached, strain the cheese through the butter cloth and enjoy.  Whether you make juice, cheese, or jus start buying local produce in the summer, I hope you start thinking about what you are eating. 


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Halloween Decorations

I managed to get my Halloween decorations up even though, I must be honest, the house is not clean.  Not even close. It's a big ol' mess.  The problem areas are:

1st area: My craft supplies...Again.  They are creeping away from the kitchen table as they make their way across the dining room toward the kitchen and even spreading toward the living room.  Its just that I have so many ideas and so little storage space.  Somehow my basement "studio" became a "playroom" at the same time that my ideas exploded.  Apparently: exuberant IDEAS+a fetish for SUPPLIES=one hell of a MESS.  Remember that.  Oh and Lego Universe was released and I thought it would be a terrific game for Chase to play and it is but I forgot he can't read.  That means I spend a lot of time reading the game to him.

2nd area:  What started as an obsession with making cards and pretending to enjoy scrapbooking has grown to all sorts of fun projects using the traditional supplies of scrapbooking and rubber stamping.  Add in my love Halloween.  Because my affair with black, orange, purple and acid green is so intense, I now have far too many decorations.  I did go through my stuff this year and gave 2 bags of decorations to my neighbor to enjoy.  There was nothing wrong with any of the items, I was just tired of some things and needed a change and finally I let go.

3rd area: Ryann decided she needed to upgrade her bedroom to fit her new school (Portage Central Middle), her new hair (Brazilian blow-out) and appliances (iPod Touch and a brand spankin' new cell phone).  Unfortunately, her idea of "cleaning" involved dumping a huge number of books on her floor as well as all her American Girl Dolls and all of their ephemera.  While the dolls have managed to make it to the basement (more later) the books are still in place on her floor.  I need to go through them and decide which books I want to pass on to Chase, which books I want to box up and save as heirlooms, and which I books I want to donate to the Lake Center Elementary Library.  While I know that sorting the books would take only a few hours at most, I can't seem to remember to do it until I am putting clothes away and I stub my toe.

4th area: See Ryann (above): Ryann dumped all of the dolls in the middle of the hallway in the basement.  No point in moving them to the wall or getting them boxed appropriately for storage.  That would be too easy.

5th area:  While Chase's room always remains fairly clean, I also need to get his room edited and get rid of the baby toys.  I must be honest- a classmate came over last week for the first time and he announced in a loud voice "your room is a baby room, Chase".  I was sitting on the computer paying bills and just about fell off my chair, I whipped around so fast feeling so completely offended.  What do you mean its a baby room? HUH?  WHAT. DO. YOU. MEAN?  BABY???????  Really what I said was more like "what is babyish" to which he replied "You have an Elmo chair".  Oh, yeah, that is in his room because he doesn't play with it anymore.  Maybe I should get it out of the house rather than just move it from room to room.  Come to think about it, I end up tripping over it every few months making it belt out the Elmo laugh-regardless of who is sleeping.  So.... I think it is time to pass it on to a little one who can enjoy it and while I am at it I can get rid of the baby puzzles, baby blocks, baby cars......Maybe I am on to the real reason my house is so cluttered.


That is my biggest problem.  Of course I can sell on Ebay or Craig's List (and we have) or a local consignment shop.  I can donate to any number of charities. I can give to a friend.  I know this, but it all takes work and maybe I do have a little problem letting go of baby toys because letting go means I am done with babies in my life and my little ones are growing up AND that is all hard to deal with on so many levels.  Of course the truth is, no matter what I hang on to, my kids are growing up and their likes and dislikes are changing and I can't stand the clutter.

Ok, whew, time to lighten up.  On to my decorations:
In years past. I did a spectacular mantel in orange and black and put something on top of our office armoire- usually in orange.  Above the kitchen cabinets I always did something a little more on the cute side and the kitchen hutch is hit or miss.  This year I changed it all up and added a beautiful arrangement of objects on the top shelf of our bookcase in the living room.

We begin our tour in the living room with my mantel:

I had the entire mantel done with the candle plate and the balls but did not have a candle for it.  I was looking for the perfect candle to when my mom handed me a bag from Pottery Barn containing this candle.  Perfect.
Now we move to the computer armoire:
The top of the computer armoire is somewhere probably only I ever see but I love to decorate it and I love the way this turned out.

 I fell in love with the Mercury Glass Pumpkins at Pottery Barn but they were sold out before they ever hit the stores.  My Martha-Stewart -wannabe kicked into gear and I decided to finally attempt to make my own version of mercury glass.  I had seen the technique on an episode of Trading Spaces and had purchased the "Looking Glass" paint on clearance ages ago.  I even found very basic instructions on Martha's website, but I was always too scared to actually try it, until now.
I started by trying to find plain glass pumpkins, without any type of coloring, and they had to be hollow.  I looked everywhere in Kalamazoo and couldn't find anything.  My mom was on a mission and she finally found them at Kmart which is ironic because we no longer have a Kmart in the area.  I did take pictures of the process but it was too dark outside and they are unusable.  Basically I sprayed water inside the pumpkins and then sprayed the "Looking Glass" paint.  That's it.  I love the way they turned out and even made a Halloween Mirror by using the same technique on a piece of new 11x14 inch glass and a basic black frame I bought at Michaels.
Moving to the other wall:

This is the vignette
I made on top of the bookcase
in the living room.

Let's move on to the kitchen:
This wonderful group of witches dance across the top of my kitchen cabinets.  I have a string of orange LED lights across the entire length and at night the lights produce a terrific effect- making the witches look like they are dancing and celebrating the night.

Turning around we see the hutch:

I have used small Halloween pails in black and orange and candles, witches hats, and pumpkins to finish the story.  Several of the pails I got from the $1.00 bin at Target.
The hutch in the dining room is often overlooked but when my mom gave me these beautiful green mercury glass pails I knew they had to be in a place all their own.  I added a silver mercury glass vase, black glittery candles, green swag like the purple swag on the office armoire, and a apothecary jar filled with black candy sticks.

That concludes our formal tour, but there are a couple more things I want to point out:

 I filled this huge wall basket with orange and black Christmas balls and I adore the way it looks.
Finally, my wreath.  This is a twig wreath I sprayed with flat black paint.  I then added bright orange flowers and 5 fantastic shiny orange pumpkins.  I know it is hard to see on the door since the reflection from the door is in the way.   I love this wreath and it is the first wreath I have made that is says HALLOWEEN with not hint of FALL.  Hmmm.... that means I have to make another wreath next month.  Until then...Happy Halloween,

Later's Baby

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bird Crazy

I have finally put some things in my Etsy shop Never Enough Glitter.  I am trying to get some holiday stuff done but in the mean time I have a flock of little birds that I love.  Each little creature has been made into special piece of wall art.   Like all my artwork, my birds love a little sparkle. 




They can be viewed and purchase at my Etsy shop Never Enough Glitter.  

Laters Baby....

Friday, October 1, 2010

I'm Back......and Playing Legos

I disappeared after only a few blog posts and I'm sorry for that.  I really let myself down because my goal, once I got this blog up and going,  was to be consistent and keep the posts to no less than once a week.  Time just seems to be slipping through my fingers at a pace I never imagined.  Maybe this is because, for the first time since my pregnancy with Chase, I feel pretty decent most days, knock on wood, glass, plastic, formica, fabric...  I won't say my pain is gone but I seem to have gotten rid of the overwhelming fatigue that was keeping me on the couch for days on end as I watched life go by.  Now that I feel more normal I have been working on my art and trying to get stuff up on my Etsy shop.  So while I really have planned all lots of clever and witty blog posts,  somehow they never get past the planning stages.  I take do the projects or take the pictures but the posts get stuck somewhere between my brain and my finger tips.  Maybe I am suffering from some sort of finger constipation?

So what in the hell have I been doing if I haven't been blogging?  Do I need to remind you that "Project Runway" Season 639 is running AND "Top Chef" Season 435 just ended, and just when I thought I could get away from my obsession with Top Chef for another season they threw in "Top Chef Just Desserts".  I must have been a pastry chef in another life because I love baking.  The more complex, the more levels, the more ingredients- especially chocolate, cream, and alcohol- the better.  Remember I made my own wedding cake after only making ZERO wedding cakes before that.  Yes- it was my first wedding and my first wedding cake.  Martha Stewart's recipe, Wilton's pans, Ghiradelli's chocolate, and my mom's raspberries on top- Fabulous!

What was my point?  Oh, yeah, TV...In reality, I don't watch much TV these days.  One reason is  Martha moved to Hallmark Channel and unfortunately (for oh so many reasons), we have AT&T U-verse.  AT&T warned us all summer that they were in a pissing match with several channels, including Hallmark.  It seems to me they are once again being the big-bully on the block just like they were in the 80's and early 90's and they tried to get these channels to give AT&T their lunch money.  Apparently Hallmark wasn't willing to give up their lunch money so AT&T dropped them.  I keep hearing them say "No Martha for you!!!!"

The second reason I no longer watch much TV is because of my family.  For every 30 minutes of TV viewing, I have to listen to 29 minutes of whining about my show choice.  And if the kids are around the whining just gets worse, in stereo.  This baffles me because I am clearly the only member of this Kaplan family who watches anything interesting; if I am not watching Project Runway, Top Chef Just Desserts, or Parenthood (another favorite of mine) than I am stuck with their choices- either The Weather Channel, a documentary about war or even worse, any episode of  Ryann's favorite show"The Suite Life of iHannah the Wizard with a Chance in LA" or Chase's choice "Phineas Backyardigan Rides the Dinosaur Train to the Jungle Junction with Caillou."   

Time has just been flying by.  I can't believe it is already fall, Ryann has her first cell phone and Chase can not only build his Lego kits as well as I can but he can finally fly the Lego X-Wing through the Battle of Corsucant without any help.  It is time once again to get the pink daisy wreath down and replace it with the Halloween wreath.  This year I am completely making a new wreath with a decidedly Halloween theme.  Some years I put up a fall wreath with a few Halloween items that I can pull out Nov. 1st, but this year I am committing to Halloween and then replacing the wreath entirely Nov. 1st.  It is also time to pull all the ratty flowers and plants and clean the flower beds.  I get so tired of watering flowers that I usually give up about Sept 1st.  I just did a quick check around to see what needed to be done and the Lantana that I put in late this year it flourishing and GORGEOUS.  I think I need to put in a few more of the plants next year, early enough that they can sit front and center.  I just love the yellow and pink flowers- they remind me of lemonade.

Speaking of Legos.....Were we speaking of Legos?  Oh yes... Chase and the Legos.  Chase is a Legoholic, Legomaniac, Legobsessed, Legoboy.  He has amassed a large collection of red, blue, black, and grey bricks with a variety of pegs, studs, and connector pieces.  Storage has become a huge issue.

I probably wouldn't care so much but until recently- I was the Chief  Contractor responsible for procurement of materials and Chief Lego Builder.  Even if Chase builds the vehicle, I have to pull all the pieces for him.  ****Hint:  The back two pages of the Lego instruction booklets list by picture all of the pieces needed for that set.  I photocopy those two pages and use a pen to cross off the pieces as I find them.  ****Hint: if you lose the instruction booklets you can access them from the Lego website Customer Service click building instructions.  Originally I bought a quaint little 2 gallon container for the Lego pieces.  So cute and tiny... it lasted a few months before that container became home only his mini-figure collection.

After the original system became obsolete,  I bought a big shallow Rubbermaid container and sat down with a box of Ziploc bags and a black Sharpie and separated the Lego's by color.  This color-sorting solution worked until I decided to build all Chase's Indiana Jones sets to use as decoration/play things for his 4th birthday party.  I quickly realized that finding specific bricks out of a sea of all black pieces is at best very difficult and most likely nearly impossible.  It took forever to build the sets and I was just about nuts by the time I completed the project.  I know that some children, ok- most children, can make General Grievious' ship or Indiana Jones' boat using any color brick that fits.  Sadly,  I can't stand it if the bricks don't match the directions.  This is just something I cannot tolerate and yes I realize it is completely ridiculous that i live a messy life, I get it that my kitchen table is unusable because my craft supplies are all over it and the floor and the walls and spilling over onto the rabbit cage.   I may live a messy live but I draw the line at messy Lego projects.  My pathetic OCD meant I had to devise a better storage solution or I had to only let Chase build new sets, and that just seemed a little to close to the thinking of most of the people I see on AE's "Hoarders".

A solution did not come quickly and I spent a few months trying to 
come up with the perfect storage system.  I found a few made-for-Lego containers but each system only hold a few Lego sets and most don't have enough smaller compartments for the variety of small bricks and pieces that come with any Lego set.  I found the "Box4Blocks" system which separates the blocks by size, sifting them through 4 different grids with large pieces staying on the top yellow container and the tiny pieces ending up in the bottom green container.  This would be great if you had a few sets but no way would this be enough and at $39 for one set of Box4Blocks, it is somewhat expensive.

Iris Lego Project Case
Amazon sells the Iris Lego Project Case Chest for $54.99.  It is cetainly cute and Lego-y colored but again doesn't really allow for me to really sort the pieces.  I want to be able to grab the pieces I need without a lot of hunting.  

The  Cadillac of storage systems was also widely available and is a Lego product, Lego Storage Tray Unit available on Amazon.  This little beauty can be yours for the low low price of.... Are you sitting down?  $399.  Yes I double checked it... $399.   Seriously, that is three hundred and ninety nine dollars.  

Protect N Store 12x12
So obviously, I was not finding anything that was up to snuff or priced low enough that I didn't need a second mortgage to pay for it.  I need to figure something out.  
Protect N Store Inserts 12x12

I stumbled upon the answer while shopping at Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft in Portage one day last winter.  On the end cap they had a stack of clear plastic boxes with hinged lids called Protect-N-Store.  

The 12x12 boxes were on sale for 50% off at $4.50 each.  At the time I wasn't thinking Lego so I figured I would use them for paper or fabric supplies and grabbed a few.  After I got them hope I realized this might be my answer but I didn't have enough.  I found some on clearance on a website that unfortunately no longer exists (hence the "clearance").  I also bought a few of the 8.5x11 size boxes.  I began the to put some of the Legos into the 12x12 boxes.  This job was not as hard as it could have been because I had already separated the bricks and pieces into Ziploc bags several months prior but not having enough boxes and not having the inserts to further separate the smaller pieces still made it a time consuming project.  In May, I went to the annual scrapbooking convention known as the Mega Meet, in Novi.  Here I stumbled on a booth selling hundreds of the 12x12 boxes and 12x12 inserts that provided 10 smaller compartments.  Que the crescendo!  I had the answer.  I bought several more 12x12 boxes and 6 inserts and ran home gleefully awaiting the great Lego Organization Project.  It wasn't as much fun as I hoped it would be- it still required a lot of work but at least I had a place to just toss the smaller pieces.  I soon realized that I needed more inserts and now I have all the pieces loose in either a 12x12 with an insert or a single type of brick alone in an 8.5x11 box.  

When I needed to buy a few more inserts I decided to just order them online and I found that Create for Less sells the 12x12 inserts for the lowest price I could find $2.89 each but you have to purchase in multiples of 3.  They have the 8.5x11 boxes $4.39 each and the 12x12 for $4.59.  
These are the cheapest I was able to find the boxes but other places that sell them include: First Choice Packaging and has them on sale at $2.99 each but I don't think they have the inserts.  

Happy sorting.

Laters Baby,