Images & recipes © Christine Mercer-Vernon unless noted otherwise. Please play nice when sharing and give proper credit and link backs.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Local Lore: The Statue of Liberty

Ever since I was a kid I remember the Statue of Liberty in the Susquehanna River.

Wait, what?  You say it's in NYC, not South Central PA?

Ha, well joke's on you. We have our own version.

Much, much smaller, but still, we like her.

I don't remember a car ride up the river that didn't have someone saying, "Look, there's the Statue of Liberty!".

I always point it out to my daughter when we travel North.

And always, she eagerly strains to see out the window and get a peek.

CBS has brought back their On the Road series, and how fun that they featured and revealed the mystery behind the creators of this mysterious and much loved, local statue.

[not seeing the video in your reader… click here to watch on the CBS website]


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Slow Cooker Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal


I'm definitely buried under a ton of graphics work right now.

And I'm grateful to have it.

Which makes my slow cooker, aka the crockpot, my favorite thing right now.

A good friend requested a slow cooker oatmeal recipe similar to my Oatmeal and Raisin version but with apples and cinnamon.

So this weekend, after making applesauce, I got down to business and came up with this recipe.

Oh yeah.  It's good.
This one's for the girls GM [gratuitous friend shout out]

It's really moist, and goes perfectly well served up with a cup of hot coffee and some cool outside temps.

SLOW COOKER APPLE CINNAMON OATMEAL

  • 1/2 cup grapeseed or melted coconut oil (or whatever oil you prefer)
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar (or demerara or natural cane sugar)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce (here's how to make homemade)
  • 1-1/4 cup unsweetened Almond Milk (or other dairy or non-dairy beverage)
  • 4 cups Rolled Oats (I use Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Rolled Oats)
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2-1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely diced (I used Fuji, but Cortland, Honeycrisp, Rome, etc will work fine)


1. Add oil, sugar, eggs, applesauce, and almond milk to crockpot. Mix well using  a whisk.


2. Sprinkle Oats, baking powder, sea salt, cinnamon and apples on top.  Then mix in well using a spoon.


3. Scrape down sides and smooth out. Cover with lid and cook on LOW for 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

Until sides begin to brown and center has firmed up.


4. Serve warm.  Inhale deeply.

Makes about 6-8 servings.

NOTES:

  • Recipe can be halved.
  • Refrigerates and reheats well.
  • Can be eaten cold, but something about apples and cinnamon served warm that I can't resist.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Homemade Applesauce: Easy as 1-2-3...


This weekend I finally got around to making applesauce.

I've only had 12 lbs of apples sitting on my kitchen floor for two weeks.

Out of all the canning and preserving I do, I enjoy applesauce the most.

Mostly because it's easy, doesn't require a lot of babysitting, and requires two ingredients:  

APPLES and WATER

There are tons of 'how to make applesauce' blog posts out there. Mine is nothing new or special.  But I can't ask you to use homemade applesauce in recipes without showing you how to make it.

Plus, wouldn't it be easier to stay right here, on this blog?  [gratuitous self-promotion]

Would it help if I tell you the entire point of this post is so that you can make the Slow Cooker Apple & Cinnamon Oatmeal recipe that I'm going to post tomorrow? [bribery]

Sure you could always use store bought applesauce, but homemade is more fun and rewarding. [nudge, nudge]

You can even make a small batch just to serve with dinner because you are so awesome like that! [see general notes at bottom].

Homemade Applesauce



  • Apples, I use a mixture of cooking and sauce apples, whatever is available, although I do love using a large portion of Fuji apples
  • Water - 1/2 cup for every 2 lbs of apples


1. If you are going to can your applesauce:  Wash your jars, lids, rubber seals (I used my tattler lids), etc.


2. Place jars in oven. Heat oven to 200 degrees.

Once at temp, heat jars for no less than 20 minutes to sterilize.  I always put in way more than I think I will need, just in case.


3. If using a foodmill:  quarter & core your apples, cut into chunks, about 1 inch. I keep them smallish so they cook down faster.

If using  a food processor or blender:  PEEL, core and cut into chunks.

(get help if you can, this way takes longer, but it's no big deal, I did it this way for years before I got my food mill. I also swore a lot about just spending the money to buy a damn food mill.)



4.  Add apples and 1/2 cup of water for every 2 pounds into large stock pot.  (I cooked 12 lbs of apples).

Bring to boil, then reduce heat to a high simmer or lower if you are going to somewhat ignore them (it happens, I do it all the time).


Stir frequently to avoid scorching/burning.


Cook down until peels start to separate and apples are tender, about 45 minutes, but time will vary depending on how many pounds you are cooking and how high of a simmer.


5. Remove from heat and process in small batches through your food mill or blender/food processor.

BE CAREFUL…my worst preserving burns have come from applesauce. Wicked hot stuff!

If you are using a blender..  Pulse it until it is of applesauce consistency rather than pureeing the hell out of it.. if you process it too long your going to have applesauce the consistency of babyfood. Not pleasant.  Unless you are a baby, then it's pretty good.


I totally forgot to photo the next part. Duh.

6. **Fill your hot jars: Remove jars from oven carefully with an ovenmitt or jar lifter.

  • If using metal lids:  leave 1/2 inch headspace
  • If using Tattler lids: leave 1 inch headspace

Wipe rims with damp paper towel to clean.
Apply lids to just finger tight.

I turn my lids with one hand, while NOT holding on to the jar. Once the jar starts to turn freely then I stop.

Place in canner.


Process 15 minutes.

If using Tattler lids:  Immediately upon removing, tighten lids firmly.

Set aside to cool for 12-24 hours.



Some notes for Tattler lids:

  • A few hours later I check to see how my tattler lids are sealing.  There is no pop like metal lids.  It's more visual at this point.  You will be able to see how they are vacuuming down, they get really concave looking.
  • Not sure… put a lid on an empty jar and a metal band, then sit the jar next to your cooling jars… It will give you a guide.  
  • If you don't have a good seal you'll be able to see that one of the lids won't be 'sinking down in' as far as the others.  I'll let the jar cool to the touch and if it definitely has not sunk down in like the others, I will carefully remove the metal band and give a light lift on the lid, usually it will come right off if there is not a good seal.
  • If I question the seal at all, I will refrigerate it and we'll just use that jar right away.
  • I've only had 2 jars not seal in the last year with Tattler lids, and I know one was my fault for not wiping the rim.

NOTES IN GENERAL:

You can totally make a small batch and not can it.

  • Throw a few peeled, cored apples into a pot with enough water to cover the bottom.
  • Simmer them down, then smash them up with a potato masher.
  • Add some cinnamon and serve warm with dinner.

If you are new to canning:  Please reference a good instructional book on canning and preserving for more precise details on the process… I have several good books listed in the right hand column of my blog in the Amazon.com widget.

Eating warm, freshly made applesauce, with some cinnamon is pretty much awesome.



Saturday, November 26, 2011

Random Things: It's the Little Things...


It's the little things that make me happy.

Like growing things, indoors.


This year I brought two Rosemary plants inside, instead of cutting and drying them.

They grow so slow, I thought maybe I'd see if I can get some nice sized plants by spring.  That is, if I can keep from snipping some here and there for cooking.

It's a lovely fragrance when you brush across them and reminds me how much l love to work in the garden. Which is already seeming like a far off memory and winter has hardly begun.

I also brought in one of only two ornamental plants I potted this season, a begonia.


You'll remember the vibrant red flowers from this post.

I've never even considered keeping one past fall, but the Jelly Bean's babysitter did that last year and it got huge over the winter, as in almost three feet high huge. When she brought it back out in the spring it flowered and was incredible. INCREDIBLE!

I'm on a mission!

But the one plant that has me most excited is this one…


My Christmas Claw Cactus.

My Mom gave me this a few years ago. My grandmother had one, it was huge and sat upstairs by a hallway window.  I don't have a single memory of my grandmother's house without that plant, and the unique container it sat in. She hardly ever watered it, yet it continued to grow.

My mom has it now.


Mine has flowered only twice.

Once, when she first gave it to me, and then again, two seasons ago, and it was only two flowers.

Look at that picture up there, there are flower buds all over it, and I am tickled pink, and cannot wait for it to bloom.

The flowers remind me so much of my grandmother.

Like I said, it's the little things that make me happy.

Do you have any special houseplants?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving







Just  a few of my contributions.

May your day be filled with deliciousness, relaxing with family and friends, and the overwhelming and grateful feeling of thankfulness.

Happy Thanksgiving my family and friends, and readers, from my family to yours.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I am thankful for… sneakers, and other things.

I am thankful for the Jelly Bean.


And all her silly self-portraits she sneaks onto my camera.

And for my HE.

And for my family, because as dysfunctional as we are, we embrace and find humor in it.

And for my friends.

And for all the work I receive, even though it's not left me not much time for painting.

And for sneakers.

Because for the next 10-12 hours I will be standing in my kitchen, cooking and baking my ass off.

With the exception of the one hour Thanksgiving Brutal Beating Part II HIIT class that I will be teaching at 4:30.

You know, so I can relax a bit.

Where ever you are, and what ever you will do tomorrow,
I hope you will have a lovely and thankful Thanksgiving.




Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dreary Days Call For...

Cinnamon French Toast with Dandelion Syrup with best friends.

Comfy clothes.

Scooby-Doo movies.

And cute kiddos with Pumpkin Pie Smoothies.


How cute is this little guy?

He's the Jelly Bean's BFF, who is visiting for the day.

They are playing house, and dinosaurs, and tickling, and giggling, and bickering (hey they're kids), and coloring, and dressing up.

And eating.

It's like having my own herd of cattle, but cuter, with really loud shrieking voices.

I'd pay a lot of money to have their metabolisms.

A lot.

Look how cute they are together...



If you love pumpkin, you need to make pumpkin pie smoothies. 

You just do.

It's easy, and the ingredients are flexible.

Not to mention it's like pumpkin pie you can drink, and no dry crust that no one ever eats.

I just happened to have baked a pumpkin this weekend to make some soup and had some leftover.

I've been searching for a great pumpkin soup recipe for years, something to rival the amazing restaurant versions I've had. But alas, so far, everything I've tried has been just ok.  In a few weeks when things settle down, I'm hoping to play around with some recipes.

PUMPKIN PIE SMOOTHIES



  • Pumpkin Puree
  • Plain or Vanilla Yogurt, or even 1/2 a banana
  • Almond milk, rice milk, or other non- or dairy beverage
    • freeze some in an ice cube tray, fill each compartment no more than 1/2 way
  • Agave Syrup (or other natural sweetener of choice)
  • Pumpkin pie spice (save money, make your own, recipe here)

This is really flexible, you can adjust everything to taste, I used:

  • slightly mounded 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • slightly mounded 1/4 cup vanilla yogurt
  • 8 (half size) frozen rice milk ice cubes (i used rice milk because i had some to use up)
  • 2-3 small squeezes of Agave Syrup
  • 1 to 1/2 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice (start with 1 then adjust, I used about 1-1/4 tsp)
  • Enough Almond milk to get a blendable/drinkable consistency
Add it all at once in a blender and blend like crazy, adding almond milk a little at a time to get it moving if it's not blending well.

Serve Immediately.

Makes about 8-10 oz.  Perfect for two kiddos, or one adult who is really craving pumpkin.

Adjust the quantities down if you want a smaller size.


I made two batches and definitely varied the ingredient amounts in each one and both batches were still pure awesomeness.

The kids loved me because I topped it with some crushed organic graham cookies we had on hand and some whipped cream.





Thursday, November 17, 2011

Natural Peanut Butter… Stirring Simplified



Ok, so, it will be Friday in 43 minutes.

I've got a website to design and 75 one color textbook illustrations to render.

Neither one is happening tonight.

I'm going to procrastinate by posting about peanut butter then go to bed and deal with it tomorrow because my studio is freezing and a warm bed sounds way better than sitting here freezing my bum off.

I love peanut butter.

So does the Jelly Bean.

Stirring up a fresh jar of natural peanut butter is a mess.

I got sick of spilling oil over the edge while I jammed a butter knife around in the jar trying to simultaneously cut and stir, creating a slippery frustrating mess.

So I came up with this method and never looked back.

Sure I have to wash a bowl.

Who cares.

It beats trying to clean up peanut oil from my hands, counter and the jar, which despite my best efforts will be greasy until we finish it off.


Do whatever you have to do to get it out of the jar and into a large bowl.  I usually slice through with a butter knife and scoop it in small amounts.


Using a fork and knife cut through in multiple directions to break it up and start combining the oil in.  Keep cutting until the chunks get too small to slice.


Then start mashing it with your fork until it reaches a smooth consistency.


I usually press the chunks down and smoosh them across the bottom of the bowl.


Stir well to combine then scoop back into the jar.


Store in the refrigerator.  You will not have to remix as long as you keep it refrigerated.  It's still spreadable and will taste fresher longer.

There you have it… my lame technique of the week. :]






Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Dry & Store Herbs


Years and years ago when I first started growing my own herbs, I would simply use up as much as possible by the end of the season then break down my containers.

It never dawned on me to dry and save them for use over the winter.

Every year, I never grow enough.

Even though I doubled the amount of plantings this season, I ended up using even more than I usually do (mostly because I think in the past I was 'rationing' my use).  Which left me with, yet again, hardly any to dry for winter use.

This year I made a Dried Herb Blend (see this post) which I've already decided for next growing season, I will be planting large amounts of herbs just to make that dried blend.

It's that awesome.

So the very few herbs I had leftover, were simply hung to dry, and this weekend, in my multi-tasking awesome-ness, were carefully plucked and stored in jars.

Do you dry your own herbs?


How to Dry & Store Herbs



1. Cut, wash and carefully shake the excess water from your herbs.

  • I'll usually roll them carefully in a lint-free kitchen towel to absorb any excess water, but not tight enough to crush the leaves or let them dry some on the counter.


[I had a photo for you, but a little bean, taking self portraits, when i was not looking, apparently deleted several photos from my camera.
But I forgive her, the 15 funny face self-portraits were worth it.]


2. Gather them together, and tie the ends to hold them tight with string, or a rubberband.


Hang them somewhere warm and dry, out of direct light, until completely dry and crispy. 

  • I usually hang them in our extra bedroom.

parsley and a few stems of sage


3. Once dry, unbound them, and remove any yellow or faded stems/leaves if you have them. These will not have good flavor, simply discard them.

italian flat leaf parsley


4. Pluck the leaves off and store in a clean, dry, tightly sealing jar.  Store them in a dark cabinet or pantry out of direct light. 


5. Stored properly dried herbs can last up to a year.


6. To use, simply crush leaves before adding them.

Parsley • Sage • Rosemary

I found these pretty jars at a kitchen store that work perfect for daily use.  When I'm lucky enough to have larger amounts (next year for sure), I'll store them in quart size mason jars, tightly sealed in my dark pantry.



To write on my jars, I steal these cool dry erase crayons made by Crayola from the jelly bean's art bin.. they work perfect and wash or wipe off.

gratuitous herb shot… sage


Monday, November 14, 2011

Homemade Gluten Free Vanilla Extract



This weekend was a testament to my multi-tasking skills.

Still on our mission to de-clutter and finish all home improvement projects by December 31st we pushed on.

We spent lots more time cleaning up the never-ending falling leaves.

Then I tackled the junk storage room. Ugh.

I set out to get it cleaned and organized, donating a ton of stuff and freecycling the rest.

Freecycle is the best invention ever!

Although you damn well better be ready for an avalanche of emails once your listings go live.  I had 40+ emails in a matter of minutes.

Craziness.

A steady stream of vehicles have been coming up our driveway to pick up their new free stuff.

Leaf clean up continued.

And some leaf battles.




I also made homemade gluten free vanilla extract.

In my ever increasing quest to simplify I decided my massive consumption of this not very cheap flavoring required drastic measures.

It's really not hard, and not anything new.

You can find it on a ton of other blogs and foodie websites.



You need two things:  cheap Vodka and real Vanilla Beans.
  • The really important part that I've yet to see anyone else mention, is that if you have celiac or cannot have gluten you really must pay attention to the brand of Vodka you purchase!
There was a time when you could assume that vodka was made from potatoes, but now that we are in an ever cheapening age of less expensive products, the cheaper Vodkas are all now made from GRAIN.

So I headed to the liquor store with the jelly bean in tow (like any good parent) pulled out my reading glasses (I don't want to talk about it) and set to reading every single cheap-ass bottle of vodka from the bottom shelf up.

Even young-cutie liquor store guy came over to help me out and swore all vodkas were made from potatoes, in which I replied (inside of course) 'silly little boy, you have so much to learn'.

Needless to say, I finally wound up with Luksusowa (pronounced LOOK-SOO-SO-VAH) a lovely little Polish brand of Vodka. Not the cheapest, but moderately priced, and clearly made from potatoes.


[11/15: there are also vodkas made from other non-grains, like Hangar One and Ciroc, which are made from grapes. Thanks to Sean @ punkdomestics.com for that info!]



It was also on sale… I bought two (you never know when you might need vodka).

Homemade Gluten Free Vanilla Extract


What you need: 

  • Vodka, made from potatoes not grain
  • Vanilla Beans


The ratio:

  • 3 Vanilla Beans to every 1 cup of Vodka
Deciding that I need a lot of vanilla extract I opted for 6 beans and 2 cups of Vodka.




Split your beans lengthwise, you can leave some of the top together, like everyone indicates but really, it doesn't matter.


Stick them in a jar.


Pour Vodka over beans.

(yes, that is my 5 year old with a bottle of vodka. I did not let her drink it, although she did smell it.)


Submerge the beans.

When you get incredibly frustrated because they will not stay submerged, pluck them back out and chop them in half. It's not going to change the outcome one bit.


 Take that vanilla beans.


Store in a cool dark location, give a good shake about once per week. Honestly, just shake it up every once and a while when you remember.

Patiently wait at least 4, but up to 8 weeks before using.

As you remove the extract (shake before using), you can simply pour more vodka back in the jar to replenish your stash.

You can get about 3 good soakings out of your beans.

-------------------------


11/15 The troops are revolting… so let's appease everyone and add a few notes:
  • You can read a very lengthy and informative post 'here on celiac.com' regarding the gluten free safety of distilled spirits, where they unquestionably explain grain-based spirits as being gluten free.
  • You can also use your own discretion with that analysis.
  • I have celiac disease and am incredibly sensitive to gluten. My experience with grain-based alcohols has been that of bloating, abdominal cramping and discomfort and some after effects I'd rather not discuss.
  • It's really your own call as a celiac whether you partake of grain-based spirits or not, I'm sure it is different for every person. It's like oatmeal… I know celiacs who can tolerate regular oatmeal and some (like me) that must have certified GF oats. 
  • But hey folks, if you are making homemade vanilla extract, and you are going to gift it for the holidays to a friend who has celiac, and you don't know for sure whether they can tolerate grain based spirits, are you going to take the gamble or err on the side of caution?
  • I'm just sayin'...
-------------------------


Not bad huh?

Easy & way cheaper for sure.

Yes I bought an entire pound of vanilla beans. But I will use them and quite honestly they will last me a very, very long time. Like until the end of the world.

One big bottle of real vanilla extract is going to set you back at least $6.

Here's two sites where you can order vanilla beans, there's more out there, search around:


I ordered from the first one and the beans aren't bad, a few beans are a little drier than they should be, but they are very fragrant. They were cheap for sure, I ordered the Chef quality beans at $19.95/lb, so I can't complain, I'll see how they flavor as I use them. I figured I'd start there and see how they were.

My vodka already has a wonderful vanilla smell.

I also ordered some smaller sizes of a few of the more pricey beans to test out the difference.

I'll definitely post the outcome when it gets here 4-8 weeks from now.

Patience [insert your name], patience.

*sigh*




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