Sunday, August 31, 2014

the julia adventure

Although I don't think Aunt Dottie had a foreign exchange student, she did take in and mother lots of kids during her life. Since I had 2 bedrooms open in our house, and Holly has a passion for Sweden - it just seemed like the right thing to do.

I contacted ASSE, which apparently is out of the norm. Usually they are begging people to take students, so if you have love in your heart and a spare room - give them a call.

We read over the profiles of all the kids from all over the world and knew Julia was the right person for us with her love of languages and books. We began communication with Julia and her mom and sent almost daily emails back for forth for about 1 month.

The big day was finally here! The airports website said to park in the short term lot and go into the terminal to pick up International travelers. Holly and I left in plenty of time to pick her up with rush hour traffic and the stop for gas.

We finally found the parking garage and went inside Detroit Metro. Still early ... we paused for hot chocolate and coffee.

We checked the sign and found her flight - 15 minutes before the flight landed. We imagined the pilot coming on ...."Ladies and Gentlemen, we are preparing for landing at Detroit Metro. We will arriving in 15 mins."  And how wonderful that might be when you've been in the air for about 10 hours. And then it happened - the sign reflected it.

We moved towards the doorway where the passengers would come through. Someone said it would be awhile before they came through - they still needed to gather their luggage and clear customs. So we waited.

And every time the door opened, our heart skipped a beat. Was that her? She said she would have jeans and a striped shirt on. Soooo excited and sooooo nervous!

Nope, Julia doesn't have blond hair. We soon noticed the family next to us. They had a sign and flowers and I heard them say several times, "is that her?" Their sign was great!Turns out they lived in Saline too and were waiting for their foreign exchange student from China.

Sigh ....I didn't get the memo on the sign and flowers. This was ours.

Yep .... lame, but effective. And then ... there she was. And so ... our adventure begins ... with Julia from Sweden.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

life represented

My daughter Jenny called me on the phone. You know it's an emergency when the phone rings. No one uses the phone anymore, to make phone calls. I pick up the phone. "Jen?" Dead silence. "Jennnnnnnny" Dead silence. Great! I was butt dialed!

Then I heard it .... a small muffled cry that increasingly grew louder. "Mom? There's something wrong, they are sending me to the hospital by ambulance."

Jenny was 6 weeks from her due date. I immediately left work and met the ambulance at the hospital where her and Bobby were. I had been fighting back tears the whole way. The tears were trying to give way to sheer panic. Nope, it's won't do anyone any good to do that, so I talked myself back off the ledge. They admitted her into the hospital.

I spent the night in the hospital with her and during the night hard labor began. Matthew was born the next morning ...... healthy. A mere 5 pounds, 2 ounces. Everyone was fine. They both were in the hospital for a week.

Isn't he adorable? We planned to have a small family get together after they left the hospital, so I got to work on the quilt. After much deliberation, I finally decided on the design above. It's life represented. Yea ... life represented.

The top part is the sky and clouds. The bottom is grass, a stream and more grass. I even embroidered some fish swimming in the stream. The stuff in between is horizon with bicycles and sports. I used my Brother PQ-1500 quilting machine, which is awesome. Cool and fun.

Darn! All the pictures I took of the quilt, I had folded it in half. It is a standard size crib quilt. I used a method I found here. The method shown here is more curvy - but I figured out how to do uneven lines. You can see better towards the bottom with the greens and browns. Nifty stuff.

The whole thing took about a day to make and now it cuddles a young guy most precious.

Friday, August 22, 2014

the sports nut

Aunt Dottie had a Singer sewing machine in her bedroom and I would sit in there and watch her put together pieces of fabric. It was amazing to see her put those puzzles together. The last time I saw her at her sewing machine, she was sewing her daughters wedding dress. How wonderful would it be . .. to pass down to the younger generations something you made.

My daughter Jenny has 2 boys. Bobby wanted a quilt for his birthday - he turned 11 this year. Many times you will find him in my sewing room looking to make some little thing. "Nana, can I sew something?" I taught him how to use my sewing machine about a year ago and he loves playing with it.

He's also a real sports nut - baseball, hockey, basketball, football, bowling - does it all. Not only does it all, but is super good at it. He recently tried out and made a hardball team and hit a home run in his first game.

So I ended up choosing this pattern but he chose the colors. I found a sports collection backing for it, which also had the number 12 in it. He thought I had put that number 12 on the quilt and was insulted that I didn't realize he was 11. I'm still not sure he understands that the fabric just happened to have 12 on it.

I started with 8 inch squares and I embroidered a few things on it. I quilted it in big triangles too. This quilt fits a full size bed nicely.

I think it turned out pretty good. My little entry level brother embroidery machine sure gets a workout. I hid a couple of words throughout the quilt. I think the embroidery just adds character to the quilt.

Every time I go over to Jenny's house, Bobby has it ... on the couch, in his room and they even took it to the hospital when the new baby was born. Matthew was premature and they stayed at the hospital for a week. It was sweet and very nice to see how it gave both Jenny and Bobby comfort.

If you want to see more about this quilt, I got the idea from In Color Order.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

the quest for low carb baked goods!

My daughter Jacquelyn has a gluten allergy so I've experimented with different ways to make gluten free pizza so she can enjoy pizza with the rest of us. While I can make gluten free pizza, it's still loaded with carbohydrates. Since I've gained a few pounds, I've been looking for a healthier way to enjoy pizza and other baked goods that I love so much.

I saw on a cooking show where the french cook was making a cake which called for almond flour. I did some research and went to the store looking for almond meal or flour. Finding nothing, I bought 2 bags of almonds and decided to grind them in my food processor. I chopped them up as fine as I could. A quick internet search produced this amazing website called Elanas Pantry. I made her recipe for zucchini bread, (fresh from the farmer's market) and politely ignored the part where she said to use blanched almond flour and not almond meal. Apparently when you fine chop your own almonds, it's called almond meal. Anyways, I made the bread using almond meal and some other really healthy stuff including agave nectar and grape seed oil.

It was ok. Kind of grainy tasting. Didn't taste bad, but the texture was off. Jackie was more than happy to eat it. Even passed it around to some of her gluten free friends at work, they all liked it. What had I done wrong? Well ... even though she specifically said not to use almond meal - no, that couldn't be it. I took out the coffee grinder and ground the almond even finer. Not only did I grind them finer - but I sifted it too. And followed her recipe for cookies.

Sooooo good! Texture was still off, but closer. I followed Elana's recipe for chocolate chip cookies and used dark chocolate chips. So good! OK, I was finally convinced I should try the almond flour now. So I went to one of the websites Elana recommended to buy almond flour - and I bought a 5lb bag of flour. With shipping - $50.00. Holy crap! What was I thinking?!

I immediately got an email saying that my order had been processed by this guy.

And a few minutes later, another email saying it shipped.

A few days later, I received the following email:

Hip hip hooray!  Hey there nutty Tammy!  According to the galactic delivery
powers that be (aka USPS), your shipment has been delivered.  Yippee!  We
certainly hope it deliciously smashes your expectations with enough force
to crack a macadamia nut in the shell!!!

Uncle Sandy, Cousin David, Dad, and I would love to hear from you, so what
are you waiting for?

Again, thank you, and remember:
Enjoy, have a great day, and smile away!

~Jeffrey and the Family

So freaking adorable!! I immediately IM'd my daughter Holly. Was the package there? Yes mom, it is. I couldn't wait to get home and find my golden almond flour. Upon walking in the door after work and not seeing the package anywhere, I went to the front porch. There it lay. She had checked to see if it was there, but not taken the time to actually bring it inside. Teenagers! Really?

The box was amazing! My son Jason walked in, saw the box and burst out laughing. Wow ... he said. Isn't that a porn site somewhere? A few jokes commenced. I won't repeat them since this is a clean family blog.

I opened the box to find my golden bag of almond flour. Wow .... lovely ....

My daughter Jackie (the one with the gluten allergy) came in for lunch the next day and I began to tell her about my almond flour. I turned over the bag and read the story printed on the back.

They told the story of Poppy Sol and how he started the business and his adversities and how the grandson started the online part. I was family now, deemed by Jeffrey, Kenny, Uncle Sands and Cousin David. I was hooked.

I immediately began to formulate my recipe for pizza. Yes pizza! My evil plan was to make a low carb pizza. I found a recipe online here for the crust. I usually made my pizza homemade from nice fluffy gluten based white flour - but not tonight! There was no rising time, so I made the dough and followed the directions. Ta-da!!

My husband Burke walked in the door. "Something smells amazing!", he said. He said that most nights. :) As he was shedding off his work day, I told him the story of the golden bag of almond flour. He's recently lost 33 pounds, so he was all for a low carb solution. "Sounds yummy! Let's eat!", he proclaimed. We called everyone down to the table for dinner, and as they rounded the table I exclaimed, "Don't touch my nut bag! It's golden!" Well, the jokes ensued .... one after another. Again.....clean family blog.

The crust was a beautiful golden brown and as everyone (Burke, Holly, Jason, and I) took our first bites, I saw the looks of joke ridden fun turn to oh god - what was that! The crust was good - ok. Not spectacular, and it wasn't the flour - it needed something. And I'm still not sure what that something is. Some seasonings perhaps? It was very bland, which is was only made from eggs, flour, and baking powder. It definitely needed something. They ate the entire pizza, so it was not just needed something - can't quite put my finger on it.

Oh well..... back to the drawing board!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

canning tomatoes on a budget

When I was a little girl, Aunt Dottie made the most amazing spaghetti sauce. She would cook it all day long and made these tremendous meatballs to go with them. Probably my all time favorite food - spaghetti and meatballs. She would break out the canned tomatoes for her famous sauce.

I started my garden from seed and gave all by 4 of the tomato plants away. Unfortunately, I didn't label my tomatoes properly and I ended up with 3 grape tomato plants and 1 beef steak. Doh! All 4 of them have produce bountiful fruit and now I'm faced with what to do with all of them. Truthfully I've never canned before this year, so my adventure with canning begins. I did my due diligence though and studied different articles and here's what I did.

After sending my husband to the local store to buy canning jars. I started with a nice abundance of tomatoes, a combination of large beef steak and grapes.

So I got busy and brought out 2 pots. I filled the small one up and set it to boiling. All these tomatoes need to have the skins removed and dunking them into boiling water will do the trick.

About one minute will do the trick. I sliced the bottom of the grape tomatoes so I could see the cut grow larger to tell when they are done. The larger ones I took the core out. Make sure you cut out any imperfections too.

Here's what they look like when they are done. I read you're suppose to dunk them into cold water, but I didn't mainly because it only takes a few seconds before they are done. Dunking them in cold stops the cooking.

Then get down to the business of skinning them. The skins all came off real easy. It was a little tedious to do so many grapes. Obviously bigger ones are much better. Once the skins are off, I dropped them in the pot and brought it to a boil for about 20 minutes. After they boil, you can put them in the food processor depending on how you want pulp you want.

If you don't heat them before pureeing them, the tomato and the water in them will begin to separate. The end product is still good, but heating them first will solve that.

Add 1 tsp of salt per quart. You can figure that out by using the size of your pot to determine how many quarts you will get. I estimated 3 quarts, so I put in 3 tsp of salt. The salt will act as the preservative.

While I was waiting for the pot to boil, I heated the oven to 215 degrees and put the jars in them. Make sure they get a good 20-30 mins to heat properly. There are these tongs made especially for jars, but I just used a clean dish towel to get them out.

Ugh! Don't look at my stove!

Optional - After the tomatoes boiled for about 20 mins. I poured them into a strainer to take out the seeds. You may choose to skip this phase, but since the tomatoes were smaller and I had so many - I had a lot of seeds. Squeeze it through! I put the left over pulp in my compost bin. If the tomatoes start to cool down, put them back on the stove to boil some more.

In the small pan, put some clean water in and get it to almost boiling. Once it is nice and hot, drop your lids in to kill any bacteria.

This process works when all things are hot (tomatoes, jars, and lids). Take your jars out, fill them with your sauce all the way to the top. You can use a fancy funnel or I just used my ladle. Leave only about 1/2 inch. Clean the lid area and put the lids on and wait to hear the "pop" of the vacuum seal. Once everything has cooled (and it takes awhile) - to test them, take the outer lid off and turn them upside down. The lower lid should stay in place. I, of course, do this over the sink....just in case.

Aren't they purdy?? I have made jar ole tomatoes!

I found this video to be very helpful in my quest for knowledge of canning tomatoes.