25 September 2009

Pears Today, Pears Tomorrow (or Pippi's Adventures in Canning)

I love this time of year! The fruit trees are all heavy with their bounty, and I can't help but take advantage! I was out in my garden yesterday, and my neighbor called over the fence to me, "Pippi, the plums are ready! Come get some!" So I gathered up my picking bucket, and chatted with Marie as we picked the small, deep purple plums that covered the branches. They looked so pretty, I soon ran to get my camera, too!

I picked 3 gallons before heading back to my kitchen to clean and wash them, and cook them into jam. The plums are a small Italian variety - tart, and about the size of a large olive, and I knew that pitting them all by hand would be a huge chore, so I decided to try something different.

I cooked a smaller pan full of the plums, with a little bit of water in the bottom of the pan, and when the fruit had softened enough to fall off the pits, I poured it through a strainer, and mashed it with a wooden spoon, to get as much of the pulp from the pits as possible. Then, I poured the fruit puree back into my stock pot, and made the jam as usual. Way easier! I took these pictures while the second batch of jam was still in the heat bath.

I made 18 jars of the plum jam last night, and decided that I would can pears today. Last year, we had a good crop of pears on the two trees in the front yard, and I dried most of them, so this year, I decided to make canned pears, instead of drying them. I picked about 40 pears this afternoon from one tree, brought them in, washed them, and started peeling and cutting them into eighths.

I made a light syrup with organic cane sugar, and a small amount of orange juice (to help keep them from darkening), and then, as I filled each jar with as many pear pieces as I could stuff in, I poured the syrup over them, closed them, and then heat treated them to seal and preserve them. I filled the twelve wide-mouth pint jars I bought this morning, so as the second batch was in the heat bath, I scooted down to the store to buy another dozen for tomorrow's canning. I'm sure I will be buying even more jars before I am done! It will be so nice this winter to have pears whenever we want them.

I think I am going to play around with canning pear pie filling, too. Pear pie is one of my favorites (that and cherry), and we usually only have it in the fall, but it would be so nice to make a crust, pour a jar of pear pie filling into it and bake it in the cold winter months, too. I'll let you know how it goes!

Happy Fall, everyone!

14 September 2009

5 lessons about the way we treat people

Several people have sent me this in an email in the past, and as I saw it again today, I thought I'd share it with all of you, too.

P.S. Thanks, Dave! :D

5 lessons about the way we treat people

1 - First Important Lesson - Cleaning Lady.

During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student, and had breezed through the questions until I read the last one:

"What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?"

Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50's, but how would I know her name?

I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade.

"Absolutely, " said the professor. "In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say "hello."

I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.

2. - Second Important Lesson - Pickup in the Rain

One night, at 11:30 p.m., an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rain storm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car.

A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960's. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab.

She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man's door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home.. A special note was attached.

It read:

"Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along.
Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband's' bedside just before he passed away... God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others."

Mrs. Nat King Cole.

3 - Third Important Lesson - Always remember those who serve..

In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him..

"How much is an ice cream sundae?" he asked.

"Fifty cents," replied the waitress.

The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it.

"Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?" he inquired.

By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient.

"Thirty-five cents," she brusquely replied.

The little boy again counted his coins.

"I'll have the plain ice cream," he said.

The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left..

When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies..

You see, he couldn't have the sundae, because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.

4 - Fourth Important Lesson. - The obstacle in Our Path.

In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway.. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the King's' wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way.

Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand!

Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.

5 - Fifth Important Lesson - Giving When it Counts.....

Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare & serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had
miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister.

I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, "Yes I'll do it if it will save her."

As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheek Then his face grew pale and his smile faded.

He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, "Will I start to die right away".

Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.

Have a great day!

04 September 2009

More Egyptian Coils and a New Steampunk Necklace...

As you know, I have been playing with the Egyptian coil technique for the past week. The whole time I was making coiled bracelets, the steampunk winged scarab I made as a demo for a step out article I recently wrote has been sitting beside me waiting to be made into something wearable. I wanted to incorporate the Egyptian coils into the chain for the pendant, but didn't want to overwhelm it with so many coils, and I only had a few feet of the 20 gauge copper wire I used for the frame of the pendant left - not enough to make the whole chain using the Egyptian coil technique, anyway. Another challenge I faced with this piece was how to attach the chain to the pendant.

As I looked at the wire wrapped scarab, waiting for the ideas in my head to come together, I decided to echo the spirals at the ends of the wings in the chain by making two sections of Egyptian coils, but with more open coils like the wings, and wrapping them with matching seed beads and watch parts, to tie the designs together. I had just enough of the 20 gauge wire to make six links - three for each side, and a shorter piece left over that I used to make the bail for the pendant. I also had some 5mm round Swarovski crystal beads left over from a bracelet I made for my daughter for Christmas last year that matched the seed beads, and I used these to make the chain, to give the necklace a bit more sparkle.

Each of the Egyptian coil links was wrapped with 4 feet of hair-thin wire, seed beads, and selected watch parts, and linked through the next. I didn't wrap a stone into the center of the coils like I did on the bracelets I'd made, as I wanted them to have free movement as part of the chain. The weight of the pendant helps keep the Egyptian links lined up when worn.

The bail was a bit trickier, and I doodled in my notebook for a while until I came up with the shape I wanted for it, and an idea of how I would attach it. I echoed the wrapped seedbeads from the wings around the top center of the bail, and wrapped one of the Swarovski beads into the loop, then curled the sides around and over the top of the wings to make loops to attach the chain. This also gave the scarab what looked like a head with curled antennae.

The bulk of the chain is made up of the wire wrapped Swarovski crystal beads. I added a couple of double coiled copper links to the chain, to give it some variation, and used a large, open gear at the top of one of the Egyptian coil sections to attach it to the rest of the chain. And, to finish the design, I made a coiled hook clasp, which I hammered flat, to bring it all together, so to speak.

This piece turned out better than I'd hoped, and gave me some ideas for the next piece I am working on for the Etsy Wire Artisans Guild's September Theme Challenge - Pirates. I will be continuing my experimentations with the Egyptian Coil technique in this challenge piece, using ideas from the necklace I just completed.

Stay tuned!:D

03 September 2009

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Years ago, when I worked on my friends' organic farm, harvesting would begin early in the morning, and we would take a break around noon for lunch. When the zucchinis were producing like mad, Katherine would make up a big pan of chocolate zucchini cake from her mother's recipe, and we would hurry through our lunch, so we could pig out on her cake for dessert. It is a great way to use up a bunch of zucchini! I wrote down her recipe, but lost it somewhere in one of my moves, but often thought about how yummy it was.

So, when my neighbors told me to help myself to the stuff in their garden while they were away, and I found two huge zucchinis, my first thought was chocolate zucchini cake! I looked through all of my cook books for the recipe I'd copied, but to no avail, so I decided to just wing it. Mine turned out so well, I decided to share the recipe with you all. This one is really rich and chocolatey! (and a great way to disguise zucchini for your kids!) :D

Pippi's Chocolate Zucchini Cake


2 cups (organic) flour (I use 1 cup white, and 1 cup whole wheat)
1-1/2 cup organic cane sugar
3/4 - 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Dagoba Organic Cacao Powder)
2-1/2 tsp baking powder (I use Rumford's non-aluminum baking powder)
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
4 eggs
1-1/2 cups (organic) olive oil
3 cups grated zucchini
5 oz. dark chocolate, chopped (I use Scharffen Berger 72% cacao chocolate - Chocolate chips work well, too.)
3/4 cup chopped nuts (or substitute 1 cup of rolled oats if you don't like nuts)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a spring-form pan (a 9" x 13" pan will work, too).

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cocoa powder until well blended.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the oil and eggs, and add to the dry ingredients. Mix well. Fold in the zucchini, chopped chocolate and nuts/oats until they are evenly distributed throughout the batter. Pour into the cake pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 50-60 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake completely in the pan, before turning it out onto a plate. You can eat it as is, or frost with your favorite chocolate frosting. Enjoy!

01 September 2009

Egyptian Coil Variations

I have been meaning to try my hand at making an Egyptian Coil bracelet for some time now, and finally did it. And, of course, I couldn't stop at just one!

I followed a free tutorial on the blog of a fellow jewelry artist, Marie Christine, but added some small beads wrapped into the center of each coil, which I had seen on an Egyptian coil bracelet made by Delia Stone (though she tells me that she borrowed the idea from another artist, too).

My first attempt was done in 20 gauge copper wire, with tundra sapphires wrapped into the coils. I wanted the clasp to echo the spiral design, and fashioned my clasp with a large faceted nugget of moonstone. I had already made the chain, and wired the small stones into it, when I decided this, so I had to make the clasp while attached to the rest of the bracelet. A bit awkward, but it worked out. I was very pleased with how well it turned out, and immediately decided that I should make one in silver, too.

For this variation, I used 21 gauge sterling wire for the coiled links, and hammered them before linking them together. I raided my bead stash for stones to wrap into the chain, and ended up using the last of my little faceted amethyst beads. I didn't have enough of the small ones for the clasp, so I used some slightly bigger rondels around the faceted amethyst nugget in the clasp. It ended up looking quite stunning! I forgot to make the clasp first (again) and so had to build this one while attached to the bracelet, too.

I loved how the copper one looked so much, I decided to make another one, and finally made the clasp first! I used a gorgeous handmade lampwork bead by a talented Salt Lake City glass artist, Scott Tanner. (I bought my set from him on eBay, but am happy to announce that he now sells his work on Etsy!) I decided to go smaller with the beads set in the coils, and used bicolor green seed beads on this bracelet. They pick up the greens in the lampwork bead very nicely!

So here I am - three bracelets in three days, and I still haven't had enough of this design. I decided that I am going to make an Egyptian Coil chain for the steampunk piece I made up for a step out article for the Winter 2009 issue of Belle Amoire Jewelry magazine. I'm still playing around with ideas in my head before I start, but I'm sure that by this evening, I will be coiling away! I'll let you know how it turns out.

Glad you stopped by!