Of Socks and Stones. Alas, no sealing wax, nor cabbages and kings.

My new “rocks” arrived a good week ago, and I’m still thinking hard about what I want to use them for, other than the classic “variations on a theme.”  I’ve been doing some of that just to keep myself in the right headspace, and I think it’s starting to work.  I’m feeling glimmerings of inspiration for Monday! 

The stone in the ring on the left is a peridot, even though you probably can’t tell from this shot-

I am, however, starting to regret my decision to go for a greater variety of stones of lower cost/quality over shelling out more money for larger lots of one or two stones, but with better cut.  My stone setting skills are not yet that flexible.  I have a set of stone-setting burs in a variety of sizes, but there are one or two that are missing that I think I will have to buy in order to set some of these stones.  The CZs I was setting earlier are machine-cut, and all fit perfectly.  These new stones have more size variation, and end up being just a smidge larger or smaller than the closest “matching” bur size.  Add to that my less-than-ideal setup for holding on to rings and earrings while I’m trying to set stones (sometimes it’s a two-handed process) and you have a good recipe for frustration 😦  

This has combined with my decision not to buy anything I can make at home, and has led to me spending more time knitting myself a new pair of socks than working in the studio.  I really need to cut that out and do my knitting after Scarlett gets home from school.  That was supposed to be the deal – I stay home and work in the studio during school hours.  Yes, socks are necessary, but I can work on those when Scarlett is home, so I should not use my precious and limited my-autistic-daughter-is-at-school hours for knitting.  On the other hand, these are going to be very nice, warm, decorative socks!

This is the “Cabled Corn ” pattern from Knitting Circles Around Socks, which I love not so much for the sock patterns (which are nice), but for the two-socks-at-once technique the author uses.  I will no longer suffer from Second Sock Syndrome!  For those unfamiliar with the condition, SSS is characterized by a tendency to knit the first sock in a given pattern, then get bored with the pattern and move on to something else.   The sad result is a large number of orphan socks.  Knitting them both at once does a great deal to alleviate this situation!  These socks are being knit in a handspun wool/silk blend I had hanging around.  I have a lot of handspun hanging around – eventually most of it will turn into something.  Right now it is becoming winter socks!

Pretty rocks!

I finally got the package of faceted stones I’ve been waiting for!  Now that I’m a little more comfortable with setting them I want colors!  I now have amethyst, citrine, peridot, and two different garnets (almandine and pyrope).   This week had lots of doctor’s appointments and other obligations, so I didn’t get to do any work in the studio until Friday 😦

I made another pair of small rectangle posts with the 2mm almandine garnets.  I’m still playing with this design.  I like the idea, but the original pair didn’t sit quite right.  I’m experimenting with the placement of the ear post.  I think if I place it a little lower on the earring, the earring will not tilt down so much when worn.  I really hope I can make it work at this size, because I love the design!  It’s nice and clean, small, unobtrusive – perfect for anything casual, or for when you have very small children who like to pull on things that dangle 🙂
I also started work on a few more basic ring designs using the colored stones, but I probably won’t finish those until Monday, so no pics yet.  DH was busy that afternoon, so no process pics 😦  I am planning another big photo shoot for next week (probably Tuesday) – so I will finally have some really nice photos of the new work – not just quickie blog snapshots!  This will, of course, also mean the new work will finally be listed in my shops sometime near the end of next week – I will keep you posted!

Pressure Cooker Chicken Stew-ish

 Another dish in my “Seat-of-my-Pants” cooking repertoire!  Not exactly stew, I suppose – not with the whole chicken legs.  Still, it’s really fast and really tasty!  I end up cooking a lot of chicken this way.  DH can’t eat pork or beef in any form except ground, and won’t eat seafood except shrimp, so we’re pretty much stuck with chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs.  I have perforce become adept at cooking chicken in many different ways.  I’m sure the nuances are completely lost on DH, as he tends to slather barbecue sauce on all his chicken no matter what I’ve done with it – but at least I don’t have to get tired of chicken!
  • 4 red potatoes, skin on, chopped roughly into eighths
  • 2 largish carrots, peeled, sliced or chopped, whichever you prefer
  • 2 stalks of celery, sliced into roughly 1/4″ slices
  • 1 large onion, sliced or chopped however you like it
  • 4 chicken leg quarters
  • 1/3c white wine
  • 1/3c stock or broth (chicken or veg)
  • 1T salt
  • 1/2t fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2t Bell’s Poultry Seasoning
  • 3T chopped fresh parsley

Adding vegetables to pressure cooker as you chop, saute on very low heat for about 10 min while prepping chicken.  Dredge chicken in flour and brown in a separate pan, two legs at a time.  Place chicken on top of vegetables.  Sprinkle with poultry seasoning, add broth, salt and pepper.  Seal the pressure cooker and bring to pressure (about 7min).  Cook at pressure for 10 min, turn off heat and let rest for another 10 min.  Release pressure, sprinkle with parsley, and serve with a slice of  really good bread!

Adventures in Handmade Laundry Soap

For the past couple of months I have been making my own cleaning products.  The more you put into something the more it costs, so if I could pare my cleaning supplies down to bare essentials it ought to cost me less than buying typical cleaning products.  I figured people were able to keep reasonably clean for hundreds of years before the invention of modern detergents – there must be a way to do this.  So far I think I’m right!  It turns out that almost everything can be made from some combination of soap or dish liquid, washing soda, borax and vinegar.  As I mentioned in my previous post about shampoo bars, I can at least feel like I’m saving money!

We ran out of laundry detergent this morning.  I found a bunch of homemade laundry soap recipes at Tipnut, and I’m going to go through them and see how they work. I’m using my handmade soap for these rather than buying bar soap (after all, that is the point) – but as long as it’s bar soap and not bar detergent (like Dove), it should work. For those of you who are following along at home, I’m starting with recipe #1.

So here are two gallon Ziploc bags of grated handmade soap!  100% lard soap, just because lard is cheap, and this batch was always destined to be laundry soap, so I really didn’t care about the skin-conditioning qualities.

No, I didn’t use all of this!  Just 2 cups 🙂  I’ll have plenty for experimenting with other laundry soap recipes later.
My 2c of soap gets slowly melted in 1q of simmering water in a saucepan on the stove until it’s all dissolved.

The whole mess gets poured into a bucket into which I have measured 2c each of borax and washing soda (both found in the laundry products aisle of the supermarket) and mixed thoroughly until everything is dissolved.  Two gallons of water are added, and I wait for the whole thing to cool down.  I also added about a tablespoon of fragrance oil that I got for free somewhere, just because I don’t really like the smell of the lard soap.  Not a spoiled smell in any way, just mildly unpleasant.  The FO isn’t a scent I would have chosen, but it was free, and it’s better than the lard soap, so I might as well use it.

I know – not a terribly impressive photo – but that’s what it looks like now!  There’s a layer of white not-foamy-anymore stuff on top that I keep mixing back in.  This will definitely be one of those “shake before use” products!  I’m going to wait until tomorrow before I try and put it in some other container for long term storage.  Some “liquid” soaps based on bar soap melted in water can turn into a sort of gloopy almost gelatinous mass, and if this laundry soap is going to do that I don’t want it in some small mouthed vinegar jug that I can’t pour it out of!
I now have 2+ gallons of laundry soap.  This should last us a good month, which I think is long enough to get a feel for how well it works on our clothes.  Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know the results!  Oh and just for kicks, this is the photo DH took of me while I was cooking soap 🙂

Time to put the garden to bed.

Even though we haven’t actually had our first frost yet, I didn’t see much point in waiting.  The tomatoes this year were a lost cause.

Such a waste!  I couldn’t even compost them because of the tomato blight 😦 

For some reason my Japanese eggplants seem to think there’s still going to be time to do something this growing season.

  I’ll hold off on pulling them for a few more days, but I think I’m just going to be stuck with figuring out what to do with this one tiny eggplant.

Maybe I’ll combine it with my one tiny carrot!

This is the one carrot that I got to germinate.  In July.  I pulled it up today.  I’d figured the voles would have gotten to it by now,  but apparently it was too small even for them to waste their time with!  Speaking of voles…

this is where they seem to be keeping their back door these days.  In the middle of my garden!  Next year I am going to have the unenviable task of digging down at least a foot around the perimeter of the garden and burying chicken wire so that the critters can’t get in.  I am not looking forward to this 😦  I hope I have enough chicken wire on hand, and I hope I will be able to talk my son into helping!  He usually enjoys anything that involves digging holes.

Now to start looking for carpet remnants and old bricks to cover the garden with until next spring.  I need to get rid of more grass – it was a bigger battle this year than I want to deal with again.  Here’s to better tomatoes next year!

Being busy and Miso Soup :)

I was lucky enough to get three orders in over the weekend (yay!), so Monday and Tuesday were mostly spent working in the studio.  DH always tries to take pictures of me when I’m working, unfortunately sometimes what I’m doing just isn’t that impressive :\

I’ve been working on a ton of earrings, some of which are going to be included in an Amazon promotion through my 1000 Markets shop(!), and a couple of rings.  I also have a custom piece that I’m working on for a friend, so I’m definitely keeping busy!  The rings and one pair of earrings will be shipping today, everything else should go tomorrow.  I like playing in the studio and coming up with new designs, but I like it even better when I know I’m getting paid!

All of this means I have not been able to tackle the anti-tarnish jewelry roll I’ve been talking about for two weeks.  Oh well.  The fabric is not going to disintegrate on me – it’ll still be there waiting when I have time to deal with it.  In the meantime I can leave you with my recipe for Miso soup!

  • 3c Dashi (Japanese fish stock – if you don’t have an Asian grocery near you, you can probably find this at your local natural foods store.  I’m not a purist – I’m happy with the powdered stock!)
  • 1/2-1 c sliced, chopped button bushrooms
  • 1-2T butter (or oil of your choice)
  • 3T Miso (again, available at Asian groceries or natural foods stores) White miso is milder than red miso, so if you’re not sure what you’re doing yet go with the white.  I like to mix them half-and-half.
  • 1-2T Wakame (dried seaweed in a plastic bag – available etc., etc.)
  • 1 or 2 scallions, whites and greens very thinly sliced. (I know it’s a “garnish”, but don’t skip the scallions!)

Soak the wakame in a small bowl with warm water.  Use a bigger bowl than you think you need – this stuff expands dramatically!  Saute the mushrooms in the butter (or whatever you prefer for sauteing mushrooms).   Add the dashi, bring to a simmer.  Strain and add the wakame.  Adding the miso can be tricky, as it has a consistency much like peanut butter.  In Japan they have a special kitchen tool for this that is basically a strainer shaped like a small ladle.  You put the miso in the “ladle” and lower it into the soup, then you can stir and rub it against the side of the strainer so that the miso gets dissolved into the soup instead of making big lumps.  Most of us don’t have one of those.  Instead, put the miso in a small bowl, add a littl of the dashi and stir until it’s smooth.  Add this thinned miso to the soup.  Stir once or twice, remove from heat, and serve, garnished with the scallions!

This is so amazingly quick, and almost everything is shelf-stable or freezable (I freeze batches of sauteed mushrooms and sliced scallions) that it has become one of my “emergency meals” when I’m short on time or ingredients for anything else.  Enjoy!

Saving money and Shampoo soap!

Like almost everyone else, my family has had to seriously tighten its financial belt this year.  Being a DIYer, my answer to this dilemma has been to make as much as possible from scratch.  This kills two birds with one stone because I can (usually) spend less money on the things my family needs, and I can still fulfill my creative cravings!  For those rare instances where it’s actually more expensive to make something myself, I can at least depend on whatever-it-is being of generally better quality, and that it will also make a suitable gift, saving me money in that arena.  Recipe suggestions using Bing cherries in light syrup will be greatly appreciated!

That said, I decided to try my hand at soapmaking this year.  Granted, a bar of handmade soap probably costs more than a bar of supermarket soap, but since all my costs are essentially up-front, by the time I run out of handmade soap (which will probably be years from now!) it will certainly feel like I have saved money on soap, as I will have been able to go for long periods of time without having to buy it!  And again, there’s the added satisfaction of having made something from scratch, along with knowing exactly what went into it. 

While my son is not interested in helping me make soap, he loves the idea of using handmade soap, and has been asking me to make a shampoo bar.  This weekend I finally got around to it!  Very basic, unscented (I’m after practicality here, not presentation), and I hope it will last for some time!  These won’t be ready to use for another 2-4 weeks, but I figure that’s OK.  They’ll probably be done at about the time we run out of store-bought shampoo.  Now if only I could convince my husband that people with hair that is only 1/2″ long do not need conditioner!

Homemade soup + handmade bowl = perfect lunch!

I’m a big fan of soup, so this cooler weather has been a welcome change!  I’m also a big fan of making things “from scratch,” so for me “soup” is never something that comes out of a red-and-white can!
This is lunch whipped up from leftovers 🙂  I had made chicken stock the night before, and had about a cup left that hadn’t been put in the freezer yet.  I scrounged around and found about 2 tablespoons of leftover taco meat.  Yay!  Taco Soup!  I added a little garlic oil, some extra salt and pepper, and garnished it with sour cream.  Add to that the leftover end of a sourdough baguette that I got from the Cityseed Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago, and I have a nice hot lunch, from scratch, that also uses up leftovers – and takes about ten minutes!
I’ll admit that although I did make the bowl, I did not make it this afternoon, and it took longer than ten minutes to make 🙂

It’s finally looking like fall!

This is late for us!  The leaves usually start turning around the last week in August.  This year they didn’t start until mid September.   Just this last week temps have mostly been in the 60’s and low 70’s – today’s forecast is a high of 58!   I’m going to have to get my sewing machine in gear and start making my daughter new school clothes – I’ve discovered that most of her long pants are too small 😦
My sunflowers have all done their thing, and I think I’m going to start pulling up what’s left of the garden next week.  It was an awful year for gardens in the Northeast!  Between the blossom-end rot, the tomato blight, and that hailstorm we got in June I’ve pretty much had to give up on the tomatoes.  
Tomorrow I’ll go out and collect any that are salvageable, then on Monday I’ll start pulling them up and putting them in the trash.  What a waste!  I can’t even compost them! 

Notes for next year’s garden:

  • plant two more Japanese eggplants.  Four were good, but I still didn’t end up with enough ripe fruit at once to cook with.
  • shell peas are pointless unless I can have a much bigger garden.  I will stick with snap peas.
  • be less eager to start the cucumbers – the peas will be producing longer than I think, and I can’t plant the cucumbers until I pull up the peas.
  • start my flowers indoors – ignore what it says on the seed packet!
  • find a way to deal with the voles that are eating my leeks! They pull them down into their tunnels, leaving nothing above ground but a tidy hole where my veggies used to be 😦
  • give the bush beans one more shot, since the hailstorm and the odd weather this year threw everything off!
  • break down and acquire some row cover so that my beet and carrot seeds don’t get washed away or eaten up before they can germinate.

I’m sure I’ll think of more, but these are my top priorities!  If anyone has any advice on how to deal with small rodents I’d love to hear it!