Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Stocking the Larder

Autumnal Equinox.  The First Day of Fall.  Mabon.  However it's referred to, this day which marks the turn of the season away from summer always sets me full of anticipation.  The days now grow shorter, harvest time is nearing its end, and Mother Nature starts to gather her shawl around her tight as the temperatures cool and she prepares for her winter nap.

I start to prepare for winter as well.  (Okay.  Let's say it.  WINTER IS COMING.)  This is the time when I really get going on making sure the "larder" (my pantry, fridge, and freezer) is well provisioned.  I do of course put things away during the summer, when beautiful fruits are available in our local farmers' markets and neighbors generously share the bounty from their trees.  Summer squashes and tomatoes and other hot-season veggies are preserved in a variety of ways, ready to be called upon for fall and winter soups and sauces.

But now, as the farmers' markets prepare to close for the season and the only "fresh" produce to be had will be from the supermarket (we all know that mass-distributed produce is not fresh at all), and as the nights close in earlier and earlier and I get the urge to cook long-simmering pots of comfort, I want to make sure that whatever ingredients I will need to cook or bake are readily at hand.  I don't live so far out in the boonies that I can't run out to a store, but even a quick trip to the grocer's is 30 to 40 minutes round trip.  That's enough to put a crimp in my style, so to speak, if I'm in the middle of a recipe and discover that I don't have everything I need (which has happened far too often).  And there are those days when I simply don't want to leave the house.  So now I make sure that my larder is well provisioned with all of the staples I need to cook or bake, and enough basic preserved foods that I can toss together an improvised meal or grab a quick snack.

So what do I stock the larder with?  These are the essentials I try to make sure I'm never without.


  • Oils and vinegars  (I keep portions in small cruets on the counter, but the rest go in the cupboard where they're tightly closed and not exposed to light.)
  • Salt (pure fine sea salt, canning salt, and specialty sea salts) 
  • Herbs and spices
  • Sugars and flours 
  • Baking supplies such as baking soda & powder, cocoa, etc.
  • Steel-cut and rolled oats
  • Honey
  • Peanut butter
  • Canned tuna
  • Dried pasta (lots and lots of dried pasta)
  • Dried rice and beans
  • Canned beans
  • Canned pumpkin 
  • Canned broth
  • Jams and jellies
  • Chutney (I try to make a batch or two of chutney each year; it's wonderful with cheese or crackers or as an accompaniment to meat, and it livens up plain brown rice.)
  • Pickle veggies (Pickles really brighten up winter meals.  I like pickled cauliflower in salads, and pickled zucchini or pattypan squash alongside frittatas.  BTW, pickled fruits are pretty amazing as well, and are wonderful on a cheese board.  My favorites are figs, cherries, and grapes.)
  • Dehydrated veggies such as zucchini and mushrooms, and diced onions, carrots and celery to make soffritto (aka mirepoix) 

  • Olives and sun-dried tomatoes in oil
  • Better Than Bouillon organic vegetable base (for those times when I don't have broth on hand or don't want to make it from scratch because I'm in a hurry, or when I'm under the weather and don't want to eat but need a little something in my stomach.) 
  • Yeast
  • Maple syrup
  • Bottled lemon juice (for canning)
  • Raisins and dried cranberries


  • Butter
  • Cream (Yes, you can freeze cream!  I freeze it in ice cube trays for when I need small amounts, such as to add to scrambled eggs or a baked frittata, and in small freezer containers for when larger amounts are needed.)
  • Lemons (juiced and frozen in ice cube trays; sliced; and whole)  
  • Pesto
  • Buttermilk powder (Yes, this is cheating I suppose, but I got tired of buying a quart of buttermilk when I only needed a few tablespoons.  For basic baked goods, the powered buttermilk works just fine -- the trick is to add the powder to the dry ingredients and then add the appropriate amount of water (I often mix water and milk or cream) to the liquid ingredients.)
  • Tomato paste (I don't use a lot of tomato paste, and ditto above -- I hated using a tablespoon and throwing the rest of the can away.  So now I freeze the paste by placing tablespoonfuls on a baking sheet, and when frozen wrapping the individual portions in plastic wrap and sealing them all in a heavy freezer bag.)
  • Flours that I don't use often, such as garbanzo bean flour, almond meal, etc.
  • Nuts
  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Coffee (The purists out there may cringe, but I buy good quality coffee in bulk.  A small canister on the counter holds a few days' worth, and the rest is stored in the freezer.  This house in NEVER without coffee.)

So what's in your larder?

Friday, July 31, 2015

Saltmarsh Shell: Alternations & Renovations

I've just released a new pattern called Saltmarsh Shell.  I'm happy with this one:  It's quick and easy to knit, but has lots of textural interest and fun stitch patterns to keep you amused.  This was my first time working with a linen yarn, and while I do admit to being a wool girl, I found that I quite enjoyed the experience. 

My design philosophy has always been to create fun, approachable patterns for both novice and experienced knitters alike.  I also like to design items that allow the knitter to easily adapt the pattern to make the finished piece their own.  Saltmarsh Shell is certainly one of those pieces, and so I thought I'd post about several of what I call "alterations & renovations" -- simple modifications that change the look of the garment without having to re-write the pattern.

ALTERATION #1:  THE BACK NECK.  Saltmarsh Shell is a modified boat-neck style pullover.  There is a little bit of shaping at the back neck, which provides for a better fit.  But maybe your body type is such that you're not worried about that, or maybe you just don't want to deal with shaping.  So don't.  Work the back until the total length is achieved and then put all of the stitches on a holder for binding off later.  Easy-peasy done!

ALTERNATION #2:  THE FRONT NECK.  The front of this shell has a straight split in the center of the body that is worked for about 3" or so, and then the neck is gently tapered to the shoulders.  As shown in the pictures, this shaping is blocked so that the neck split portion stands straight up -- more or less.  You can see in the picture below that one side of the split is falling over a bit.  This is just the nature of the design.  If that doesn't suit you, or you want to add a bit more finishing pizzazz, try adding a little button-and-loop closure at the top of the split.  It would look darling. 

Or maybe you like the look of fold-over lapels.  Simply fold the splits over when blocking the piece, and voila.  You can tack down the lapels if you'd like, or even sew on decorative buttons to add a little something extra to the sweater, like so (my button stash didn't turn up a really appropriate button, but you get the idea): 

Or maybe you don't care about neck splits or lapels or shaping and you just want a boat neck already.  Knit the front exactly like the back.  Bind off both pieces all the way across, sew the shoulder seams, and BOOM DONE.

ALTERATION #3:  THE COLORS.  I chose two closely related watery green and gray colors for my project.  I chose them because I liked them -- they really called to me when I was wandering through the Anzula booth at Stitches West -- and because they said "summer" to me.  Working with two similar colors in the border pattern, which is a simple slipped-stitch check, results in a subtle textural effect.  But just think how contrasting colors would look:  They'd make the check pattern stand out and really pop.  If you're all about color and patterns, go ahead and choose something wild!

ALTERATION #4:  THE STITCH PATTERNS.  As mentioned in Alteration #3 above, the bottom border pattern is a slipped-stitch check.  I like working with slipped stitches, but that may not be your thing.  Or maybe you just want a solid color for your sweater.  The stitch pattern for the bodice is a simple knit-purl pattern.  So simply knit the entire sweater in that pattern.  I worked my original prototype this way, and it looks just fine.  Not as striking maybe, but just fine.  And working with just the single color and simple knit-purl patterns means that your sweater will be finished even faster.  Just be sure to check your stitch counts before you cast on. 

ALTERATION #5:  THE YARN (AND FIT).  I knit Saltmarsh Shell in Anzula Vera, a linen/silk blend.  Lovely stuff.  But, as you probably know, linen does not have much elasticity.  Because of this, I suggest in the pattern that you choose a size with at least an inch or two of positive ease.  But what if you chose another yarn, say for example a nice sproingy merino?  The resilience of such a yarn would mean you could choose a size with zero ease, giving you a form-fitting garment to show off some curves.  Keep in mind that Saltmarsh Shell is a simple rectangular boat-neck with no side shaping, so don't go all crazy with trying to get curvaceous, but a little bit of stretch looks great.  (My first prototype was knit in a yarn with more stretch than linen but less than merino; I did like the way it fit.)


Whether you chose to knit Saltmarsh Shell or not, I hope these alterations & renovations give you ideas for adapting any pattern to better suit your style and needs.  Happy Knitting!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Making Maraschinos

It's cherry season!  Alas, the season is all too short -- blink and it's gone. I've been making the most of it by putting up lots of maraschino cherries.

You can make maraschinos, you ask?  Why yes, you can!  They're easy, tasty, and perhaps as a bonus they lack the neon color of the things you buy in a jar.

I use this recipe from the OSU Extension Service.  It's an oldie but goodie (I've confirmed with OSUES that the recipe is still current).  Homemade maraschinos are softer than commercially prepared cherries, but after using them several different ways I've found no problem with them.

Maraschino cherries are perhaps most frequently used in drinks.  They make a wonderful addition to spritzers, along with a little bit of the juice.  But they're also great as a topping for ice cream, or oatmeal, or granola. 

You may have noticed that the cherries in the pictures look dark.  Indeed they are:  Rather than the Royal Anne Cherries (similar to Rainier) called for in the recipe, I used locally grown sweet dark cherries.  They look and taste just fine, although as mentioned above they are on the soft side (I chose not to add the optional alum).  And since I was starting out with dark cherries, I omitted the red food coloring.

The recipe notes that there will be excess juice left over.  This is not an understatement.  There is LOTS of juice left over.  I add the juice to sparkling or seltzer water -- just a small spoonful or two makes a refreshing, low-calorie summer drink.  You can reduce the juice down to a syrup to top pancakes or ice cream.  The recipe suggests that the juice can be used as a base for fruit soups, which has got me thinking.  The juice freezes well, so if you're not sure what to do with it, you can always put it away until you have a need.

Another use:  Preserved maraschino cherries make a great gift from the kitchen! 

This recipe is made over 3 days, so you may wish to plan ahead.  The most labor intensive part is the initial one:  pitting all those cherries (I have successfully halved the recipe when I don't want to face pitting 4.5 lbs of cherries).  Subsequent days are for the most part just bringing the cherries to a boil, then letting them stand for 24 hours.  On the final day, the cherries are again brought to a boil and then processed in a water bath canner.

When processing the cherries, don't forget to sterilize the jars if you process them for less than 10 minutes or to make altitude adjustments to the processing time if you live above 1000 feet sea level.  At the end of the processing time, turn off the heat, uncover the canner, and let the jars sit for 5 minutes before you remove them.  Let them cool for 12 hours or overnight, then check the seals.  Store in a cool dark place until you're ready to enjoy them.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Garden Close-ups

Spring is doing its thing.  Buds and bugs and bees are everywhere.  Here's a few close-ups of what's currently going on down in the garden.


Another Ladybug, having a snack

Lavender bud

Lavender, with bee

Lemon, in the making

Lemon, almost ready

Gerbera daisy bud

Gerbera daisy, in full bloom

Grape buds

Hollyhock bud


Weed, right before I pulled it

Monday, January 26, 2015

Food Preservation: What To Do If The Power Goes Out

A conversation this morning with my brother, who lives on Cape Cod and is battening down the hatches in preparation for the big blizzard, made me think that this would be an opportune time to provide some quick information on what to do with your refrigerated and frozen food should the power go out. 

The really short answer:  DO NOTHING.  Or, more precisely, do not keep opening your fridge or freezer.  The longer your fridge or freezer door stays closed, the better the chance that the items inside will remain cold.

The details:

Frozen Food
Food that is in a freezer that remains unopened, is full, is in a cool place, and is well insulated, will stay cold for 2-4 days.  Since not all freezers are in cool places and are well insulated, you can expect a full, closed freezer to remain cold for up to 2 days.

If the power goes out for an extended time and your food thaws, you can safely refreeze the food if it contains ice crystals and is still cold (about 40F).  The quality will be lower, but it will be safe to eat.

If the food has been above 40F for 6 hours or more, keep only fruits and fruit juices, breads, cakes, cookies, flour, nuts and hard cheese (but absolutely discard these items if they show any signs of spoilage). 

Refrigerated Food
If food has been above 40F for more than 2 hours, discard milk and milk products (except for butter and hard cheese); cooked eggs and egg products such as custards and puddings; cooked vegetables, meats, pastas, and salads containing these items; and all other perishable items.

Before Using Foods That Have Thawed
Check your food for off colors or odors.  Bacteria can multiply quickly, and most bacteria are odorless and colorless.  The mantra we repeat in Master Food Preservers is WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT.  Foodborne illness (aka food poisoning) is serious business.  Beyond flu-like symptoms or the "24-hour bug," foodborne pathogens can cause chronic illnesses and even death.  If you are even the least bit suspicious, don't eat it.  My personal mantra:  BE FOOD SAFE, NOT SORRY

Be safe everyone, and good luck weathering the storm.