Tip of the Week

Monday, August 27, 2012

Must-Have sewing supplies

I learned to sew and cut fabric with the typical sewing scissors, but in the last few years as I have taken up sewing again I found that the scissors are cumbersome.  It doesn't matter if the projects are small or large, using the scissors is not the most convenient cutting tool.  I decided that I would invest in a rotary cutter, which will also be useful if I decide to make any quilts.   Luckily Joann's had the rotary cutters and mats on sale for 60% several months ago, so it was meant to be.

I have used the rotary cutter for all my sewing projects this year and have been extremely happy with it.  Cutting through fabric, fleece and other thicker materials is a breeze.  The Fiskars cutting mat and ruler are great tools to use with it and my thumb doesn't hurt after cutting all the fabric!  Oh, and you can cut straight lines very easily, no eye-balling it.  My next big project is my knitting and crochet tote bag, but that's on hold while my sewing machine is serviced.  I would recommend investing in a rotary cutter if you are a avid sewer or quilter.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chocolate & Hemp Seed Healthy Brownies Recipe

We have finally experienced a break in the 100 plus degree heat wave, so it was time that I bake a few things in the oven while I can.  Besides a frittata, I made a version of brownies for the weekend.  I really wanted to include hulled hemp seed in a baked treat and decided that I might as well try it in brownies.  For me, I didn't even taste the hemp seed in the brownies and if you didn't know it was added you may not even know either.  The applesauce is a great substitute for butter or oil and can make your cookies or muffins lighter and fluffier.  These brownies turn out a little dense compared to cake-like brownies, almost but not quite fudge-y.  It is a larger batch, so you may have to cut ingredients in half if you prefer to try a smaller batch of these brownies


1 3/4 cups all purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup hulled hemp seed
1 1/2 cups cocoa powder
3 cups light or dark brown sugar
4 tsp vanilla extract
6 eggs
1 1/4 cup no-sugar added applesauce or homemade applesauce
1 or 2 cups of chopped walnuts (or other nuts of your choice)
1 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips (less if you prefer)

1.  In a bowl measure and add first 5 ingredients together.  Mix with a whisk.

2.  In a separate bowl add sugar, eggs, applesauce and vanilla.  Mix together.

3.  Add wet ingreidents to dry ingredients and stir together.

4.  Add nuts and chocolate chips if desired.  You may use any type of nuts or chocolate chips.  Or even add more nuts if you like nutty brownies add more nuts.

5.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.

6.  Place batter in a greased baking dish about 9 x 12 or larger.

7.  Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

8.  Cool and serve.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Summer Melons

This summer I decided to try growing melons, which has so far been an experiment.  Growing melons vertically is a bit challenging when there are more melons ripening on one side of the trellis causing it to tip.  And I found that it was my pumpkin seed that sprouted not my watermelon seeds, so I actually didn't plant any watermelons this year.  Oops!  I definitely need to have plant stakes in my seedling planters to avoid that mistake.  Though I have a pumpkin that's about ready to be plucked from the vine and already one cantaloupe.  In the coming weeks I should have one cantaloupe and one honeydew that will have ripened for picking too.

In the mean time I found some lovely organic melons at my local Whole Foods Market to add to my cantaloupe for a summer melon salad.  And to change it up I tried the orange flesh honey dew and black sugar watermelon.  The heirloom varieties have some very interesting and sometimes, the best flavors.  For example the Gravenstein apple - I recently read that it is considered a heirloom variety and is actually on the verge of being an extinct variety of apple.  So next time look for some local melons at your store or farmer's market and make a summer melon salad.  Jazz it up with some Hawaiian Pineapple and make your picnic lunch delicious.

It's not a cantaloupe it's an orange flesh honeydew

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Baking cookies in the summer

I love to bake and cookies were one of the first things I learned to bake.  Cookies are relatively easy to bake as long as you measure and follow directions.  Over the years I have played around with substituting ingredients; like ground oats for some of the flour, dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, adding nuts, using whole wheat flour, applesauce instead of butter or oil, and honey instead of sugar.  Each time the result is slightly different but the cookies taste as good.  My next substitution will be adding hemp flour to my brownies, but until the heat wave cools I am not turning my oven on!

So when the heat wave hits here I stay away from the oven for any cooking or baking, but that doesn't mean you have to go without home-made goodies.  I try to bake a double patch of cookies and freeze about 70% of the cookies, then a few months later I can pull out a batch and they are ready to go.  Almost any cookie recipe can be stored in the freezer.  Just bake your cookies as usual, then once the cookies have cooler, wrap about 10-12 in aluminum foil, place in a freezer ziplock bag or freezable container, label and freeze.  Next time you want a sweet treat take a batch out and defrost or enjoy cold.  Most cookies if wrapped properly can last several months in the freezer.  Chocolate chip, double-chocolate, lemon wafers, biscotti and oatmeal are a few of the cookies I personally have frozen over the years.  Next time you are in the mood to bake, whip up a larger batch and freeze some for later, you will be delightfully surprised at how easy it is.

Friday, August 10, 2012

From Garden to Table

There is a huge pressure of air over California this week, causing temperatures to rise all over the state.  With  temperatures reaching over 100 degrees this week, my tomatoes and cucumbers are ripening quickly.  I find a baby Armenian cucumber on the vine and a few days late it's huge!  So I have been trying to find recipes that use my garden vegetables and require little cooking.  Heating the house with a oven or stove just results in more electric use.  And a power outage is one thing we do not need in the neighborhood, so I try to do my part.

The recipes I have tried, besides a typical salad are Tabouli (wheat bulgur and vegetables) and a Panzanella Salad.  Both recipes can be modified depending on what vegetables you have on hand, for instance I added red onions to my Tabouli and left out the celery leaves.  For the Panzanella, I didn't want to turn the oven on so I cut the bread into slices and toasted it.  It may not turn out quite as crispy/crunchy as oven-toasted, but it tastes as good.

Oh and I added a sunflower patch to an un-used corner of my garden.  The seeds were a party-favor gift from a recent baby shower.  So far the Sunflowers have been growing rapidly in height and I can't wait for the flowers to develop and bloom.  It was a mix of sunflowers and the colors should be brilliant.

Yellow Straight-neck Summer Squash

Melon Vines

Huge Cucumber
Pickling Cucumber plant

Honeydew melon

Sunflower patch

Wheat Bulgur and Vegetables

Panzanella Salad

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Visiting Dry Creek Valley & Healdsburg

Over the summer I made a trip to Sonoma County to visit a few wineries and sights.   Sonoma County has hundreds of wineries to taste, so you really need to decide where or what wineries you want to try otherwise you could spend weeks trying all of the wineries.  For my trip I decided to head to the Northern part of Sonoma County near Healdsburg to wine taste in the Dry Creek Valley.  Check out this link for a map of the wineries in the Dry Creek Valley Region.

There were more wineries in the area then I had time for, but here are the one's I did make it to:

                  Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery
                  Dutcher Crossing Winery
                  Seasons of the Vineyard
                  Kendall-Jackson Winery Center           

The wines at Ferrari-Carano and their tasting bar, Seasons of the Vineyard, were excellent.  It is worth making the extra trip to their tasting bar as there are plenty of other shops, boutiques and restaurants in downtown Healdsburg.  Some of the shops are dog-friendly and the two dog boutiques are just lovely - for large and small dogs alike.  There are some great dog-gift items, dog toys and treats available.  If you are shopping for clothes or jewelry there are some great choices and local handmade jewelry that is quite unique.    Check out this link for a listing of menus and restaurants choices.  Besides shopping, wine tasting and checking out the local food, there is a great Muesum and Historical Soceity a few blocks from the all these attractions.  History buffs may want to check out the changing exhibits at the Healdsburg Museum and Historical Society.  Downstairs there is a research center where you can browse records with the help of the Research Curator.  I did a little genealogy research here and did find records that pertain to my family tree when they lived in the Healdsburg area.


Garden area at Ferrari-Carano

My last stop after leaving the Dry Creek Valley was at the Kendall-Jackson Winery Center.  Currently they were remodeling so there was some noise from the workers, but the gardens were still interesting to walk through.  You can ask for a guided tour of the garden grounds and the recommended wine tasting would be the wine pairing experience.  Plan for some time if you are up for the wine paring experience, personally I think I would try the dessert tasting.  I do think the wines are pricey here, but then wine can be expensive.

Driving up to Kendall Jackson

The garden area


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tip of the Month: Knitting Supplies & Tools

If you are new to knitting or already knitting, you might have seen all the different supplies in the knitting aisle at your local craft store.  Sometimes, especially as a new-to-the-craft beginner it can be overwhelming when you are looking for your supplies.  So I am here to help you sort through some of the supplies and tools to get you knitting.  And it's okay if you want to try knitting with a knitting kit that includes some of the basic supplies.

Knitting Needles:
These are the main necessity to knitting (unless you have chosen to Loom Knit).  There are three main types of knitting needles: straights, circular, and double-pointed.  Circular needles can be fixed or interchangeable; I like my interchangeable ones, but some of the larger needles are fixed only, so I have both.  In addition, all three are made of different materials, the typical choices are acrylic, nickel, bamboo/wood, and sometimes plastic.  It really is a personal preference as to which material will work best for you and no matter what you read, there are pros and cons to each.  If you can, I would recommend going to a local/specialty yarn shop and seeing if you can try out the different materials.

                    Straights: Great for most projects and come in varying sizes and lengths
                    Circular: Necessary for knitting in the round; great for most projects, especially large projects
                    Double-pointed: Necessary for knitting socks and other patterns that call for them; can be  
                    useful for fixing mistakes

Stitch Markers and Holders:
You will need stitch markers and they come in varying sizes and shapes.  The size you will need will depend on the needle size you are using for your project and you can buy a set with multiple sizes.  Whether you choose circular or triangular will be a personal choice; I have both, even "fun" ones in a heart shape.  You will also find locking stitch markers (the teal-green ones pictured below) and split ring stitch markers (not pictured).  Locking stitch markers are great for crochet, fixing mistakes in your knitting and some knitting projects, so far I have not used them in my knitting projects.  Split ring stitch markers are great if you need to mark rows, decreases/increases or mistakes.  And stitch holders do exactly what the package says - hold stitches, these also come in varying sizes (1 larger and 2 small are pictured below).  You will also find brass or metal stitch markers that have charms or beads on them - I call these designer stitch markers, and these will also work for most yarns.

Point Protectors and Stoppers:
For me, I only had a few stoppers that were my Grandmother's and for my first few projects I have not used them.  Now that I have started larger projects, stoppers come in handy when I set my work aside or take it with me.  The stoppers will "stop" your stitches from falling off your needles and also prevent your needles from poking through your bag.  Point protectors are similar to stoppers, but can also be used on double-pointed needles.  Again these come in varying sizes and shapes, so be sure to buy the correct size based on the needle size you are using for your project.

Other accessories:
Yarn needle (also called tapestry needles) - You will need these to weave in ends or sew pieces together when you are finishing your project
Tape measure - Necessary for measuring your gauge swatch and measuring your projects
Scissors - To cut yarn
Sticky-notes - Great for marking your point in the pattern, notes or keeping track of the number of rows completed
Pen/Pencil - Necessary if you are marking your rows or other notes in the pattern
Yarn Sleeve - Basically a yarn sleeve is helpful to hold yarn together and I haven't used these often, but before you go buy any try this simple project.  If you buy any single garlic cloves or pearl onions, save the mesh bag and trim both ends off.  Now you have a yarn sleeve, just like the ones you can purchase.
Cable Stitch Holders - If you decide to knit cable patterns you will need cable stitch holders.  The most common style (pictured below center) are the hooks, but I have seen two other styles in yarn shops.
Knitting Project Bags or Yarn Holders - There are so many styles that I will discuss these in a separate post later in the week.  Basically these are just bags to carry your project and yarn.

There are other supplies for knitting you can purchase, but I find that the tools I have discussed above are the necessities for knitting most projects.  If you buy hanks of yarn, you will need a yarn swift and ball winder to wind your yarn into a ball (Do Not try to knit or crochet from a hank of yarn).  And if you start buying needles in all sizes you will need a knitting needle case to carry all your needles.

Happy Knitting!