Tip of the Week

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!  Last year I shared some Halloween Safety Tips here.  And even made crochet-felted witch hats for my costume.   This year I think Halloween will be celebrated very differently depending on where you live (and what team you supported in the World Series).  Some of us are cleaning up or returning home after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast; some will be celebrating the San Francisco Giants World Series win; some will be preparing for the storm that will be arriving in California and others will be celebrating with candy and parties.  How will you be celebrating (or not) this Halloween?

For me, a quiet night and some baking will be how I celebrate Halloween.  The dogs each have a new toy and a bully stick from Canine Caviar to entertain them.

Canine Caviar Bully Sticks

Mini-glass pumpkins at Palo Alto's Great Glass Pumpkin Sale

Pears: A Forgotten Fall Fruit?

Pears, seem to be an under-appreciated Autumn fruit compared to Apples.  There is more variety to pears than one might think from crunchy to soft and tart to sweet.  Here are quite a few of the more common pears you might see in the stores:


I find Bartlett Pears great for snacking, while Anjou and Bosc are great for salads and baking.  A great dessert recipe for pears and wine are poached pears.  My favorite recipe for baking Pears is the Pear-Almond Tart, which I recently baked with some Bartlett Pears I had left in my fruit basket.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pumpkin-Spice Latte at Home

Fall is probably my favorite time of year.  I love the colors of the leaves changing, the pumpkins in the fields and the chill in the air.  It's also the time of year that I indulge in a Pumpkin-Spice Latte at Starbucks, however this year Starbucks ran out of their "syrup" for this seasonal Latte.  So I was on a quest to recreate my own at home as my past attempts failed.  You can find and use Pumpkin-Spice syrups that are available during the holidays at stores such as BevMo.  I tried a couple brands, but found that I did not get the pumpkin or spice flavor that I love in a Pumpkin-Spice Latte, plus the ingredients are for the most part, artificial anyways.  I have also looked at many different recipes for coffee, lattes and the like.  Finally, I think I have come-up with a good alternative for creating my own Pumpkin-Spice Latte.


(for 2 cups of coffee/latte)
1/3 cup of purred pumpkin
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated works best)
1/2 tsp pumpkin-spice (if desired)
1 cup of milk
Brown sugar to taste (I used about 1-2 tablespoon)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
About 2 cups of brewed coffee or espresso

1. Mix pumpkin and spices together.
2. Froth milk with a milk-frother, such as Bodum.
3. Combine coffee and pumpkin mixture, whisk.  If you do not want any "bits" from the pumpkin you may want to strain it.
4. In a coffee mug pour in the coffee-pumpkin mixture and add sugar to taste.  Then add in frothed milk.
Serve and enjoy!

The ingredients & tools

Pumpkin-Spice mixture

Frothed Milk

Time to Enjoy

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Quick & Easy Mulled Apple Cider

I love the smell of Apple Cider and the spices that are used to make mulled apple cider.  Most that I have tasted are too sweet for me, so I decided to try making my own and make my house smell like Autumn in the process.  Almost anyone that purchases the necessary ingredients and follows a recipe can make their own mulled apple cider.  Let's start cooking!

1 gallon of good quality Apple Cider (unsweetened)
8 packets of Mulling Spices

1.  Bring Apple Cider and spices to a boil in a pot.  Steep for about 5 minutes.  Remove spice packets and serve.

You may use the individual spice packets to make smaller quantities if desired.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fall Gardening

By the time Autumn comes around, most gardens have been harvested and plants removed to make room for winter crops.  For me, I do not stick to a strict gardening calendar since the weather can be unpredictable.  At this moment I still have tomatoes, peppers, a few cucumbers and my cantaloupe growing in my garden.  The weather cooled down and a brief storm passed over Northern California a few weeks ago, then the temperatures rose back into the 80's and now we had a very cold storm pass over that brought snow to the Sierra's.  The 80 degree weather was plenty warm for my tomatoes and peppers to ripen, though a bit slower.  Once the nighttime temperatures stay in the low 50's and do not get above 75 degrees during the daytime, then I will pick whatever is left on my plants before digging them up.  So when I heard the weather predictions of this storm I picked the last of my pepper and tomato crop, even the green tomatoes.

Here's a tip on ripening your own green tomatoes, if you are tired of fried green tomatoes, just put them in a paper bag and allow to ripen.  I will tell you that ripened green tomatoes in a bag are not quite as good as freshly picked vine-ripened tomatoes, but they are still better than conventional tomatoes.  You can make a tomato soup with your leftover crop, check out what I did last year HERE.

Unfortunately I do not have a greenhouse of my own to grow some vegetables year round, so I have to pay attention to weather patterns.  My herbs, for the most part will continue to grow through the winter, except my basil, which I will harvest before the first frost.  I replanted my Swiss chard so that it can grow during the winter and I also added some blueberry plants to my garden.

Swiss Chard


Blueberry Plant

One more Cantaloupe on the vine

The last of my summer vegetable crop

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Brunch at my House

Brunch is not a norm around my house, but some weekends and holidays it's just worth the extra work.  I'm not a sweet person when it comes to breakfast items or brunch, so pancakes, waffles and french toast are not brunch items for me.  There's nothing wrong with them, I just find them to be great dessert snacks.  Brunch entails choices such as frittata's, quiches, omelets, potato hash or similar dishes and oatmeal.

Some of my favorite frittata's I have previously blogged about.  I even tried making poached eggs.  And for omelets I love Spinach & Cheddar or a great Huevos Rancheros.  Lately I have been enjoying the last of my bell pepper crop and have made a potato hash, sometimes called "country potatoes" at restaurants   I love to kick mine up a notch.  Here's an idea of my recipe, which constantly changes.


5-8 Red or Yukon potatoes (If using Fingerling use more)
1-2 Green bell peppers
1-2 Red bell peppers
1-2 Small Serrano, Fresno and/or jalapeno pepper (seeded and veined if you do not want it hot-spicy)
1 large or 2 small red onions (yellow onions also work)
3-4 cloves of garlic (more or less depending on how much garlic you like)
A dash of chili powder, cayenne, cumin and/or paprika to taste
Salt and Pepper


1. Wash and dice potatoes to the size you prefer.
2.  Add potatoes to a pot of water, add salt and bring to boil.  Cook until potatoes are tender or you can easily pierce with a fork.
3.  Wash and dice all the peppers and onions, while potatoes are cooking.
4.  Saute onions and peppers in another pan with a little olive oil.  When onions start to become translucent add garlic and saute for another 1 or 2 minutes.
5.  Drain potatoes when they are finished.  Now you can cook the potatoes with the pepper mixture in the oven or you can cook the potatoes in an iron skillet.
6.  If using an iron skillet, add a little olive oil and potatoes.  Allow potatoes to get crispy, stirring occasionally   Add spices to taste, salt and pepper.  Then add the pepper mixture.

Serve with scrambled eggs or a fried egg.  I love adding a bit of cayenne to my fried egg - thus the added color you see and more spice to my liking.

An alternative to potato hash would be a sweet potato hash, which I find very appealing in the winter with the added fried sage!
Deconstructed Sweet Potato Hash and Sausage
Or you could try Rachel Allen's Baked Kale Egg dish.  Simply saute some kale, add cream and bake in the oven.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Double-Chocolate Hemp Cookies

One of my favorite recipes for Double Chocolate Chip Cookies is by Kathleen King of Tate's Bake Shop.  Originally I found the recipe by watching an episode of Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten several years ago.  This has been my go-to cookie recipe ever since, I even purchased the Tate's Bake Shop cookbook and I love baking different recipes from the book.

Here is the LINK for the recipe.  Usually I follow it word-for-word and having a stand-mixer makes it so easy to mix.  The other day I decided to modify the recipe to include some healthier ingredients and see if I could incorporate hemp seed.  Substituting the butter for unsweetened applesauce reduces the richness of the butter and keeps the cookies moist.  The hemp seed gave the cookies a chewy texture, but I did not add very much the first time I tried this substitution.

On the left are the ingredients from the original recipe and on the right are my substitutions - I suggest printing  the recipe and writing in the substitutions or making a notation on the side.

1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) salted butter  - -  1 1/4 cups unsweetened applesauce (I used homemade)
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour - -  2 cups all purpose flour AND 1/3 cup hulled hemp seed

Extra cookies being wrapped before freezing

I also baked hemp brownies if you missed my previous blog recipe. Plus if you are unfamiliar with hemp seed there are plenty of great resources.  Here's a great article with other links on the health benefits of hemp seed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cemetery Genealogy Research

When I first started researching my family tree, I did not begin searching cemeteries since I had death certificates.  As you move further back in time, there will be a point where you will not find death certificates and this is where newspapers and cemeteries become necessary.  You may also want to visit or contact cemeteries so you can enter burial information in your family tree.  For my research I did both, I wanted to enter burial information and for other relatives and ancestors it is an alternative source for a non-existent death certificate.  I also wanted to document the headstones, as older headstones can become broken, damaged or fade due to the elements.

Usually I can find a cemetery office that can provide a map and plot numbers for my records, this makes cemetery research simple.  In other cases, the office has plot numbers, but no map.  For instance, one cemetery I visited had the records of where my ancestors were buried, but there was no map and staff had to take me to the location.  Even then, several headstones in the area where not maintained and were buried under 10 inches of grass and dirt.  The staff unearthed several of the headstones and found that the records they had were slightly skewed.  This experience just showed me that you should not always assume a headstone is not present, unless the cemetery office records indicate no headstone (as was my case in at Tulocay in Napa).

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ruffle Scarfs

This weekend I took a break from gardening and worked on a few of my yarn projects.  I had purchased a few different yarns that are mainly used to knit ruffle scarfs, which my Mom has been wanting me to make for awhile now.  So I sat down and found my instructions and in a day I had two completed ruffle scarfs and a third in the works.  With the right instructions (and pictures) these ruffle scarfs are fairly easy to whip up and would make great gifts this holiday season.  HERE are the instructions that I found the most useful with good pictures for those of us that are visual learners and there is even a video!  Both scarfs turned out great and now I have a basket full of finished projects that I need to weave in ends and block.  My next ruffle scarf is with some specialty yarn from my Local Yarn shop, so I will share that when it's completed.

Patons Pirouette (left) and Red Heart Boutique Sashay (right)

If you don't know how to knit, you could try this crochet ruffle scarf with Lion Brand's Homespun yarn.  The result is not quite the same since the yarn, itself, is entirely different.  However, I still love the look of the ruffle scarf, which can be made shorter or longer (the one below is longer).
Lion Brand Homespun: Crochet Ruffle Scarf

Saturday, October 6, 2012

On the Hook & Needle Project Update

Usually I only have one or two projects each for crochet and knitting in-the-works, but since I had taken a handful of classes in July at Anna's Yarn Shoppe, I have more than that.  Plus I started a few fall projects that I shared this week on the blog HERE.

Crochet: Frost Scarf

If you do not have the link for the pattern, check out my previous post HERE.  I worked several weeks on this project, only a few hours a day and I'm not quite done.  After awhile, I became bored with repeating the same row over and over again.  It really is an easy pattern if you know basic crochet stitches.  I did find that I would stitch looser or tighter at different times when I would work on this.  Though I think I can get away with this minor "problem" as the bottom is wider then the middle and I will be blocking it in the end.  I just have to be sure to make the bottom on the other side of the scarf wider then the middle.  This will give it a different effect than the pattern intended, but it also makes my scarf more unique - it is handmade after-all.

Knit: Winter Berries Wrap/Scarf

I really love the look of this pattern and the mock cabling.  You can read my previous post HERE.  Once I learned the new stitches in this pattern it was not a difficult pattern.  I found that the way it was written (having to go back and forth to look at the decorative pattern and the main pattern) made it more difficult than actually knitting it.  I must have knit the first 10-15 rows about 5 times!  By the time I started over a 6th time, I was able to continue in the pattern and I did manage to rip out my mistakes.  However, I usually had to rip out 4 rows to finally be able to start again in the pattern.  Not sure why I ended up having to rip out more than a row to fix a mistake in the previous row, but it was good practice in fixing my mistakes.  Now I am finishing the last part of the pattern, which is not descriptive enough for me (as a beginner knitter) to make sure I am making the correct decreases in the pattern.  Once I can figure this out, I have the final edging and it will be complete, before blocking.

You can see the mock cabling starting to develop

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Two Great Fall Scarf Patterns

Among other projects I have in the works or have already finished, I am working on two scarfs for the Fall.  The first pattern is crochet and can be made in other colors the yarn comes in, but I choose the Autumn color (Harvest Moon) as it reminds me of the changing colors of leaves.  The second one is knitted and the design has a beautiful leaf pattern to it that I am working in a gorgeous fall green color.  There are several other knitted projects with intricate leaf designs that I have on my list to make at some point.  Most of them are on Raverly, so if you haven't joined you should.  There are great patterns both free and to buy.

Scarf 1: Sophisticated Scarf by Red Heart in Crochet

Follow my progress, new photos and notes HERE. You can find the pattern HERE.  The picture doesn't do the actual color justice, but you get an idea of how the scarf looks.

Scarf 2: Daphne

Follow my progress, new photos and notes HERE.  You can find the pattern HERE.  So far I have only finished the repeat of rows twice and already you can clearly see the leaf pattern developing..  It will look even better once it is blocked

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tip of the Month: Knitting Terms in German

Earlier this year, in the Spring, I came across a knitting magazine - Filati  (click here to read about it) and found I really love these patterns.  Maybe it's my European roots, that I love these German designs.  Either way, I was a bit disappointed that two of the company's Feltro pattern books were not reprinted in English.  After finding a supplier that had these in stock, I decided to go ahead and order them in German.   Well, now I get to practice my German translation skills and decipher German knitting terms.  First I decided to look up knitting terms in German, then put the whole pattern into an online translator program (such a great tool!).

Here are some German Knitting Terms:
Purl: linke Masche; links stricken
Knit: stricken
Knitted: gestrickt
Cast On: anschlagen, aufschlagen
Gauge: gage messgerat

Now I can knit these adorable dog mats (bottom left):