Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Bug...............

Ok -- the Christmas decorations are slowly finding their way back to the attic. It is gloomy and gray outside. It is time for me to get ........... The Bug.

Yep! Every year, right after New Year's, I get the decorating bug. I come by it naturally. I won an Ethan Allen decorating contest almost 40 years ago. I've sold custom draperies, floor coverings, furniture and designed kitchens. I take waaay too many design magazines and I still have the recording of a speech that Mark Hampton gave in Chicago 20 years ago. I'm a bit of an addict!

But, as many of you know, Honey and I suffer from "medical-bill-hell" so no trips to the Mart to peruse Harden's or Baker's latest collection. No custom furniture -- no expensive rugs -- no designer fabrics or Scalamandre' trim. Nope!!! I am going to be cheap and creative........... I hope. No -- I will be cheap. I hope I am creative.

So the first step --- cover my walls in paint samples. As you can above -- my wall is already a sage green. 90% of the samples there are various shades of sage green. And the creams and the whites .......... one of those will be trim. The last time I did that -- I covered my bathroom walls with robins-egg blue samples. Then painted the bath a deep barn red! Obviously, that didn't do any good!

So I will look ................. and debate .............. and move the samples to another wall.............. and look .............. and debate.

And Spring will come ................... and 6000 annuals will arrive on my porch, demanding immediate attention.

And I still won't have made a decision on color.

But I will have accomplished my goal...................... I was cheap.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Inspiration from my bloggin' friends!

I'm cruising along, reading the latest posts on my favorite blogs and SUDDENLY --- it hits me!!
Why didn't I think of that???

Before Christmas, Beyond the Blue Gate posted a beautiful picture of mixed roasted vegetables. So I used seasonal, local veggies for a dinner party and it was a huge hit! (Note, people -- seasonal, local ..... get with it! This is important! For more info -- visit the Freight House Farmers Market on Saturdays.)

So ....... I did it again for Christmas with a few additions. In this batch of roasted veggies -- Yukon Gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, Kennebec potatoes, parsnips, turnips, acorn squash, carrots, onions, garlic, brussel sprouts and crimini mushrooms. Tossed it with EVOO, salt, pepper and some thyme. And YUM just happened!
Ok -- so as usual -- I prepared enough veggies for an army. I was simply going to heat them up for supper one night. And then, GirlwithaSword posts a wonderfully easy recipe. Check out her freezer soup of the week ...posted on Dec 25th.

I made a few alterations to mine. I sauteed onions, carrots, garlic, celery and lots of mushrooms. I pureed the roasted veggies with chicken broth, added some fat-free evaporated milk for creaminess. I save the cheese rinds from well-aged cheese in the freezer to add to soup. This time -- I used Prairie Delight's Prairie Rose cheese......... a nutty, semi-hard cheese. And then -- to top it off --- a good swig of port.

YEA ... in the stock pot ... not the cook. That will come later!

So thanks, friends!!! Lunch is delicious!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Checkin' the list..........

And boy, things sure look nice!!! I got 6 projects crossed off my list today! YEA!! One of them was to clean and organize my "Oh-so-Martha" cabinet. Honey built this cabinet for me a few years ago to store herbs and spices and dried goods. Dried good storage continues to be a problem but that's not his fault. It's his darling wife who insists that you just can't cook without 9 different flours in the house!

So ........ off the list today.

1) Wash the front of the cupboards.
2) Wash and press kitchen curtains.
3) Clean under the sink ........... I HATE that job! And why do the few plastic bags I get multiply like rabbits???
4) Clean and organize the Oh-so-Martha cabinet
5) Clean and organize the open shelf cabinet
6) Clean the oven. OK OK -- all I have to do is basically turn it on. But I did during low-cost electricity hours and I did wipe everything out sparkling clean! So there!!!

Six things down ........... 10 things to go. At this very moment. Ya know the list is going to get a lot longer before it gets shorter!

Ok -- quick primer for my non-knitting-obsessed friends.
See the pattern that is developing in the socks? That is from space-dying the yarn. The pattern just falls into place. The big thing you want to do to have perfectly matching socks is to start both socks at exactly the same spot on the skein. On these --- I started the socks between the red part and the green and white part. Exactly. And even though -- I only have a little more than an inch on the second sock done -- perfect match.

Cool, huh??? It makes you look like a knitting genius but it is all in the yarn. But thanks for giving me the credit!!

Wait till you see what this yarn does.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Orphans and Lists...............

The slow economy and the up-coming New Year's holiday has changed my work schedule a bit. I am off for several days ......... so its the perfect time for Honey and I to get projects done!

So out comes The List. I personally love lists. I like crossing things off as I go. Unfortunately, I don't stay incredibly focused! OK --- I don't focus well at all.

I'll be cleaning the cupboard, straightening away, washing shelves and suddenly!!!! 4 bags of chocolate chips appear.

I can't have 4 bags of chocolate chips. I must do something with them! I know, I will bake cookies!!! And suddenly, the kitchen that I was trying to deep-clean is filled with butter, sugar and flour. Not to mention 10 dozen chocolate chip cookies. I won't be scratching off "Start diet today!
So that goes hand-in-hand with the next problem. I think I must be a knitting gigolo. The project I love is the one that I am working on at this very moment. And socks ............. well, there have to be two socks to be useful. We have lots of orphan socks in this house!!

First of all -- the plaid socks for Honey. Seriously, what was I thinkin'????? I see a 1950's ad in a magazine and I say .......... Honey needs plaid socks! The gray, black and red yarns are lovely. The yellow (same brand, same yarn) not so much!! It splits -- it doesn't lie flat. It is .... in a very technical term ....... icky!!! I will make the other sock ......... sometime.

Addie's little rosebud socks. Cute Cute Cute. Except you can't see the rosebuds.
The pink is soooo soft -- it barely stands out. Does nicely on the heels and toes. So I am thinking that I should frog the project and buy a deeper pink yarn. Or make the other sock and knit another pair later. I so don't know. Decisions. Besides -- they are also made on size one needles ... Greenhouse Gwen says they look like glorified toothpicks. She is right.

I really can't use the "too tiny of needle" excuse. I knit 90% of my socks on size one needles.

And finally, the brown, tan, red and green pair. Neat yarn. Neat socks. Asked the LYS (knitter's lingo for local yarn shop) about how much yarn. Two skeins. Are you sure? Unless he wears size 13 shoes, then you should buy three. I debate and debate and buy two skeins cuz the return policy is 3 days. Hmmmm? Honey has ordinary feet. I need three skeins.

In their defense -- I knit my socks on size 1 needles. Why?? Cuz I can find them!!!

Well --- back to the list at hand -- its time to finish some socks. But there is good news. I can cross one thing off my list ................ Do new blog post.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

When your road looks like this.......

Or this...............................
You don't get out much! This is part of the 3 miles (2.8 miles to be exact!) from Miss Effie's to Sheepie Neighbor's house. On this day --- the plow had just gone by so I hustled into town to stock up on a few groceries. Yea .... I know. I have enough food in my house for a year's supply. But I was running out of artichokes! Ya don't run out of artichokes!

So I spend a lot of time at home in the winter. It doesn't bother me cuz I can do fun things -- delicious things..... like make noodles.

I rarely get to make noodles anymore. The demand for eggs has exceeded their laying capacity. It means no 4-egg omelets in this house!! And even though, Greenhouse Gwen swears I squeeze the eggs out of my girls(!!!) we are often 10-15 dozen eggs behind on orders.

But it is Christmas -- and homemade noodles are one of my favorites. So let me share a noodle-making lesson with you.
First of all -- into a large mixing bowl --put 2 cups of all-purpose flour. Make a well in the flour and add 2 tsp of salt -- 3 egg yolks and 1 whole egg. YES!! I can count!! In my bowl -- there are 4 yolks and 1 whole egg. I was using pullet eggs and they are still a little smaller than normal.

Yes -- you can use a mixer or a food processor but there is something about the process of mixing it by hand that seems right. Good homemade noodles are part of the history of good farm food! Food that was made from the heart and necessity. Not food that was made out of convenience. So try to mix and knead the dough by hand.

You want the dough to be similar to a pie crust dough after you have cut in the fat. Mealy textured but still well mixed.

Now -- it is time for the secret ingredient! Yep! This hint came from my cousin Marcia -- the best noodle maker I know. OK -- her mom, Aunt Jane always made her noodles this way. There was never a holiday without Aunt Jane's (and now Marcia's) noodles.

Milk............. you use milk, not water. It takes between 1/4 and 1/2 cup of milk. All depends on the eggs, the flour and the weather. Add the milk 1 tablespoon at a time and mix until it is smooth. This batch took about 1/3 of a cup of milk.

Knead the dough on a lightly floured board till smooth and then cover the dough with a cloth and let it rest 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces and as you are rolling out one piece, keep the rest covered. Roll the dough paper thin and fold it over the rolling pin. Slip out the rolling pin and slice thinly, about a 1/4 inch slices.

Shake out the slices and let dry on a towel for at least 2 hours. Now, mine will take longer than that! I don't roll them out as thin as they should be and I slice them thicker. I call them "rustic". We are talkin' good food -- we may not be talkin' pretty!!!!
Tonight, these noodles will be added to a rich gravy of stew beef and mushrooms and onions for homemade beef and noodles. A loaf of freshly baked bread and supper will be perfect. And even though, my cousin Marcia is many miles away -- her wonderful recipe for noodles and the tender delicious beef she raises will be part of my holiday celebration.

Wishing you a delicious and safe Christmas Eve.

Miss Effie

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Creative Mojo........

The weather out here is is frightful but the fire is so delightful.......... Ooops! Someone already wrote that!

Since I have been snowed in 2 out of the last 3 days, I have been catching up on projects that have been mulling in my mind. First one is a simple neckwarmer for Honey...... 3-2 rib on a size 9 needle. It is made out of Shetland wool from Sheepie Neighbor's ewe Willow's yarn. It was incredibly soft -- beautiful gray color. And the best thing......... there is enough for a neckwarmer for me!!! Honey was actually concerned if it would be warm enough ---- it got 2 frozen thumbs up!!
Next project -- a felted case for my glasses. Hand-dyed sheet of felted fleece from my friend Abi -- I lined it. Did some embroidery and applique and tied everything together with buttonhole stitch.

And since my hands are soooo cold, my thoughts go to mittens and gloves. Lots of mittens and gloves. I had 12 linen napkins .... nice but boring! So the scraps and beads and embroidery floss came out and now 8 of my 12 boring napkins have warm hands!!!

All are different. Its been a lot of fun -- letting my creativity run wild. The napkin with the gold stars is one of my favorite. If you notice -- the cuffs are trimmed with gold and pearl beads.

So now comes the hard part.............. coming up with a tablecloth or place mats worthy of all my hard work!!! BUT .............. I think I might have an idea.

I need a day to get to the fabric store before the next snow storm!!!

Wishing you warm thoughts on a cold and windy night. Did that wish make you feel any better???? Me neither! Its -2 with a wind chill of -24. Only thing that would make me feel better would be in Miami!!!!!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I may not be Swedish..............

but my house has the right look!

I grew up in an almost-all Swedish town. It was a town filled with Andersons, Swansons, Monsons and Johnsons. First names like Nels and Agnes and Margaret. My classmates would talk about Christmas dinners with lutefisk and lingonberries and sweetened potato pancakes.

My family didn't eat things like that! Our Christmas meals were filled with glazed ham, turkey and scalloped potatoes. But the wonderful breads .... like Swedish rye made with molasses and tea rings with cherries became staples at our house

But between our house and my German-Irish Grandparents......... was Bishop Hill. And the surrounding communities of Galva and Altona and Woodhull. This was the heart of the Swedish immigration into America. To this day -- the Swedish traditions are alive and well in Bishop Hill.

My favorite, bar none, were the candles in the windows. We would drive through the snowy landscape and the old farmhouses would sit back from the road. Through the dark, star-lit night, a single or triple electric candle would shine through the large double-hung windows. I loved that! A simple candle to guide the wisemen to their destination.

Colored lights are bright and festive. And white twinkling bulbs are elegant. But I always wanted an old farmhouse with simple electric candles in the window.

A few years ago -- at a flea market just down the road a couple miles -- I found a box of 16-triple electric candles ---- for a dollar!!! I laugh because the odd size of bulbs cost soooo much more than my little box of candles!

But now......... at Christmas ....... the feeling of home comes to the Iowa landscape. You rarely see candles in the windows here. But maybe my little old farmhouse -- with every window filled with electric candles ..... may help guide the way home for someone.

Wishing you wonderful Christmas memories and the knowledge to re-create them........
Miss Effie

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Angels in our Midst..............................

I received this beautiful card today. No signature. No return address. No note. But a generous and kind gift inside.

To the angel in our lives............... thank you for your thoughtfulness and kindness. Honey and I have no words to describe the generosity of your heart.

We only hope........ someday, somehow, we can return the gift. Our hearts and our door is always open.

Thank you again.
Clink and Honey

Too little time ........ too much to do.

I have spent the last two days, buried in the kitchen with lots of baking ingredients. Not that I was actually doing any baking!!! But I have created quite the mess!!!

First of all......... I love my co-workers. But I live a totally different lifestyle than they do. I personally think that eggs, sugar and flour are staples that everyone should have in their kitchen. Their staples ......... ramen noodles, Eggo's and Pop-Tarts. Hamburger Helper is a delicacy. So needless to say, making gifts for these gals is a struggle!!

I have come up with a few things............ but I KNOW the cookie-in-a-jar thing maybe a problem. After all, you cream butter with eggs and vanilla and add the mix. And they don't keep eggs or vanilla in their homes. But the cookie-in-the-jar is triple chocolate so there is a chance of them getting baked!!

Just for clarity ......... they are all over thirty. Two out of three have children. Don't get me started on dietary standards! Fortunately, they also don't read blogs! But they know ...... I just shake my head and say "Don't you feed me that crap after you put me in the old folks home!"

I did mix up 5 batches of an ultra-creamy cocoa mix. Little different recipe than most, as it uses cocoa rather than Nestle's Quick chocolate drink. Each batch does 2 quarts of mix.

4 cups non-fat dry milk
3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup non-dairy creamer
2/3 cup cocoa
1 pkg of instant pudding .... I used chocolate fudge (fat-free/sugar-free.......... Yea. The diet starts Jan 1 ..... me and Oprah on the scale!)

And finally .... biscotti! I made a chocolate-white chocolate chip --dipped in white chocolate. Good ...... but not great. Great was the orange-cranberry biscotti dipped in dark chocolate. Good thing they are all packaged up or there would be more weight to lose come Jan. 1st!!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

New York City??????

OK -- this is exciting news. Sort of. This humble little blog has been read in New York City. (Think Pace picante' sauce commercial.)

As I keep proclaiming to anyone that will listen, Miss Effie's Country Flowers and Garden Stuff has been certified by Animal Welfare Approved. For those of you who haven't turned off your computer yet........ that means I treat my "girls" with respect and humane treatment. They are fed and cared for humanely to produce the best quality eggs possible. Animal Welfare Approved certifies farms to encourage sustainable agricultural practices .... not confinement agriculture.

I know many caring farmers that raise animals in confinement situations with humane treatment. Those animals are their livelihood, and a caring farmer doesn't want to lose that investment because of neglect. So I will not enter that debate..........

So today -- I had an interview for an up-coming press release. And I discovered that they had been reading this little blog. In Brooklyn. Who knew???? Who knew that they knew where Iowa is????? I did have to explain the "QCA/joined by a river thing". But it is amazing ...... say "John Deere" and everyone gets it.

Now ...... I need to search for appealing chicken pictures. Glamour shots of the girls. Do you think the Blue Orpingtons will demand use of my winning charka massage????

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Old Knitter -- New Tricks.

One day, my friend Abi and I were discussing our childhood adventures into Home Economics.

Home Economics was considered a science then .......... and an exact science at that. During the Cold War --- science was king, even in our homes. Exact measurements when we baked a cake -- recipes were the rule. We stitched perfectly even hems as we sewed a skirt. Stitches were exactly the same measurement apart. And you held the needle exactly as you were taught. And if you didn't ......... you weren't doing it right. Right was the operative word. Everything had to be correct.

I guess it made for perfection and blue ribbons.......... but the cost was creativity. And who determined what was correct?

And now I am middle-aged (YIKES!!!! EXACTLY when did that happen???) And I want to wear purple. No! Not really.......... but I am discovering the freedom of the new designers in knitting and sewing and cooking. They may not hold a needle right but they have no qualms in creating a new sweater or sock or hat pattern. They grab some yarn -- some needles -- and let their creativity fly. Look at all the designers on Ravelry. There are no editors saying ..... "looks nice in a size 8 sweater but doesn't translate well to a size 14!" These freedom-fighters are creating fabulous patterns with great new techniques because they have the guts to try them. They are not tied to conventional way of "holding a needle".

So in 8" of knitting -- 45 little stitches -- I learned 3 new techniques! Wow.

First of all -- I learned how to do a cable cast on. Elizabeth Zimmerman loved this method of casting on because there was no right or wrong side. I love it because it doesn't waste yarn-- and I'm not froggin' my cast-on stitches because I didn't have a long enough tail.

I've made a lot of mittens over the years (I've been knitting about ........ well, Johnson was President! NO ....not Andrew!) But I have never used waste yarn to make the thumb. Always stitch holders. 12" of yarn -- ya pull it out and pick up the stitches. How easy was that????

And finally -- I did a picot bind off. I think that can be the perfect edging for a top-down sweater -- a sweet little hem on sleeves.

So ......... one pattern ........... one skein of yarn. Three new tricks. Not bad for an old gal.

Don't worry, Honey............ I still can't make coffee!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Entertaining on the cheap!

If the current economic situation has hit your wallet like it has ours, you will appreciate this spectacular recipe. I LOVED this!! Honey LOVED this!! And I think our guests loved this!
So friends -- be warned. Pork shoulder roast with Bacon may be on Miss Effie's menus for quite some time!!

In the interest of honesty, I stole the recipe from Ming Tsai from Simply Ming. Oh -- the theft was sooooo worth it!!!!

Start out with a 5-7 lb bone-in pork shoulder roast. If I had chosen a standing rib roast -- I would have been in the $40-$60 range. If I had chosen a loin pork roast -- I would have been in the $20-$30. Bone-in pork shoulder roast --- 5.75 lbs --- $8.81!!!!!!! Love it!! (ok -- my banker probably appreciated more than I did. But .... I will carry on!)

First -- cut deep slashes (stabs) into the fatty side of the roast. About 1-1/2" to 2" deep. Rub the roast with salt and pepper. And then weave pieces of bacon like a basket on the top. You are now done with the prep!!

Place in a pre-heated 325 degree oven for 4-1/2 to 6 hours. The longer the better. You can't ruin this! If it is in longer -- you get pulled pork.

We served it with a dipping sauce. It was good but definitely not necessary.

2 cups. of loosely packed fresh cilantro, chopped
1 cup Greek yogurt (I just drained reg yogurt through a coffee filter.... Hey!! I live in Donahue!!!)
2 TBSP cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, chopped
salt and pepper to taste.

You want to mix the dipping sauce when you put the roast in the oven so the flavors have time to develop. Cover and refrigerate.

When the roast is done, tent it with foil and let it rest for 15-20 minutes before carving it.

This was definitely a hit!
One last pic --- the kitchen table. We rarely entertain in the winter because ....... this is Iowa! And the fact that every snow drift lands in our lane! So we invite people out and have to un-invite them because unless you are Nanuck of the North, its not fun to get here! But our friends Dave and Marcia made it here without the assistance of a tow truck! That was worth a celebration itself!!!!

Note to Carol in Hungary ........ Marcia and I were going to wave hi! to you............. but we forgot. So pretend you see us, sending you our love and hugs to you!!!

Friday, December 5, 2008

I am winner!!!

Ok -- I never win anything. Nothing. I mean, nothing without work or effort attached to it.

Of course, part of it is because I don't sign up for things. There may be a grand opening of a new store ......... I'll walk on by and wait until someone else wins that big screen tv. A blog give-away .......... I'll never leave a comment. I have been on our local gambling boats (boy, is that a misnomer!) ONCE! And that was to see Dr. Hook!!! (I've got a couple of years on you babe, that's all)

I am just not a signer-upper! So I was shocked when I won a 60 minute chakra massage.
So shocked that I questioned where in the heck did they get my name and email address. It took me a few days but then I remembered Leslie's blog about spas. Ah Ha!!! I did sign up!!

So ......... I get 60 minutes of absolute luxury at sometime in the future. That is when it gets difficult. Do I get a massage after unloading a 700 box load from a semi at my retail job? Or do I wait till spring when Greenhouse Gwen forces me into her plant-induced exercise program? Or
do I crawl into the spa after spending 12 hours in the early spring, trying to get the beds ready for transplanting 6000 annuals???

Decisions. Decisions.

There are a few other issues to consider. First -- this is a massage. A body massage. It is winter. I will have to take a blade to my legs and chop off the fuzzy stuff growing there!!! Without drawing so much blood that I need a transfusion!!! Hmmmm. Then there is the issue of my incredibly scaly skin. (yea ........ It's winter -- It's Iowa -- I'm old!!) Is there really that much lotion available to make my skin .........touchable????

Oh ........ it doesn't matter. Today. Cuz today.........I am a winner!!!!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

FYI ........... FO's and WIP's.

Alphabet soup there!!!

OK -- There 22 more days till Christmas and I'm feeling a little crunched but all-in-all, not too bad!

A few finished items to start things out. To me -- hand-knit socks are a true luxury. When your feet are warm and toasty, life is good.

And who deserves luxury more than my little granddaughter, Addie M??? So here are some of Addie M's new socks. No -- they don't fit .........yet. I'm knitting them various sizes. I start them and the socks tell me what size they want to be!! The pink and purple socks are knit from Dale of Norway Helio. The peach socks are knit from Baby Ull.

No -- I don't knit with acrylic. Anything!!! I know what sheep my yarn comes from .........what oil well does your acrylic come from????? Ok -- enough said on the sustainability of the yarn that I use. I'll leave my political beliefs at the door. (Like that will happen!!!!)

And here is pair number 4 --- Wait that is pair number 3.5! Another sock to knit. I love love love these!!!

In future sock news ............ pink rose bud socks!! Youngest Daughter will have something to say about that!

Another project on the needles is the palidrome scarf. I love love love this pattern. Someone -- maybe Kristen -- was a genius!! Totally reversible cable scarf! And easy enough for a 3rd grader to do............. knit 2, purl 2, knit 2, purl 2. Super easy!!!

Now one project that is not started (but I have bought the yarn!) is the fingerless gloves from Knitty ........... Fetching. I know. I know. I am truly the last person in the world to knit these!! But won't the purple look great with the scarf?? What do you think, Eldest Daughter????

Too many projects -- too much to do. I have bread rising now and I need to make a batch of granola. Date-pecan today. I hope to make Cherry-Almond granola tomorrow for more gifts.

This is the time of year, there aren't enough hours in the day. I seem to be working my fingers to the bones --- can't say much about my butt!