I am attempting to take photos of all the rooms in my house and today, I will post some pics of my red powder room. I am getting tired of the red and will probably soon change it but is has served well as a great backdrop for Christmas decorations, Valentines Day doo-dads and even Fourth of July kitsch. The thing I love most about this room is the little 2 inch ledge on the cap of the wainscoting. I have collected heart shaped rocks for a number of years and love to display them in the bathroom. My son, Sam, took the photo of rocks in his hand while we were walking along the shore of Lake Superior one summer day. The room is full of wonderful memories of trips to Costa Rica, Florida, Texas, California, and my cabin near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
My favorite pans to cook in are my cast iron skillets. I use them everyday. They are the most versatile and indestructible cookware that I know of. They are the best non stick type of pan as well…better than any of the most expensive teflon type pans in fact. They also add a bit of iron to our food which is something I’d prefer over adding a bit of aluminum.
They need to be seasoned to create the wonderful non stick effect. This is really easy to do and nothing to be afraid of.
First, I’ll address seasoning a new cast iron pan, then I will talk about cleaning and caring for older pans.
1. Congratulations, you bought a beautiful brand new cast iron pan! You are so smart! The manufacturer has coated the pan with a coating to keep it from rusting in the store. This needs to be scrubbed off before you first use the pan. So, squirt some soap in the pan and scrub it with a scrubby. Now, add a little water to the pan, just a 1/4 inch and put it on the burner to boil the water. After it is boiling, dump out the water and watch the remaining water evaporate.
2. Next, add a generous dollop of vegetable oil to the hot pan. Wipe it around with a paper towel. Wipe the inside and outside of the pan.
3. Put the oiled pan into a hot 350 degree oven. “Cook” the pan for a 1/2 hour or so then take it out. It is now seasoned and ready to be put to use…for the next 100 years or so!
Every time we use a cast iron pan, we add a bit of oil and heat it up so we are in a sense, seasoning it. The best way to maintain and season a pan is to cook in it, a lot!
Now, here is what you need to know about caring for an older pan.
Some people say that we should never use soap in a cast iron pan and we should never scrub it. They advocate a little salt to swish around and wipe it ‘clean’. Some people say that it is a crime to use water at all and all you should do is wipe the pan out with a paper towel and not wash it at all! Yuck! I have always use soap, a scrubby and lots of hot water. After, time and many family dinners, a fully seasoned pan will be simple to maintain.
1. First thing to do is to wash the pan just as you would wash any pan…with soap and water.
2. Now, scrub it well.
3. Next, add a bit of water to the pan, just a 1/4 inch will do. Put it on the stove and turn the burner to high.
4. Dump the boiling water into the sink and watch the remaining water evaporate.
5. Finally, after the water has evaporated, put a tablespoon of vegetable oil into the hot pan and wipe it with a paper towel. Truth be told, if you use your pan everyday, this step can be skipped more often than not. I do it about once every few weeks. But then again, I am seasoning my pan every time I cook so I guess that I am not really skipping this step.
Take care to never put a damp pan or dish nested inside a cast iron pan. It will rust and make a mess. If this happens, simply scrub off the rust and season it again with a little oil.
One more tip: To make the pan work like non-stick cookware, heat up the oil (and pan) before adding other ingredients. Food will stick to a cold pot but not to a hot one.
Done! Now get cooking! Try this wonderful corn bread recipe…I changed it a bit by putting the batter into my cast iron pan and popping it into the oven. The crust comes out golden and crispy. Yum!!
Enjoy the day! -Peg
This picture from Potterybarn made me gasp yesterday. “Eureka!” I said to myself and ran to my basement to fetch a brass hook that I bought at an estate sale last summer. I liked the hook but I wasn’t too fond of the brass finish. I had it slated as a door or robe hook but this bathroom photo made me think that it might work in my newly updated upstairs bath. I have been looking for something to hang a hand towel near the sink. I purchased a round ring type towel holder but have not put it up yet; I’m glad I waited. Look at the little hook that is next to the sink in the potterybarn photo – that is my inspiration for this post!
image from Potterybarn
I have been seeing some lovely photos on Pinterest (follow me!) of painted brass candlesticks and lamps.
As a matter of fact, I have painted a number of chandeliers including these two that I painted for Liz and Brentan’s country wedding.
So here is what I did:
1. I used #0000 steel wool to clean and scruff up the brass hook so the paint could adhere to the metal.
2. I next sprayed on a coat of primer that is made for metal. I let it dry for 1 hour.
3. Since I wanted my hook to match the bathroom mirror frame, I could not use spray paint. I used the same yellow latex enamel from the mirror and my floor cloth projects to paint my little duck. I was careful to paint a number of thin coats to avoid lumps and drips. I also lightly sanded with my #0000 steel wool between coats. I let the brass show through a bit because I wanted it to keep it’s vintage look.
4. When it was thoroughly dry, I sprayed a couple of coats of clear polyurethane to add more protection.
5. I also painted the heads of 2 screws that I used to attach it to the wall.
I like to have a little project to work on in the evening while I sit watching TV. We are currently watching ‘Damages’ with Glenn Close on Netflix. While it is a compelling drama, I need something more to keep me from falling asleep. So while rummaging around, I found this hand spun wool that I have had in my closet for the past 20 years or so. I decided to make a pair of felted wool slippers. Since I want to keep track of the complex story line of the show, I did not want a complicated pattern. In fact, the pattern that I chose is so simple that I first learned to knit these slippers when I was 8 years old. I used size US #13 needles and a double strand of yarn. These are so easy that all you need to know is how to knit and how to purl. If you can cast on and cast off too, you can make a slipper in an hour or so.
Yes, the slippers went fast. I was able to pay more attention to the show than to what I was making. I made the Men’s size L so that I could shrink them and make them felted. They were pretty ugly but I soldiered on thinking that once they were fulled, they would magically become charming and beautiful. Next day, I dumped them in with the wash and put them in the dryer with some towels. They shrank but I had to wash them 2 more times to get them to fit. They looked a little better but not much…
Ugly or not, I rarely give up on a project. I am stubborn that way. The slippers were very thick and warm but also very slippery. I now needed to figure out a way to make them less dangerous. I decided to put a leather sole on their bottoms. I had some deer skin and spent the next 2 evenings sewing the leather by hand onto each slipper. They were becoming uglier by the day. I snaked a lace around their tops to make them stay on my feet. I thought about making some felted flowers or something to try to cute them up but well, I think I’m better off letting well enough alone. They are warm and they are comfortable but not much else. Sometimes, things can get ugly. Happy knitting! – Peg
I have not read the Elf on a Shelf Book but I keep hearing about it. This is my elf on a shelf story. I sent this as my Christmas letter about 12 or 14 years ago… I want to share it once again.
A Tiny Christmas Story
Greetings. Snow is blanketing the farm fields around our house, the trees have a powder sugar dusting as I write this, and the sun is peeking through the clouds. I am home today baking and wrapping presents and writing to you. The house is silent except for the occasional chatter from our 2 parakeets. the kitchen is starting to fill up with baking smells coming from the cake that is in the oven. I am making a Buche de Noel. This is my first attempt and for some reason, I have decided that a person ought to make a Yule log at least once in their life. Well, don’t feel like you have to make one – there is another reason why I’m baking today.
It all started with unpacking Christmas ornaments. I love the handmade ones the best, the ones that have come home from pre-school and kindergarten, but something happened this year that took me by surprise. As we were unpacking the usual holiday doo-dads and bobbles, out popped this little china elf. It belonged to my grandmother and I’ve had it for years. I doubt that it was very precious to her; I’m certain that my dad (her son) has no idea of its existence. I’ve barely given it any notice, it is only 1 3/4″ high and 2″ long. It can’t hang from a tree and is too small to be seen among the Santa collection in the cupboard in the living room. The impish guy is reclining on an elbow with one knee propped up, he has the usual cone-shaped red elf hat with a curl of hair poking out the front and he is wearing a green elf suit with red buttons and of course his ears are pointy. His bright round dark eyes seemed to beg me to look at him more closely this year. I studied him a minute and then took him out of the box. What to do with him?
I propped him on a shelf next to my cookbooks primarily to keep him from cluttering my desk and because I didn’t know where else to put him. This morning, I sat down at the kitchen table to write out yet another “must do today list” when I found myself reaching for my recipes. Before I knew it, an hour had passed and the list was forgotten; I was making meringue mushrooms to decorate the rolled log cake that is in the oven as I write. The little guy will look perfect sitting on the buche. I have been absorbed in play all afternoon by thoughts of teeny tiny elves in the forest. The time has flown by and I can’t believe that I am making a cake for an elf! I scold myself for spending a precious countdown to Christmas day entranced by an ornament that doesn’t fit in with the other holiday stuff. What am I thinking?
The sun is now low in the sky; it is almost 3:30, the kids will be home from school soon. A thick fluffy down comforter of snow has been tossed smoothly over the farm fields like a freshly made bed; it seems to envelope my home. The blanket is sprinkled with crystals that glisten in the golden light. It is so beautiful. I feel an urge to be outside to walk or sled or cross-country ski. I am aware that the magic of the afternoon is almost over and I am a little sad. Tomorrow I must get back to that list.
A I rush around town in the coming days buying last-minute gifts and groceries, attending music concerts and parties, I will return to the business at hand but it will be with a sense of renewal and pleasure. I will also go skiing. Next year, I hope to remember how this little Christmas elf enabled me to see the beauty that surrounds my family and how he gave me a special day to play in my kitchen like a child.
I love this season. Here’s wishing you delightful things, peace and joy.
Peggy, Jay, Elizabeth, Sam & Henry
PS. The cake turned out well and was devoured by a pack of wild kid elves. My china elf survived and is back by the cookbooks waiting for another day of fun.
The Holiday season is upon us; bring on the parties, bring on good cheer and bring on the out of town guests! It is time to ratchet up the cleaning regime. A good place to begin is in the guest bathroom. I routinely swish out the toilet bowl but because my water is full of minerals and some rust (we have a well), my sinks and toilets get hard water rings. Regular cleaners do not do much to get rid of this grunge.
The first time I tried this solution, I was afraid that I would ruin my toilet but it really works. It requires no chemicals, only a bit of elbow grease. Here is what to do…
Get a pumice stone. You can buy one in the cosmetic section of the drug store. Make sure that it is made of 100% pumice. Pumice is organic rock formed from lava. It is softer than the vitreous china that makes up a toilet bowl.
Put on cleaning gloves
Scrub the offending stain and hard crusty ring in the bowl.
Swish the bowl and flush.
Step back and be amazed!
I am about to head off to work at our garden center to sell Christmas trees. We sell 500 or so trees every year. Fraser Fir, Scotch pine, Balsam Fir, White Pine are some of the varieties. The Balsam Fir smells the most ‘Christmasy’ and the Fraser Fir is the most expensive. I love them all. I love the tradition of bringing a tree indoors at Christmas. I love the fact that we make a tree the centerpiece of our holidays. Trees have been a huge part of my life beginning in 1984 when my husband and I went to live high (12,00ft) in the Andes mountains of Ecuador to start a tree nursery to help with the de-forestation in that area. I often wonder how many of the thousands of tree seedlings that we helped get started are still standing today.
Trees continue to play a central role in my life; Jay and I came to MN to start a tree and shrub garden center when the kids were little. We have been selling and planting trees ever since. It feels good to know that we have made a small impact on the planet. Henry, our youngest son is pictured here with some giant redwoods in Yosemite national park in CA. This picture was taken last year when we were just about to drop him off at school in San Luis Obispo for his freshman year. I call it, ‘You Think You are So Big’. It is a reminder of how small we are in this big wonderful world.
Today, I am doing laundry! Surprise! Here is a little tip that I do to keep me from using too much detergent. I simply draw a line on the laundry scoop to get the correct amount. Here are the reasons I do this:
1. Detergent companies are happy to have you fill that scoop to the top so that you will run out and buy more detergent often. Shocking, isn’t it?
2. It is ecological. Less detergent = less pollution
3. Clothes will be cleaner. Why? Because all the soap will wash away during the rinse cycle. Less soap = less soap left on clothes
4. Your skin will be less itchy. Detergent residue can be the cause of itchy skin.
5. I like the faint smell of clean clothes but I do not want people to walk around smelling like eau du Tide.
6. The non perfumed detergents can also leave a residue on your clothes and skin if you use too much.
So, read the instructions on your brand of laundry detergent and mark the scoop that comes with it and use only that much or even a little less. you can see from the line on my scoop that it looks like this would be the amount for a small load but NO, it is the amount I should use for a large load! I’m telling you, the big bad laundry companies have studied us consumers. They know that we are not good at eyeballing portion sizes. More is not always better. I promise that you will have clean, fresh laundry using less detergent! Happy day! -Peg