Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ricotta Tart with Honey Cinnamon Glazed Figs

I have figs!

Two years ago I planted a Chicago Hardy fig tree.   In November.   Right before that nuclear winter we had that lasted forever - you know, the one with the Polar Vortex from hell. 

That winter.

And the next spring, the fig came up anyway.  So here's my shout out to Stark Bros where I got the fig and where I get a lot of my fruit trees/plants.   Great stock and they'll replace if the plants don't make it a year. 

The plant died back to the ground, but that spring the fig bore 3 whole figs, which got the size of marbles and then fell off before they ripened.   

Last winter the fig died back again all the way to the ground, but popped up this spring when the ground warmed up.   I have dozens of tiny figs along the branches.    And one ripe one.

The figs get suddenly larger when they ripen, then they turn that color and droop.  And when they are ripe, I will make this tart.  Again.  I made this recipe up myself.   It is delicious.   I plan on eating it several more times this season.

Because I have figs.

 Ricotta Tart with Honey Cinnamon Glazed Figs

1 dozen or so very ripe figs [California Mission are fine]
1 lb ricotta cheese
1/4 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon for the filling + 1/4 tsp more cinnamon for the glaze
1/4 cup honey
 Your favorite pie or tart crust for bottom of tart/pie plate.

Preheat oven to 350.  Make the crust and put it in the bottom of a tart or pie plate.

Filling:  Mix the ricotta, eggs, sugar, vanilla and 1/4 tsp cinnamon well.   Put into pie crust.

Topping:  Wash and slice the figs in half.   Arrange the figs cut side up around the top of the filling, fat ends out, skinny ends pointing to the center.

Glaze.   Heat the honey and 1/4 tsp cinnamon in the microwave for 30 seconds.   Mix it as well as you can [it won't want to mix].   Pour/spread glaze evenly on all figs and around the top of the tart. [If you LOVE this glaze, feel free to make more.   It's good when it's baked and oozing all over the place.]

Bake 60 minutes.   Cool.    Delicious at room temp or chilled. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Lily's Antique Door

A year ago I got some old doors from a local salvage place. I was thrilled.  $25 each.   What a deal.


More than $200 in paint strippers [yes, plural] and hours of stripping later, I decided that would be the last batch of painted doors I'd be getting, unless I was planning to just paint over them.

Stripping [in any sense of the word] is not my idea of a good time.

I was so disgusted by the whole process, that I didn't get any 'before' pics.   You'll just have to imagine 8 layers of paint over a beautifully shellacked original finish.   The stripper killed the original finish.   The door hardware was covered with layers of paint as well and had to be stripped.  The lock was full of mud and bug guts.

The door:  Turned out to be fir under all the paint. I'm guessing the original finish was Garnet Shellac.  Gorgeous, red.   I can't get that here made up, but I can get the Amber and Clear.  [I'm not interested in cooking up my own yet.  Maybe later.]   So,  I went out and got some Varathane Red Chestnut stain and stained the door. 

If you look at the pic of the finished door, right, you'll see lots of black lines.   This door was stored in a barn and over the years it swelled and cracked the paint, then fungus got in there and started some spalting.  I love it.   I was able to save most of the spalting by not scrubbing too hard during the stripping.

Also, if you look really hard, you can see bits of paint I didn't get out.  I worked on these doors for hours, using maybe 6 coverings of stripper.   Enough already.  Plus I like being reminded of the door's past.  Plus, you already know my Let's Get On With It Already philosophy. 

In the end, the spalting looks great with the Red Chestnut stain and a coat of Amber shellac on top of that.   I love it.   Love. It.

The Lock.  Mortise lock full of crap.  Full story here.   I gerry rigged a fix, then when it came time to put it back in the door, it didn't quite fit, so I finessed a bit and now it fits and works great.

The Door Hardware.   This stuff was covered with almost as much paint as the doors.   Decades of it.   I gave it a long bath in hot soapy water [a couple of days' worth] then pulled out the paint with a bamboo skewer.   You can see bits of the old 'japanned' finish left under there, but way too much of the base metal showing....and rusting.   As much as I wanted to keep that old finish, in this climate, we'd have been fighting rust constantly, so we decided to spray.

Long story short, I went with Rust-Oleum's metallic paint in Oil Rubbed Bronze.   Note:  It doesn't say oil rubbed bronze on the can.   You have to just look at the cap.   Basically, this is black paint with bronze-y sparkle in it.   Tip:   Spray the backs first, then flip and do the tops.   This stuff dries fast, so you can do the other side in about 15 minutes.

In person it comes off as brown, not black, but it's really hard to photograph.

Still, it wasn't the look we were after, so we decided to highlight with some paint I had around the studio.  I grabbed a pot of  Versatex pearlized bronze pigment. There are other metallics also:  silver, bright gold, copper... This stuff is designed for silk screening paper and fabric [which is why I had some.]  We tested it on an iron rosette from another door and it dried fine and would not rub off at all.   A product that is designed more for this kind of thing is Amaco's Rub 'N Buff.  Check out all their colors, here.

The process is simple.   Sit down and apply with your fingers.  Stop when you think it's enough.  Since this is Lily's door, she was in charge of highlighting as much as she wanted.

When it looked right, she stopped.    We let it dry overnight, then installed everything the next day.

Et voila'!   I like how it changes in different lights.   Look up at the first pic again to see how it looks in a different light. 

Lily's bedroom door is done.    Claire's is up next with a whole different set of issues.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


In case you needed something pretty today.

We planted these around our winter squash to combat the squash bugs.  The squash are pathetic this year and mostly dead, but these 'miniature' marigolds are now over 2 feet tall.  

I guess the universe wanted us to have marigolds instead of pumpkins this year.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Bedroom Floors Finished

The bedroom floors are done!  

Before I forget, these are the products we used for staining, sealing and finishing.  

I'm very happy with the finished product.

This is Lily's floor, done, with the morning light coming in her window.    I love it. 

Love.  It.

And this is Claire's room done.   

Love. It.  

What do you think?!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

House Update: Bedroom Floors

I know it's been forever since I've given you an update on the house, but the truth is drywall is boring.

Drywall mudding is boring.   Also dusty.

Painting is boring.   Also messy.

Sorting antique flooring is boring.    Have I told you about this flooring?   I found it at a salvage place, without nails [!], for 69 cents a square foot.  About a thousand square feet of 2-1/4 inch maple and oak antique flooring from a 1910 house up near Chicago.   [With the miller's name stamped on the back.  Henry Buchholtz.]  Also, every board was numbered and labelled with the room it came out of.   Cool!   We brought it home, wiped it down and stored it for a year in the basement.   Then we had to haul the blasted stuff out of the basement to the upstairs, which meant up the basement stairs, through the house, outside and up the ladder, over the roof, through Claire's closet.   Piles and piles of flooring.  Also, it was very hot.  There was a lot of complaining.    

I wanted to sort by number/room, but I was out-voted.   Okay, the truth is, I caved to all the glaring.   We sorted by length and end configuration:  flat, tongue, groove.   Flat/flats here, flat/grooves there, flat/tongues here, tongue/grooves there.   Then it was just a matter of being as efficient as possible with the sizes so that we wasted as little wood as possible.   Once the wood was laid out by size, it wasn't too hard to find a board very, very close to the size we needed.  

Laying antique flooring is not boring, but it is a big pain in the everywhere.  Old boards have gunk in the grooves.   They are bent.   They had been refinished once before so the tops didn't match up when nailed down.  It took weeks to get the floors laid.    If you ever need tips for laying antique flooring, then give us a shout because Eric is expert now.  Triangle jigs are your friends.

Then there was hand planing the worst of the unevens down.   That was my job.   I used this Bosch 6 Amp 3-1/4-Inch Planer .  I am a great planer.   [After the first 15 minutes or so of getting used to the crouching, pushing and noise.]  Planing was kind of fun actually.   It's the loud power tool thing.  Also, planing is dusty.

Then there was the sanding with the monster sanders that we rented from Menard's.   Sanding is boring.   Also dusty.  Also really exhausting.

We had to make some important decisions during the sanding.   Most importantly, how perfect do we want the top to be? 

Answer:  Not perfect.   It's old wood.   With a lot of stories [my favorite is the very old ink stain we found in between two boards.   Very old.   The top stain had been sanded off when the floor was refinshed earlier [1970s?], but I am dying to know Who spilled that ink and when?]  There are places where the old finish is still there where the boards were uneven and the megasander just didn't get down that far.   There are places where the awful dark walnut finish from the last re-finishing  didn't come quite all the way off. [Who in their right mind would finish light maple flooring with a walnut finish?   I ask you!]   There are nail holes from when the floor was originally laid in the original house.   There are cracks and dings in some of the boards.   I want those stories to stay there.   I want to look at that floor and be reminded of all the people who walked on it and worked on it for the last 100+ years.  I love every imperfection.

Also, I'm lazy and there's just only so much sanding I can stand before Let's Freaking Move On Already.

Then there was the cleaning of all the dust.   Three times, just to make sure we got as much as possible off the walls and the floor before the floor finishing.  

In short, we've been so busying doing the house [and the jobs and the garden and the canning and the occasional house cleaning] that there just was not time to document it.   Sometimes you have to choose between doing something and taking pictures of it.

However,  this past weekend,  finally,...FINALLY! we finished the floors.  And I remembered to ask Lily to take a pic so there would be at least a little documentation.   The pic above shows me just starting the first coat of shellac in Lily's room.  Dig that apple green wall color.  It's cheery, I tell you.

This is what we did:

First coat: Amber Shellac, by Zinsser.   I heart shellac.   It's old.   It's fun.   It's got that period look we're after.   Also all of the doors and trim we've salvaged had/have shellac on them, so...matchy matchy!  Also, have you SEEN what shellac does to wood?   Gor. Geous!  

Then:  Light sand with 220 grit,  and wipe down with tack cloth [cheesecloth soaked in wax.  Awesome!]

2nd coat:  More of the shellac in Lily's room.  Claire's room is in a corner of the house with a totally different light, and darker wall color and she only needed one coat.

Then: Light sand with 220 grit,  and wipe down with tack cloth.

3rd and 4th coat:   Sealer, by Zinsser.   It seals up the wax coat in the shellac and preps the surface for the polyurethane that comes next.   Then sand and wipe down after each of these coats.

5th and 6th coats:  Minwax, Ultimate Floor Finish, Water-based polyurethane.  It was a lot more expensive, but everything Eric studied recommended it so we went with it.   We only want to do this One Freaking Time and if you don't pay in quality materials, then you will definitely pay in time and aggravation.  [I know this for a fact.]

Pics of finished floors coming soon.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Another Queenless Hive

After dealing with the pink hive being queenless, [see the last post], I had a feeling I ought to go in and check on the bowtie hive and sure enought, I found it full of bees, but no brood, no nectar, no honey.  Probably no queen.  They needed help fast. This is what those laying nucs are good backups for.   So, even though I failed to raise backup nucs this year, I now really see what a great idea they are.   Next year, I'm going to do one or two for sure. 

I got into my strongest hive and pulled a full frame of brood out and an additional frame they had just started drawing, but which had eggs already in it.    I put those in the bowtie hive.   I also fed every hive 2:1 sugar/water.    If they have a lazy queen, then the brood and the feed should knock her back into action.   If they had no queen, then they now have the resources to make one.   Easy fix as long as I'm patient.   In a month they should be going and if I feed like crazy, then they should be built up enough to get through the winter. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015


On a routine inspection of one of my packages from this year, I found a few queen cells like these.   26 cells to be exact.  That is a lot.  These guys were serious about requeening.   Chances are the old queen died suddenly and they panicked, putting queen cells wherever there were eggs the right age, which turned out to be everywhere.   She was a good layer.  Too bad they lost her.  Also she was a Russian queen I had spent extra money on when I bought the package.   So, bummer. 

I posted this pic to Beemaster and was advised that the abundance of queen cells was a good opportunity to try making laying nucs - tiny hives to raise queens and brood for sale or for backup. 

So, I split the hive into 6, with a frame of honey and a frame or so of brood with a queen cell or more in each nuc.  One of the 6 was left in the original hive, but reduced down to 1/2 a deep.  

Long story short, 4 of the nucs absconded back home.   The last one stayed put, but failed to raise the new queen, so I combined it back on the mother hive, who had managed to raise a fabulous new queen and as of last week had brood from stem to stern. 

All the hives were contracting and even though the blasted bees haven't touched the bucket feeder I put out a few weeks ago, it's obvious that the flow is over.   I put 2:1 sugar/water on every hive.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

This Morning

It's August.   All the rain we've had has made the local flora explode even more than usual this year.   The fields are covered with Queen Anne's Lace, and rudbekias.   The ditches are full of figwort and false foxglove and campanulas and helenium.   It's spectacular.

Lily woke up to the fog this morning and grabbed the camera.   She snapped this perfect view of the exuberance of an August morning.

Hope your day is a fabulous one. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sweet Cherry Chutney

One of my favorite things of all is Peach Chutney.   Lily and I can go through a jar ourselves.  It's lovely with sliced apples and brie.   Or poured over pork chops and slow cooked.  I like it with 2 tsps of red pepper flakes, which gives it just enough heat, but not too much for me.   You can add more or less to taste.

I had a few bags of sweet cherries left and decided to try my favorite chutney recipe with cherries instead of peaches.    It was lovely!   Here's what I did.

Sweet Cherry Chutney

  • 8 Cups pitted sweet cherries, sliced in half
  • 2 T mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp - T red pepper flakes  [I like 2 tsp]
  • 2 Cups sugar
  • 1/2 Cup white wine vinegar [I use my own homemade white wine vinegar]
  • 1/4 Cup crystallized ginger, chopped up [That's a handful of ginger pieces, if you don't want to cram it into a cup measure.]
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 Cup raisins 
Combine ingredients and cook down until enough liquid boils off that you can drag a spoon/spatula across the bottom of the pan and it leaves a dry place for a second before the juices flow again.   Take your time.    The cherries were pretty juicy, so I let it cook on low, with a simmering bubble, for a couple of hours. 

For more recipes as easy as these, check out my ebook on the sidebar.  A Simple Jar of Jam: 180+ recipes & variations for jam using low sugar pectin.  Every purchase goes a long way toward supporting the blog.   Thank you!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sweet Cherry Vanilla Jam

This year I added 20 lbs of sweet cherries to my fruit order and was thrilled at how fabulous they were.   Sweet cherries travel much better than sour cherries [which often arrive brown and running with juice, though delicious.]  Sweet cherries store well, stay firm and the extra few days gave us time to finish the peaches, which arrived first, and deal with the sour cherries and berries.   It was a very busy couple of weeks.   I washed the sweet cherries and put them in ziplocks stacked flat in the fridge.   It was easy to grab a bag in the morning, set it out and I confess we ate many many of those cherries fresh before I had a chance to make anything with them.

But I did make a couple of things with them and the first on the list was a batch or two [or three] of Sweet Cherry Vanilla Jam.  

It. Was. Heaven.   Like my favorite clafouti without the custard.    Soooo good.   Make some of this.  [Put it on chocolate cake.   Or just eat it with a spoon right out of the jar.]

Sweet Cherry Vanilla Jam

4 cups pitted sweet cherries, cut in half
1 cup water
1 vanilla bean, cut in half and then sliced open lengthwise
1/2 cup low sugar pectin [Dutch Gel All Natural Lite is my favorite]
1 cup sugar

Put the cherries, water, vanilla and pectin in a large pot.   Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  When the jam reaches a hard boil [that bubbles like crazy even when you're stirring constantly], time it for 1 minute.    Add the sugar, stir constantly and return it to a hard boil.   Time it for one minute.   Turn off the heat, ladle into jars.   We process the jam in 1/2 pint jars for 15 minutes.   Yield:  2.5 - 3 pints.

For more recipes as easy as these, check out my ebook on the sidebar.  A Simple Jar of Jam: 180+ recipes & variations for jam using low sugar pectin.  Every purchase goes a long way toward supporting the blog.   Thank you!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cherry Pie Filling with Perma Flo

Once again, I attempted to make cherry pie filling with Perma Flo and this year it totally worked!

We pitted the cherries and then let them sit while we made the Mixed Berry Pie Filling I told you about in the last post.   The juices flowed.   I added a bit extra perma flo to compensate.  This year the bottles are packed with fruit and the sauce is perfectly thick.   So delicious!

Sour Cherry Pie Filling with Perma Flo

1 gallon sour cherries, pitted
6 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups Perma Flo

Mix the sugar and the Perma Flo well in a bowl.   Put the cherries and all their juice in a large pot.  Mix in the sugar/Perma Flo combination and stir well.   Bring to a boil stirring constantly.   The sauce will become clear when it reaches the boil.   Make sure it boils!   As you're stirring, watch for stray pits and pull them out with a spoon.  Once the filling is boiling, put it in jars.   We processed ours for 30 minutes.

Yield:  5-6 quarts of pie filling.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Berry Pie Filling with Perma-Flo

We've been so busy this summer. It seems that all the fruit got ready at once. Within a week, we had bushels of peaches, cherries, blueberries and raspberries. So much goodness all at one time! I got together with one of my sisters for a day and we blasted out dozens of quarts of pie fillings. Peach Vanilla, Spiced Peach, Sour Cherry, Mixed Berry.... So, so delicious. One of the tricks of making berry pie fillings for canning is making sure that everything is heated enough, but that the berries aren't stirred so much that they are completely broken down in the process. Not to worry, I had a plan. Heat 1/4 of the berries with water, smash them to bits for as much juice as possible, then add the perma-flo and make the sauce. Once the sauce was done, then add the berries and heat through stirring gently. Bring back to a boil and can. It worked perfectly!!  

Berry Pie Filling with Perma-Flo

1 gallon red raspberries and black raspberries mixed
1 quart water
2 cups sugar
1 cup Perma Flo

Mix the sugar and Perma Flo and set aside.   Put the water and 1 quart of the berries in a large pot and smash the berries with a potato masher to release the juice.   Add the sugar and Perma Flo and stir well.   Heat the mixture until it boils, stirring constantly.   When it boils, it will become clear and thick.   When the sauce is clear and bubbling, add the rest of the berries and fold them gently in.  You don't want to break them all up.   Once the mix is boiling again, it's ready to go into the jars.

We processed the jars for 30 minutes for canning.

Yeild: 4-5 quarts of pie filling.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Asparagus Fruit

These are the tiny fruit of the asparagus plant.

So cute.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Indigo Rose Tomato

Seriously, how cute are these baby tomatoes?   They are Indigo Rose tomatoes.   Eric brought them home to me when the puppy ate the containers of baby tomatoes I had grown myself.   We weren't sure how many I'd be able to save, so he got several -  whatever looked interesting.  

I can't wait to see this one ripe.   I hope it tastes as good as it looks.
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