Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cool find: Soho Interiors

If you are in Topeka in the near future, stop by Soho Interiors.  Located off the beaten path, it is worth it to have a great shopping experience and to find some unique items for your home and for gifts.

I didn't find it by driving around.  A friend didn't recommend it.

This is where I say with some embarrassment,

"I had a Groupon."

Insert husband chuckling at me.

I bought a wide variety of things.  Some I can't show off because they are designated as gifts and of the approximately six people who read my blog, these are the people who might be the recipients of said gifts.  So, here are a couple I plan to keep.

 Art Cards for Baby by Wee Gallery.  Think of high contrast flash cards made out of board book material.  For this set, one side has the animal in white on black with the animal name.  The other side has the animal in black on white with the sound.  There are a variety of these sets - sea, garden, jungle, pets, and more.  I brought home the farm theme.

I have an idea for a project with the cards.  And, I really want the garden set.  These make me really happy - love the design and the subject.
And, these little beauties.  These white glass balls with black letters have so much potential and I don't have a really good idea for them yet.  They found a place in a vintage ice bucket and made their way to our coffee table.  Still not sure this is the final way I want to display them.

They had to come home with me since I loved them at first sight.  I walked around the store about one hundred times and kept coming back to them.

More on shopping and projects later.

Shop Soho Interiors, 3129 SW Huntoon in Topeka.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Alpaca fiber: cutest bear ever!

Our friend Ashley created this adorable bear out of alpaca fiber from our boys.

We shared some fiber with her and she knitted a scarf for us and the left over was used for this cuddly bear.  It is so soft!

We love it when people share pictures of their fiber art, especially if it is alpaca fiber and even more so when it is from our alpacas.

Thanks, Ashley!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bacon revisted

We love bacon in our house.  This is really no secret.  We even own a cookbook entirely devoted to bacon.
Yet, as much as we love bacon, preparing it on the stove top is a messy process.  The end product is never consistently crisp and the slices are usually curled on top of themselves.  After years of less than crispy bacon with grease splatters all over the stove, I just tried to skip making bacon - until I practiced baking bacon.  I'm sold!

A family member showed me how to prepare bacon in the oven and I was kind of convinced.  Becky Higgins is a blogger who I follow and she posted about this method.  Her post gave me some confidence to try it myself.

Here is my take on baking bacon.

1.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Place the bacon on the foil in a single layer.
 2.  Place the baking sheet in the cold oven.  Set the oven to 425 degrees and allow the bacon to cook while it heats.  When our oven reaches 425 degrees, I check the bacon and continue to check it every few minutes until it is the desired crispiness.

Lesson learned:  do not check the bacon when the oven reaches 425 degrees and then tell yourself that you are just going to scrapbook for a minute or two more.  I did this.  I forgot the bacon.  I created a lot of smoke and some extra crispy bacon.

This story will explain why the photo above have more pieces of bacon and they are closer together.  I had to do another batch to get the after picture.
3.  Use a spatula to remove the bacon from the baking sheet.  Place the bacon on a plate with paper towels and blot off any excess grease.  The bacon will crisp up just a bit more as it cools.

4.  Clean up is a snap.  Just remove the foil and dispose of the grease.  Wash your baking sheet and you are set.

This method is great for making crispy bacon you can crumble for other recipes.  We enjoyed bacon and tomato sandwiches for lunch today with bacon from the oven - a perfect summer lunch.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Summer fun: Canning tomatoes

It seemed like the tomatoes would never ripen this summer.  Our cool temperatures early and then extremely hot temperatures late in the growing season made it hard on the plants.

We finally had enough to make canning worth the time and effort.  Maybe it was the fact that our temperatures were finally below 100 degrees or that we got a little rain, but whatever the reason, we had ripe tomatoes!

Last weekend, my mom and I whipped up our favorite pizza sauce from last year.  It was so good we also used it as a marinara sauce.

It is a really easy recipe and very delicious!

Pizza Sauce

Yield: 5 pints

5 pints tomato sauce or about 20 pounds of tomatoes
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped sweet peppers or bell peppers
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons salt
5 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons basil
2 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch
a small amount of tomato juice

1.  Wash, skin and core all of the tomatoes and then place them in a large pot to cook.  We have a hand emulsion blender which makes the process of blending ingredients to the right consistency so much easier.  Some people will use a food mill and will cook the washed and cored tomatoes with the skins.  They will run the cooked tomatoes through the food mill to remove the skins and seeds, then return to the pot.
2. Cook onions, garlic, and peppers in a pan on the stove with a little tomato juice from the large pot until tender before adding to sauce.
3. Mix the white sugar, salt, oregano, black pepper, basil, and arrowroot or cornstarch with a little tomato juice from the large pot.  This will help keep the arrowroot or cornstarch from clumping.
4.  When all of the ingredients are added, stir the sauce to mix thoroughly and bring to a boil so it thickens. You may need to add more of the arrowroot or cornstarch depending on your tomatoes and your own preference.  We use the hand blender to do the fine chopping and to make sure things are well mixed.  Be very careful with the hot sauce and make sure that you follow the directions for the blender.
6. For canning, put into jars and process for 25 minutes (for pints; 35 minutes for quarts). Follow all of the usual techniques for sterilizing jars and equipment used in the process.  Again, be very careful with the hot water, hot materials and sauce that all come together at this point.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Summer travel: Chicago

 We just returned from a short visit to Chicago.  I had a conference for work and Jeremy was able to travel along.  We made schedules work and stayed on an extra day to see the city.

We really love Chicago.  And, we always try to stay just long enough to get our fill of city life before retreating back to the country.

For the past couple of visits, my assignment has been to find agriculture in the city.  It's been a fun challenge to think about how city dwellers connect with nature and source their food.  We often talk about how we imagine the lives of people who live in the city - not mowing a yard seems really unusual to us.

We enjoy the gardens and sculpture areas near Millennium and Grant Parks.  We took a break in the natural area near the Cloud Gate (or The Bean).  The paving along the path looked to be natural stone and about the thickness of a counter top.  These pieces of stone were set together on edge to form this beautiful walkway between beds of plans.  We really liked this idea.

 This Kansas girl always seems to find sunflowers.  We found a farmers market the first afternoon near the Museum of Contemporary Art.  It happened to be the free day for that museum and we enjoyed walking around the farmers market and taking in the art exhibits.  Later that night, they had free jazz on the terrace.

It was a great trip!  The food we enjoyed is worth a whole post of its own.

Cool find - Where Women Create

If you have not picked up an issue of Where Women Create or Where Women Cook, and you actually love creating and/or cooking, you have to check out these magazines. These are my newest guilty pleasures. While a little pricey, they are so full of inspiration.

I subscribe to Where Women Create and my mom subscribes to Where Women Cook. We share these and then pass them along to friends with similar passions. When a new issues comes, I save it until I have time to sit down and savor the articles and photos. This practice sometimes means that it sits for weeks, but it is well worth it to be able to go cover to cover and give it the time it deserves.
One thing I notice about the artists profiled is that many of them are collectors (like me). Many of their collections are centered on scraps (paper, ribbon, embellishments), trinkets, fabric, and other raw material. I get the sense that these women all have a list of ideas a mile long (like me). I am really inspired by all of the different organizational systems. Many of the women have vintage elements in their work space and I love to see things artfully arranged to support their creative work.
And, these women make beautiful stuff - really cool things across media. The magazine is also a great way to find new blogs to follow and project ideas.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Photo to canvas

Inspired by a couple of blog posts, I was really curious about ordering a photo printed to canvas. A short time later, the daily Groupon was for Canvas on Demand. The deal seemed really good for a 16x20 wrapped print.

I chose the sunflower photo from Chicago last summer. This was taken at the Farmers Market after the morning rain shower.
I was uncertain about the choice of having the black edge or having the photo stretch all the way around. I am ok with the decision. If you have experience with ordering canvas and have advice before I try this again, please post!

As an aside, my husband gives me a bad time about Groupons. It's kind of embarrassing to suggest we eat at a restaurant or go to a store because, "I have a Groupon." I like saving money, so I get over it. But, I am feeling the same kind of embarrassment posting that I bought this with a Groupon. I got a great deal and am happy with the finished product. I think that means I'll get over it.

Now, if I can just make the decision about where to hang it...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cool find: Garden and Gun magazine

I know...Garden and Gun as a magazine title makes you wonder.

I was swapping some airline miles for magazine subscriptions and was curious about this title. After a little research, I thought it seemed like a good risk. After all, it wasn't money and I really try to have a broad sampling of magazines in the house.

Oh, what a pleasant surprise!

I love this magazine for the beautiful photography and the well-written articles. The profiles of towns, artists, restaurants, and gardens are really top-notch.
The most recent issue profiles women and the piece on Dolly Parton is a treasure. If you are reading the second part of that sentence and laughing, you really need to read the article. I am sold. Dolly may have an outer shell that draws ridicule; the inside is a savvy business woman, a generous philanthropist, and a beautiful soul.

Back to the magazine...I really, really love the photography. The articles on the landscape in the south have a conservation element that really appeals to me. The profiles of towns always make me want to pack my bags. And, they talk about southern food - bar-b-que in the issue before last. You can't go wrong with bar-b-que.

The gun aspect was my biggest concern, yet it strangely feels like home. Growing up in a family of responsible hunters, I appreciate a magazine that shows off bird dogs and talks about the outdoors with what seems to be deep appreciation.

I kind of miss that aspect of my life. Several cold fall mornings began with an early wake up, wrapping up in a sleeping bag, packing a book and sitting in a pick up to spot birds with my brother. I did more reading than spotting, but I can tell a prairie chicken in flight to this day.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Meet the new alpacas

We have two new residents at the farm. Just after we lost Wes, we had a call from some alpaca friends who had a male alpaca that needed a home. We were really happy to have a new boy for the farm and were really, really happy when they asked if we would take a second boy.

Everyone is getting along really well, even with the crazy hot temperatures. We have had to be extra vigilant about spraying down legs and bellies several times a day. The two new boys have especially dense fiber and they seem to feel the heat a bit more than the rest of the herd.
Kobe could be Scout's cousin. They have the same dark brown fiber. I think Kobe is a little more social and he likes to be first in line at the garden hose.
Chaccoyo is a proud boy. He is really camera shy, so I spend a lot of time walking around the pen trying to get a good picture. He keeps walking away and turning his back. Hmmmm. Guess I will have to set up camp in the pen when it is cooler. He has the best ears with long wispy hairs. Loads of personality!

Everyone is a muddy mess with all of the cool down sessions. When they need to scare off flies, they roll in the dirt. These dust baths create a really nice dirt coat and then when it is time for a cool off, it all turns to mud. We used to feel bad about our alpacas looking like a muddy mess until other alpacas friends commented on their animals being in a similar state.

Our eight mud balls seem to be doing ok - all of us are hoping for cooler temperatures.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Good friends and good food are a fabulous combination. We were really blessed to be able to make schedules work with our dear friend in Kansas City this weekend. We enjoyed good food and her excellent company.

Our friendship is unique. Years separate us to make me feel like a big sister. We share so much and at the same time have such a different background. She is a farm girl at heart and a city girl by upbringing. She has been turning into a great gardener and we love to share books, magazines, and great food!

Her gift to us (in addition to the great company) was this fabulous bread from Fevere. I was in love with the packaging from the start.

Fevere is, according to the bakery information, the Latin root word for "passion" and "fermentation." The baking method is described as using one heating and baking chamber with the baking happening after the heating, not at the same time.
The Olive Rosemary bread ingredients are organic wheat flour, organic levain, calamata olives, fresh rosemary, and sea salt. That is all - an ingredient list that short makes you feel like you know what you are eating.

The loaf is absolutely beautiful both on the outside and when sliced. I love artisan bread and this is wonderful dipped in a little olive oil with salt and pepper. Yum.

I am excited to check out the bakery in person. I understand it to have limited hours and high demand - when the bread is gone, it is gone.

We are planning to check out Fevere soon!