Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Letterboxing: Introduction

Last fall, some close friends introduced us to letterboxing and it has become our new favorite family activity. Letterboxing is creative, adventurous, and good old-fashioned outdoor fun.

Letterboxing started in Europe back in the 1850's and has grown and evolved over time. Today there are boxes all over the world for you to find. Basically, you have a signature stamp and a personal log book. Then you look up clues to find a letterbox somewhere in the world. You follow the clues and hunt for the box. Inside each letterbox is a stamp and log book. You simple exchange stamps: place your signature/family stamp in the box's log book and place the letterbox's stamp in your personal log book.

It is such a simple idea yet the adventures are incredibly fun. Try thinking of combining walking/hiking with a treasure hunt. Some of the clues are simple directions and others are difficult codes and ciphers waiting to be unlocked. It is such a great way to unplug from our computers, phones, and video games, get outside, and have some family fun. Another great side effect is that we have discovered so many great areas that we never knew about in our city.

If you are interested, I would encourage you to find a letterbox close to you and go check it out. It can be a free activity if you already have a stamp and just use some paper you have on hand. If you enjoy it as much as our family does you will be setting aside whole days for hunting boxes, carving stamps, and planting your own boxes soon.

There are two main websites where clues are posted:
Atlas Quest
Letterboxing North America

Have you heard of letterboxing before or are you a newbie like me? Have you participated in letterboxing before? What experiences have you had out on the hunt?

Linked up at The HomeAcre Hop.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Simple Crochet Washcloths

I recently made a couple of simple crocheted washcloths. I like to use 100% cotton for them because they last a little longer. For some reason, most synthetic yarns seem to unravel and break with the scrubbing and repeated washing that our washcloths go through.

In case you would like to make one for your home or for a gift here is a quick pattern.

Simple Crochet Washcloth Pattern
Hook size G
100% Cotton medium gauge yarn

Row 1: Chain 40.
Row 2-31: Chain 1 (for your first stitch). Half double stitch in each remaining stitch.

*As you approach the last row take a minute to measure and see if your washcloth will be square. You can do one less or one more row if you need to help get a nice square washcloth.

*Try changing colors for some variety. You can do stripes or even an ombre washcloth to match your preference and style.
Linked up at The HomeAcre Hop.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Citrus Marmalade

One of Shane's favorite things is marmalade. When I asked him if he had any requests for canning this year all he asked for was marmalade.

I thought it might be fun to try a couple different variations to see if we can perfect our family favorite. First up is this Three Citrus Marmalade from Marisa at Food In Jars.

This recipe calls for grapefruit, navel oranges, and lemons to create a slightly more bitter marmalade. I used a peeler to get all the zest off the citrus and then minced it into fine little strips. The zest was boiled for a bit while I removed all the rine, seeds, and membranes from the remaining fruit. Then the zest pieces, 4 cups of the zest liquid, 6 cups of sugar, all the fruit pieces, and a packet of pectin were put in a large pot to boil. The original recipe has you keep all the membranes and seeds to extract the pectin. Simply place all the leftover pieces in a cheesecloth and place it in your marmalade as it cooks. Then discard the bundle before you place your jam in jars. However, I did not have any cheesecloth handy so I simply added the pectin instead.

My first try at the recipe did not set up so we ended up with a bunch of marmalade syrup. The following day I opened all the jars back up and cooked the jam up again. This time I made sure to get the marmalade up to 220 degrees and cook it there for 3 minutes before placing it back into clean, sterilized jars. In the future I just need to remember that citrus doesn't have a lot of pectin so I need to take care to make sure it gets all the way up to temperature. Of course, extracting the pectin naturally from the seeds and membranes of the fruit would also helped with this.

We did keep one pint of syrup to use over french toast or for yogurt parfaits. I think we might have to make some homemade ice cream to try with it soon. The jam tastes so perfectly sweet and bitter on toast. I think it would also be amazing on biscuits so I think I'll be making some soon.

Do you have any favorite marmalade recipes we should try?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Patchwork Ball...Again.

We had a friend's 1st birthday party to celebrate a couple weeks ago. As I was thinking through what we should give him I decided to make him a patchwork ball. The one I made Violet a couple years ago still gets used around our house. Luke loves playing with it but the girls still play with it too. What do an almost 4 and almost 8 year old do with a cloth ball? They play catch with Luke, use it as a pillow, and the current discovery is playing indoor dodgeball.

How many plastic toys get used by that age range for this many years? Not many!

I just grabbed some different bright fabric scraps I had and sewed up this playful ball. This is a quick project and one of the benefits of making something for a 1 year old is being able to pick an assortment of colors and patterns. I just love the little lion print with all the geometric patterns. The ball pattern is from Anna Maria Horner's book Seams to Me.

What are some of your favorite gifts for toddlers?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Eating and Preserving Summer Squash

Currently, the garden is producing summer squash in abundance. I am so happy to have something edible coming from the garden. A coworker of Shane's suggested we get a small kitchen scale and start weighing our harvests. It has been so much fun and I would highly recommend it whether your garden is big or small. The kids love to help weigh everything and the whole family is getting excited over the growing totals. We started weighing about half way through May so these totals are for the last couple weeks.

May Garden Totals:
Patty squash - 5.96 lb.
Round Summer Squash - 9.38 lb.
Cucumbers - 2.91 lb.
Basil - 0.18 oz.

May 2013 Total: 18.27 lb.

As you can see we have had lots of squash coming from the garden. We shared some with friends who came for dinner. The rest we have either been eating or preserving. We grilled some with salt and pepper, steamed a bunch for dinner and eating cold for snacks, baked squash blueberry bread, and had a vegetable soup with lots of squash and homemade bread. Basically, we have had squash in some form for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner at many points over the past couple weeks. With still more squash every couple days, I started looking for ways to preserve it for the winter when we will miss these beautiful summer squashes. After looking into different options I decided that for now I'd just freeze the squash.

First I cut the squash into pieces. I choose to do these in batches of 2 to 3 squash at a time. This is about how many my family will eat in one meal so it was the best portions to freeze them in for us. Just think about how much your family would eat in a meal and freeze in batches that will be easy to use.

For example, if you love to have stir fry with lots of veggies then just freeze about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of squash in a smaller bag. This way you can easily grab the bag from the freezer and toss the contents into your stir fry. Or if you have onions, carrots, or other vegetables fresh right now make your own frozen stir fry mix ready to go.

Second, I blanched the squash in boiling water for 3 minutes. Start the timer when you place the squash in the water. The boil may slow down or even stop but start your clock. If you wait for a rolling boil to start again and then cook for 3 minutes your squash will be overdone. You want your squash to be firm still when you remove it. Remove your squash and immediately cool it by placing the squash in ice water to stop the cooking process.

Finally, I laid my blanched squash out on the towel to dry any excess water and then placed it in freezer bags. Please note that the squash is delicious at this point so snacking is encouraged.

We will likely harvest more squash this weekend. I'd like to try another altered recipe for squash bread. I also plan to blanch some more for freezing as well as shredding 2 cup batches for future squash bread and muffins (just like I did with the zucchini). In the future I'd love to try and make some squash chips of some sort. While I do have a dehydrator on my wish list, I will most likely try to make some in the oven for now. In order to do that I'd like the weather to be just a bit cooler so the house doesn't become to hot. What are your weekend plans? Any gardening or cooking happening at your house?