Tag Archives: DIY

It’s Tomato Time! | Homemade tomato sauce & more!

25 Aug

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Oh hi there! It’s been a while! Hope your summer has been amazing. It’s so hard to believe that it’s nearly September. Wow! But before I go on and on about how I love the Fall, I’ll share a hint of what we’ve been up to recently—lots of cooking/making with fresh local veggies! Hooray!

Our amazing 90-year-old neighbor’s son dropped off a bag of tomatoes from her garden and one of our other neighbors (Ollie’s favorite!) invited us to “go shopping” his garden. What a treat! I’ve eaten my share of fresh garden tomatoes this year but this time we’d gotten so many at once and were a bit overwhelmed. So we decided to make our own red sauce.

This recipe is a mostly scaled down version (with a little twist) of the “Big-Batch Summer Tomato Sauce” from America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook. It still made about 3 pints of sauce. We froze some & took some to Ollie’s favorite neighbor but truth be told, I didn’t share any with the other neighbor because she is Italian and I was completely intimidated. I did, however, thank her profusely for the amazing tomatoes the next time I saw her, so don’t worry. 

Also, I’m apologizing in advance for the lack of photos. I took some stellar ones but my phone got completely destroyed (run over by a highway full of cars) and failed to back up that day (Murphy’s Law!). Seriously, people. I know. 

Ingredients

5 lbs of fresh organic tomatoes (in season & garden fresh are the BEST!)
2 Tbsp of tomato paste (we didn’t have any so see how I improvised below)
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp of organic cane sugar (you could use raw honey or brown sugar, too — or omit it altogether)
2 tsp dried basil (or 2 Tbsp fresh)
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp of red wine vinegar

Steps

1. Oh crap! = The realization that you don’t quite have all of the ingredients to make what you want to make. What went wrong this time? Well, we didn’t have any tomato paste. I researched a bit online and most sources said to cook down (reduce) tomato sauce. Honestly, we were making 2 other things that night and I didn’t feel like waiting for a can of tomato sauce to reduce on the stovetop BEFORE I could make the tomato sauce. Then I remembered that I had a package of organic sun-dried tomatoes and I found this recipe for Sun-dried Tomato Puree (I followed the recipe exactly but omitted the garlic cloves & recommended additions because I wanted to keep it simple since I was adding it to a sauce recipe. I also don’t think I used quite as much olive oil as the 1/2 cup in the recipe when all was said & done).

2. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot over high heat and prepare an ice bath (ice & cold water) in a large bowl. Remove core from tomatoes and score a small X in the base of each. In batches, with a slotted spoon, lower tomatoes into boiling water & cook just until skins are loose, about 15-45 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer tomatoes to the ice bath to cool (about 2 minutes). Take tomatoes out of the ice bath and remove loosened tomato skins (they will fall right off like magic!). 

3. Process garlic in a food processor until minced, about 10 seconds. Leave the garlic in the food processor.  Process peeled tomatoes, in batches, until almost smooth, 15-20 seconds. It’s okay that your garlic got a little more processed in the first batch of tomatoes. They’re all going to hang out together in step 4 anyway. Transfer each batch of pureed tomatoes to a large pot (we used a dutch oven). 

4. Add the garlic, sun-dried tomato puree (substituted for the tomato paste), basil and salt to the tomatoes and bring to simmer over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened and reduced by 1/2  (about 1.5-2 hours). Stir vinegar and sugar into pot, seasoning with additional sugar to taste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. You could easily can the sauce, but we opted to pour it into pint size mason jars & freeze what we knew we wouldn’t give away or eat in a couple of days.

Notes

This sauce was really tasty and fresh! While it took a while to make a lot of that time was simmering time (read: time when you can be doing lots of other things!).

It was the perfect recipe to use all of the fresh tomatoes that we’d never have eaten in time.

If you don’t like tomato seeds in your sauce (or you have picky kids), consider straining the seeds out before pouring the finished sauce into mason jars…or better yet…cut each tomato in 1/2 and scoop the seeds out with your thumb after step 2 above. 

Meet My New Obsession | Homemade Almond Milk

18 Apr

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Lately, I’ve been the Queen of Unfinished blog posts—so many ideas, so little time. Ugh. Apologies, dear friends!

I’m sharing this recipe with you because I can’t stop making it (or singing its glorious praises). Homemade almond milk. Yes. DO IT! I have friends who’ve been making it for years and I wondered what all of the buzz was about…until…

I participated in a detox last September under the guidance of Simply Inspired Wellness. To call it a detox sounds a bit extreme but this program is about re-setting your systems and ridding your body of toxins that commonly build up with the consumption of processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, etc. It was 100% worth the effort and investment. Afterwards, I felt refreshed, healthier and more educated/aware of what I was putting into my body. Two big post-detox surprises: foods that I didn’t cook at home tasted over salted, and my immediate craving for something sweet after eating a meal, virtually vanished.

The detox was also my true introduction to almond milk. I bought the boxed, unsweetened kind to add to my smoothies and morning coffee. It was a little watery but I didn’t notice it at all in my smoothies. Coffee on the other hand? Well, it was kinda gross—and something about the acidity of the coffee made the almond milk curdle a bit. Ew.

But I digress, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago, that I had homemade almond milk in an iced coffee from a local bakery/cafe. On a menu sign next to the espresso beverages, “house made almond milk” appeared in a lovely hand lettered font. Well, I’m a sucker for anything “house made” so I figured I’d try it. Hi, homemade almond milk, I think I love you. And the rest is history.

It’s certainly a little bit more expensive to make at home, but 100% worth it. It’s super creamy and a little bit naturally sweet (I didn’t sweeten it). It’s delicious in coffee, especially iced. I’ve also been eating it in this breakfast cereal recipe that I make a batch of on Sunday night (just the grains) and take to work for breakfast all week (I add the almond milk, cinnamon, ginger, a pinch of pumpkin pie spice, raw pecans and a little maple syrup).

The first 2 times I made almond milk, I used organic raw almonds (skin on), a blender, cheesecloth and a strainer. It’s a bit messy and a little wasteful (I tossed the cheesecloth when I was finished) but worked fine. I made my most recent batch using a nut milk bag (a bag made of super fine mesh). It was much easier to use, very easy to wash and strained out even the tiniest bits of almond meal (that the cheesecloth & strainer combo missed).

My almond milk keeps in the refrigerator just fine for 5 days or so. I usually double the batch if I plan to use it for things other than my morning coffee. Jess also really likes it too.

And finally…here is the link to the recipe that I used. This blog (theKitchn) is worth perusing—we’ve found some good recipe gems.

Happy making!

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Gettin’ Old is Rough | DIY Easy Entry Litter Box

19 Nov

We have a 17.5 year old cat. His name is Sitar, and he is the most beautiful cat I have ever seen. I had originally gotten him when he was 4 yeas old from a coworker of mine who was moving back to the west coast and couldn’t take him on the plane with him.

Sitar is a Maine Coon/Siamese mix and apparently his original owner had chosen him out of a litter, he was the most Siamese looking kitten of the bunch and fit in the palm of his hand. He grew to 27lbs at his heaviest!

Fast forward four years, I’m living at my parents’ house and Sitar has become my new roommate. My aunt calls him a lion cub, and he wins over my dad’s heart.

from 2009 one of my favorite Sitar photos

from 2009 one of my favorite Sitar photos

I know he doesn’t get much screen time on the blog these days. He spends most of his time sleeping in a dog bed at the end of our bed, settled into an oldie routine, he knows his meal schedule, and is sure to remind us whenever he can! He isn’t as limber as he once was, he seems stiffer as the years get on. So I decided to research an easier entry litter box for him, so he could just step inside instead of having to hop in and out.

My research did not yield many results for plain easy large covered litter boxes. I found one at Target, by Boots and Barkley, that was large and covered and had a lower opening it retailed for $23.99. I did read a bunch of posts
online, about making your own out of a Sterilite or Rubbermaid container with a lid. So I decided to try it.

DIY easy entry litterbox (L)

DIY easy entry litterbox (L)

Materials

1 18 Gallon Sterilite Storage Bin with Lid (available at Target for $5.49)

1 box cutter or sharp scissors

1 ruler

1 Sharpie Marker

Directions

1) Measure the height of the opening of the current litter box that your senior cat is using. Sitar’s litter box opening was 8″ from the ground. I knew I wanted it to be lower, but he needed to have a little bit of a wall so he wouldn’t have an accident and pee outside of the box, so I made the opening 4″ from the floor.

2) The actual shape and design of the Sterilite container is perfect to use as the opening of the litter box. I just measured 4″ from the floor and then traces the rest of the shape of the plastic front. As seen in the photo above it mimicked the shape of his original litter box opening.

3) Using a box cutter, I cut the straight line of the bottom of the opening first, then continued to cut the rest of the opening outline.

4) Fill the new easy entry litter box with the brand of litter that your elderly cat currently uses. It should be filled about 2-3″ deep. Cover the box with the lid and place it where the old litter box was living.

Notes:
– Sitar is on day four of using his new box, and everything seems great.
– Sitar uses World’s Best Cat Litter with no scent, and it seems to work best for him, since he is probably like having two cats anyway.
– He definitely has an easier time getting into this one, he just steps in and does his business.
– Our friends Casey & Dave modified the litter box that their cat, Wee Wee, was using by cutting the opening down to the floor and that worked for her. That is an alternative to buying a container, if your cat tends to not go to the bathroom right at the front of the box.

sitar our dusty old man

sitar our dusty old man

Sitar loves Halo Spot’s Stew canned food, My Little Lion cat treats, and messing with his two Boston Terrier brothers. He has also been known to enjoy the occasional piece of Sara Lee Turkey Breast and adventures in the great outdoors our tiny back deck. His favorite time of year is Christmas, mainly because it is when we get a real tree and he loves to drink the fresh water for the tree. It’s when the outdoors come in for the holidays 🙂

Let’s Celebrate! | Pumpkin Peanut Butter Dog Treats

22 Sep

Every family has their own little traditions or occasions to celebrate, ours included. 🙂 This post is a celebration of Ollie. We found him on Petfinder and knew that we had to give this little brown Boston Terrier, a puppy mill survivor, a proper home. A home where he always has a toy to comfort him, a brother to play with, homemade treats to snack on, and someone to cuddle.
ImageMy favorite memory from the first week Ollie lived with us, happened at my parents’ house, my childhood home, in Dracut, MA. It was my Aunt’s 60th birthday and the family had decided to go out to lunch and then have cake and ice cream back at my parents’ house. After lunch, Kate and I made sure we were the first to arrive back at the house. Then Auntie came in and called out for Stevie “Where’s my Stevie?” “Come and see your Auntie!” All of a sudden, to her surprise, this tiny little white flash came running down the hallway! She had the biggest smile and greatest birthday surprise — puppy love from the newest member of our family!
In honor of Ollie’s adoption anniversary we took him to the Somerville Dog Festival in our neighborhood on a recent Sunday afternoon. A field full of games to play, prizes to win and free treats to sample… any dog’s dream. Followed up by some homemade dog treats for the boys to enjoy. Yay!

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Pumpkin Peanut Butter Dog Treats
Recipe credit: Adapted from an original recipe by Courtney Danyelle Georg (instagram handle: triceracourt) 

Makes 40 – 60 treats (depending on the size & shape you choose)

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
2 eggs
1 cup 100% pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
2 TBS natural peanut butter
1 TBS ground flax
1 TBS honey
3/4 tsp cinnamon

1) Preheat the oven 350 degrees

2) Line two baking sheets with parchment

3) In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine all the ingredients

4) The dough should be dry and come together in a ball when mixed

5) Add a few drops of water if the dough does not form a ball while mixing

6) Remove dough from bowl and place on a floured work surface

7) Using a rolling pin roll dough out to 1/2″ thickness, cut out shapes using a cookie cutter shape of your choice

8) Bake for 20 minutes, then take the baking sheets out, flip over each treat, and then rotate trays before returning to oven

9) Total bake time: 40 mins

10) Turn oven off after 40 mins and let cool in oven on the baking sheets

Stevie and Ollie loved them — they couldn’t get enough! Also, we made a little package for our dog walker to share them with her pack 🙂

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Happy baking! Enjoy the recipe — I’m sure your pups will! Below is a photo of Ollie with the prize he won at the Somerville Dog Festival. He carried all around the festival and all the way home on our walk. What a character!

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Oven Roasted Tomatoes | Versatile & Easy!

28 Apr
tomatoes, olive oil and S&P waiting to be roasted

tomatoes, olive oil and S&P waiting to be roasted

The warmer New England weather is starting to remind me of the summer foods I’ve missed all winter. Top of my list? Fresh tomatoes!

Grocery stores have been taunting me with tomato sales but I know they’re not yet in season. There is nothing quite like a just-picked tomato at the height of its season (or any produce, for that matter). My dad grew them nearly every summer in the garden when we were kids. He’d have competitions with a fellow gardner friend and I have vivid memories of secret tricks and strange apparatuses surrounding the tomato plants in the garden. My mom would make tomato and cheese sandwiches for us to enjoy at the peak of tomato season — hearty white bread spread with Miracle Whip then stacked with layers of sliced tomatoes and cheddar cheese & a little sprinkle of S&P. Yum…summer in sandwich!

So back to my point….since cherry tomatoes have been on sale quite a bit, Jess has been buying them. They were fine tossed into my lunch salads but I wanted a way to make them more delicious. Flour Bakery (a Boston area delight) is smart — and their BLT is the best BLT I’ve ever had in my life. I dream about it.  One of their secrets? They roast the tomatoes when they’re not in season in order to bring out their yumminess. Roasting also rids them of that gross mealy texture that often plagues out-of-season tomatoes. The recipe I used as a guide states, “roasting concentrates their flavor, turning the tomatoes into savory, tender little umami bombs”. Genius, right? It’s very easy & roasted tomatoes are a perfect addition to any recipe, sandwich, salad, pizza, pasta/rice salad, etc. — the possibilities are endless. We added them to a homemade pizza with oven roasted rosemary lemon turkey breast and banana pepper rings.

fresh_to_roasted

top: before roasting, middle: after first 20 minutes, last: after roasting

Oven Roasted Tomatoes (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen: DIY Cookbook, Oven Dried Tomatoes)

Ingredients

12 ounces – 1 pint of cherry tomatoes (grape tomatoes would work fine, too)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Steps

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Rinse the tomatoes and lightly pat dry with a clean dish towel.
  3. Cut each tomato in 1/2 lengthwise & toss into a small bowl (with enough room for tossing later).
  4. Add olive oil, salt & pepper to the bowl and toss to evenly coat the tomatoes.
  5. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (or aluminum foil) for easy clean-up. Place a wire rack on top of the prepared baking sheet and lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  6. Place the seasoned tomatoes on the rack cut side down (not all of mine were facing down & they turned out fine).
  7. Place tomatoes into the oven for  20 minutes.
  8. Carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 300 degrees.
  9. Use a fork to carefully flip the tomato halves cut side up and remove any tomato skin that has fallen off. If all of your tomatoes still have the skin on them, there’s no need to remove it since cherry tomatoes have such tender skin.
  10. Place them back in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
  11. Remove from the oven & allow to cool to room temperature before enjoying.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

roasted tomatoes standing by to be the next pizza topping

roasted tomatoes standing by to be the next pizza topping

Let’s Get Organized! | Spice Rack DIY

2 Mar

DIY spice rack

One result of small space living (or a small kitchen at least) is the true need for clever kitchen storage solutions. We’ve come up with a few that utilized stuff we already had, like an office document/mail organizer tucked in a lower cabinet to neatly store oversized Tupperware/lids & a larger, short, round Rubbermaid container to keep smaller lids tidy that we stuck to the inside of the door of the same lower cabinet with industrial Velcro.

We’ve never had a great solution for storing herbs & spices that we use frequently. We bought these containers that we love, but had them stacked in a two-tiered “system” on our kitchen shelves. It wasn’t the best use of their great see-through lids & it still left us shuffling through spices whenever we wanted to use them.

I’ve seen a lot of terrific spice storage solutions but wanted something that utilized our existing jars & a smallish wall space we have in our kitchen next to some cabinets. Note: the best placement for spice storage is somewhere darkish (or out of direct sunlight) and a coolish/room temp. While the magnetic tins we made would be fine stuck to the side of a refrigerator, the fridge in our kitchen can run a little warm & the side we’d have stuck them to is right next to the window, so we opted for a space on the other side of the kitchen, away from direct sunlight and appliances that emit heat.

I intentionally made the labels take up a large part of the see-through lid – to keep out even more light.

Supply list followed by quickie DIY instructions

Spice rack stainless steel magnetic base: We used this and were really pleased with the quality & speedy shipping. Screws are not included so be prepared to provide your own for attaching the base to the wall.

Tins: Source: Specialty Bottle — I’ve ordered lots of things from SB & they’re great! They’ll send you a couple of samples too (at no charge!). The possibilities are endless but as previously mentioned, we used these.

MagnetsI bought these but you can also search for them on Amazon & elsewhere on the web. I’ve seen other tutorials that use magnetic paper. That would be fine too – but in my experience, it’s not as strong as individual magnets & I didn’t want to go to the trouble to make this whole thing, only to have the heavier spices slide down the wall mounted base.

Glue: I used E6000 (that I bought at a local craft store). It worked well but it’s super toxic AND even with the windows open (hooray for a warm winter!) & a tabletop fan pointed towards the window….WOW — the smell was horrible & made me feel nauseous! I’d forgotten how toxic this stuff is…ick!

1) Measure the space you want to put your jars. Make sure if it’s near a cabinet, that the door when opened, will clear the jars on the wall.

2) Glue magnets to bottoms of jars.

3) Download my free printable spice jar labels & please ignore the little dashed line in the template — I can’t, for the life of me, get rid of it & it doesn’t appear in the original design file. It won’t appear on your finished labels because you’ll cut them out anyway! Print them on a big sheet of label paper (like this kind from Staples) & punch out. I used a 1.5 inch round craft punch.

4) Fill jars with spices/herbs & attach the tops.

5) Write on labels & stick to tops of jars. I love a handwritten label but if you don’t, you could use a label maker/vintage typewriter or add spice names to labels in a design program before printing.

6) ENJOY! If you have space at the bottom, use a magnetic clip to hold grocery lists and a tally of spices you’re running low on or out of.

Other notes
Use a cookie sheet (new or vintage) or have a home supply store cut you a sheet of stainless steel – just make sure it’s magnetic (not all stainless/metal is) and we didn’t go to a home supply store because I wanted rounded corners (pointy metal corners are SHARP!) – also I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with drilling the holes in the metal for hanging. We’re comfy with DIY (& power tools!) but I really didn’t want to overcomplicate things for this project. If you’re in the mood for a visit to Ikea, this would be an awesome option (it’s nice & tall & comes in white, too).

Spice storage ideas/tutorials/inspiration
I like the jars a lot & the finished product reminds me of honeycomb. 
Friends of ours painted a wall in their kitchen with magnetic chalkboard paint & attached magnetic spice jars to it. Love!
One of many sources online for a DIY vintage soda crate spice rack (swoon!).

Trick or Treat | Handmade Howl-o-ween

31 Oct

Kate and I have a great relationship. She’s the maker to my baker. We have a lot in common, but we balance each other out.
Perfect case in point Halloween…. I love Halloween, I love the decorations, the costumes, pumpkins, Halloween candy and most of all throwing a Halloween party.

Every year I come up with the idea for “our” costume, a couples costume usually that entails hours of crafting and several yards of felt. Kate humors me and every year slaves over “our” costume and in true Kate fashion it always comes out perfect. Again, Kate and I have a great relationship. She tolerates watching the “Goonies” with me on the eve of Halloween, she spends hours hand sewing costumes we’ll wear for one night, and she does it mainly because it makes me happy.

This year she crafted my idea for Stevie and Ollie’s costumes too.. taking Stevie’s crate rest into consideration we came up with this…



No Boston Terriers were harmed in this photo shoot.

Stevie the lion and Ollie the lion tamer wish you all a Happy and Safe Halloween from our vintage circus to yours have fun!

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