A Time for Seeds

In the wintertime, I snuggle up with a warm cup of tea and a stack of this year’s seed catalogs. Each catalog brings delight with all of the potential fruits and vegetables I could grow in my small garden. It takes time and determination to whittle down the list of wants to a reasonable amount. However, one of my goals for 2021 is to use what I have in hand. Instead of brand new seeds in the mail, I plan to scavenge a plastic tote of the last several years of seed purchases. What I find will be the map of what is to be in the garden this year.

How long seeds last depends on several factors. Storage is important. Store seeds in airtight containers, placing them in a cool and dry place out of sunlight. Under these conditions, seeds can last anywhere from two to six years after packaging. A second determination of seed viability is the seed type. According to Iowa State University Extension Services, seeds for onions and parsley last only one year. Pepper and sweet corn lasting two years. Seeds that last three years include beans, broccoli, celery, and spinach. Seeds lasting four years include cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, chard, eggplant, kale, pumpkin, squash, tomatoes, and watermelon. Collards, cucumber, muskmelon, and radish seeds last five years. The seed viability listed for lettuce seeds is six years.

While seed type and storage can gauge seed viability to ensure success, it is best to perform a seed germination study. Seeds germinate in moist and warm conditions. The growing medium needs to be between 65 to 75 degrees. The germination process begins with the seeds absorbing moisture and requires a constantly humid environment.

You will need a few household items.

  • Plastic Bag
  • Paper Towel
  • Water
  • Marker

Dampen a paper towel. It should be moist but not dripping wet.

Place ten seeds two inches in from the edge of the paper towel evenly spaced apart.

Roll up the paper towel with the seeds inside.

Place the rolled towel in the bag and label it. Use one bag for multiple tests.

Seal the bag and place it in a warm area. On top of the refrigerator is an ideal spot.

Check on the seeds daily to ensure the paper towel remains moist

After a week or two, you will see the seeds germinating. Some seeds like parsley take longer to germinate. Check your seed packet for that information. It will tell you if you will need to wait longer to see germination.

To figure out the germination rate count the number of seeds that have germinated.

7 out of 10 seeds is a 70% germination rate.

You can use the germination rate to determine if the seeds are worth planting. Or you can increase the number of seeds you start to compensate for a lower germination rate. In my germination test, I tested five different seeds. 

            Seeds of Change SugarPod 2 Snow Pea                     90%

            Landreth German Red Strawberry Tomato                80%

            Seed Savers Exchange Hungarian Heart Tomato                      80%

            Seed Savers Exchange German Pink Tomato                             70%

            Seed Savers Exchange Dwarf Gray Sugar Pea                          100%

YouTube Candy Christmas. . . In January

It always seems like I’m a season behind. It’s not unusual for me to start thinking about barbecuing in October. Or drinking iced coffee in February. Or making hot soup in July. I inch by with the motto “a day late and a dollar short.” As each year comes to a close, I start anew with a plan to be in the moment and enjoy the season in front of me. Once again, I find myself still in last season, making my Christmas treats in mid-January.

Part of the procrastination this year was the challenges of COVID-19 cooking. I contemplated the pros and cons for weeks. Could I make food for others? Even if I could, should I make food for others? Even after buying the ingredients, the thoughts still went round and round in my head. After conferring with some friends, I decided to proceed with extreme caution. I did a deep clean of the kitchen. Then put all non-essential items away making it easy to wipe down the counters after each recipe. I had already planned to use a mask, gloves where appropriate, and lots of hand-washing and sanitizing.

The issue that remained was how was I going to gift wrap the goodies. Fudge was the first item on the menu. Using a single pan and cutting and wrapping each slice was too much handling. Instead, I went with individual condiment cups. For the other candy, I found nice size holiday tubs in my stash. Since I was not wrapping the candies, I needed to put the minty goodies in their own container to trap their flavor. With all the prep work completed, I was ready to start the day of candy making.

All the following recipes I found while watching YouTube. My YouTube playlists are full of videos of enticing treats. So how did I target these three recipes? I wanted recipes that were easy and had minimal interaction to reduce the risk of germ spreading. Using the slow cooker for two of the recipes and off-the-shelf candy for the third fit the bill.

Slow cooker fudge recipes are popular on YouTube. I found several but the one that spoke to me was from the channel, What’s for Tea ( Chocolate Orange Fudge – Slow Cooker). What spoke to me was that she used Terri Orange Chocolates for the recipe. That square box with the orange foil ball brought back Christmas memories. Taking the ball and smashing it on the table, separating the slices, took me back to childhood.

Being in the middle of a pandemic, I searched online for Terri’s chocolate. I found them on Amazon but they were expensive for the amount needed. Disappointed, I thought I would need to substitute other chocolate in the recipe. As luck would have it, I found a knock-off brand at Dollar General. I picked up both milk chocolate raspberry and dark chocolate orange flavors. 

To a four-quart slow cooker add 

16.5 ounces of chocolate (3 – orange chocolate balls)

1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Stir to combine. With the lid off, heat on low for 20 to 30 minutes. Stir the mixture every so often. The fudge is done when all the ingredients are smoothly incorporated. 

When completed, pour the fudge into a parchment-lined pan. Instead of this method, I used a kitchen scoop to fill individual containers with the fudge. I found I needed to work fast as the fudge quickly firmed. Once completed, I popped on the lids and set the cups in the refrigerator.

I found that the milk chocolate performed much better in this recipe. It remained a creamy fudgy consistency. The dark chocolate, which has a lower fat content, was less creamy but still tasty. 

If I thought there were tons of fudge videos on YouTube, the peanut cluster videos seemed to be double that amount. When I went back to get credit information, I could not find the exact video I used.

The recipe is super easy. 

In a 5 to 6 quart slow cooker add 

16 ounces of dry roasted peanuts

16 ounces of unsalted dry roasted peanuts

12 ounces of milk chocolate chips

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

32 ounces of white chocolate bark

Cover and set to low. Do not stir. Cook for 1.5 to 2 hours. Wait for the chocolate to melt. Stir to incorporate all the ingredients. Drop by spoonful on parchment paper. Place in the refrigerator until set. 

I used my 4-quart slow cooker. It was definitely too small. I filled it to the brim and I made a mess stirring all the ingredients together. The safest bet is to go with a 6-quart slow cooker. 

The tri-chocolate combination of this recipe was a winner. Also, the mixture of salted and unsalted peanuts made it the perfect sweet and salty treat. For a more festive look, I added holiday sprinkles on the top. The peanut clusters were my favorite of the three recipes, and I will be making them again.

The final recipe has been on my list to try for a few years. I found it in a Maymay Made It video (Vinnie’s Valentines Dreamsicle Slices). The recipe takes orange jelly candies and covers them in white chocolate. Maymay used white chocolate chips melted over a double boiler. I used half white bark and half white chocolate chips in a pot designed for melting chocolate.

Once I melted the chocolate, the dunking began. I dumped the candies into the chocolate right from the bag, a few at a time. I then swirled them around and scooped them out with a chocolate dipping spoon that is hollow in the middle. I placed candies on parchment-lined trays and popped them into the refrigerator until set. 

Being adventurous, I tried dipping spearmint leaves in a dark chocolate mixture. I found that the spearmint and chocolate flavors went well together. 

The last candies that I tried to dip were cherry jelly hearts. I found them in the Valentine’s Day candy section. This is one advantage of not making Christmas candy till January. All three of the candies were yummy. The best, of course, were the orange slices, as they reminded me of a creamsicle ice cream. A soft summery thought and flavor for the dead of winter. 

There you have it, three quick and easy recipes that make great gifts. Here they are all done, packed in containers and stacked ready to go into gift bags. Not bad for a day’s work and only a few weeks late. I’m improving!

MFT Color Challenge 111

I combined this challenge with a project collecting cards for children in the hospital. Looking to make a boyish themed card, I turned to My Favorite Things Birdie Brown Viking stamp set. I started by coloring my Viking, incorporating the theme colors. I used Spectrum Noir alcohol markers. As for colors, you can see, It feels like I used them all.

My idea for a background was to put the Viking in front of his fort. This lead to the question, what did Viking forts look like? According to HeritageDaily.com the Vikings built ring forts. Trelleborgen is a partially reconstructed ring fort in Sweden. It is built with turf and a fence made of wooden stakes. The pictureof Trelleborgen sparked an idea of a technique I wanted to try. I saw the technique on Maymaymadeit YouTube channel, ink cube dragging.

I cut a 5 1/2 x 4 1/4 piece of Neenah Solar White 110 card stock. Using my scoreboard I created random width strips to mimic stakes.

I then picked three colors of distress ink; pumice stone, hickory smoke, and black soot.

Starting from light to dark, I dragged the ink cube from top to bottom, sometimes restarting in the middle to provide a wood textured look.

I now turned the ink cube dragging piece into a fort by cutting the tops into spikes. I created a banner. I embossed the sentiment in Brutus Monroe Alabaster embossing powder. I added a blue sky for the background. Photography and blog post done, it was ready upload to the challenge page and send off in the mail.

My First Card Challenge

One of the major challenges I have faced as a new card maker is knowing where to begin. The world of social media can be overwhelming with inspiration. Its very easy to start to browse for ideas and end up spending your evening pinning, collecting, or viewing without creating anything.

One evening not that long ago, I was doing that exact thing. I stumbled into a live with Jess from @ACardDaysWork. She was working on a “card challenge”. Jess suggested that card challenges were a great way to stretch out of your comfort zone and could be a jumping off point for creating a card.

This idea really resonated with me. It took what often sees as an overwhelming task, creating a new card, and put some parameters on the foundation. I quickly jumped on the challenge that Jess was working on, the My Favorite Things (MFT) Color Challenge number #110.

The colors for the challenge were MFT Grout Gray, Tickled Pink, Wild Wisteria, and Steele Gray. What I appreciated was that you did not have to have the exact colors but could just be inspired by the color combination. I headed for my paper stash to see what I could find. From my non-brand cardstocks I found a gray that looked
close to Grout Gray. For the pink and purple I was lucky and had honeysuckle and heather from Brutus Monroe. I planned to tie in Steele Gray with my marker colors.

Cardstock set, I headed to my MFT stamp sets with the colors leaning me towards the Valentine’s Day holiday. I quickly settled on the Pure Innocence collection, Blowing Kisses. I found the sentiment in the Neat & Tangled, Just Because stamp set. For embellishments I used the Anna Griffin, Valentine’s Confetti Dies, from HSN. I used
the Lawn Fawn Stitched Rectangle Frame die set and the Large Stitched Rectangle Stackables die set for my background.

Coloring, which I’m also learning was done with spectrum noir markers: DP2, DP3, EB1, EB3, FS1, FS2, FS4, IG5, IG9, PP1, PP3, TN3, and True Black. Add Tsukineko’s brilliance Pearlscent Lavender ink for the sentiment and first color challenge card done.

I am a card maker

Years ago when I was working for Viking Sewing Gallery, located inside JoAnn Fabrics, scrapbooking was all the rage. Having already dabbled in stamping and embossing as far back as the early 90’s it seemed like a natural choice to add to my already jack-of-all-trades approach to creativity. Who could resist all of the pretty paper and stickers.

Sale after sale topped with an employee discount, I started to stock up on supplies. I was going to scrapbook everything that was happening and scrapbook my entire archive of photographs. I might even “upgrade” my high school and collage scrapbooks to new colorful artistic layouts.

I was ready to get started on this challenge, right after I got time away from a house, a half-acre of property, three dogs, two jobs, and an active sewing/quilting hobby. Needless to say the scrapbooking did not take off. After all, how many layouts can you do involving three adorable dogs. So after a dozen pages I packed up all of the paper and supplies and left it to collect dust.

About a year and a half ago I got the bright idea that I could use the scrapbooking supplies coupled with my collection of rubber stamps, inks and embossing supplies to make cards. All I needed was some cardstock and glue and I would be good to go.

Boy, was I wrong!

As with any new endeavor, I did what everyone does and jumped on YouTube to find out the basics. Down the rabbit hole I went. I fell into a wonderful world of kind, creative people who openly shared their knowledge and passion.

I’ve learned a lot of things about card making. All paper is not created equal. Lightweight paper, although pretty is not the best for card making. Cardstock that is not the right weight performs poorly when trying to dry emboss. No mater what anyone told you in kindergarten, coloring is a complicated skill. Embossing powder does have a shelf life and apparently it is sometime before 25 years. Most importantly, all hobbies are an investment.

Investing and stockpiling is something I easily get sucked into; remember how this all started with a scrapbook supplies I could not bare to part with. I went from a few bags of supplies and tools to several bookcases and a dedicated paper crafting area. I’ve attended classes and logged countless hours on YouTube. And yes, I’ve make a few cards.

This year is my “stop putting it off year” and my paper crafting obsession is no exception. I’m off to a good start, making several cards already this year. I’m also improving. Yesterday was my first card that I did not have to make multiple times before I got it right.

I’m putting it out into the universe. I am a card maker!

Measure then Chop or Chop then Measure?

This morning having to get up early to do that work thing, (think call before 5:00 a.m. because someone did not have the access they needed) I jumped right in and began to finish my cooking for the week. Italian Meatloaf is another recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen, Pressure Cooker Perfection cookbook. I was looking for a recipe that wasn’t just Monday night meatloaf and really am hoping that this tastes like a big meatball without the pasta carbs. Of course, you can’t have meatloaf without mash potatoes, right?

While prepping the recipe I was chopping the basil and thought this calls for a lot of basil, too much in fact. In my not fully caffeinated state, I began to ponder was I suppose to measure before I chopped? What exactly was that rule anyway. For the record, the rule is:

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, measure after chopped;

1/4 fresh basil, chopped, measure before you chop.

This recipe calls for garlic powder, which means its time to pull out the coffee grinder, or spice grinder if you have one of those. Buying freeze dried garlic and then grinding it yourself ensures not only freshness but also less additives.

Finally I’m ready to mix all of the ingredients.  Don’t want to mix your meatloaf by hand but want to ensure that it’s mixed well enough to not explode in a pressure cooker, user your hand mixer and dough hook attachment.  This is an awesome tip from Laura Weathers ,formerly of KitchenAid/QVC, and it makes fast and clean work of mixing meatloaf.

Twenty-five minutes of pressure time later, I have a juicy and unexploded meatloaf, ready for lunches for the days ahead.

What’s for Dinner?

In what seems like a previous existence, I would know that answer before even walking out of the door in the morning to go to work. Heck, I would have an entire week menu (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) with recipes, shopping lists, pantry items, and what days I had to prepare meals and which were leftover nights. Now of days I drag into the house, contemplating all of the tasks I need to take care of before bed and at some point stop and ask myself. “What’s for dinner?” It’s at that point, I realize I haven’t defrosted anything, I have no leftovers, and of the three places that do delivery in my neighborhood, none of them sound appetizing. Consequently, I find myself grazing through the kitchen, eating a little of this and some of that, most of the items not being of high nutritional value. “This has got to stop,” I tell myself. With a freezer and a half of raw food, three bookcases of cookbooks and more kitchen gadgets than space to store them, there is no excuse. With the old adage, “there’s no time like the present” I’m working my way back into better planning and through that, better eating. I thought I would take you along with me for the journey. Day one is Sunday night of a holiday weekend. The task — Chicken Noodle Soup.

Remember those three bookcases of cookbooks, well it’s time to also separate the wheat from the chafe and the first book I’m looking at is America’s Test Kitchen, Pressure Cooker Perfection. I’m starting with Farmhouse Chicken Noodle Soup. It’s going to be a challenge for ATK as I’m not a big fan of chicken noodle soup and have long been searching for a good basic recipe. First substitution, suggested by ATK, is bone-in chicken thighs for the four pound whole chicken, apparently my grocery store does stock small birds. I’m also making a substitution with the egg noodles; cheese tortellini. I wish I could take credit for this great idea but I saw it somewhere. With those couple of ingredient changes, is prep time.

With all of the prep work done. It’s time to turn on the electric pressure cooker to the sauté setting and heat up the olive oil and then cook the onions. That’s a Mad Hungry Spurtle I’m using to stir.

Add the rest of the ingredients and then high pressure for 20 minutes.

Of course, when you are pressuring cooking the 20 minutes doesn’t start until the internal pressure in the cooker is reached. But once the countdown beginning you know right away as the house starts to smell wonderful. When the time is up you remove the chicken and shred, returning it to the pot to come to a boil then add the noodles to cook. Not counting the time for photography, start to finish the recipe took just over an hour, as advertised, adding it to the telework day recipe pile. The finished soup was full of flavor highlighting the wonders of a pressure cooker and my search for a good chicken noodle soup recipe might be over.