Best Pickles Ever.

July 6, 2010

I am officially kicking off the summer pickling season today.  Making “kid pickles”.  My kids have dubbed them as such because they want to eat the whole jar and not let any grownups have any.  Good luck with that, kids.

The following is from Gogol Gastronomy:

What you will need: organic cherry tomatoes or gherkins. No, supermarket oversized cucumbers just wouldn’t do..even if you cut them up. Try getting gherkins at a farmers market when they are in season. Another thing you will need is a big glass preserving jar (make sure the glass is thick) and a large pot. And of course put any spices you like. Cardamom gives it an extra kick.


  • Water – 1 litre
  • Coarse sea salt – 4 full tbs
  • Sugar – 2 full tbs
  • White vinegar(6%) – 2 tbs
  • Garlic cloves (peeled,whole) – 4
  • Bay leaves – 2
  • Black pepper corns – 4
  • Corriander seeds – 2tsp
  • Dried dill – a bunch
  • Celery leaves – a few
  1. Wash your gherkins or cherry tomatoes (choose how many you want to pickle yourself).
  2. Put cold water, salt, sugar and vinegar into a large pot and bring to a boil.
  3. Put the gherkins (or tomatoes) into the jar together with the herbs and pepper; pour the hot brine over them and close the jar (not too tightly).
  4. Put the jar in a warm place for 3/4 days (the longer you leave them out, the stronger they will taste), transfer it into your fridge after that.

They are ready! Enjoy them after taking a shot of the best quality vodka (preferably out of a slender crystal liqueur glass, with some salmon and rye bread on the table, so you look and feel like a decadent intellectual from the 1920s, not an alky)


I have been wanting to transcribe and post this typed letter I found in my mother’s attic for quite some time now.  I know it will be of interest to my family members, and perhaps of interest to a small portion of the general public interested in feminist / suffragette history.  It was written to my grandmother when she was a young woman who had just graduated from a graduate program in interior design in Boston.  Her Aunt Lou was Lou Rogers, AKA Annie Lucasta Rogers, a rather well known suffragette cartoonist living in New York at the time.  (Family lore has it that she adopted the moniker “Lou” after many attempts to have her work published as “Annie” were rebuffed.  The gender neutral name apparently opened more doors.)  I find this letter so moving and inspirational that I just had to share it.  Perhaps part of the magic of it is that relics of Aunt Lou are rare in our family, even though we are a family of hoarders.  We squirrel away every letter and teaspoon and pass it on the future generations.  But as Aunt Annie lived far away in the foreign land of NYC and had no heirs, I had never come across anything of hers.  I have always been intrigued by my great aunt Lou and as such was just tickled to find this.  Remember it was typed, and I have left the typos in place.  It reads as follows:

56 Greenwich Ave

May 14 1925

Dear Lois,

Am very sorry It took me so long to write again.  But I have ad(sic) a most mean and miserable spell of the Grippe, and didn’t cre(sic) whether anybody lived or died, survived or perished.  Now I’ll give you my suggestions about what seems to me might be in the way of a little extension course of your schooling, probably it might be not much else.  One of the very first lessons you have t(sic) learn in making your bigness in the world of business, is how to sell yourself.  There is only one way to do that —nobody can teach you, you have to pitch in and learn by hard experience.  The more you make contacts with people and attempt to get over to them the thing you have to sell the more speedily you’ll get your cue about it.  Now, why don’t you get up a series of short talks on a few of the most practical subjects you can dig out of your training– such as dyeing curtains, painting old furniture, arrangement of rooms etc, even the need, the children have of gay color to live with, sleep with  etc, such things as cost little for most people to experiment with and consequently will catch their attention the minute you speak—-such things as the need of painting the inside of your kettle cupboard a gay color for the heartening effect on yourself, etc,: the need of every woman to surround herself with color, vital, health giving suggestions, like kitchen curtains that have charm etc.  Show how a little dye can make the old ones into a brand new effect. — the effect of this on the tempers of the family– all that sort of thing, and make it ring true and straight home.  Get up a few of these simple talks and hunt out places to give them in Montreal.  Offer to go into the homes of people and give suggestions along these simple and practical lines.  You’ll learn an enormous lot.  Start with your own church.  Have your mother arrange a little tea and launch you.  Never mind at all about the high faluten back ground of your training, such as period furniture and all that.  Go after the every day people who don’t know anything about that and don’t care.

There must be endless opportunities for giving such talks amongst the various women’s organizations up there.  Don’t be afraid to but in and ask to do this..  Don’t expect any fee unless you are called on to do a real job.  Take your pay in solid experience with people and getting your confidence and ideas simplified and ordered in your own mind.  When you start in right where you happen to be on a definite line of work, you never know into what really profitable channels you will land.  I should write out these little speeches, make them not more than two hundred words, and take about a dozen to The City Editor of the big papers there, and tell him you want a chance to wake up the people of Montreal to the possibility of making their homes more attractive.  Tell him what your aim in life is, where you have been studying and any thing else you please. Just convince him you have something to say and its worth while for the people to read.  Now remember these things you put in must be the simplest kind of things, and just as everyday and practical as I told you — kettle cupboards and the effect on the tired busy housewife, of a dingy dreary hole under the sink, the small cost of making the hole into a gay and attractive place to look into.  and all that.  Don’t mind rebuffs.  They don’t count.  What you are after is your own poise and what you learn about different kinds of people.  If you want to write down some of these things and send them to me I will give you prompt criticism.  I am enclosing an article I wrote once for Pictorial Review along this line that may give you some idea of what I mean.  If you are to succeed up to your capacity, you must be able to write, talk, and demonstrate.  If you could make some funny little drawings to go with your little articles– they must not be more than two hundred words– newspapers have very little space, and each article must not have more than one idea.  That is,— and article on “what does your kitchen sink look like Is it shabby , When was it painted last ect.(sic) Draw a funny picture of the way the family approaches the sink before painting, and how they look after.  The simplest kind of little line drawings with ink. that will fit into a column of newspaper space.  If you can get something like that going in a Montreal newspaper– and in the summer time, when they are looking for something fresh and rather light weight, you have a better chance, you’ll surely get yourself an opening of the right sort some where. I mean people give a person who can pull off those stunts credit for brains and business acumen.  Now another thing.  I should go straight to the mangers of the biggest stores there are there, and I should suggest to them that you stage a few talks on the use of their various materials that are suitable for curtain stuffs and chair coverings, paints etc to their women shoppers.  Taking the goods them selves and telling the women how they can make their houses over by a little judicious expenditure.  Tell them what colors go with what and don’t be afraid to say right over and over the simple homely things about the effect on them selves of a fresh charming color.   And how much too bad it is that with all these beautiful fabrics at so little cost we let our interiors be so drab etc.  Bring in the fact that even in this great commer city (new york), the new buildings are being built with glorious color everywhere.  Invite questions from the women, answer their problems.  You should get a small salary  for doing this kind of thing.  The store will think more of you for asking it.  I am sure that if you plan your campaign carefully you will get the managr(sic) of some store on that scheme.  If you could swing the newspaper stuff and the other at the same time it would really be a magnificent stunt.  One would play into the success of the other.  (handwritten here, and underlined in pencil)I’d go to the newspaper first)

Tell the manager frankly who you are what your training has been and what you are after.  Make him feel that you are genuinely interested in seeing women educated to the value of more charm in their homes etc.  Have ready for him to read a typed set of headings on your talks.  Before you do this, look over the store and make up your mind what the possibilities are in his goods, so that you can say, now this piece f(sic) calico, or that kind of material that you have in such and such a department could be, and should be brought to t(sic) special attention of shoppers.  Take his furniture department and look it over.  Offer to give a talk on furniture and what kind are fitted for what etc.  There are several good commercial reasons whgy(sic) he should fall for this kind of thing.  He has to be doing new things all the time to increase his trade, nd(sic) this is a live interesting thing, that ties up the interests of the housewife to his goods etc.  I am suggesting this kind of a campaign right now, Lois, because you have a home to live in and don’t really have to worry this summer about your food and a roof, which may be your lot after a while.  If you make a determined try out along these lines this summer, butting in with a grin where ever you can see the least possibility for a chance to demonstrate what you have learned and get new information for yourself by handling the practical problems that show up, you will come out of the summer with a solid body of experience that will stand you in splendid stead, and there is a strong possibility that by the time you are ready to come to New York you may have established a connection there in Montreal that will help you enormously in your fight down here.  The greatest quality in the whole world is the ability to dig into the conditions immediately around you and make people, things, events come your way  If you can do that, you will get to the top and nothing can stop you.

You knew didn’t you that Justine, was refused entrance to the University of New Hampshire, because she hadn’t the proper fit  She would not take their refusal, and hung on to their coat tails until they finally let her in.  She finally argued them off their feet.  Now that was sheer grit and personality.  She was afraid of nothing.

Its the kind of stuff that success is made of.  and you have it.  So go back home with your jaw wagging.  I remember I thought when I started in to draw that I should get to doing big political cartoons the first thing.  I soon discovered that I should have to do common ordinary joke stuff before I got a chance at the big things.  I had to do what offered and watch my chance, and then get pounded over and over until my own brain and feeling and skill was ripe enough to be worth much to anybody.

You have to learn like all the rest of us, that there are a whole lot of experienced people ahead of you greedily snatching at every job along your line that there is.  You’ve got to be ready to pick up pins and watch for your foothold around or over or under the other fellow.  It will certainly come.

Now don’t let anybody laugh you into feeling that since you have trained yourself for a grand job, all this is beneath you.  or any other look-in that seems very far from what you are after is solid experience in handling yourself amongst people and business.

If, you can dig up a single thing out of this campaign I half way mapped for you which will lead toward New York this fall it will be great.  Remember you never can tell what may come out of this by way of connection that may mean big things for you.

I would try out a radio station also, and see if you can’t get a chance to talk over that.  Be sure to have definite stuff to show these people.  Have your plan you present pretty clear cut and direct and in good form, so that they can easily see what you are driving at.  You’ll find that you will build up some fine speeches.  What pople(sic) say to you make material.  The questions they ask and the answers you have to give off hand gives you real stuff.

Well, I hope this idea sounds good to you.  It will certainly keep you busy.  If you go at it with your usual gusto you are bound to win out.  Write to me what you think of it.


with love


I think Aunt Lou must have been pretty disappointed when she did not go to New York, but got married and moved to Winchester, MA instead.  Her romance with my grandfather started to heat up right around the time this letter was written.  I can’t help but wonder what would have become of Lois had she taken her Aunt’s advice instead.   We shall never know of course.  And I certainly wouldn’t be here to wonder about it if she had.  So there you have it.

knitting for kids

January 31, 2010

The thing about knitting for kids is, I always hesitate because I know they will grow out of the thing in a couple of years.  As much as my daughter really does appreciate the things I make her, and she even has a little sister to carrythe torch, it still smarts to put all that into something that will be too small in the near future.

So I was very happy with these little wrist warmers I came up with.

The 5 year old wanted me to knit her a pair of mittens, since the ones I made for her 2 years ago are now too small. I thought it would be a good idea to try a pair of ribbed wrist warmers. I knit them just a tad too big for her but the ribbing makes them fit perfectly. And now she can wear them for years before she grows out of them. WIN, WIN.

I made a little nap blanket for the 5-year old to bring to preschool with her.  I found some great lavender chenille that I planned to back with a printed flannel.

When I started sewing I always used to skip pre-washing.  I didn’t really think it made that much of a difference.  But it really does.  Especially when you are working with 2 fabrics that behave very differently.  I had the fabric store cut both of these fabrics to be the same size.  I washed and dried them before stitching them together because I knew that one would shrink more than the other.  I really didn’t realize how much more, but take a look for yourself.  (Sorry for the terrible photography.  My camera doesn’t like night time)

The picture above is the crazy amount of lint that the piece of chenille released in the dryer.  It was rather beastly.

So after all that, it was quite easy to stitch the 2 pieces together to make a very nice, cozy nap blanket for school.  Check it out…

Rainbow cake

January 16, 2010

The older daughter had her birthday this month, she turned 5!  She had been telling me for MONTHS that she wanted a cake with roses made of frosting.  So I had been watching the youtube cake ladies show me how to make roses, and getting up my courage to attempt one myself, when I was SAVED at the last minute!  I started showing her cakes on the internet, to get her reaction, and she saw some cakes with rainbows on them that really got her excited.  So we looked at more cakes and she decided she wanted hers to look like this one over at the Spicy Skillet.  Looked do-able!  And the little flowers would serve as a reasonable substitute for roses!  Hooray!

On our journey through the land of rainbow cakes we also spotted this one at Whatever.  Looked very good!  Kind of intimidating…. all that baking, all those bowls…. all the food coloring.  Oy.  Looked very fun but I was concerned about handing a 5 year old a slice of cake 7 inches tall.

THEN… My husband told me about this video from the New York Times.  A very inspiring glimpse into some old school baking.  These ladies and their pancake-thin layers of cake just about blew my mind.

So.   Here is the cake I came up with.  Overall, it was a big hit.  She told me “mommy, I want you to make me the exact same cake next year!”  So I guess she liked it!

I started out by just making a regular cake batter.  I used the white cake recipe I found on epicurious.

Then separate the batter into 5 bowls.

Add food coloring.  I used gel food coloring from Wilton to get really vibrant color.

Spread the cake batter really thin, about the thickness of a pancake.  I sprayed the pans with non-stick spray and lined them with parchment, and then sprayed that too.  This is critical to making such thin layers that will release from the pan without tearing.

Each layer only needs to bake about 10 minutes.  I only had 3 pans so I had to bake them in 2 batches.

Apply a crumb coat, let it cool, then go back in with more icing.  I used a buttercream.

I used the leftover batter to make a batch of cupcakes for school.  I used one spoonful of each color batter per cup.  It made a nice layered effect, too.

Think with your hands

October 29, 2009

Just a quick link.  I love Ted in general, it’s such an interesting site to troll around on.  This lecture by Tim Brown hit a few chords with me.  I love the phrase “think with your hands”.  I have certainly found that in my work.  I can sit and think myself in circles, but it is not until I actually start working in 3 dimensional space that the process starts to really start chugging along.

I do think it is a bit problematic, however, to promote this creative work = play meme.  Too much of that gets misunderstood by the non-creative population, who add it to their “creatives don’t ACTUALLY do any work” file in their head.  I think what Brown is actually getting at, here, though, is that the play approach allows you to do MORE work, and achieve better results.

Check it out…

More pickles.

October 28, 2009

I’ve been so busy making pickles that I have had no time for blogging!  My pantry shelves are overflowing and I’ve spent way too much money on canning jars.  It’s a problem.

Just kidding.  The truth is that sometimes my life gets whirling away and my internet life suffers for a while.  Which I think is OK.  I’m sorry if I have disappointed anyone.  But I’m quite sure it will happen again sometime.  Usually in summer.

But… getting back to pickles!  I have a recipe for pickled pears that I got out of my trusty Joy of Pickling book by Linda Zeidrich.  And have been meaning to post it for months now.  (Sorry Abby)  so here goes.  Hopefully not to late.  there are still pears out there right?  Here goes:

Pickled Pears

4 3″ cinnamon sticks

2 tbs whole cloves

1 1″ piece fresh ginger, sliced thin

3 c water

2 c distilled white vinegar or white wine vinegar

4 c sugar

6 lb pears, peeled.  (I like to cut them in quarters and remove the core.)

1: Tie the dry spices and ginger in a spice bag or piece of cheesecloth.  In a large, nonreactive pot, combine the water, vinegar, and sugar, and add the spice bag.  Bring the syrup to a boil, stirring ot dissolve the sugar, then reduce the heat.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Add a single layer of pears and cook them gently until they are just tender, about 5-25 min, depending on size.

2: Transfer the pears to quart or pint jars and cook the rest in the same manner.  When all the pears are cooked, pour the hot pickling liquid over them, leaving 1/4 ” headspace.  Close the jars and process in a hot bath for 15 minutes.

3: Store in a cool, dry place.

note: when I purged my pantry shelves of all the old pickles, I kept these.  They are still yummy one year later.   And with all that sugar, vinegar, and heat, it is no wonder.

Putting up pickles.

August 25, 2009

It’s the height of summer!  My garden is producing cucumbers and tomatoes like wildfire.  I love taking some time out to preserve the bounty of summer.  Cucumbers are my favorite thing to preserve, but I also can pears from our pear tree, and make Quince jam from the Quince bushes that were here when I bought the house 10 years ago.

My husband and I have been pickling for a few years now, and are still getting the hang of it.  There certainly is a learning curve to produce pickles that are not soft and will keep a few months.  Our favorite book on the subject is The Joy of Pickling by Linda Zeidrich. This year I am taking to heart her admonition that “Vinegar is not embalming fluid” and throwing out all the pickles from previous years.  I don’t know why I let old jars of pickles stack up but I resolve not to do it anymore.  I’m also resolved to get all our pickles consumed by us and our friends and neighbors by spring of next year.  The point of canning is to prolong the harvest, and enjoy your garden veggies through the winter.  When spring comes I will be ready to eat fresh again!

Here’s a pic of this year’s crop so far.  I’ve made pickle relish, olive oil pickles, dill pickles, and some cornishons I am very excited to try in a couple weeks when they are fully pickled.  I put up a batch of 14 pounds of fermented pickles in a crock and they all ended up in the compost.  I just can’t get the hang of fermenting pickles.  They always taste awful. I made the dutch lunch spears and LOVE them.  I made a batch of four quarts, gave 2 away, and am almost through the last jar.  I’ll probably make more next week.  They are refrigerator pickles, ready in only a week and last a few months in the fridge.  Also pictured are the quince jam and pickled pears from last year.  The fruit seems to last longer but I promise to throw them out before I harvest this year’s pears and quince!

I am switching over from my ball jars to glass jars with rubber rings.  I’m concerned because the dome lids on Kerr or Ball jars contain BPA, which releases nasty stuff into my home-grown produce when heated.  I do still have an inventory of these jars, and use them when cold-packing pickles.  Anything that calls for hot pack I will use my Weck jars. The only trouble I have with those is that the jars are so beautiful I am hesitant to give them away!

I have also been using some old style ball jars with rubber rings and glass tops.  They seem to work fine but I am a little suspicious of the rubber rings, as they are made by the same company that makes the BPA dome lids.



Summer Break!

August 1, 2009

We are all going away to Maine for a while. We will be far away from computers. So…. see you in the fall!


July 19, 2009

Recently we paid a visit to the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, Maine.  The park is set up to permanently house animals that can not survive in the wild due to injury or human intervention of some sort or another.  It’s a pretty interesting place.  Not exactly a zoo, but close.  It is greeat to see the wild animals that co-exist with us up there in the Maine woods when we are there for the summer.

The girls both had a great time, but the main attraction for the 1 year old were the big birds.  There were haws and eagles and owls, and she called them all “wowls”.  I taught her the baby sign for owls which she enthusiastically showed back.  And for the following week, she was constantly saying “wowl!” and putting her hands up next to her head in her version of the sign. We all just about died form the cuteness.

When we got home to RI I realized I didn’t have any owl toys.  NOT ONE.  I had a copy of owl babies, which frightens the 4 year old to this day.  Which is probably why we have no other owls around.  This situation had to be remedied quickly as the 1 year old was desperate to point at owls and tell me about them.

I recruited the 4 year old to make me a couple of drawings of owls.  She did a great job, and I was able to make a sewing pattern from the drawing to create a pair of “sister wowls” in under an hour.  Basically I just added an extra inch to the drawing that she made.  (1″ for seam allowance, 1″ for depth) and cut approximations of the shapes she drew for the eyes and feet.  For the main fabric I used an old wool shirt of my husbands that had been shrunk and felted from too many accidental trips through the washer.  The four year old picked out the fabric for the eyes, beak, and legs.  For the legs I used a double thickness of decorator canvas from my scrap box.  The legs need a fabric with a bit of body.  If I were to do it again I might use stitch witchery to attach the eyes to the body before top-stitching them down. But at the time I couldn’t be bothered to drive down the street to fetch it from my studio.  So the eyes are a little wiggly.  But the girls don’t care.  The sister Wowls are very popular and seeing a Original wowl artworkWowls eye and beak shapestracing the wowl footwowl legStitching wowl eyes

lot of play time.

zigzag the wowls legs edges.

pin the legs before stitching togetherWowl - unstuffed.Sister Wowls