Sunday, August 25, 2013

Bumper Crop of Tomatoes and Late Summer Veggies? Roast Them!

This is one of those "occasional detours" I reference in the description of this blog.  As the signs of autumn begin to show themselves (some leaves on the trees in our neighborhood are all ready turning color), the tomatoes, squash, and other late summer vegetables are really starting to come in.

Chile pepper waiting to turn red.


Italian flat green beans

Waiting for these sweet bell peppers to turn red before I pick them.
The onions have been harvested and are drying in the garage.

Roma tomatoes

A squash blossom -- a promise of more zucchini to come.

Yellow summer squash hiding among the leaves.
A medley of fresh herbs -- sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram.

Every day, I pick yet another basket full of tomatoes.

What to do with all this good stuff?  If you are like me, and you don't like having to peel and seed tomatoes to cook with them, and you don't have hours to spend with lots of steps, then this recipe is for you.  I created this recipe as an easy way to make something yummy out of the overload of late summer veggies.  I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but it is wonderful!  Even my husband (not a big fan of vegetables) thinks it is great.  He likes the combination of flavors.

Roasted Summer Squash, Tomatoes, and Green Beans

2-3 medium-size yellow summer squash or zucchini (about 10 inches long) - halved length-wise and then sliced into 1/4 inch slices (half-rounds)

1 large onion - thinly sliced and then slices quartered and separated

About 6-8 small to medium ripe tomatoes - cored and cut into wedges (I used a mix of plum and regular)

2 handfuls of green beans (snap off the stem end/ if large, break in half)

2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed through a garlic press

5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

salt (to taste)

pepper (to taste

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  

Spray the bottom part of a broiler pan (top rack portion removed) with cooking spray (you could use some other type of shallow roasting pan -- I found the broiler pan to be the perfect size to allow me to spread the veggies out).  Thoroughly stir all of the ingredients, except the cheese, together in the prepared pan.  Roast uncovered in the oven for 40 minutes, until the vegetables reach their desired tenderness.  Stir half way through the cooking time.

After removing from the oven, stir in the parmesan cheese and serve.

In addition to creating this recipe for Roasted Summer Squash, Tomatoes, and Green Beans, I also found a fantastic, extremely easy recipe for making tomato sauce to use up even more of my tomatoes: Slow Roasted Plum Tomato Sauce. It's from the cooking blog, Cuizoo. Be sure to follow the link and check it out. Like my roasted veggie recipe, this Cuizoo recipe does not require you to peel or seed the tomatoes.  It takes only one pan, and although it has a long cooking time, it requires very little time or effort from you. You just throw it together, put it in the oven, and forget about it for several hours (other than pulling it out to stir it a few times). The taste is amazing -- it has character, zest and depth.  I think it may be my new favorite pasta sauce.  And the recipe makes enough that you can eat some for dinner and still have plenty to freeze each time you make it.

As the summer winds down and the harvest comes in, I am not quite ready to give up gardening.  I've planted a second crop of green beans, some broccolini, some cauliflower, more kale and lettuces.

The new bean plants are doing well.

The stems on this Russian kale will become more purple as it grows.
So, I will still have a couple of months of fresh-from-the-garden produce.

If you try these recipes, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.  I'd also like to hear about any ideas you have for using bumper crops of summer veggies.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Nutty for Acorns - Crocheted Acorn Jewelry, That Is

Some of you may have seen my post last autumn when I used some acorn caps I found in my neighborhood to create some pretty unique earrings.  This year, I am already finding acorn caps, as I go out for my daily walk with the pugs.  Maybe its the very cool nights we've been having (it actually went down into the 40s earlier this week), but some hints of autumn are already beginning to insinuate themselves into the landscape.  Our ash tree (we've been able to save it from the Emerald Ash Borer that decimated the ash population in our area) is even beginning to show a few yellow leaves.

Anyway, I decided, once again, to try using acorn caps in my jewelry creations.  This year, I created necklaces and earrings that incorporate the acorn itself, rather than using the cap to create some other form as I did last year.  This time, I crocheted little acorn nuts to take the place of the natural nut, and then secured them into the caps using an adhesive (E6000).  I painted the caps with a metallic acrylic paint, and secured a small gold bead cap with a loop on it at the stem area to use as a means of attaching the acorns to earrings and necklaces.

Here are some photos of what I've come up with so far.

On this pair of earrings, I used a light copper color cord and  pumpkin-colored metallic thread.

I used an extra large acorn cap that I found to make this necklace, which matches well with the earrings above. I added a very thin, bronze metallic thread to the mix in crocheting the acorn.  The necklace was crocheted using gold thread and copper metallic thread, embellished with seed beads.

You can get a bit better view of the chain stitches in this shot.

These acorns were crocheted with olive green cord and another shade of green thread with the barest hint of metallic gold in it.

This pair of acorns I crocheted using brown, permanently-colored, copper wire.

I found a stem with two caps jutting out from it at angles!  I used this one to make a necklace.  It matches quite well with the brown wire earrings (above), but the acorns were crocheted using mahogany cord and gold metallic thread.

I used gold plated chain, coffee-colored cotton cord  and the mahogany nylon cord embellished with  beads, and an antique gold-plated leaf toggle clasp to complete the necklace.
As you can see, for one pair of earrings, I used wire (30 gauge).  Quite frankly, this was difficult to do! Crocheting stitches this small and this tight, and getting the stitches to retain their shape as you try to go into them on the next round is hard on the eyes and the fingers.  I preferred working with the nylon cord (I like C-Lon Beading Cord or C-Lon Tex 135 Cord) /metallic thread combination that I used on the others.  The nylon cord is stiff enough and the stitches small and tight enough, that the acorns retain their shape very well.

Here is a very general pattern for making the crocheted acorns -- but you will need to tweak it depending on the size of your acorn caps and the type of fiber or wire you use.  I used a US size 4 steel hook.

Crocheted Acorn for Natural Acorn Cap (crocheted in rounds)

Chain 16.  Join with slip stitch to form a ring.

Round 1 - Chain 1. Make one single crochet (sc) in each chain.  Join the last sc to the first sc with a slip stitch.

Rounds 2-4 - Chain 1.  Make one single crochet in each stitch around.  (16 sc total)  Join the last sc to the first sc in the round with a slip stitch.

Round 5 - Chain 1. [Make one single crochet in each of the first two stitches.  Single crochet two together (sc2tog) over next 2 stitches] 4 times. Join last stitch of the round to the first sc with a slip stitch.

After Round 5 - here it gets a little more improvisational and it is somewhat a matter of just getting it to look the way you want it to -- Chain 1, sc2tog over next 2 stitches.  Continue to do this (you will be essentially going in a spiral now, rather than a round, bringing the work to a point) until you only have a couple of stitches left. slip stitch them together to close the acorn.

I would love to see photos, if you decide to try this.  Just post a link or insert the photo in a comment.  I would also be interested in hearing what you think of this idea.

Happy crocheting!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Brand New Bag

In my last post, I mentioned a purse I was working on.  Actually, over the past three weeks, I've been sort of simultaneously working on three new handbags.  I've been trying out some new techniques, new designs, new label ideas, new handle and strap ideas.  It's been time consuming, but I am happy with the results and I've learned some things about handbag construction that I can use in future projects.

I tried out two variations of a new design that I've named the Petal Burst Purse.  I based it on a round, crocheted flower pillow pattern that I found on the Attic 24 blog.  I tweaked the design a bit and squared it off .  It is a cross-body strap bag, a little over seven-inches square. Both variations are fully lined.

This one, I did in a sock-weight yarn with jewel-tone bright, self-striping colors.

This second one I did in a heavier, thick and thin, wool blend yarn. The colors are more muted -- they aren't really pastels, but remind me of the shades in a bucket of sidewalk chalk.

One of the things that I experimented with in making these bags was the lining construction.  I wanted something with more body than just a plain, single piece of fabric lining.  I also wanted the right side of the fabric to be on the inside of the bag, but also on the outside of the lining, so that where it peeks through the crochet, it looks good.  What I ended up doing was cutting two of each lining piece.  I bonded medium weight, iron-on interfacing to the wrong side of one of each of the lining pieces.  I put the second lining pieces over those with the interfacing, with the wrong-side of the fabric-only pieces against the interfaced-side of the first pieces -- sort of  a sandwich, with the interfacing in between.  I then used each set of lining pieces as though it were as single piece of cloth.  This achieved the effect of a fabric with two right sides, and gave a nice sturdy body to the lining.

Here is the assembled lining of the chalky colors Petal Burst Bag before I inserted it and sewed it into the purse.

As you can see, I also double-folded the edge of the lining and stitched it down, so there is no danger of the edge fraying once sewn into the crocheted outer bag.

Here you can see the linings, after they've been hand sewn into each of the bags.  Notice my new Gossamer Tangles label, which I created by purchasing printable silk fabric sheets with iron-on backing.  I designed the labels on my computer, printed them out, cut them out, and ironed them in.

As you've probably noticed, I also decided to sew the zippers onto the outside of the bags. (I saw this idea used by Erika Knight, on a clutch featured in her book Simple Crocheting: A Complete How-to-Crochet Workshop with 20 Projects (2012).) I wanted the zipper to become part of the overall visual expression of the purses, so I chose zipper colors that matched one of the colors in the yarn in each bag and sewed them on using embroidering floss in another color picked up from the shades in the yarns.

The one other thing that I tried with these bags was a new strap design.  I wanted a crocheted strap that would be strong enough and thick enough that it would not stretch unreasonably from the weight of a full purse.  After making a string of chain stitches of sufficient length, I double-crocheted in each chain then turned at the end of the row, and for the next row, I double crocheted in the front loop only of each stitch all the way across.  When I reached the end of the second row of double crochets, I simply folded the piece in half, so the back loops of the first row of double crochets formed one edge of the strap.  Then I slip stitched along the open edge.  I was very happy with the result.  This strap will not stretch and lose its shape when the bag is full.

The other hand bag that I made is more of a tote style purse.

It is crocheted in a pattern called the Catherine Wheel stitch.

The bag has a single loop button closure and is roughly fifteen inches long, nine inches deep, and three inches across.

The yarn I used is a cotton angora blend -- very soft with just a bit of fuzziness to it.

The bag has a distinct, flat bottom piece, which made creating a lining a challenge, but I used the same technique that I used for the Petal Burst Bags -- using the interfacing, and creating a multi-layered fabric with two right sides.

As you see in the photos, I decided to used leather handles for this tote.  I played around with different ways to attach them, and in the end, decided that the best option was to sew them on with heavy-duty thread, stitching through all layers of the bag, and providing further security by stitching into felt circles in the lining.  I then covered the thread with a layer of the same yarn that I used to make the body of the bag.  Since the yarn covering is also stitched through the crocheted outer bag, it is yet another means of making sure the handles are securely attached.

I think now that I've finished these handbags, I am ready to go back to making jewelry for a while.  Maybe a necklace ....  As I've said before, I never like to make the same thing twice.  But I will definitely apply some of the techniques I worked out in making these bags when I return to making purses again.