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October 24, 2012

Dirty Art Show?

One of my fellow Etsy Team Columbus leaders is an organizer for an event at local art space Wild Goose Creative which will feature a screening of Dirt! an acclaimed indie documentary, followed by a discussion forum, a root-vegetable cook-off, and a themed art show.

Get a sneak peak at the dirty art by Etsy Team Columbus artists, including my own work, over at this post I wrote for the ETC blog.

Close-up of part of "Grounded" a soil-centered macro illustration in graphite, watercolor, colored pencils and ink.

October 10, 2012

Columbus: Past, Present, and Future Features Local Authors, Artists


Casey McCarty with Columbus: Past, Present, and Future.  This month this title has broken into the top 100 of both the anthology and short story categories at Amazon.com.

It's 1898 and a patient at the Central Ohio Lunatic Asylum knows the truth about an infamous London crime.   Will a young psychiatrist and his journalist friend expose the plot or become another loose end secured by the Fixer, a mercenary who has kept the dirty secrets of corrupt politicians for a decade?

You can find out in the short story version of my richly-researched historical fiction tale in the new anthology Columbus: Past, Present & Future.  This version only showcases the central plot, however, and readers can expect the full-length novel next year!

A perfect toast to Columbus’ bicentennial, the anthology offers fiction set in or around Columbus from 200 years in our past to 200 years in our future.  Part of our proceeds support the Columbus Historical Society in preserving our rich local heritage.  For my piece I scoured the local history sections of our metro libraries to provide accurate settings, down to the local pub my main characters frequent.  I continue to be amazed at just how much local history I knew nothing about. 

The cemetery of the Central Ohio Lunatic Asylum, around which my story is set,  is open to the public today, as well as the nearby Training Institute of Central Ohio cemetery with its chilling “specimens” grave markers as well as hundreds simply engraved with patient numbers.  The Central Ohio Lunatic Asylum burned completely to the ground in its original incarnation, killing dozens.  Plagued with stories of primitive psychiatric treatments and deadly disease outbreaks, the rebuilt version was one of the largest in the region.  You don’t have to dig too deeply to find something interesting in our local history!

Columbus: Past, Present & Future  features 23 Ohio authors and original illustrative art and photography, with a forward written by Mayor Coleman.  It’s locally published and available at local boutiques, coffee shops, online, and as an eBook on Amazon.  This is a great way to support local writers and authors and celebrate in our bicentennial!

For more information about the publishing group, Columbus Creative Cooperative or to order, please visit HERE.

June 25, 2012

Polish-Asian Fusion!?

It must be recipe Monday, because I have another to share with you!  This was a blissful experiment that started by Googling "what to serve with kielbasa."  I had thawed a Polish kielbasa for dinner, but I was looking for something interesting to serve it with besides the ordinary potato or beans.  In scrolling through side dish suggestions I read the phrase "browned with brown sugar" and I stopped instantly... ideas!  The brown sugar instantly reminded me of the very ripe pineapple that's been living on my counter for several days (that I keep passing saying to myself, 'I really need to use this?').


But before I embarked on the main part of the dish, I wanted to make some of those long, skinny, crunchy breadsticks.  I used this recipe for Crisp Rosemary Breadsticks but scaled down the recipe to a serving size of 12, and then modified as necessary.  I required a bit more flour than the calculated ratio called for, and I also added more rosemary and a generous dash of paprika to the flour,  I brushed melted butter and sprinkled on parmesan cheese and some sea salt before baking.  The result was a lovely paprika-toned breadstick which was aromatic and flavorful.

While my dough was rising, I did the prep-work for the rest of the dish.   I had no brown sugar, so I called up one of my favorite unexpected sweeteners--dark molasses.  To substitute brown sugar, you can mix molasses with plain granulated sugar, stirring it up in a little bowl or ramekin until the sugar absorbs the molasses and it's more or less sugary not liquid. I used about a teaspoon of molasses and a couple tablespoons of sugar.  I prefer dark molasses for its unique and bold flavor, but light molasses will do as well.  To this sugary mixture, I added a generous portion of ground ginger, to taste, again mixing with a fork.

I prepped my pineapple, which was quite ripe and so very sweet and tender.  I chopped it finely after removing the core.  If you need help with this, there are many resources online, such as at this link from the Casual Kitchen.  Likewise, I sliced the thawed (already fully cooked) kielbasa and quartered the slices.  I removed any skin that was hanging off the pieces.  My dog appreciated that!

Next, I sliced some serrano peppers to punch up the heat on this otherwise sweet dish.  I like it spicy, so I kept most of the seeds with them.  The serranos we grew this year possibly cross-pollinated with a hotter pepper, and so they are really, really hot.  If you use a hot pepper, don't forget to clean your cutting board (and your hands) really well, lest you transfer that flavor to other things (or rub your eyes! Ouch!).

I collected some thyme, mint, and parsley from the garden, rinsed and chopped it (reserving a bit for garnish).

Think about your timing for a moment.  I knew I was making some tri-colored rotini to go with the kielbasa mix, so I knew it would be several minutes to boil water and about 7 more to cook al dente.  The breadsticks would have to rise 45 minutes then bake 20-25 minutes.  I like to have my prepped ingredients ready and waiting for me (cooking show style!) so I don't run into unexpected delays.  I start on the thing that is going to be most time consuming (obviously) which is usually a bread item, and do my prep work while that's rising.

To heat up the kielbasa, I fired up the cast-iron skillet with a little olive oil to medium-high.  Into a hot pan, I added the kielbasa, pineapple (only a couple handfuls of the chopped pineapple), and molasses-sugar-ginger mix.  These hit the hot pan and wonderful things started to happen:  the pineapple caramelizes, the sugar & molasses "melt" and everything releases a wonderful aroma and browns a bit.  I immediately turned the heat to the lowest setting, and added the peppers and toasted sesame.  The mix can sit on low for a pretty long time in the cast-iron skillet, with occasional stirring.  This helps bring out the pepper and the subtle flavors of the ginger and sesame, and prevents the pineapple and sugars from scorching. Don't add the chopped herbs until you're within 5 minutes or so of serving, because you don't want them to loose color and become totally limp.

When the pasta is al dente, drain, and add to the skillet with the rest of the goodies, and stir gently to avoid breaking up your pasta.  The pan sauce that's been forming with the meat and pineapple juices will be all you need to wet the pasta.  Add any more herbs, salt, sesame, or pepper to taste.  Plate and garnish, and enjoy!

Don't let the gingery sweet warmth of the essentially grilled pineapple fool you--right behind that first Hawaiian-pizza-reminiscent bite comes the spicy heat!  And how often do you get to pair Polish with Asian-inspired ingredients?

Garden Fresh Eats

 Our urban garden is already producing an abundance of fresh romaine and artisan lettuces, many herbs, peas, and peppers.  We are anxiously awaiting the ripening of the dozens upon dozens of green tomatoes and tomatillos of numerous types, broccoli, celery, summer squash, cucumber, and strawberries, but for now, all the fixings of a good fresh salad are still available.

Something about the summer heat makes cool salads all the more appealing.  My daughter and I like to walk along the garden, large colander in hand, picking out some lettuce and fresh herbs.  Ideally, it's best to harvest in the cool early morning or evening, but if I'm picking mid-day in the heat, I only take whatever I want to eat just-then for ultimate freshness and to disrupt the plant as little as possible.  I rinse the greens in cold water immediately, to help perk up heat-wilted lettuce leaves, then tear up the lettuce and basil leaves, mixing the fresh leafy herbs right in with the lettuce.  For this salad I used basil and lemon thyme.

I like to add fresh herbs right in with the greens because it's a great flavorful addition, and I don't have to add more calorie-filled options to get a complex flavor.  I also added some orange and yellow sweet peppers, sliced grape tomatoes, and a spoonful of feta, with a drizzle of Greek vinaigrette.  Instead of croutons or a slice of bread, I used a warm, crispy tortilla bowl.

These are so easy to make and they really jazz up a simple salad!  For even more flavor, you can use specialty tortillas like whole wheat, spinach, or roasted red pepper.  Preheat your oven to 425, and preheat a couple ceramic or oven-safe bowls or ramekins placed upside down on a cookie tray.  Brush your tortillas on both sides with a little bit of olive oil, and sprinkle on a spice of choice (I used paprika) and a pinch of salt.  When your oven and ramekins are pre-heated, brush the top (the bottom of the bowls) with a little olive oil and lay your tortillas over them, gently shaping them around the bowls, pinching here and there to secure the bowl shape.  Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden crispy brown.  Let them cool a bit, then gently pull them off the ramekins.  Wait until you're ready to eat to fill with the greens, as you don't want the salad to wilt with the heat of the tortillas.

Enjoy!

June 11, 2012

Nothing says "I'm hot" like a plasma cutter!

Nothing says "I'm hot" than a plasma cutter!  Making recycled garden art at the Ladies' Welding class at the Columbus Idea Foundry, Columbus, Ohio.   Photos/graphics: Casey McCarty
Recently I started volunteering with the Columbus Idea Foundry, which is a brilliant collective workshop space in which community artisans, students, and hobbyists can partake of an exciting plethora of tools: from welding to wood shop, metal work, 3D printing, CNC, laser cutting and etching, a dark room, glass shop, blacksmithing and much more.

Inside, you'll find dozens of creative entrepreneurs that call the CIF home, either as their full-time gig or their side businesses.  Artisans make everything from all natural handmade wooden children's toys at Little Alouette (visit their site here) to recycled metal artist Allison Meade's furniture and sculpture creations ot Old Soul Studio (check her out here).  There's the fun meets functional small business solution specialists at ReFab (visit their site here) who have designed things such as pop up store POS and display sets, signage, bamboo laptop trays, iPad mounts and more.  The in-house SignForge can handle all kinds of printing and banner needs, and many, many more (see a list of current businesses here).


No matter what your interest, you can find classes that will help you get started:  take a welding/plasma cutter class (you can even take a ladies' only version with Allison), bladesmithing, create dichroic glass jewelry, stained glass, black & white, tabletop or cyanotype photography, learn how to cast bronze or pewter, learn how to laser cut wood or laser etch glass and metal, and much more (see a complete class listing here).

There's always something going on and something being made. Learn more at www.columbusideafoundry.com.  It's easy to come check the place out--we've recently organized some volunteer-run open hours where perspective members can learn more and take a tour.  We're at 1158 Corrugated Way, Columbus OH 43201.  You can email cifscheduling@gmail.com for the current week's open hours, or call 614-299-IDEA. 



June 1, 2012

Mint-Melon Soup-- Modern Israeli Cooking Recipe Adaptation #2


In my last post, I mentioned the cookbook and travelogue The Foods of Israel Today. (Read the last article HERE)  I'd like to share another successful adaptation of a recipe for a cold melon soup I made!

The original recipe is shared with author Joan Nathan by Jerusalem Theater art director Maya Bailey, and it has both Greek and Israeli versions, with the use of an anise-infused grape-based liqueur called ouzo (Greek) or arrack (Israeli).  Of course, I have access to neither.

The rest of the recipe for this cold soup includes cantaloupe or honeydew melon, sour cream or yogurt, sugar, milk and a mint garnish.

My adaptation ends up being a perfect base for other variations: smoothie, blended with iced green tea, and sorbet.

Making the base:

I coarsely chopped a whole honeydew melon and blended in the food processor with plain yogurt, and a handful of fresh mint, as I wanted mint to take on a central flavor in the dish since I wouldn't be using the anise-flavored liqueur.  To this I added the juice of about half a lime, freshly squeezed. I added a splash of milk, just enough to smooth the texture.  It was plenty sweet from the melon and yogurt, so I did not add any sugar.

I used the food processor for the first couple handfuls of melon with two tablespoons of yogurt to help the blender do its job. My husband got a bit impatient and used the immersion (a.k.a wand or stick) blender to process up the rest of it, but then complained about the foamy consistency caused by all the air bubbles he whipped in there with the immersion blender.  I didn't mind the texture, but that's something to consider when choosing how to process the melon.

In total, I used about one cup of yogurt.  This is double the amount from the original recipe but I used only a fraction of the milk, so I guess it's your preference if you'd like it thinner (more milk) or slightly thicker (more yogurt).  Plus in the original recipe, yogurt was the substitution with sour cream being the preferred ingredient, and I was going for something less tart.

The dish should be refrigerated for a few hours or overnight to let the flavors mingle and to achieve a pleasant temperature.

No-dairy idea:  You could try omitting the yogurt and milk, and use some almond or soy milk instead.  This would preserve the creaminess, without the lactose.  Of course plain yogurt or Greek yogurt has those great probiotics that make this recipe even healthier.  There are non-dairy yogurt alternatives available with the same probiotics but without the dairy.  Ricera (rice-milk based), Whole & Soy Co., Wild Woods Organics, and  Turtle Mountain (coconut milk-based) all make varieties of dairy-free yogurt with probiotics.

Serving Ideas
This is a wonderfully refreshing cold soup, which is more like a dessert soup or a snack than an entree.  It's great when you want a little something sweet and cold.  I served with a lime wedge and a mint sprig for an extra kick.

I discovered that it works in several other permeations too!

Blended with ice, it makes for a great smoothie, or add iced green tea for a less milky but equally refreshing version.

For the iced tea, I prefer about a third of the chilled melon-soup base to 2/3 glass of iced green tea.  I usually make my iced green tea by the cup, because the delicate flavors of green tea do not do well in the fridge for a long time.  Make a cup of hot green tea with two bags instead of one, then swirl around with ice until cold.  You can re-use the double tea bags for another cup, but you don't want to over-steep since green tea bitters easily.  Sweeten, if desired, before you add the ice so the sugar melts properly.  I like cane sugar (like Sugar in the Raw) or agave syrup for this blend.

It also makes a delicious sorbet, and looks very attractive with a pale sea foam green color garnished with a sprig of mint.  To make an "ice box" sorbet, simply interrupt it during freezing about every half-hour or so to stir.  I prefer to do this in a zip-lock bag so I can just squish it up with my fingers.  Continue to freeze and squish until it reaches sorbet consistency.

My husband and I actually preferred it in smoothie form or blended with tea than as just a cold soup (but again, that has to do with Chad not liking the airy texture after he used the immersion blender), and of course, my 4 yr old daughter prefers it in sorbet form (because she thinks she's getting ice cream!).

May 31, 2012

Sephardi Chickpea Soup: Serve Hot or Cold!

I picked up a wonderful book at the library, which is part cookbook, part travelogue:  The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan (2001) in which she shares more than 300 recipes as she makes her way around Israel, stopping in different neighborhoods representing different cultures.  You'll also find anecdotes and personal histories revealed by people young and old as they share backstories behind their passion for food and cooking.  Truly a wonderful read.

I decided to try a chickpea or "hummus soup" from the book.  Intended as a cold, refreshing soup, the original recipe contains simple ingredients in plentiful supply in Israel: chickpeas, lemon, vegetable broth and a garnish of fresh thyme.  The recipe is shared by Haim Cohen, of Turkish-Israeli descent and chef at Keren restaurant in Tel Aviv.

The original recipe is beautiful in it's simplicity:  chickpeas and vegetable broth in a food processor, strained until just the creamy part remains, with a bit of olive oil, lemon and parmesan cheese.

But I wanted to adapt the recipe to a full-bodied soup which could appeal to husband and 4 yr old alike.  While Avi likes hummus with pita, chips, or baby carrots, I didn't think she'd go for the novel texture of a hummus soup.  My adaptation is more recognizable as "soup" but uses the same basic idea, but with the addition of fresh vegetables and plenty of herbs in the soup itself, not just reserved as a garnish.  It still tastes wonderful hot or cold--cold soup can make for a refreshing lunch on a hot afternoon, but generally, Americans, or rather, folks from Ohio, tend to regard soup as solely a hot dish, and can't get past the temperature change.  My adaptation tastes just as good hot too, so no worries hot-only soupers!

I imagine adding your own favorite herbs and veggies would likewise produce a wonderful soup for you, so feel free to experiment.
Adaptation of a Sephardi Chickpea Soup recipe.

The stock:

Instead of vegetable broth, I made a chicken-vegetable stock.  I tossed a couple thighs and drumsticks (thawed) into the crockpot, added chopped celery (2 large stalks), carrots (a large handful of baby carrots, coarsely chopped), onion, bay leaves, and a hearty helping of assorted fresh herbs from our garden (lemon balm, lemon thyme, fennel, and rosemary), peppercorns, a couple generous pinches of salt, and filled up the remaining space with water.  I let this cook on low overnight.  I just rinsed the herbs and tossed them in, I did not chop or pull the leaves off the stems.  These are just to help flavor the stock, and will be removed at the next step.

If you're using dry chickpeas, go ahead and rinse and soak them overnight too.

The next morning, I pulled out the chicken pieces and set them aside.  I then strained the stock so that only the liquid was reserved.  I personally don't like the taste or texture of vegetables which have been stewing like this, so I let Garrett, my dog, feast on chicken-flavored celery and carrots, and discarded the rest of the additions.

This produced about 40 oz of broth.

The soup:


I used canned chickpeas (2 cans) but you could also use dry, but you'll have the extra step of having to boil and cook the chickpeas first before moving on.

Filling up my food processor with several heaping spoonfuls of chickpeas, more fresh herbs (this time: lemon balm, lemon thyme, and mint, just the leaves now), and broth, I blended the mixture until creamy smooth.  Continue until all the chickpeas have been processed.  I poured my batches (since I have a small processor) into a soup kettle as I went, then stirred together, taste tested, and added more salt and pepper and herbs as needed.  I also processed a small handful of baby carrots with the last batch of herbs).

Next, I fired up a saute pan to pre-heat it to quite hot while I sliced some zucchini (I then sliced each ring into quarters).  I added some olive oil to the hot pan, and gently sauted the zucchini.  I removed the skin and bones from my reserved chicken, and coarsely shredded it with my fingers into the saute pan (it's already cooked, but I'm a bit paranoid). Saute until the zucchini is texturally al dente (I like mine still a bit firm).  Then dump the mixture, olive oil and all, into the rest of the soup.  To this I added about a cupful of baby sweet peas.

Stir, taste, add seasoning as needed, stir and taste again.  When you get it "just right" to taste, you're done!  Refrigerate to let the flavors mingle for a few hours (you can eat right away if needed).  I also froze a quart for later, double-bagged in zip-lock style baggies.

I always try to freeze a bag or two of soup or stew when we make it.  Chances are good that we'll grow tired of eating soup before it's all gone, and frozen soup makes for a quick thaw or microwavable lunch down the road.  Freezing some right away is better than waiting to see if you'll eat it all during the week and then freezing the leftovers, because you greatly reduce your chance of freezing bacteria and preserving the fresh taste.

Serving:

You can serve chilled for a refreshing treat on a hot afternoon, or microwave or put in a separate pot just the servings you require to heat.  If you heat and re-heat the whole batch, you'll loose the "al dente" texture of the vegetables and the herbs will fade and discolor, and you'll end up with mushy leftovers that have lost all the original charm of the dish.

Garnish with a sprig of mint or your desired herb, or float some thin lemon slices to serve.  Since I used lemon balm and lemon thyme, my soup retained the citrus vibe of the original recipe, but you could use a splash of lemon juice if you did not have lemony herbs available.

Also note, the original recipe would be classified as a "dairy" dish (it had Parmesan cheese) where as my adaptation would be a "meat" dish (chicken, but no dairy), which would be important if you're keeping Kosher.  For a vegetarian alternative, simply omit chicken from your stock and add more flavorful vegetables such as peppers for full-bodied vegetable broth.



Enjoy!

P.S. In case you're wondering where that cool cobalt hued hemp-wrapped wine bottle flower vase in the first photo came from... Yes!  I made that too!

May 28, 2012

Country Kids' Urban Gardening Adventure

My husband, appropriately, has the green thumb of a country kid, and the drive to work the ground.  Even as a small-town suburban kid, I grew up with a sizable chunk of land, and several thriving gardens, both decorative and vegetable.  When we lived in Richwood, Ohio, Chad put in an impressive garden in our yard, but when we moved back to the city for work (Richwood is over an hour away from Columbus, which made for a grueling and costly commute) the garden space was what Chad missed most.

Chad constructed several large plywood boxes and small beds for our porch area and added to these several pots for a really beautiful container garden.  One of the beds contains a trellis component onto which we're training Chinese wisteria.  The boxed bed portion contains native wildflowers and strawberries.  He made window-box-sized containers in which we initially planted violet tulips and yellow daffodils for the early spring start, but which now house some extra tomato plants.  Other home-made boxes contain pansies and marigolds and other native wildflowers.
The Urban Garden Starts:  photos from our early sprouts, in March, 2012

At Big Lots we purchased a tomato Topsy Turvey on a stand and strawberry and pepper hangers for less than $10 for the three simply because they were last years' models.  We started our herbs and flowers from seed in the grow light we received from a fellow FreeCycler last year--a coat of spray paint in hammered copper for the frame and deep plum for the trays, spruced the fully functional seed starter right up.  From other generous FreeCyclers we've adopted a 6-foot Ficus, a box elder sapling, and most recently, an assortment of heirloom tomato varieties, peppers, broccoli and some other wonderful selections!

Not everything is living on our porch in containers, however.  We reclaimed a neglected plot of former-flower-bed our apartment complex no longer landscapes.  Chad removed the weeds and trash and worked the surprisingly fertile soil into a 60-linear-foot vegetable garden strip, which we hope will produce a bounty of fresh herbs and vegetables plenty enough to share.

Chad had weeded and cleaned up and started to plant an additional rectangular bed, but one un-neighborly neighbor (to put it mildly) decided after it was all cleaned up that he wanted it for his own personal waste receptacle and threatened (drunkenly) that he would kill anything we grew there, so we moved our young veggies to the long bed.  True, that idiot got away with being a bully, but we can't police the garden all the time, and for as much of our own money and time as has gone into this project, we'd be beating our heads against a wall to get into a perpetual squabble with this guy.  Some people are just jerks, you know!

So far, the rest of our neighbors have been respectful of our communal garden, probably because they've seen how much work we (and by we, I mostly mean Chad!) have put into it, and how involved our four-year old daughter, Avi is in planting and watering.  It now features an impressive collection of tomatoes, peppers, squash, peas, lettuce, daikon radishes, many different herbs, broccoli, celery, sunflowers and more.
Our Communal garden well under way, this Memorial weekend, May 27, 2012


Because we're on a budget, a lot of inexpensive innovation has gone into our container garden and our flower-bed vegetable garden.  I'd like to share some of our tips!

Container gardening:

1.  Anything can be a container for a container garden.  Just because it's not a "flower pot" doesn't mean it couldn't be.  We turned two ten-gallon lime-green vinyl yard buckets were drilled and turned into planters for bearded iris and herbs.

2.  Look for rejected pots and containers--free cast offs from FreeCycle or Craigslist, or even useful goodies hiding in the dusty recesses of friends' or family's garages.  Chad grabbed a couple empty garden urns from Chad's mom's garage which now contain rhododendron--she no longer used them.  You can always spruce things up with a good cleaning and a coat of paint!

3.  Make your own!  For about $80 in 1/4-inch plywood, 2X2 boards, and a sheet of lattice, Chad built six beds and boxes, one of which is 3-feet X 6-feet and 10-inches deep, and which features a 4-foot high lattice trellis.  A coat of latex paint ($3 for a gallon, from the "mis-tint" section at Ace Hardware--the customer may have decided they didn't like the color after it was mixed, but the light wheat tone was a perfect neutral for our project) protects from the elements and looks finished.

4.  Save on soil-  for tall containers that house short plants, it's useful to add a filler if you don't need the full height to be potting soil. We recycled old newspaper and wadded up pages into loose balls to fill the bottom of the urn planters and added soil to the top half.

5. Make everything drainable-  Chad drilled drainage holes in all the containers which did not drain on their own.  Homemade wooden boxes are not water-tight, but anything plastic, vinyl or ceramic can probably be drained by drilling small holes in the bottom.  Most herbs and veggies like a good watering after a hot day, but in the off chance you might over-water, or to prevent a wash-out after a summer storm, make it easier on yourself and make everything drain.

6.  Mix and match and move-  Most things transplant well, so if you end up planting plants that just won't get along, feel free to gently dig up and move around.  We started with flowers with flowers and herbs with herbs, and have learned it's better to make pairings based on growing preferences.  Tall and skinny in the back, with short and bushy in the front is a successful mix--we now have herbs living in front of Irises, wild-flowers at top of the big, empty base of the Ficus pot, and have otherwise moved around plants as space and their own growing needs required.

General

1.  Pest control without the chemicals-  a colony of feral city cats butted heads with Chad at the start of the growing season, as they dug in our seedlings and sprayed yucky male cat urine (oh the ammonia! Ew!) all over--killing some of our starts.  But we didn't want to dump a bunch of chemicals all over our plants (if we wanted to eat pesticide, we'd just buy commercial produce!) so we looked into non-chemical alternative.  Our favorites:  No More Squirrel is a brand of all-natural pest repellant made entirely from cinnamon, rosemary, clove and some other plant essential oils which squirrels (and cats) do not like.  You could make your own version with the same essential oils.  Even more effective for the cats:  sprinkle a generous amount of dried red pepper flakes around the top of the soil or mulch.  

2.  Metal cage alternatives-  tomatoes and other vegetables usually require some help standing straight as they grow.  Metal tomato cages get rusty and are not efficient to store in apartment living, but buying them and throwing them out after the season is wasteful, not to mention costly.  An excellent alternative is using bamboo stakes (less than $3 for a package of a dozen a couple yards long at our Lowes) which can be cut with a mitre saw into desired lengths.  You can build a tee-pee-shaped cage or just stake plants onto a single pole, securing with a piece of twine, string, or hemp.  

3.  Save those shells!  Egg shells, that is.  Several plants like a soil rich in calcium, which you probably won't find in city beds.  Save your egg shells, crush them up and sprinkle around plants in the top soil, gently raking them into the soil with a hand rake or your fingers.

We'll add more as we go, er... grow, so check back for updates!  

May 24, 2012

DIY Vapor-rub with Essential Oils


As a life-long allergy sufferer I love my Vicks Vapo-Rub.  But it's expensive, and we seem to misplace it a lot... you know, you go lay down on the couch so you don't infect your spouse and it goes MIA.  Or Avi wanders off with it and it gets swallowed up into the great unknown that is where she hides miscellaneous "treasure" she finds and ferrets away.

With the AC on now thwarting all the spring pollen, it's dry and uncomfortable at night for me, so I found myself bemoaning a lack of Vicks and thinking about how to improvise.

I tapped my selection of essential oils, and used a drop or two of Eucalyptus, White Camphor, Tea Tree, and Peppermint mixed into a dollop of petroleum jelly I put in the middle of a plate.  I worked the essential oil into the petroleum jelly with a silicone spatula so that it was very well mixed.

Determining how much essential oil to add and the ratio of oil to petroleum jelly is a personal preference.  If you have been shoving Vicks up your nose for the last decade, like me, you'll be adding more.  If you're more sensitive, you can add less and achieve a result you can live with.

Either way, essential oils are potent, and can irritate the skin, especially mooches membranes if touched directly to them.  You can always add more, but you can't take it away without diluting the mixture, and mix, mix, mix.  You want the oil to be enveloped in the jelly before you smear it on you.

I'm very happy with the home-made remedy, which is much MUCH cheaper, and can be whipped up quicker than you can drag the kids to the pharmacy to pick up a jar!


Recycle Craft: Reclaimed Floor Tile Trivets

Last weekend we here at Sine Metu Designs sponsored a free make-and-take demo at the 4th annual EcoChic Craftacular which featured local artists and artisans who have an eco-friendly spin to their art, crafts, and business practices.  The event is sponsored by Etsy Team Columbus, a collaboration of local indie artists, and of which I'm proud to be a member!  The Team worked very hard to bring the community this fantastic event and it was a huge success:  raising $1000 for the Whetstone Community Center, $250 for two local animal shelters, ADOPT Pet Rescue and Colony Cats and Dogs, and $100 for a local Arts foundation, all serving Columbus-area and Central Ohio.



In the spirit of being eco-friendly, we chose an arts & craft project that made use of reclaimed building materials--which are often in ready supply this time of year as folks get to work with home renovation projects. The reclaimed tile we used I found for free on FreeCycle, which I continue to mention often because it's such a great recycling resource.  

We transformed reclaimed ceramic floor tile (ours are 9-inch by 9-inch) into artsy trivets in a few easy steps, then showed all who cared to learn how to do the same; then we went wild with the enamel paints and produced some functional masterpieces!


Supplies:  Reclaimed tile, cork or felt, spray adhesive, thin quick-tack glue such as super glue or jewelry glue, wooden furniture buttons (optional), enamel acrylic paint for ceramic or "patio" grade acrylic and brushes, Sharpie or permanent marker (optional) and clear spay sealant (optional, but recommended).

First, we removed as much grout as possible from the tiles, using a pair of channel lock-style pliers to remove the line of grout along the edges.  The way these pliers "bite" provide a lot of torque, and it's very easy to snap the grout right off the edge, whereas it was impossible to do so with the bare hand.  Thanks to my hubby for always knowing which tool to use!

Next, I trimmed a pice of cork to the size of the tile.  I purchased a roll of thin cork with a self-adhesive sticker-back at Hobby Lobby for less than $5 and it was enough to make more than a half dozen trivets and several coasters.  If preferred, simple craft felt can be used and adhered to the back with spray adhesive.

To add "feet" to the trivet (optional) I used a thin layer of jewelry glue to adhere round-top wooden furniture buttons to the corners of my tile after I attached my cork.  You can find wooden furniture buttons in the woodworking aisle of craft stores such as Hobby Lobby or at the hardware store--they are used to cover cam-screw holes and are inexpensive.  I purchased a pack of 30 for $1.47 at Hobby Lobby.

Once the feet have dried, you can flip over and begin to paint! Because of the sealant glaze, I recommend ceramic paint or "patio" grade acrylic paint as it's more permanent than general-purpose craft paint.  If you plan to use the tile as a garden marker or step stone, or as an actual trivet for hot pots and pans, you want a more durable finish to take weathering and scratching.  If the tile is strictly decorative, it likely doesn't matter.

Get your inspiration and plan your painting.  If using enamel, you can't just "wipe-off" if you mess up, so draw carefully.  I outlined my images in Sharpie.  A couple layers of paint will cover the marker, or you can use permanent marker to add fine details over the dry painting.

With enamel, build your painting in layers. You can add light colors over dark colors if you let the bottom layer dry first.  It is better to apply two coats of thin layers to build up blocks of color than to try to glob on one thick coat.  You can also paint the sides of the tile for a more finished look.

When the paint is dry and you're finished with your design, spray with a clear glaze or sealant, let dry, and repeat.

Other ideas:  Make a bold geometric print by spraying with a textured spray paint (pictured, hammered copper) and paint acrylic lines in a complementary color when dry (I used cobalt blue enamel).

Make a chalk board server and tell your guests exactly what they're eating by painting several layers of chalkboard paint over the tile.

Let your kid go nuts with the paint for a recycled art experience!

Try some garden tile markers, like the below "Avi & Daddy's Garden" we made.


May 11, 2012

Tales of Subversive Leftovers


I have never been a fan of leftovers.  My reasons rage from boredom to questioning the safety of food that's possibly been left out a little too long before being refrigerated and now looks....suspect.  But in an effort to be frugal and reduce our overall waste, I've attempted to make up with leftovers.  It's not a loving relationship.  It pretty much requires that they be unidentifiable in a new dish, but it's a start!

Witness the above beauties.  Leftover shish kebob veggies the hubby grilled the night before got chopped up and stirred in at the tail end of veggies and scrambled eggs.  I stirred in some turkey sausage, gave a gentle topping of grated cheddar and viola!  Leftovers anew.

This is such a versatile recipe, you could really take it anywhere you like.  I'm hesitant to even call it a recipe, more like a shell.

To get the toasty crunchy cups, preheat the oven to 425-degrees F.  Cut 9-inch flour tortillas in half to form semi-circles.  Brush lightly with olive oil and kosher or sea salt or other herbs, if desired.

Using a cupcake pan, form the semi-circles into a funnel shape and squish the pointy end into the cupcake pan until it lies flat.  The edges should retain the cup shape, and stick to each other via the olive oil.

These get baked until the desired shade of golden, about 7-10 minutes, but check early, because there is a "perfect" somewhere in the middle and you don't want to cross it.  That will depend on your oven and pan, how much oil you used, etc.

While these were baking, I scrambled up some eggs, and in a separate skillet, reheated my chopped grilled vegetable leftovers (red & green peppers, sweet onion, tomato and zucchini), already-cooked turkey sausage, and some broccoli florets which had lost their crispiness in the fridge.  I added kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste and threw in a few fresh herbs from the cutting garden, such as cilantro and fennel.

You could probably do all this in one pan, but I don't like my eggs over-scrambled.  To leave them nice and puffy, ideally you let them sit a bit, like you were making an omelet, and towards the end you flip them around a bit until they're in 'scrambles.'  But the veggies I like to stir frequently, to make sure nothing is over-cooking and my seasonings are nicely dispersed.

I mixed the veggies/turkey sausage to the finished scrambled eggs, spooned them into the tortilla cups and grated some cheddar on top.  The crunchy cup made them transportable (we ate them while walking around outside) and gave such a nice texture that veggies and eggs alone couldn't match.

They are also freezable, and you can pop them back in a hot oven to heat them up while trying to retain as much of the crispiness as possible.  They're better than your average hot pocket microwaved from thawed, but they won't have that perfect crispiness from a microwave.

They were a big hit for the family and a friend who stopped by!

*   *   *   *  *  *

Here is another variation I tried later that week for dinner: Fancified Fishsticks!

Same tortilla shells as above, but filled with some leftover romaine salad, fish sticks, yellow pepper, a swirl of honey-Balsamic vinaigrette and topped with fresh-grated parmesan cheese.  They tasted wonderful!  You would have never recognized those cheap little fish sticks in all that deliciousness, and it was a perfect adaptation for a kid-friendly favorite.  As in, while my 4 year old was happily munching fish sticks and ketchup (shudder) we were feasting on little cups of Fancified Fishsticks.

I served three in a row in two serving "boats" and it was really quite attractive.  A fun, offbeat version of a go-to kids classic, that used up leftovers AND didn't take any more time!


May 9, 2012

Vase rehab DIY: Blah to Yay!

I have often mention the joys of sprucing up some freebies:

*  Those oddball items you keep hanging onto but live in the depths of your closet or under your sink because you don't actually like them but feel bad about throwing them out because they're still useful.

* Thrift store or yard sale finds with potential

* Freecycle (freecycle.org) freebies

I have acquired a small collection of glass vases from Freecycle.  My husband's Urban Garden Paradise includes a wildflower cutting planter box, so in preparation for some fresh cut bouquets, I have been seeking out some containers.  I also have decided faux flowers are not necessarily relegated to the status of Mrs. Havisham, and can be done in style with punchy colors or romantically with vintage hues.  I've worked in both styles to various rooms:  vivid and playful daisies in the living room, and soft and romantic classics in the bedroom.

So my vase collection necessarily needs to grow from 1-2 to several.  But who wants to spend money on vases when they're so abundantly found second hand for free or cheap?  That's not to say I appreciate the style of those castoffs, so that's where a little creativity comes into play.  I've been itching to try some new techniques and rehab these either blah or dated vases, and here is my first endeavor.

Perfect for faux flowers, interior-painted vases can cover up internal ripples (as in my example) and leave plenty of room for a punchy embellishment on the exterior.  Check out the easy DIY below!

Witness my plain rippled glass freebie.  I'm not a fan of rippled glass vases.  I'm sure it's appropriate somewhere, but I don't care for it.  Plus with faux flowers, often the stems are not very attractive, so a translucent vase can subtract from the decorative effect.


(Right)
1.  Pour a water-resistant paint into the vase, such as latex paint or "patio" or outdoor acrylic.  I went with a Clark and Kensington Flat Enamel Paint and Primer in One in a Mediterranean teal that I got (for free!) from Ace Hardware.  It had wonderful coverage.

2. Gently roll the vase around until the paint has covered the full interior.  Then pour the excess back into the paint can.

3.  Let the vase sit upside down over some newsprint to drain the slower excess from the interior, for about an hour or so.  Don't let it sit so long the paint starts to dry and the newsprint peels off.  If this does happen, just scratch off the paper from the rim and touch up with some of the wet excess pooling on the newsprint.

4.  Turn back over right side up, and allow to dry, several hours or overnight.

5.  (left) Once dry, add your front embellishment with "puffy" paint or fabric paint (I used Tulip fabric paint in white).  If you make a mistake, or don't like it, just wipe clean with a damp paper towel, dry the vase, and start over.

6.  Add glitter, gently tap off excess.

I started with this dot design in the puffy paint, but discovered it didn't work too well with the glitter I used.  I ended up sticking my fingers in it and disrupting several "dots" so I scrapped the whole design by wiping it off with a paper towel while it was still wet.  My simple three swirl lines (next photo) replaced it.

The glitter I used was the "tinsel" style which is little strands of flat strips of glitter instead of the regular tiny square pieces.  It has a nice, unexpected textural effect. (Martha Stewart tinsel glitter in Feldspar.)

Finally, add your flowers!  Faux flowers would work best at this stage, although you could spray the inside with a clear waterproof sealant if you wanted to be able to use fresh flowers.

Now you can see that the teal blends in with my decor!  I used a monochromatic palette but some other fun combos could be done with complementary colors such as a violet or plum interior and yellow or gold glittered exterior, or cobalt interior with orange or topaz glitter.  You could make your outer embellishment as simple or plain as desired.  Use your imagination!




May 8, 2012

Columbus Writing Contest - Flash Fiction: Hatchling on the Riverfront by Casey McCarty

Stop by this site to vote for my Flash Fiction entry!  We had 2500 characters (about 500 words or less) to create a short piece using three randomly generated images.  My images were a T-Rex, a scene of Columbus, Ohio along the Scioto, and the Ohio statehouse.

All who vote will be entered in a drawing to receive an Amazon Kindle, just for voting, so pass it on!

Columbus Writing Contest - Flash Fiction: Hatchling on the Riverfront by Casey McCarty

What's it about?  Check out this Word Cloud Teaser!


UPDATE:  "Hatchling on the Waterfront" won 2nd place from the judges' picks!  Check it out and take a look at the other entries.. there was some wonderful stuff!

Read the winning micro-short stories HERE!

March 23, 2012

Dinner for One or Tempting Appetizer Treat! Original Recipe

I tend to get "chefy" on my Dinner for One nights.  With my husband's weekend work schedule and my 4 year old off at Grandma's, it was just the baby and I for dinner on a Friday night.

The benefit of a Dinner for One night is that there is no need for satisfying picky tastes or the time-crunch of a hungry family with immediate wants.  I can leisurely construct something that I desire, regardless of how long it might take or how esoteric the tastes.  I can experiment within the confines of available ingredients (a challenge I've come to enjoy) without the fear of disappointing the hungry masses.  I find I work my best "leftover magic" in these situations;  perhaps out of curiosity or boredom, I feel laid back in my creative endeavor, free to fail.

It is under these circumstances I have stumbled upon some really excellent combinations that I otherwise would not have tried.  I have added to my entertaining or family meal lexicon with successes, and chalked plenty up to "not gonna do that again" without the snickering of my husband.

Tonight was such a night, and I'm pleased to report a successful experiment!

I started out with the idea to bake some tortilla chips.  I've made wonderful tortilla chips by deep frying whole wheat tortillas cut into triangles, but with an eye towards more healthful choices, we no longer possess the ubiquitous and permanently fish-scented "Fry Daddy."  So I baked them, unsure of what exactly would happen.  I brushed two 8-inch tortillas with olive oil, sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, and rosemary (hint: if you put these ingredients into an oven-safe ramekin whilst the oven preheats, the rosemary will better infuse into the oil.  I find rosemary needs a slight heating to best display its flavor).  Into a 425-degree oven these tortillas went on a pre-heated pizza stone for 8 minutes.

What emerged was a rustic-looking treat: perfectly browned, crispy, with a random spray of crisped air pocket bubbles.  The aroma of the rosemary escaped the confines of the oven with gusto, and suddenly my quest for tortilla chips evolved into a more sophisticated pursuit.  I couldn't waste these perfectly baked tortillas on just snacking with salsa.  The following recipe is the result:

Preheat the oven to 425-degrees.  If using a pizza stone (highly recommended) that should be pre-heating as well.

Ingredients


Baked tortillas & asparagus:

2 8-inch tortillas
5-6 asparagus spears, washed & trimmed, then cut in half
Olive oil
sea salt
fresh cracked pepper, or just black pepper
dried rosemary

"Crab" dip:

cream cheese
parmesan cheese, fresh grated preferred
crab meat, or imitation crab (as I used)

1.  Mix about 2-3 Tbsp olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and rosemary to taste into an oven-safe ramekin and set on pizza stone while oven preheats for several minutes.  When the oil is warm, brush on tortillas lightly, both sides.  Be sure to evenly distribute the seasonings. Add the excess oil & seasonings to a saute pan.

2.  Set tortillas on pizza stone and set timer for 8 minutes.  Add a minute or two at a time until desired level of crispness, a good golden brown in most places;  air bubbles are OK.

3.  Meanwhile, gently saute the asparagus in the leftover olive oil & seasoning mixture.  Saute on low to medium just until al dente.  Drain excess oil and allow to cool.

4.  To a food processor add a serving spoonful of cream cheese, 2-3 strips of imitation crab (or crabmeat), and parmesan cheese to taste.  Add just a little olive oil (from the saute pan is fine) for a creamier consistency.  Puree until well-mixed but chunks of crab are still visible.

5.  Break baked tortillas into quarters (it's ok that these won't be perfect quarters due to the air bubbles, that's OK and adds to the rustic feel of this recipe), spoon crab dip mixture onto tortilla piece and top with 2-3 pieces of asparagus.

I served these with a few kalamata olives on the side: their saltiness offsets the sweetness in the cream cheese nicely.  These would make perfect appetizers because the serving temperature is room temperature for everything but the dip which should still be slightly cool.  They also make a tasty snack or Dinner for One pampering.


Magazine Deal Update

Recently, I shared some of my favorite ways to feed a bourgeoning magazine habit on the cheap (read the related blog post here).  Today I scored a year of Popular Science for $2!  Here's how:

Visit www.magazines.com and register for an account with your email address.  Don't place an order yet! Browse around to get an idea of what you might like, add something to your cart then leave the site.

I can't promise you that this will happen to you, but often to entice browsers into becoming buyers, sites like these email you within a few days to offer you something.  Magazines.com has been sending $5 "gift cards" via email to those on their email list.

Head over to www.retailmenot.com to check out the best coupon code for the magazine you want.  Through March you can use the code MARCHDEAL to get $5 off any one of more than 250 titles.  Magazines.com will let you combine coupon codes with gift cards, so...

There may be other ways you can get gift card codes:  try googling for them or digging deeper into RetailMeNot.  Not every code/card code you find may work, but if you're patient, for a little research, you can walk away with a year subscription to something you like or would like to try for less than the price of a single issue!

March 11, 2012

Toffee Bliss: Blended Vodka Recipe

My husband bought one of those single-serve beverage blender devices which has four ice cream sundae-sized cups which screw onto the blender unit so you can mix all the ingredients, blend, then swap the top to the drinking cup lid with a straw hole.  It's great for making smoothies and so much less clean up work!

But he had also brought home Pinnacle Cake Vodka a few weeks ago (yup still on this bottle from the last recipe I posted, it's wonderful, I just don't drink a lot).   I happened upon a Heath bar I had stowed away in the freezer which I was pleasantly surprised to re-discover.  I normally savor these as a side dish to a cup of delicious coffee, but I spied the Pinnacle in the fridge and began to feel mischievous.

The result of indecisive fridge shopping is one recipe for pure Toffee Bliss!

Make yours!

To a blender add:

Pinnacle Cake flavored vodka (amount to taste)
One Heath bar or some Heath crunch baking pieces
A handful of ice
A cup of vanilla almond milk

Blend and serve!  So easy and delicious!

March 10, 2012

Spring Forward? Not without some java!

Daylight savings time draws to a end overnight (2am Sunday morning, to be precise) and I'm betting you aren't as happy to "spring forward" as you were to "fall back."  Me neither.  So while I'm hiking across town for a 10 a.m. art lesson that will feel like 9 a.m (for me and my student) I know I'll be swinging through a drive-thru (or two... yeah, my coffee addiction is that bad!) for some FakeAwake in a cup.

Good news:  Caribou is having another promo (I'm still in love with them for their buy-one-get-one Leap Day sale just a little while ago) so you can score your caffeine fix on the cheap.  Bad news: you've still gotta' get up an hour earlier if you have anything scheduled.


Print the pic or visit the link and you're good to go!

Link:  http://view.cariboucoffee-email.com/?j=fe6115747660007a7117&m=fef010797c640d&ls=fdeb1c70726d0c7877167573&l=fe8c1570726c007a7d&s=fe261c727c62027c741173&jb=ffcf14&ju=fe29157477600074761c73

Save a Lot, Read a Lot: how I feed my magazine habit on the cheap.

I used to love perusing magazines when I was younger, and then later it became an excellent time-kill for those hours spent in the library when I was working a bizzaro split shift too far away to drive back home in the middle. I always balked at actually purchasing subscriptions, however, because they seemed vastly over-priced for increasingly mediocre content with ever-encroaching advertisements.

I've never been a fan of fashion magazines, for example, because when you look at them they're 90% advertising and what little isn't paid advertising is telling you to buy more stuff anyway.  I also get annoyed that the "women's interest" section of the magazine stand is crammed full of cheap gossip rags, celebrity worship, and "publications" devoted to hair, clothes, and buying more and more stuff.  Note how they don't believe women are interested in in current events, arts, or science.  That has always ruffled my feathers.  Why do we have to be so label-happy?  I'm a woman.  I'm happy to look through Reason (a libertarian-oriented current events & political themed publication), The Economist, Popular Science and flip through the latest Real Simple or Ladies' Home Journal.  But I digress.

My business requires that I be at least somewhat aware of what is "trending" in the fashion world: color palates (so the jewelry & accessories I make match the outfits you're buying right now) as well as general fashion trends (are my big, bold & complicated pieces going to be popular right now? Or are we on a more minimalist trend?).  Because I don't watch TV (until it comes out on Netflix, that is) checking out an array of magazines satisfies my need to collect this information about what's trending. But still there is the price problem.

If you want to keep tabs on a variety of subjects or market conditions, or are just addicted to that newly-printed magazine feel, here are some tips from my experience.  I have attained many magazine subscriptions for free to $5 or less.  You just have to do some looking around.

* You can always get plenty of magazines for free at your library.  You can read the current issue there or check out the past issues.  The downside:  you have to deal with everyone else's germs or spillage, you can't rip out pages, you have to go there to get it and take it back.  The upside: you can't beat the price, you can always jot down info that you wanted (websites, recipes, etc.), and you can usually get at least part of the article on their website.

*You can get the digital versions of many magazines for free too, either at the computer or for your mobile device or eReader.  Some publications will offer the digital version at their website almost fully, while others have limited free content and charge for accessing the full publication electronically.

*There are virtually unlimited suppliers of discount subscriptions for the physical versions.  Here are just a few:

http://www.valuemags.com/home/index.asp
https://www.discountpress.com/
http://www.discountmags.com/

While I don't particularly "endorse" any of these sites, I have placed orders with them.  They will all have periodic specials and promos BUT before you place an order, check to see if they have an additional coupon code you can use. My go-to source for online coupon codes is Retail Me Not.  Not only can you search for whatever website you're shopping and see a list of available codes, but you can see the "success" rate for each code and other user-submitted info.  You don't have to register to use the service, which is free.  You can register, however, and provide feedback on codes you've tried or submit your own codes when you get them.

*Subscribe to some bloggers who run coupon and savings-oriented sites.  Many will send an email summary of all their postings so you don't have to visit the blog unless something pops out at you.  Consider subscribing to a few so you get some varied content.  Unless you're crazy into coupon-ing most of the content will probably not excite you, as it consists of much "hey go here to print this AWESOME 50-cent off coupon for hot dogs HERE!!!" and you can roll your eyes and skip that entry because you would never consider a 50-cent off coupon for hot dogs to be "awe-inspiring,"

But then occasionally they'll throw you a bone you actually want to chew--because they're also subscribers to other deal-alert networks, they always seem to be aware of every blessed freebie out there.  It's their business.  It's how they generate so much darn traffic to their blogs.  So when free magazine subscriptions are available to things you actually want to read, or maybe just curious about (as in, I wouldn't pay money for Reader's Digest, but they can give it to me free and I'll check it out) or when those discount sites have super-bargains.

Just this week I scored two full-length albums via digital download at Amazon for a quarter each, a couple free eBooks I thought I might like, and year's subscription to Popular Science for $5.50--all from alerts in these daily summaries.

You have to learn to self-filter the spammy parts of it-- the whole point of being frugal is saving money on things you were actually going to buy, not hopping on every "deal" just because it's a "deal."  Happy hunting, readers!



photo credit:  http://www.societyofrobots.com/robot_ERP.shtml

February 23, 2012

Special News over at SMD-- Every Sprout item sold = Donation to Life Town Columbus

 From now through April 15th, $1 of EVERY Sprout item sold will go to Life Town Columbus, a realistic indoor "city" where kids with special needs can work on life skills, socialize, and gain confidence in real-world situations through role play.  It's complete with a kid-focused library, pet "store", bank, hair salon, medical center, and more!  I'm really impressed with how much detail has gone into this volunteer-driven endeavor.  For more info, including how you can be a supporter or volunteer, just stop by their fantastic site:

Check out more info:  http://www.lifetowncolumbus.org/about_lifetown.php

And if you're into business networking, the Herbert Weyl Jewish Business Network is hosting a networking and luncheon event March 2nd, which will feature "speed networking" and guest speaker and Treasurer of Ohio, Josh Mandel, as well as a Kosher lunch, included.  Tickets are $25 and all proceeds benefit Life Town Columbus as well.  I'll be there!

For more info on this event, including to register and get tickets, visit here
.
Our new line Sprout, eco-friendly goodies designed around the principles of:  Reduce, Reuse Recycle... Rethink.  We incorporate recycling and "upcycling" concepts to product design, materials and packaging, and actively seek out new methods and materials which reduce consumer waste.  Our clean burning soy wax candles are already starting to catch on-- freshly scented ONLY with pure essential oils and organic botanicals, and recycled packaging. these dye-free chemical-free candles are a real treat!  Get yours in tempting earthy scents such as Eucalyptus Rosemary, Tea Tree & Ginger, Cedarwood & Clove, Cedar, Balsam Peru & Saffron, and more!  GO HERE NOW!

February 15, 2012

$1000 PayPal CASH giveaway sponsored by a boatload of bloggers...

I wanted to pass along a rather hefty PayPal cash giveaway going on from TODAY until the end of February.  The giveaway is sponsored by over 100 bloggers chipping in for the jackpot.  An easy Rafflecopter entry form gives you your choice of 167 possible entries for doing things like "liking" sponsor Facebook pages, following on Google Plus or Twitter, leaving a blog comment etc. You can enter a little or a lot, but by the looks of it participation is going to be super high-- over 90,000 entries already as I write, and the giveaway just opened today!

So get in on the action HERE to pad your account (or recover from holiday spending!)

February 6, 2012

Guilt-Free Jewish Snacking... Rosemary Sea Salt Latke "Pizzelles" with Snap Peas.

I just stumbled upon the most delicious quick, light snack, any Jewish mom would be proud of:

Rosemary Sea Salt Latke "Pizzelles" with Snap Peas

I must admit the latkes are from a package, , the kind that get reconstituted in water.  To the mix I added organic rosemary, pinch of sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste.  Then I fired up the sandwich press, and just for fun, I swapped out the press plates for the Pizzelle plates.  Pizzelles are round, flat, pressed cookie-like wafers that require a special decorative press.  You'll know it if you have that option on your maker.

I rolled a ball of about a tablespoon of latke mixture, sprayed both top and bottom of the pizzelle press, placed the ball in the center and closed the lid, squishing the balls into a thin flat pancake, thinner than your regular latke.

You'll want to keep an eye on the latke-pizzelles to achieve a light golden brown color, but they will easily over-cook and become stiff.  You want them to be pliable, like a potato soft taco shell.  When they're done, gently lift them off, and stuff them with some cold, clean, raw sugar snap peas.

According to the nutrition label, three one-Tbsp latkes are 90 calories and a cup of snap peas is 40 calories.  So THREE of these yummy, crunchy, warm and satisfying latke wraps is about 100 calories total.  And three is all you need when you stuff them with veggies (I would have added grated carrot and red cabbage if I had it on hand).  You can add a little salad dressing if you need, but that will add calories & fat.

I think these would make excellent side dishes or hors d'oeuvres, or, most importantly, an easy, quick, lightweight snack!

February 5, 2012

Toddler Daily "Grade Card"

Avigael, my 4 year old has the budding attitude of a pre-teen in full talk-back glory.  I find it extraordinarily frustrating when we go 'round and 'round about the same things over and over.  I ask her to do something, she either flat out refuses or ignores me until I'm ready to bark out orders dill Sergeant style.  She takes time-outs like a pro, and it doesn't seem to interrupt her all that much. If I raise my voice, so does she, so that's not an effective method either.  She may shape up for Daddy, but the "wait til' daddy gets home" doesn't work here.

I've tried the sticker chart thing before, and it always seems to fizzle out.  She looses interest, and the rows of mini smileys seem to captivate her less and less after the initial enthusiasm.  So what's an underslept mom with a business to run to do?  I waste so much time harping, pleading, begging and bribing her to refrain from destroying the house in the first place, and helping pick up what she has messed up.

I'm a creative chick, I can sympathize with her desire to get elbow-deep in the Play Doh.  It doesn't even bother me when she stacks her giant cardboard blocks as high as she can and karate chop them into a block explosion.  But WOW do I wish she'd help pick up after herself.  I don't mind giving a warning, but not 20. We've got to figure out a way to get stuff done when I ask, after all, she's a big sister now!

I think I'm equally part of the problem.  I'm overly easy going, and typically distracted or exhausted so sometimes I lack the focus or energy to see an instruction through to the end.  I'll give an order, forget about it, and then remind her every time I become aware that it STILL hasn't been done again..and again.  I often forget to follow through with my threats of time outs or loss of toy or TV privileges.  And most of the time, I just clean things up to be done with it.

She likes the visual cues of the sticker charts, especially when they contain pictures so she can "read" what she gets rewarded for.  But after so many stickers she doesn't seem to care if she gets anymore or not.  So, to help us BOTH be consistent, I'm going to try a variation of a concept we did with the kids at the preschool program I assisted with, and introduce a "daily grade card."

Each day we'd give the parents a slip of paper highlighting the good things and the not so good things to work on.  So on this new experimental daily sheet, I picked the four things we struggle with the most:  cleaning up her room at the end of the day, picking up toys from activities throughout the day, putting away clothes (from laundry and from her randomly changing her outfits a dozen times a day), and going to bed.  I have smiley faces ranging from Smiling, to Uh Oh, to Sad.  Uh Oh represents the warning.  Sad represents a consequence.  Smiling means a reward, like a sticker, or choosing what's for lunch, or something else she wants.  That means it got done with one or two requests at the most.  If she ignores the warning, she gets the consequence.

We'll try it for a week or two and see if it helps or is a realistic tool for our family.  Maybe the visual cues of seeing when she's about to get a consequence for ignoring me (and my reminder of following through with a consequence after a warning) will help us both get on the same "page."  As an added bonus, I'm hoping she'll take pride in being held accountable for some responsibility, AND she can show daddy just how good she was at the end of the day, and get another verbal 'attagirl' positive reinforcement.

I'll keep you posted!

January 30, 2012

Introducing our new eco-friendly line Sprout! With GIVEAWAY!

Sine Metu Designs will be launching a new eco-friendly line of home and body products based on the principles of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle...ReThink,"  We've named this line Sprout, and a range of goodies from soy candles, essential oil-based Mediterranean Sea Salt blended bath salts, vegan-friendly vegetable-based lip balms, soaps, and body butters, to reusable Swiffer dusters, reusable dryer "sheets" and more.  We'll feature uniquely "upcycled" goods with eco-friendly packaging, and as always, no commercial chemicals or dyes!

We just posted our FIRST soy candles to our Etsy studio and have four scent combos available:


Orange-Earl Grey (orange oil, bergamot oil, black tea leaf)
Eucalyptus Rosemary (eucalyptus essential oil and organic rosemary)
Tea Tree Ginger (tea tree oil and finely ground ginger)
Cedarwood Clove (cedarwood oil and finely ground clove)

They are super long- and clean-burning, getting 16-20 hours for the 2.5oz size. No dyes, no artificial anything.

Our clever eco-friendly packaging includes (cleaned & sterlized!) upcycled containers, such as this version, in a recycled glass jar.  Even our label is upcycled-- printed on paper grocery bag!

And because we're so committed to reducing consumer trash and turning waste into beauty, we have kicked off this line with a special incentive:  for every clean glass jar you send us (3 oz or larger, such as babyfood jars) you'll get a 50-cent credit towards another candle, 12 jars= FREE candle (limit 2 freebies per month).

In celebration of our new line, we'll be giving away a FREE soy candle, your choice of scents (pick from above list) to TWO winners.  We'll pick the winner AFTER we get 55 fans on our FACEBOOK page:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sine-Metu-Designs/204707879554196.

We're at 35 now, so at least 20 people need to participate for winners to be selected...so tell a friend.

Enter via the easy peasy Rafflecopter below! (click "read more" if you don't see it)

January 24, 2012

Tu B'Shevat Fundraiser Launched at OneShul.org

We recently had the wonderful opportunity of working with PunkTorah and OneShul to design tree pendants exclusively for their Tu B'Shevat fundraiser.


100% of the sales go to OneShul, which is an online independent Jewish learning community--there are interactive streaming lay-led services, meditations, classes, discussions and more.  OneShul is non-denominationally Jewish and an open and inviting resources for exploring faith and traditions, connecting you to folks from all over with modern technology!

There are two tree pendants: Both are sculpted copper wire, one design features brilliant faceted Czech glass and one is unbeaded with the sculpted copper wire for a unisex look.  There are also a few tree charm bracelets on copper chain with a lobster-claw clasp, a small copper tree charm, and a single Czech glass bead in olive, which are also unisex.  No photo up yet, but you can request when you order.

In addition, you will also receive a card I designed and made for them especially for Tu B'Shevat, featuring a hand inked and watercolored tree scene on the front of these heavyweight white linen tri-folds and the relevant Leviticus quote from which the Tu b'Shevat holiday stems.  All are signed by me.

Visit the fundraiser page at OneShul HERE to order or for more info!

January 23, 2012

Make your own flavored coffee creamer: Control the fat, sugar, and taste!!

Think flavored coffee creamer is ____________ ?
a. Stupid expensive
b. ungodly sweet
c. full o'fat and sugar (and by sugar I mean high fructose corn syrup)
d. full of random other ingredients like artificial flavors and preservatives, and other strange things
e. ALL of the above

ME TOO!

Good thing there's an alternative... you can Make It Yourself!!  << you may be seeing a pattern in my posts, snicker>>

Yes folks, the little luxury of having pre-mixed flavored coffee syrup can be yours with 5 minutes of prep or less a week, and you have control over the FAT content, SUGAR content, and FLAVOR. You can make it with things you probably have on hand!  Whoo hoo!

Today I was playing around with different proportions of these ingredients and I found what puts me in coffee bliss (I just got a like-new condition Senseo one- or two-cup coffee maker AND two bags of unopened pods...  for FREE, thanks to Freecycle! So I've been endlessly playing with cups of coffee).

By making variations to this recipe to suit your taste (it is do it yourself, after all) you can customize your own flavored creamer for that perfect coffee treat!

Before I begin.. let me just point out some stats for the commercial stuff:

Prices (via Google Shopping query)-
Nestle Coffee-Mate in french vanilla, $4-5.07 for 15 oz
Good Kind Natural Coffee Creamer, French Vanilla, $7.20 for 8oz
International Delight, French Vanilla, $3-4.50 for 13 mL

Ingredients for Nestle Coffee-Mate French Vanilla creamer 
(copied directly from their site HERE): 

WATER, SUGAR, HYDROGENATED COCONUT OIL, SODIUM CASEINATE (A MILK DERIVATIVE), FLAVOUR AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOUR, DIPOTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, SALT, MONOGLYCERIDES, ACETYLATED TARTARIC ACID ESTERS OF MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES.


Now to make your OWN you can use:

Heavy Whipping Cream (choose your fat version, organic, lactose-free, whatever)
Milk (choose your own milk alternatives, organic, lactose-free, fat percentage, etc.)
Sweetener (sugar, Stevia, I abhor non-natural artificial sweeteners, but if you like them- it's your body, agave                       syrup, etc.)
Flavor (I definitely recommend pure extracts, you can choose vanilla or whatever else you like, or mix and match, like vanilla & cinnamon, butter & rum, etc)

To make:

I recommend using a glass container with a lid for storage and ease of shaking up: recycle an empty glass jar, such as from pasta sauce or "canned" fruit or veggies, etc.!

To this container, add UP TO equal proportions heavy whipping cream and milk OR reduce the ratio of cream to milk to lower the fat content.  Obviously the less cream to milk, the less "creamery" it will taste. Shoot for one-cup total, or whatever you will consume in one week for best quality.

I recommend starting at 1:3 cream to milk and go up from there to taste.  I don't recommend more cream than half and half, because the fat in the cream will float slightly on your coffee--you'll see little "oil slicks."

Taste, Taste, Taste!  You can always add more of something!  Keep tasting, adding a bit at a time, because what I think is yummy, you might not.

When you've arrived at your ratio of choice for cream and milk, add your flavor extract(s).  For one cup of cream-milk mixture, start with 1/2 teaspoon of extract, shake well, taste, and go from there.

Next add your sweetener.  If you are adding a sweetener in crystal form (as opposed to liquid) it would be best to dissolve it in a little bit of warm water first.  The benefit of doing this is that you get an accurate picture of the sweetness, whereas the sugar crystals may not dissolve right away in the cold milk-cream mixture and you might keep adding more and more because you can't taste it right away, then end up going EW! Too Sweet!  later.

For one cup of the milk-cream mixture I started with one tablespoon and ended up going to about two and a half. Remember you're not going to be drinking this straight, but very diluted in coffee so think about how much you end up sweeting your coffee... if you use a whole spoonful of sugar in one cup of coffee you're going to want your stir-in much sweeter, whereas I normally add NO sugar to plain coffee, I just like my flavored creamer to have a *hint* of sweetness.

So there you go!  Have fun experimenting (and saving money, and avoiding yucky additives!) Remember to keep refrigerated and shake well before use!


Image credits (Featuring some of my fave brands!):  Heavy whipping cream, Kemps brand;  Organic low fat milk, Organic Valley Co-op Brand; Vanilla extract, J.R. Watkins Brand; Stevia, Stevia Extract in the Raw Brand.