Monday, June 29, 2009

checking in...

Well, we are thoroughly enjoying our vacation in Florida. Oh, did I forget to mention that I would be abandoning this blog for a couple of weeks while we are gone? Sorry about that. I must admit, it has been nice to step away from the virtual world for just a bit. But, I don't want to leave you totally uninspired while I'm away. So, I have something crafty and exciting to share in the meantime!

I am so honored to have been asked by Fiskars to design a project for their "Summer School" program. From May 21st through September 1st, every Tuesday and Thursday, a fun paper-crafting tutorial will be featured as part of the "Summer School" crafting curriculum! My project? The "Little Black Dress..."

That little beauty was made entirely out of Chatterbox papers and Fiskars punches (with a few pretty Chatterbox embellishements to boot). For full project instuctions, please visit the Fiskars wesbite via this link.

I'll be back over the next few days with lots of fun pictures from our visit to my dad's house... and the Disney theme parks! Until then...

Friday, June 19, 2009

can it. (Part 2)

So, when I bought my cucumber seeds this year, they didn't have pickling cucumbers. I ended up having to buy some garden variety cucumbers instead. But, I remembered going to a friend's grandmother's house when I was younger and having pickled cucumbers. VERY different from pickles... they were very light, crisp, refreshing. They didn't have a heavily pickled taste or color about them. Try as I might to find a similar recipe, I couldn't. Instead, I decided to slice my regular cucumbers up and try a traditional pickle recipe from the book I mentioned in the previous post. The results were delicious tasting, but lacked crispness. When you add them to a burger or a sandwich, the sogginess goes virtually undetected. However, they aren't that great straight from the jar. They're pretty to look at, though...

I've heard about an additive called "Pickle Crisp" that can be thrown into the recipe to help retain the crispness. However, I can't find it in any of the stores around here. I'm planning on ordering some off the internet, and trying the recipe again. But, like I said... the pickles TASTE delicious! So, I'll share my spin on the recipe.

In the book, the recipe calls for quite a large quantity of cucumbers. My recession garden is small, folks. The cucumber plants are prolific, but not THAT prolific. I had 5 large cucumbers to work with, so here's how I broke the ingredient quantities down (approximately half the original recipe).

1 1/2 Tbs pickling spice (available at most grocery stores in the spice aisle)
2 C cider vinegar
2 C water
1/2 C, plus 2 Tbs granulated sugar
1/4 C pickling salt (available at WalMart with the canning supplies)
3 bay leaves
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
4 1/2 tsp dill seeds (available in grocery stores with WELL-STOCKED spice aisles)
5 lg cucumbers
3 pint-sized canning jars (wide-mouthed version if possible)

I thought it would make life a whole lot simpler if I bought a mandolin to slice the cukes quickly. You know that saying, "You get what you pay for?" Well, that holds totally true in the world of mandolins. I bought an Oneida one for $39.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond. Oneida is a fairly reliable brand. I didn't think I needed to invest in one of the spendier $89.99+ versions from Kitchen Aide. Wrong. DO NOT buy the Oneida version. Not unless vegetable mash is your desired result...

That thing was a total piece of junk. I ended up slicing my cucumbers by hand. So, away we go with the recipe...

Prepare jars and lids according to these instructions. You don't need to go so far as the sterilization part, though. Since these pickles will process longer than 10 minutes, it isn't necessary.

Cut the cucumbers into 1/4"-thick slices.

Tie pickling spice into a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag.

In a large saucepan (preferable stainless steel), combine vinegar, next 3 ingredients and the spice bag. Bring to a boil over med-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Reduce heat, and boil gently for 15 minutes.

Now, it's time to can. Place 1 bay leaf, 1 minced clove of garlic, and 1 1/2 tsp dill seeds into each jar. Pack cucumbers (and the DO mean PACK them in there... as many as you can cram... stuff them down the sides of the jar too) within 1/2" from the top of the jar. They mean from the very top edge of the jar... not just where the mouth starts to bottleneck. Place that funnel from the canning utensil kit in the previous post on top of each jar before ladling the hot pickling liquid in. Cover the cucumbers, but still leave that 1/2" space from the top of the jar. Remove the air bubbles (there's a tool for that in the canning kit too), and adjust headspace by adding more liquid if necessary. Wipe the rim of the jar. Center lid on the jar; screw band down until finger-tight.

Place jars in canner/pressure cooker (or large soup pot), ensuring they are completely covered by water over an inch from the tops of the jars. Put a lid on your pot. This is where a pressure cooker comes in really handy. I'm told it isn't good to keep removing the lid to check if the water is boiling. But, pressure cookers have devices that allow you to know exactly when boiling point has been reached. Anyhow, bring the water to a boil, and process for 15 minutes in the boiling water. Remove the pot from heat, remove the pot lid, and wait for the cans to cool for 5 minutes. Then, use those tongs (trust me, you'll want them) to remove the cans from the pot. Set them on a flat surface in your kitchen away from direct sunlight.

Here's something that was left out of the recipe, but that I later learned. It's best for the canned pickles to sit in one place for 24 hours. This allows the jars to seal properly. So, don't pick them up, shake them around, poke on the tops of the jars. Just don't. You could ruin all your work if those jars don't seal properly for safe food storage. After 24 hours, test the top of the jar. It should be slightly concave, and won't pop in when you apply pressure. If they aren't sealed properly (mine were all perfectly fine), you can reprocess them in the heat bath for 15 minutes. However, be aware that it WILL affect the quality.

Otherwise, pop the top and enjoy some delicious pickles! Be sure to refrigerate after opening, and store any jars you'll be saving for later in a cool, dark place.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

can it. (Part 1)

Ever since my blog was featured in Artful Blogging, I have received several e-mails asking me why I haven't had an food-related posts lately. You see, for some reason, the photos that were chosen for the article were almost all foods that I had concocted in my kitchen. In fact, not a single craft project was featured. Odd. Especially considering I supplied the editors with 20+ images that were almost ALL craft projects. I have no control over the images that were chosen, and am sorry for anyone that came here expecting to find a food blog.

That being said, I LOVE to cook... almost as much as I love to craft. And, thanks to many lessons from my dad (who is an insanely good cook) and a few well-loved recipes that have been handed down through my family over the years, I'm actually a pretty good cook. We quite frequently have dinner parties for our friends, and have hosted many a Thanksgiving dinner for my husband's single soldiers. I've even been told from time to time by our "diners" that I should open my own restaurant. Ahhh, yes... if only I could win the lottery.

Instead, I thought I would offer up a few more foodie posts to this blog. Sounds like a fairly good compromise to me... and will hopefully leave a few of you wandering over from Artful Blogging a little more satisfied.

We'll kick it off today with my first experiment in canning. Like many of you, we have planted our "recession garden" here at the Hanks household. There's nothing better than fresh fruits and vegetables from your own garden! So far, we've had the most success with our romaine lettuce, tomatoes and CUCUMBERS. Tons of cucumbers! I couldn't possibly consume all of these cucumbers before they went bad. So what better to do with them than MAKE PICKLES?!?

First thing's first. Pick up this book:

Seriously. It's invaluable. Especially if you know nothing about canning (which I didn't). Second, you need one of these:

Okay. You don't *NEED* one of these. You can achieve the same thing with a large soup pot. But, there are some canning recipes that do require a pressure cooker. So, it can come in handy if you want to get really into this whole process. I got mine at WalMart for about $65, and it works great.

Don't fool yourself into thinking you don't need a set of canning utensils:

I got this exact set at WalMart for under $7. It comes with a magnetic lid lifter, canning tongs (invaluable), bubble remover, and wide-mouthed canning funnel. These all came in really handy, and well-worth the price.

Of course, you'll need canning jars... also available at WalMart or some grocery stores. For these pickles, I used pint-sized jars:

Check back tomorrow for the trials and tribulations on my actual pickle-making process!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


**Edited to include you chance to win a Label Tulip kit (see bottom of post for details)**

Finally! I've been dying to share my June Label Tulip creations with you all. This was one of my favorite kits of all-time! I loved the colors, the embellishments... EVERYTHING. And, I'm sure you will too! So, here they are...

That up there ^^^^^ has got to be my favorite new layout! Those Prima glittered star picks... BRILLIANT! I've been begging Cathy to put those in a kit for the longest time... thanks, Cathy! :0)

A page about 2 of the most fabulous ladies I've met in the entire 3+ years that we've been at Fort Bragg.

I snapped that picture last fall of a bluebird perched atop one of the birdhouses that I adorned. I've been waiting for the perfect products to scrap it with, and this kit was IT! That Cosmo Cricket chipboard birdie... too perfect!

Loved hand-cutting that CC paper into my own little "garden" on top of the page!

Since this kit's colors were so rainbow candy-liscious, I gave all of the kits sugary sweet names: Sugar Shoppe, Rock Candy and Saltwater Taffy. And, in honor of their confectionary goodness, our challenge this month was to create a project or page centered around something sweet and yummy. My project was this mini-recipe book. I made it to put away for Hazel when she is older. It is filled with 5 favorite family recipes, and if you want to view the mini-book in its entirety, check out the Label Tulip gallery here. Please note that the recipes themselves were removed from the book for photographing purposes. But, not to worry, I'll be sharing them here over the next couple of days. ;0) Until then...

P.S. Want to win one of this month's Label Tulip kits? Check out what our fabulous designers did with all of the GORGEOUS Cosmo Cricket goodies in this month's kit at the Cosmo Cricket blog. Leave a comment there to be entered for a chance to win one of this month's Label Tulip kits!

Sunday, June 14, 2009


For once, I'm ahead of the game. Maybe I should pretend that every month, on the 20th, I am going to leave for an out of town trip for 2 weeks. Then, I might not find myself procrastinating until the last minute. It feels really good to have almost everything deadline-related complete... only one more project to go. Then, I can concentrate on the last-minute details of a fabulous vacation. I have lots of things to share before I leave, so we'll try to space them out over a couple of days.

Today, the last 3 of my Label Tulip sneaks...

Trust me, June's kits are AMAZING! You'll want to snag all 3 of them! And, tomorrow night at 6pm PST, you'll get your chance! In the meantime, don't forget to upload your projects to the LT gallery for May's challenge: Scrap something nobody knows about you. You have until the 18th, and then I'll select the winner for this month's RAK.

Not only the challenge projects, but anything you upload to the Label Tulip gallery will have the opportunity to be selected for our monthly member lift challenge. Each month, one of our Tulip Girls selects an outstanding layout from our member gallery for each of our designers to "lift." You'll have your name, photo and project featured in the monthly Label Tulip newsletter and the monthly gallery. In addition to seeing all of the fun interpretations of your layout from our Tulip Girls, you will also receive a $10 gift certificate for a future Label Tulip purchase. So, get those pages uploaded! You might just see your creation front and center next month!

I'll be back tomorrow with more eye candy! But, if you need something else to tide you over, today was my turn on the Pink Paislee blog. I did a fun little shrink plastic tutorial, which you can read here. And, once you've mastered your shrinking skills, you can put it to use by creating this altered frame project:

You can download a PDF project tutorial here. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dear Santa,

I know it's about 6 months too early, but I would be ever-so grateful if you slipped one of these into my stocking this year:

After watching Yes Man last night, I decided this was a must-have camera (it's what Zooey Deschanel shoots with throughout the movie... in case anyone saw it, and was wondering what camera it was). And, you can purchase it here.

I've always loved Polaroid. But, now that it is somewhat defunct, the Fuji Instax is about as good as it gets... for now. I say Polaroid is only somewhat defunct because they actually seem to be reinventing themselves:

That's the Polaroid Two, and you can read more about it here. Sounds pretty interesting, but isn't available in the US right now. Bummer. Well, I'm off to create some more LT pages... hope to have some to share tomorrow or Saturday!

Monday, June 8, 2009

The kiddos might think they're cute...

But, these little guys are a pain in my butt!

I feel like Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh because, seriously, these guys touch NOTHING but my carrots. Every other morning, I spend about 20 minutes diligently picking tons of these fellas off the stalks of my carrots. Keeping in mind that this is a totally organic garden (not even a fertilizer other than composted soil has touched my precious veggies), any suggestions? I refuse to use any type of pesticide, and was hoping someone would have an organic solution. I haven't had time to do much online research right now, so any ideas would be helpful. My dad suggested trying some BT (bacillus thuringiensis... try saying that 5 times fast), but I can't find it ANYWHERE. We went to a ton of nurseries, Lowe's, and Home Depot yesterday. Nothing. And, since we're leaving for Disney World in a few days, I don't have time to order off the internet right now. So, the search for a solution continues...

My other veggies are doing splendidly! Tons of cucumbers...

A few green beans (not enough to do anything with yet), lots of little bell peppers starting, tons of tomatoes that are nearly ripe, banana and jalapeno pepper plants that are getting bigger everyday, green onions, and 3 measly pieces of okra that are plugging right along. I have to say, I am enjoying this vegetable gardening thing immensely! I've done flower gardening for years, but this is insanely more rewarding. I'm hoping to have Bryan build me a second raised bed before he deploys in a couple of months. I want more, more, more! And, I'm thinking of adding some fruit trees and blackberry bushes soon. YUM!

Well, I'm busy, busy, busy with creative deadlines over the next few days before we leave for Disney. So, I'll leave you with some Label Tulip sneaks for now. I'll be back to share more soon!

Friday, June 5, 2009

LT Lovin'

Have you checked out all of the fun goings-on lately over at Label Tulip? We're giving away 2 fabulous prizes that you'll definitely want to get your hands on! Your first chance to win? Check out the LT blog for a simple little challenge that I posted today. And, when I say simple... I mean S.I.M.P.L.E. Just link me up in the LT blog comments section with the most fave of all pages that YOU have created lately. I want to see all of your pretty creations! You don't have to sub to LT kits... just be sure to get in on the action before 11:59 pm PST on Saturday to be entered into a random drawing for these goodies:

Your other opportunity to win? Check out the "Challenges" section of our forum for the "May Challenge" thread. Every month, I create a challenge for the Tulip Girls to participate in as part of their projects using the monthly kits. After we share our creations on gallery reveal night (the 15th of every month at 6pm PST), we pass the challenge on to you!

May's challenge? Scrap something that nobody knows about you. It doesn't have to be an earth-shattering secret... just something that not everyone might know. For instance, I'll bet a lot of you didn't know that I used to own and show hunter/jumpers for many years when I was younger...

You can check out the beans spilled by the other TG's here. Then, spill your own secret. Post it to the Member's Gallery, and then link it up here. You have until June 18th to participate in the May challenge, so get to creating so that you can be entered to win this nice little RAK:

And, as for me... I'll be busy cooking up lots of fun projects with LT's GORGEOUS June kit over the weekend. I'll be back soon with sneaks!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

4 years later...

So excited! Today is the release for DMB's first studio album in 4 years! Big Whiskey and The GrooGux King... a fabulous tribute to LeRoi Moore...