Saturday, April 23, 2016

Fringe Benefits: Free Napkins From Shirts

You can recycle your worn-out flannel shirts to make excellent cloth napkins.  They're comfy, absorbent, and free!  Here's how to do it.

1. Cut napkin-sized squares from the front and back panels of the shirt.  12" square is what I use, in order to get 4 napkins from one shirt.  This makes a smallish napkin (cocktail-sized), but it still works fine for daily meals.  If you want them bigger, like 16" square, you'll probably only get one or two from the back panel of a shirt.

2. Once you've cut your squares, fringe the edges.  To do this, pull parallel threads off an edge until there's about 1/4" to 1/2" of fringe created by the loose ends of the threads going the other direction.

These napkins wash like a dream.  Sometimes an extra thread or two will try to liberate itself from an edge after washing.  In that case, just peel it off and throw it away (or compost it if it's a natural fiber).

Friday, April 15, 2016

Cherry Crumble

I make fruit crumble every night.  This recipe-for-two is fast, easy, and it provides a healthy helping of walnuts and fruit, without any refined sugar.   You can use most any kind of fruit, fresh or frozen.  I don't recommend strawberries, though--they turn into soupy mush.  For cherry crumble, use 1 cup pitted cherries and a pinch of ground nutmeg.

Here's my recipe for basic fruit crumble.

serves 2

1 cup fruit, cut in bite-sized pieces, fresh or frozen
2 Tbsp maple syrup
3 Tbsp rolled oats or 2 Tbsp whole wheat flour
½ cup walnut halves or pieces
2 Tbsp butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/16 Tbsp salt
1 tsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp spice, such as cinnamon or allspice,
            only a pinch if using nutmeg

Place fruit in a 2-cup measuring cup or small bowl.  Add maple syrup and stir well.  Let sit while making the topping.

Spread oats in a microwaveable dish and microwave on High for 1 minute (not needed for wheat flour).

Place walnuts and oats (or flour) in a small blender or food processor and pulse 3 times to finely chop the nuts and oats.  Add butter, then sprinkle the salt over the top.  Pulse three more times.

In a 3-quart microwaveable bowl, place cornstarch and spice.  Drain some of the liquid from the fruit into the bowl and stir until smooth. Add the fruit, and stir to coat all the pieces.

Dump the crumble topping over the fruit and lightly spread to cover it all.

Microwave on High for about 3 minutes.  If your crumble comes out too runny, try adding 30 seconds next time.

Fruit Combinations
Apple + 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
Blueberry + 1/8 tsp vanilla extract or a pinch of  gr. vanilla bean
Cherry + pinch of ground nutmeg
Peach + 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
Pineapple + 1/8 tsp ground allspice

Friday, March 11, 2016

Ruffle Cuffs in Crochet

These ruffled wristwarmers are crocheted with sportweight yarn.  Fast and fun to make: no seaming or blocking.  An innovative ruffling technique is included, which produces uniform ruffles that keep their shape.  Wear them tucked in or tucked out, or put one on your jam jar to dress up a meal.

Skill Level   Easy - Intermediate

86-120 yds / 79-110m sportweight / DK wool, acrylic, or blend

A free .pdf of this pattern is available as a Ravelry download.

download now

You can find crochet tips and variations for this pattern in the following posts:
Ruffled Jar Cozy
Smooth Chain Finish
Forming a Base Chain Circle

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Victoriana at Its Best

Mrs. Sharp's Traditions: Reviving Victorian Family Celebrations of Comfort & Joy
by Sarah Ban Breathnach

One of my favorite books!  It has lovely Victorian pictures in a month-by-month treatment of various holidays and seasonal celebrations with great recipes and ideas on how to observe these special days.  In the process, "Mrs. Sharp" manages to put forth a gentle, family-centered philosophy of life.

This is the first Sarah Ban Breathnach book I came across several years ago.  I loved it so much that I went out and got her Simple Abundance books.  Personally I prefer Mrs. Sharp over her widely popular series.

This post is part of Orange Week on the blog.  Check out the other posts:
Orangey Jar Cozy
In Love with Mandarin Oranges
Avocado & Orange Salad

Monday, March 7, 2016

Orangey Jar Cozy

This is the prototype for my new free Ruffle Cuffs pattern--a crocheted pair of wristwarmers. I'm showing it here on a jar of orange marmalade.  Yum.

As a jar cozy, I made this one out of 100% cotton baby-weight yarn in the pattern's Small size. X-Small fits a 1/2-pint canning jar, and Large fits a pint canning jar--both large mouth and regular. For a custom jar cozy, you might want to vary the sleeve length somewhat, but it can be squished up or stretched down a bit as needed.

If you use cotton yarn for a jar cozy, it will shrink when you machine wash and dry it. So if you plan to do that, you might want to make the cozy a size larger. It will still fit the jar before it has shrunk, just not as snugly. To make it bigger than size Large in the pattern, just add a multiple of 10 chains to the base chain when you start.

This post is part of Orange Week on the blog.  Check out the other posts:
Victoriana at Its Best
In Love with Mandarin Oranges
Avocado & Orange Salad

Friday, March 4, 2016

Avocado & Orange Salad

This salad makes a yummy meal, which we eat about once a week at our house.  Here in South Texas, avocados are available year-round and we have a mandarin orange tree in our yard.  Heaven!

You can easily use a regular orange or a grapefruit instead of a mandarin.  Just add extra dressing to sweeten it up, according to the fruit you're using.  A small batch of my golden poppyseed dressing can be made using the recipe below.  You can get the full recipe here.


serves 2
1 medium  mandarin orange or tangerine
1 medium avocado
poppyseed dressing*
fresh spinach leaves

Peel and separate the orange segments.  Cut into bite-sized pieces and remove the seeds.  Place in a bowl and stir in 3-4 tsp. poppyseed dressing, depending upon how sweet or sour the orange is.

Cut the avocado into bite-sized pieces and sprinkle with salt.

Assemble the salad in individual large bowls.  Start with a bed of lettuce, add half the orange mixture, then half the avocado pieces.  Drizzle more poppyseed dressing over the avocado.

*Golden Poppyseed Dressing
 1 Tbsp. honey or vegan sweetener
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground mustard
pinch onion powder
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1/4 tsp. poppyseeds
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Place all ingredients in a jar and shake well.

This post is part of Orange Week on the blog.  Check out the other posts:
 In Love with Mandarin Oranges
Orangey Jar Cozy
Victoriana at Its Best

Monday, February 29, 2016

In Love with Mandarin Oranges

Do you love fresh mandarin oranges? I do. When we moved into our house in Rockport, Texas, I was thrilled to find two huge citrus trees in the yard. One was obviously grapefruit, but it took about six months to figure out that the tree with little green balls on it was a Changsha mandarin. Some people call them Changsha tangerines, and with the help of Ginger Easton Smith, our local Agriculture Extension agent, I came to understand that the terms “tangerine” and “mandarin” are often confused. The tangerines make up a subset of the mandarins, but some people use the terms interchangeably. Clear as mud, right?

The Latin name for this orange tree is Citrus reticulata ‘Changsha.’ People call it a Changsha mandarin or a Changsha tangerine or just a Changsha—my personal preference.  It’s one of the most cold-hardy of the citrus varieties, and the trees grow in a more upright arrangement than most other types of citrus.  The fruit is nice and sweet, easy to peel, medium-sized, and it has a flat bottom, slight vertical indentations like a pumpkin, and lots of seeds.  Lots.


If you want to propagate a Changsha, starting from seed will give you a more cold-hardy tree.  In addition, Changsha is one of the few orange varieties that serve as root stock for grafting other citrus onto.  A more widely used variety of root stock, trifoliate orange, is less cold-hardy and it produces inedible sour oranges on its own.  In addition, trifoliate orange is an invasive species in Texas--not a good idea to plant it.  Changsha, in my opinion, doesn’t actually need any grafting—the fruit is delicious and abundant.  And the trees actually grow better than trifoliate orange in a variety of well-drained soils, like alkaline and even saline.

It’s hard to grow citrus from seed, but there’s a shortcut that makes it easy: peel the seeds. As soon as you get a plump, undamaged, mature seed out of the fruit, rinse it off to prevent mold growth in the coming days. Then carefully use a sharp knife to make a tiny slit in the pointy end of the seed covering. Don’t cut into the actual seed inside. Then starting at the slit, peel the covering away and place the seed in a plastic bag with a folded damp paper towel. Use good non-chlorinated, non-salty water on the paper towel. Seal the bag and keep it in a warm spot. It doesn’t need light, so on top of the ‘fridge is fine. Go ahead and put several peeled seeds in the bag, because not all of them will germinate. Check the bag every day. If you see mold on the paper towel, replace it. Watch for a little root growing out of the seeds. Some can germinate in a couple of days, but don’t give up on the others. It can take a few weeks sometimes.

When a seed has germinated, plant it in a small pot of vermiculite, and wet it well with good-quality water. Keep the pot in a warm place until the seed sprouts up above the growing medium. Then move it to a warm, sunny spot. Keep it damp, but don’t over-water. Stick your finger in the medium to see if it’s dry, and then add water until it runs out of the holes.

After a couple of good, green leaves have unfurled, transplant the seedling into a larger container with a more fertile medium to grow in.You can use a mix of vermiculite, peat moss, and compost like the square-foot gardeners. Just be sure that it drains well.


Mandarin orange trees can be planted outdoors on the southern side of your house for protection from cold. They can also be grown indoors in pots, as long as you have a very sunny window. They generally start producing fruit in just a few years, sooner than larger citrus fruits. New trees will need water in the form of rain or irrigation once a week. After they’re established, every two weeks is fine. You can fertilize them by spreading compost or worm castings two or three times a year: late winter before blooming, late spring, and again in early fall if you want.


Leave the fruit on the tree as long as you can during the winter. This causes it to sweeten up quite a bit, especially in cold weather. But the fruit can be damaged by a hard freeze, so when one is forecast, pick them all the day before. Mandarin peel is delicate. Don’t pull the fruit off the tree—cut the stem so you won’t tear the peel. Your harvested oranges will last much longer that way.

Helpful Links

This post is part of Orange Week on the blog.  Check out the other posts:
Avocado & Orange Salad
Orangey Jar Cozy
Victoriana at Its Best