Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cardboard box treasures and yard sale finds

Hello, everybody!

 The Fresh Pioneer is back and I'm hoping everybody's having an awesome summer! We've been... Weird, I can't seem to think of anything really amazing we've been doing. Every day feels packed and full and we're exhausted at the end (and some of us are usually covered with ice cream and dirt) but there's not much to really point to as 'big projects'.
So, I was going through some boxes of jars I'd been given (they were going to be donated) I saw some interesting jars. Lots of wide mouth, zinc lidded, half gallon, Ball and Kerr, vintage stuff. I was sort of looking for blue glass, but no luck. But in one box, I saw some nice pint jam jars for a friend. And with the jars I saw:
I knew they were old. But... what were they exactly?

Edna was very interested as I brought them into the kitchen. She needed a closer look so I washed a few and brought them for inspection. She declared them to be vintage jelly jars but it was hard to tell from what era. The angel and crown imprint on the bottom is indented. Edna said it makes a nice mold detail for aspic that could be set on a plate at the table.
 On Food Network I found a great article about glass and canning and vintage stuff.

This here's a hand made  jar which you can tell by the pontil mark on the bottom, which made me think of all those hand-made marbles we have somewhere and then I wondered where they were and if they were in a box or if the kids had rolled them under the couch and the Edna whirred her beaters and I remember... CANNING JARS. Yes, back to what we were doing.

"Purple jars (the color is the result of sun exposure to the manganese dioxide in the glass) were made prior to World War I because during the war manganese dioxide, which was scarce, was replaced by selenium."

 These are the precursor to the two-part lids. Hm. Definitely old. It's even sideways.
 This was a very COOL nifty little time line for Ball jar marks. I didn't see one for Kerr, but it did help me sort a bunch of jars from the ten boxes and set them aside. They can be shown off instead of ending up holding nails in hubby's shed.
"Thumb Screw Clamp  During the Civil War and later some manufacturers used a clamp and glass lid design. The jar has a cast metal wire that clamps down on a glass lid and holds it tightly in the neck of the jar. These were used with round gaskets to create the seal. "
I have to say, if I saw jars like this I would pass out. That's some OLD STUFF.

 Ok, so now that we knew WHAT they were, we decided to make some jelly! So, pectin (by the Ball company, don't tell the Kerr glass we were using).
 And then I thought, wouldn't it be neat if those extra lids fit on one of my Fireking teacups??
 Oooooo! Perfect! Now, usually there would be a layer of wax of the jam, but we're just going to eat it (like in a day or two) so I didn't bother worrying about keeping it sealed. If I was going to give this away, I would definitely do the wax step. Maybe I'll hand some out next time. *Remember to buy wax!!
 Blueberries from the store that really don't taste like blueberries so they've been sitting in the fridge. Three cups of blueberries. 1 cup sugar. I know that's a lot of sugar. It's TASTY. A few TBs of lemon juice.
 I turned around to see the vintage percolator had joined the party. They were all have a great time reminiscing over breakfast brunches from the forties. Mr. Perky had been used for a camp coffee maker for a while. He told a roaring tale about nosy bears drinking from his spout which had Edna shrieking with laughter and poor Kerr jelly jars shivering under their lids. The Fireking teacup was cheerfully enjoying the tale, as always.

 Before boiling the fruit, I stirred in 3 TBs of pectin. When it cooled, some of the jam went into the teacup.
 Two jams, and one jelly, for the child that prefers no chunks on her toast.
 I think these lids are so elegant. There were about 5 extras and I'm wondering what to do with them. *Must search internet late at night for crafting ideas when I should be writing!

And a jaunty bow, because the jelly jar had been in storage for (according to the donor) about 25 years. After that long in a cardboard box in the attic with the spiders, Edna declared sweet little jelly jar deserved some pretty in her life. When I tied it on, I think she blushed a bit and was feeling quite special!

 So, until next time my dears!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Trip to the Ranch and Blueberry-Peach Crisp

Tex here, swinging in from a relaxing weekend at the ranch. Wish it could have been longer, but marching band started yesterday, which means we may not get to escape the city anytime in the near future.
But we had fun, nonetheless. The kids did what they love to do--shoot guns, hike/ride through the woods, fish, and prep their deer stands for fall.
This is the camp house, our little getaway tucked in the middle of nowhere. You can tell by the mess on the front porch that it was well used this weekend. Towels and swimsuits line the railing and, of course, no camp house is complete with a potato launcher (that tall, skinny white thing on the right). You just never know when you might come under attack.
The ranch, or farm as we call it, spans about 1500 acres in all and every place has a name. Names that have been around for over a century, like the Beverly Opening, President's Ridge, The Hog Pasture, Tanyard Branch, Walnut Hill.... Mention those names, and most folks in the area know exactly where you're talking about.
This weekend, we decided to take a jaunt up to Walnut Hill. Now there are only a few ways you can get there. Walk, horseback, or Polaris. And let's face it, the Polaris is quicker and more fun. Especially when the temp is in the 90's.
After a long, hot day of riding the range, mowing, and mending fences, there's nothing better than a dip in the hot tub. The Hillbilly Hot Tub, that is.
Yep, it's a horse trough. Not that any horses have ever used it. We bought this when the boys were little. Actually, they both learned how to swim in it. But at the end of the day, it belongs to mom and dad. Doesn't my man look happy? Nice and refreshed. Ribs and chicken are cooking in the background, we're sippin' a cold drink, and talking about the day.
Then it's time for some grub and a fruity, rustic dessert that starts with some peaches and a pint of blueberries.
The blueberries refused to pose with the peaches while they were still fuzzy, so I had no choice but skin the peaches. Simply dunk them in boiling water for 10-15 seconds...

And the skin will slide right off.
Now slice your skinless peaches into a bowl, add the blueberries, about 1/3 cup of sugar, the juice of half a lemon (about a teaspoon) and stir to combine.
The blueberries don't mind cozying up with the peaches now that they've shaved. :)
Pour the mixture into a buttered baking pan.

In a small bowl, mix together 1/2 cup of oatmeal, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. You could also add some chopped nuts, if you like. I do, but didn't have any.
Using forks or a pastry cutter, cut in 1/4 cup (half a stick) chilled butter until mixture is nice and crumbly.
Pour over top of fruit.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, or until top is browned and fruit is nice and bubbly.

You can serve it hot or cold, but I like mine warm with a scoop of Bluebell Homemade Vanilla.

Mmm.... What better way to end a truly spectacular day.

If you had the opportunity for a quick weekend getaway, what would be your idea of fun?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Basic White Cake with Guest Blogger Carrie

Jan here, stepping aside for my daughter to make another guest appearance at the cafe.

Long story short - last January, when I was asked to take over the Christian Education duties at our church, VBS was just a distant cloud on the horizon. No problem, I thought, I'll just plan around that one week in July....

Yeah, right.

What I didn't know then was that I would have two (2!) deadlines looming, and what I had conveniently forgotten was what a time-sucker VBS is for the director!

So here we are, the first day of VBS 2013, and Carrie offered to make a cake for the blog.

"Sure!" I said, "I'd love it!"

So, take it away, Carrie!

All right, Folks, it’s Carrie again! This is beginning to become a habit, but it’s a habit I’m not sure I want to break. This blog is going to be a lesson in making recipes for the first time, and realizing that not everything you make will look a) pretty and b) exactly like it does in the picture.

On Sunday afternoon, I set about to make a basic vanilla cake with a white chocolate frosting and cookie crumbles on top. While what I got was exactly that, I also found out that this is not my favorite cake recipe, and it's hard to keep people from eating Oreos before you need to use them!

Here is the cake recipe I used (you can definitely substitute your own favorite vanilla cake recipe). I found it in a Food Network Magazine. I had made the chocolate version earlier this month for my mom’s birthday. The chocolate version was delicious, fudgey and moist, so I figured the vanilla would be the same right?

Basic Vanilla Cake


2 Sticks Unsalted Butter, at room temperature.
3 C. All purpose flour
1 TBSP Baking Powder
½ tsp salt
1 ¼ C. Sugar
4 large eggs
1 TBSP Vanilla Extract
¾ C. Heavy Cream mixed with ½ C. Water

1) Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9"x13" pan.

2) Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside. Beat butter and sugar on medium until light and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed and beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the vanilla (The mixture may look separated at this point) Beat in the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the heavy cream mixture. Beginning and ending with flour.

3) Pour batter into pan. Bake until the cake is lightly golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. About 30-35 minutes.

Sounds easy enough? It sure was, the cake went together great, but the batter was much thicker than I expected. I even reread the directions to see if I had missed some extra liquid. I hadn't, so I soldiered on. I baked my cake and it looked and smelled delicious. It even tasted delicious after I had let it cool. But the texture was something more like a coffee cake or a muffin than a delicious cake.

The frosting, that was a different matter. This frosting turned out delicious and I can see it being extra tasty on a chocolate cake.

White Chocolate Frosting:


3 oz. White Chocolate, finely chopped
1 ½ sticks butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
1 ½ C. Confectioners’ Sugar
10 Oreos, or other chocolate sandwich cookie, crushed

1) Melt the white chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth. Beat butter, vanilla and salt together in a mixer until smooth. Add the melted white chocolate and beat until combined. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth.

Frost the cake and then sprinkle on crushed cookies to top it off.

It didn't quite end up like the magazine. But it was worth a shot, and next time I get the hankering for a cookies and cream cake I'll definitely use the chocolate recipe!

Jan here again. One step Carrie left out is that she cut her 9"x13" cake in half and layered it. It was a VERY rich cake, but tasty. I agree with her, though - next time, it should be chocolate!

We'll leave you with some shots from the hike we took on Carrie's birthday earlier this least, from the first half of the hike. We watch the thunderheads gather, and then the heavens opened up, and we were almost a mile from the car! Yes, we got soaked, but it was worth it!

And finally, a gratuitous puppy picture! Here's Thatcher at 17 weeks, playing with his best buddy, Maggie-the-Cat-who-thinks-she's-a-dog:

Wasn't it smart of me to get color coordinated pets?

We've had recipe fails at the cafe before, but we still keep pushing on, don't we? What's the next new recipe you're planning to try?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Friend-ly Reunions

This has been the summer of “friend-ly reunions” for me.  I’ve had the joy of visiting with people who make a big difference in my life’s journey.  Some for the first time in person and some for the first time in a while.  

Having a sister is like having a best friend you can never get rid of. You know whatever you do, they'll still be there.  -Amy Li

This picture evokes too many captions to mention. It was tough for me going from an only to the oldest!  

They called us the Easter Eggs because we had different hair color even before hair dye came into the picture.

My sister Ann is visiting this weekend.  We are having a blast but missing our little sister Mary.  Sniff. If I don't comment quickly enough, it is because we are out having too much fun antiquing.

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one.  ― C.S. Lewis

Piper and I met at last year's Moonlight and Magnolias but cemented our bond over Royal Baby news.

Mary and I have been writing buddies for a while now but roomed together at RWA. And we didn't kill each other! 
Speaking of sisters, I just got back from RWA in Atlanta where I was united with writing pals, Piper Huguley and Mary Curry.  I keep saying they are sisters of the heart but they also are encouragers of the first order.  

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.  - Albert Schweitzer

My friend Renee and her husband Tommy. Why yes, they ARE dressed like Rhett and Scarlett!
Another great thing about going to Atlanta was seeing my friend from divinity school days, Renee, and her husband. They recently moved back to the East Coast from California. Encouragement is also a theme of our relationship through all our various adventures in ministry.

“It was only high school after all, definitely one of the most bizarre periods in a person’s life. How anyone can come through that time well adjusted on any level is an absolute miracle.”  ― E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

     Back in the day, we rocked Gunne Sax. I am in the middle seated. Donna is at the end kneeling.
Earlier this summer, my friend Donna traveled all the way to Outer Banks from California to be with her  East Coast family. Then she drove eight hours round trip to see the infamous screened porch project and me. Now that is a good friend.  I think we started talking the moment she arrived and kept at it until she departed.  We talked surviving high school, our faith journey and more.  Just picked up where we left off.

Like fine cheeses, we have aged pretty well. Donna better than me!

I fixed something quick and easy for our visit, not wanting to waste time cooking when I could spend the time visiting.  It is tomato season here and I decided a caprese salad would be the ticket.  My variation involved miniaturizing the ingredients. Everyone knows anything is cuter when it is tiny. I added fresh bread and brownies from the local bakery and voila. Lunch!

This was the perfect lunch for sustaining hours of talking!

Marinated Caprese Salad
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
1 container mini mozzarella balls
1 package romaine lettuce, torn up
1 bunch asparagus
1/3 cup olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 T Italian spices or dry Italian dressing blend
Shaved parmesan cheese

Mix the oil, vinegar and spices. Pour in a bowl. Add tomatoes and mozzarella balls. Stir, cover and refrigerate at least one hour.  
Toss asparagus in a tablespoon of olive oil and a dash of salt. Roast for 20 minutes at 350.
Arrange romaine lettuce on a plate. Place still warm asparagus spears across lettuce. Top with tomatoes and mozzarella.  Shave parmesan over salad.  Serves 3-4.

I've learned over time it is better to have an easy meal when you know you're going to be yacking. Small bites, carbs to keep you going, and plenty of water to drink so your mouth doesn't get dry.

So, what about you? Have you had friendly or family reunions this summer? Is there one reunion you wish you could set up?  

Friday, July 26, 2013

Time Marches On...

Okay, some Friday fun to transition into Saturday joy!!!!

There is this:

This was a wedding cake I did for a military couple being stationed in Alaska... Nice and cool on a hot summer day, right????

And then there's this:

A bouquet of flowers for my first book signing.... How amazingly beautiful are they??? Now if I have a book signing my family says, "Yeah, well, good, what's for supper?"


What a difference three years makes?

Casey when she was younger.... first learning to sew.

Casey now, getting ready for 8th Grade Night!!!

Of course there are big changes here because this:

Is now this:

And this:

Has morphed to the twins on this:

Falling for the Lawman, on sale in one month... the next Kirkwood Lake book... 4 Stars by Romantic Times Review and I have to admit that I'm okay with how time has been marching on lately!

Hey, I've got cheesecake here, cold and fresh and fresh berries to go with!!!!


Coffee's on!