Saturday, November 30, 2013

Autographed books, books and plush - and more.

This blogger says "it" better than I ever could. Leaders are Readers; Readers succeed; and if you want your child to be a leader/reader/successful give them books for the holidays. If you want them to be "gamers" (and no doubt there are careers there -- but they need to read to get through the programming classes) give them games. Now if you want your children to be "players" give them play things. Your choice as always. JMHO. 

Free shipping offer and rebates.

For those autographed books and book related gifts try

 Plush to accompany favorite books.  Gingerbread men - add a favorite version from your independent book store.  Nursery rhyme themed quilts, family stories in cookbooks, Iowa cutting board, time for reading plush time out animals, cookie cutters galore, fun stuff -- use your imagination.  Sales now.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fresh Pumpkin - how to bake

Fresh Pumpkins

 Nothing says fall like fresh pumpkins and harvesting pumpkins from a local patch brings the freshness right to your table.

Iowa has more than 38 pumpkin patches devoted to raising pumpkins.  They are nutritious and delicious.  There are many recipes for using the pumpkin pulp (and many for using the pumpkin seeds - but I've never had the patience to clean the seeds from the stringy fibers from the inside of the pumpkin).

Acres devoted to pumpkin patches rose from a few acres over 300 in 1989 and now the acres on which pumpkins are grown are over 1000.

Once you have selected your "pie pumpkins" wash the exterior and make a knife sized slit in one of the sides of the pumpkins -- not crucial if you forget to make the slit but it will be easier to cut, and will allow the steam from the inside to escape as the pumpkin cooks in the microwave.

Place the pumpkin into a microwave and cook for 4-6 minutes.  Those few minutes will make the shell much easier to cut.  Once the pumpkin has been removed from the microwave allow it to cook, and then cut the pumpkin in half.

Scoop out the seeds and fiber strings that are on the inside of the pumpkin.  I generally use a ice cream scoop -- not a scoop that is like a melon ball scoop but more of a curved flatish type of scoop.  If some fibers remain it might be necessary to scrap them away from the flesh with a paring knife.  But just cut the fibers and scoop.

Actually you might feel you need to clean these completely out - but its really not necessary.  Just make sure the seeds are out.

Turn the pumpkin halves onto a cookie sheet (there will be some pumpkin water seep out so make sure you have sides on the pans).

Bake at 400 degrees for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.  The size of the pumpkin will determine exactly how long.  If you have a convection oven that speeds up the process.  When the skin of the pumpkin is shiny looking and begins to pucker the pumpkin is done.

The pumpkin shell looks almost as if someone has brushed oil onto the shell but no one has, it is simply the result of having cooked the pumpkin.

As the pumpkin coos a bit, the pumpkin skin (shell) begins to pucker.

Insert a knife or something into one of teh shell's puckers and begin to peel the pumpkin shell away from the pulp.

The flesh of the pumpkin is the part of the pumpkin that will be put in the food processor to be made into pumpkin puree.  This pumpkin will be package into bags with 2 cups of pumpkin, and others with 4 cups of pumpkin puree.  

Many recipes for using the fresh pumpkin may be downloaded from this site.

A bibliography of books about pumpkins - check this link.

From about 10 pumpkins I was able to package 38 cups of fresh pumpkin for freezing.  This pumpkin will make the very best pies, pumpkin rolls, and other pumpkin treats.

The recipes linked above are great recipes.  Explore the home site and find out other information about pumpkins.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sweet Sorghum - molasses (An Iowa Tradition)

Sweet Sorghum

My mother grew up in the 1920s on a farm in the Urbana - Center Point area (Iowa).  She recalled only having sorghum (sometimes she referred to the syrup as molasses)* to sweeten her morning oatmeal.  Sorghum was also the syrup the family used on pancakes and waffles.  When she tired of eating pancakes with sorghum, day-after-day, she would open a jar of canned peaches and eat peaches on the pancake, or perhaps applesauce.  But most often her morning breakfast would include sorghum.  Sweet sorghum syrup was commonly referred to as sorghum molasses or just plain molasses, although molasses is actually a byproduct of sugar cane or sugar beets.   After World War II, sorghum production dropped significally,  as raising and harvesting sorghum, for syrup, was very labor intensive.  Now less than 1 million gallons of syrup are produced annually in the United States -- most of it in seven states in addition to Iowa (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee).  One of the only surviving sorghum mills in Iowa, the Maasdam Sorghum Mills, 6495 E. 132nd St. S., Lynnville, Iowa 50153, began operation in 1926.  I've never been to their mill but the process and history is the subject of an Iowa Arts Council: Iowa Roots page.

In later decades, well after the 1920s, when my siblings and I were growing up on an Iowa farm, there was not a crop of sorghum plants - and despite the fact that my mother had tired of sorghum in her own childhood, commercially available molasses was often used for baking in her household.  We most often used Brer Rabbit Molasses.  We had two favorite recipes: Applesauce Molasses Cake and Molasses Cookies.  The original recipes came from a little recipe booklet distributed by the Brer Rabbit company.  These have been adapted over the years.

Most people associate Brer Rabbit Molasses with New Orleans, but these vintage company brochures (and the Brer Rabbit Penick Waffle and Pancake Syrup) establishes the connection between Brer Rabbit Molasses (and Penick Syrup) with Iowa.  Penick and Ford Ltd established a plant in Cedar Rapids Iowa, built on the remains of the Douglas Starch works plant that had been rocked by an explosion in 1919.

Order cookie cutters, aprons, and baker's cloths from Green Frog Gifts -- unique gifts -- many $10.00 or under.

*Molasses vs. Sorghum

The sorghum plant, a type of grass, was introduced into the United States from Africa in the early part of the 17th century. Sorghum syrup is a natural sweetener made by processing the juice that is extracted from the sorghum plant.  Special equipment is used to crush and extract the juice.  Farmers sent the sorghum stalks to mills for the extraction.  Sorghum syrup is produced primarily in the United States and is used as a substitute for sugar. It tends to have a thinner consistency and a slightly more sour taste than does molasses
Molasses was also introduced to the United States during the 17th century when traders started transporting it from the Caribbean to New England where it was popular as an ingredient for rum. Molasses was the most popular sweetener until the late 19th century because it was more affordable than sugar. Molasses is the by-product of processing sugar cane into sugar. The sugar cane plant is stripped of its leaves and the juice is extracted from the cane by crushing or mashing. The juice is boiled to concentrate it, which produces crystallization of the sugar. The result of the first boiling and removal of the sugar crystals is called first molasses (mild) and is the sweetest tasting. Second molasses(dark) is created from a second boiling and removal of sugar crystals. Blackstrap is the result of a third boiling of the syrup. The darker molasses is considered bittersweet.

The history of the Penick and Ford Plant in Cedar Rapids Iowa is detailed on the company's official site.
The company is now the Penford Corporation.
1903: The Douglas brothers form Douglas Starch Works in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
1919: Douglas Starch Works is sold to Penick & Ford, Ltd.
1965: Penick & Ford is purchased by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
1971: R.J. Reynolds sells Penick & Ford to the Univar Corporation.
1984: Penick & Ford and Great Western Malting, set up as divisions of Penwest Ltd., are spun off from Univar.
1989: Great Western is divested.
1997: The company changes its name to Penford Corporation.
1998: Penwest Pharmaceuticals Co. is divested.
2002: Penford relocates headquarters to Denver, Colorado.
Penford's present-day facility produces ethanol and corn syrup and maintains a large facility in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Giving Books

Giving a gift of a book is like giving a child the world - readers are leaders.

Green Frog Gifts is a gift site that has many books and literacy related items for young readers.  Visit the site and see if there is anything that you might want to gift to a special reader.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Food: Garden Fresh Salsa

Cooking (and Reading) with your family

I could not believe I LOVED this salsa.  Normally I don't like vegetables and this salsa has all the ingredients I stay away from: cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, vinaigrette dressing...  But this combination is prize winning.  And the best part I had many of the ingredients right in my refrigerator, fresh from the garden.
This salsa is simple enough for children to make.  Adults should supervise the chopping but the combining and measuring is well within even primary aged children's abilities.
For more recipes to make with young readers look for this book.

For more recipes to make with young readers look for this book.  Chop Chop: The Kids' Guide to Cooking Real Food with Your Family, by Sally Sampson with photographs by Carl Tremblay (Simon and Schuster, 2013).

The following recipe for Garden Fresh Salsa is from our family recipe book and is simple (and fun to make) -- chop, add, and mix - in any order you wish:
Click on recipe card to access a printable copy.
  • 2 1/2  to 3 cups fresh or frozen sweet corn (The small bag of Bird's Eye corn should have had 3 1/3 cups [5 servings of 2/3 cups] but it ended up lucky to have a full 2 cups as there was a lot of frozen water chunks in the package).
  • 1 cup black beans (I just put in the entire can - the rest would have just gone to waste.)
  • 3/4  cup chopped tomato
  • 1/2 cup chopped granny smith apple - about 1/2 the apple - so I sliced the other half and dipped in caramel, a great treat while I was cooking.
  • 1/2 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1/4 cup red onion - saved some red onion slices for on my favorite salad: salad greens (fresh kale tonight), red onion, strawberries, and chopped nuts - Ken's Foods Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette dressing.
  • 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette dressing  (I used Panera Balsamic Vinaigrette, but you could make your own using this copycat recipe -
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Chopped cilantro (I bought a fresh batch and used my food processor to chop it up.  Had plenty so I put the rest in a jar to use in the next few days.)
  • Salt to taste (I completely omitted this ingredient - so add as you wish.)
  • Mix together. Chill and stir often
  • Serve with tortilla chips.

On the Road: Independence and Oelwein

A great little shop in Independence
and a Quilt shop in Oelwein - a relaxing day

In Independence:

Headed out north up I-380 from Robins Iowa.  Very soon (approx. 16 miles) we were at exit 43 headed north (on IA-150) to Independence in Benton County.   First Street is the main street in Independence so it was a quick turn left, a couple of blocks down the street, and we were in front of The Little Red School House (1300 1st St W  Independence, IA 50644; phone 319-334-7199).
The Little Red School House is pure county, woven table runners, candles, charming chairs, tables, vases.  One of my favorites was this glazed rope pot with the alphabet embedded into the glazed finish.

Right next to the Little Red SchoolHouse is another distinctly different shopping - a very contemporary shop features larger scale furniture, pillows, artistic wall decor and even some elegant jewelry.

 The building next door is spacious and inviting -- but as contemporary as it's companion store is country.  Visit the Little Red SchoolHouse online.  After choosing a couple of small items, but feasting our eyes on many more -- and gleaning some wonderful ideas for future projects we got back in our car and headed east of 1st street to connect up again to IA-150 and headed north to Oelwein. 

On to Oelwein:

In Oelwein, we found LouAnn's Quilt Garden (21 E Charles St. 50662, phone 319-283-5165).  A fine selection of fabrics for quilters.  Not as much novelty fabric as I would have liked.  There was a wonderful jungle animal collage fabric made into a baby quilt -- loved it.  Sadly they were out of the jungle material but the backing was a very very soft plush fabric and I could not resist.  I purchased pink and green -- and will find a project for it soon.

 We ended the day with lunch at Leo's Restaurant a block or two over from the Quilt shop.  My shredded beef sandwich - shredded beef piled high (I opted to have it sans onions and tomatoes) on a hoagie bun, was excellent but almost too much for lunch.  Very tasty though.  Cheryl's lunch was equally delicious.  A nice interlude in a small town.

 A nice day overall.