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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Here's Another Organizing QuickTip®!

Do you have one of those "fear for your life" cabinets in your kitchen or utility room?  You know, the one you are scared to open, because you are afraid something will fall on your head and kill you?  

Here's a quick and easy way to get it under control, adhering to Miss G priorities in life: quick, cheap and easy!  And the answer is right in front of your face! Use the back of your cabinet doors!



Your local home center sells wire racks that screw right onto the back of the door, holding your most used items right up front, ready to grab and go.  Here, Miss Ginger has added racks for her bottles of  oils and vinegars she uses most while cooking, easy to grab at the left of her cooktop.  These racks came from Lowe's , cost less than 8 bucks each, and install in minutes with just 2 screws.  They work great on the back of a 12" door, but what if  your door is wider or narrower than that? Or what if you have odd-sized bottles and cans you need to stash?

It's easy to make a wooden rack from 5 pieces of wood, and you can create them to fit any door, as well as any size jar or product you need to store!  Here, Miss Ginger wrangled all of her most used spices into racks that are a perfect fit for their little bottles.


It really is easy to do! All you need are 1x3 and 1/4 x 2 craft boards, which come in 2' and 4' lengths at Lowe's, so they are very lightweight and easy to handle.  The only tools you will need are a hammer and a saw, plus a few small finishing nails and a couple of screws for mounting.  A battery operated drill makes installation easier, but isn't essential- a screwdriver will do.




Begin by measuring the back of your cabinet door.  If you have paneled doors like these, with a thin wood panel in the center, be sure to measure from the thick part on the left to the thick part on the right.  This door measures 12 1/2", so that will be the length of the back slat.  Cut this piece from the thin craft board, and cut 2 more pieces 1/2 inch shorter. 




Due to Miss Ginger's poor planning of the photograph, you can't see that the board in the back is actually 1/2" longer than the 2 in front.  To cut the 2 side pieces from the thicker board, measure the diameter of the cans or bottles you are planning to store, and cut the sides to that length.  That's it, you're done cutting!  5 easy pieces! 




To assemble the rack, use small finishing nails or brads to nail one of the shorter pieces to the sides, on the edge that doesn't match your jar measurement.  Nail it flush to the top, as shown here, to form the front of your rack. Miss Ginger usually puts a dab of white glue between the boards before she nails, just to make sure it's nice and solid.



Rotate the rack forward, and nail the other short strip across the bottom, on the side that matches your jar measurement.  Nail it in the center; just eyeball it- no need to be anal!

Finally, rotate one more time, and nail the longer piece across the back, centered.  On each side, drill a small mounting hole through the "overhang".




There it is, ready to mount and round up your junk!  You can paint or stain it to match your cabinets, or just leave it plain. Miss G left these in the craft room plain, to save time, but the ones in the kitchen are stained and sealed because that seemed more kitcheny.







Installing is easy, too- just screw it! Seriously, just 2 screws into the holes you drilled!  Just one little caveat about installation- watch your clearance!









Be sure to install your rack high enough to clear the shelf beneath it, and low enough for the tallest can you will store to clear the shelf above it.  Here, you can see the top rack clears the shelf, and the lower rack is low enough for the can to clear the shelf, as well.






So remember that nasty cabinet at the beginning of the post? Here it is, all cleaned up, with the spray products Miss Ginger uses most within handy reach of her work area, and all the little bits and pieces that were all over the place corralled into storage jars on the top racks! 






At the other end of the workbench, she has her glass paints, in a rack custom-made to the size of the tubes! These would rattle around and fall out of a wire rack because they are so little, but here, they are held snuggly by a rack perfectly matched to their size!

And really, folks, it has taken her longer to write this blog post than it took to make those racks!  Even someone who is awkward with tools could pull this off, so Miss G is sure you can do it!  

Leave a note in the comments and let Miss Ginger know what you are having problems trying to store! Who knows, she may have just the answer for you! 

Ragu Goes Alladin- The Pintester Movement Post!


When Miss Ginger learned of "The Pintester Movement" she new immediately that she must participate, and she knew immediately which pin she would try to duplicate!  She had seen the Moroccan inspired Ragu jars on hundreds of boards, and felt pretty confident of her ability to pull this off.  While it may not really be in the spirit of the Pintester Movement to take on a craft she's already good at, let's face it: what ISN'T she already good at! I mean, the cards ARE kinda stacked in her favor. Still, it gave her the opportunity to knock off a craft  be inspired by another artist AND participate in an event of epic proportion, one sure to take the internet by storm! 

So, she printed off the "inspiration photo", left, and assessed her ownership of the required materials.




In the photo, the color on the glass seemed much more transparent than the paints Miss Ginger owned, so she made a trip to Michael's to get some glass stain and the gold paint to make the "metal" parts.  She didn't have any spaghetti sauce jars (Miss Ginger would NEVER serve jarred sauce!) so she grabbed a couple of pickle jars from her stash. (Miss Ginger LOVES pickles!) 

When she went back to the original pin to research the kind of paint originally used, she discovered that the pinner had committed the CARDINAL SIN of pinning- rather than linking her pin to the actual post about Moroccan inspired jars, she linked her pin to the title page of her enitre fucking blog!  Bitch!  Ain't nobody got time fo' dat!  There was NO WAY Miss Ginger was going to sift through 10,000 posts about this chicks wedding just to find out what kind of fucking paint she used!  "We'll just go with what we have", thought Miss Ginger, "I'll exhibit the true Pintester Spirit®!" 

Initially, Miss Ginger decided not to use a paper pattern to create her design- she didn't want it to look "perfect" or "machine made";  it should have an "old world" look, with patina and shit.  Yeah, no worries. The first attempt went into the trash. Miss Ginger knows when to admit defeat! 



So, for her second attempt Miss Ginger created a paper pattern inspired by the yellow jar in the photo.  She placed it inside the jar and brushed the gold paint on from outside, but when she pulled the pattern out: UGH! This paint was NOT covering the jar- it was just sliding around on the surface, creating little golden slime trails as it went.  Clearly not the right paint, but also clearly not going to be replaced at 10pm after most of a bottle of pinot grigio! It wasn't looking as metallic anyway, so Miss Ginger had the BRILLIANT idea to throw some glitter on it to help the paint cover.
That kinda worked, so Miss G went with it. She didn't have much choice at this point!  

After she got it all glittered she passed out went to bed, and got up the next morning to put the color on. 













This turned put to be a big hot mess, as well.  The "glass stain" that Miss G got at the craft store was runnier than, well, um.... I can think of an acceptable simile for something really runny!  But trust me when I tell you, this shit was runny! (oops, it happened anyway!) As you can see in the photo, this paint, too, kind of smeared on the surface of the glass. It was completely impossible to get even coverage. Miss Ginger let it dry, hoping a second coat (and more pinot grigio) would improve the final product.


Having gained a little confidence by fucking up when she tried to "follow the directions", Miss Ginger grabbed another jar and started to dab on gold gilt like a pro!  Once she got the "dabbing" technique down pat, she was pretty pleased with the appearance of little gold dots, and dabbed the night away, without a pattern, she might add! Well, the pickle jar DID have that little barrel-vaulted thingy at the top that ALL pickle jars seemed to have, so she sort of followed that, which seemed to work. So confident she became, in fact, that she decided to set in some paste "jewels" that she had in her crafty stash.  By now, our girl was positively giddy with the anticipation of OWNING this craft! 




After the gold paint dried, Miss Ginger used her regular glass paint to color the spaces between, with much greater success.  She is pretty happy with the way this one turned out, but she realized she had taken a LOT of poetic license up to this point, and hadn't really produced anything that looked like the original photo, so she grabbed another jar and tried, in earnest, to replicate one of the jars in the original pin.  



So, here's the side-by-side, folks:



























Whadya think?  Pass or fail?

I'm a Pinteste!

You'd have to be living under a rock not to have heard of Pinterest, the online "pin board" site from which Miss Ginger steals ideas gains inspiration!  
You may not, however, have heard of Pintester,  the unabridged "companion site" written by Sonja Foust. Well now you have!  Don't miss it-  it's 10 times more entertaining than Pinterest, because it includes 100% more SNARK! 
Here are all the things Miss Ginger loves about Pintester:
1. It's grassroots. Just a young lady trying to make a difference in the world- like Miss Ginger!
2. It involves crafts, cooking, and all things domestic-  like Miss Ginger!
3. It involves copious amounts of alcohol- just like Miss Ginger!
4. Consequently, things get fucked up-  like Miss Gingers!
5. She curses like a sailor- just like Miss Ginger!

Actually, I'm pretty sure Sonja and Miss Ginger are drag-queen twins, separated at birth by some drunk, cursing nurse at the hospital who was too distracted by her macrame to notice that one of us was stolen by some hateful trafficker who had an order for a girl with blue eyes! Glad he grabbed her and not me!! 

ANY HO, Sister Sonja had the clever idea to enlist her readers in helping her test all the pins on Pinterest! Well, maybe not ALL of them (is anyone REALLY going to spray paint beans pink just so their vase won't be empty?! sheesh!)  She created an event she's calling "The Pintester Movement", and if you are reading this, you are now a part of it, because:

So, check out my first post as a "Pinteste" and let me know what you think!!






Sunday, May 26, 2013

Awesome Sauce!


Which would you buy?

This:
Miss Ginger's FABULOUS! Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients: Tomatoes, Onion, Bell Pepper, Brown Sugar, Cider Vinegar, Garlic, Spices, Salt















OR:

This:
Kraft Thick and Spicy Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients: HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, VINEGAR, WATER, TOMATO PASTE, MOLASSES, BROWN SUGAR, APPLE CIDER VINEGAR, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, SALT, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF NATURAL HICKORY SMOKE FLAVOR, MUSTARD FLOUR, DRIED GARLIC, SPICE, POTASSIUM SORBATE (TO PRESERVE FRESHNESS), DRIED ONIONS, CARAMEL COLOR, PAPRIKA.






Sorry! You can't buy Miss Ginger's awesome sauce (yet!) But if you, like most people, are trying to avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup, and the shitstorm of chemicals it takes to make "modified food starch", you can make this delicious barbecue sauce at home, and preserve it to last for up to a year on your pantry shelf, without chemical preservatives! The work is satisfying and not hard to do, and you won't need a lot of specialized equipment, although there are a couple of cheap tools that make it easier. It does take the better part of the day, if you start with fresh tomatoes.

Miss Ginger started with about 24 large tomatoes that she bought at the local produce market.  She'd love to tell you that they were farmed by local nuns that use the proceeds to feed the homeless, but they were trucked up from Mexico, just like the ones at the grocery store.  They were cheap and fresh, just like her, and after being at the produce market, needed a good bath- just like her! She rinsed them in a tub of diluted cider vinegar, just to get any dirt or oil off of them.


Next, she cored them with her little plastic tomato corer thingy (you can use a paring knife if you're brave) and got them ready to peel.









Peeling tomatoes is not as tedious as it sounds if you know the hot/cold trick.  Drop the tomatoes into a pot of simmering water for 3-5 minutes, just until the skins start to crack.  Then, dunk them in ice water to stop the cooking and cool them down enough to handle.  The skins will slide right off, and you'll be left with a slimy, naked tomato, ready to give it guts to become part of your handiwork!



This part gets a little messy, so put on an apron!  You want to get the seeds and "goop" separated from the meat of the tomatoes, so you won't have to boil it for 3 days to get it thick enough!  You can slice them and scoop with a spoon, but Miss Ginger found it easier just to tear them apart with her bare hands, creating 2 separate containers of tomatoey carnage!




So here on the left is the tomato "meat", and on the right is the "leavings".  This lady says that the leavings are all you need for barbecue sauce, and that the meat should be canned for later use. She thinks it's a waste to use the good part of the tomatoes for sauce, but waste be damned, let's move forward!  

Actually, I did run the "leavings" through my juice mill, and was surprised to get over a quart of beautiful, fresh tomato juice, and just a tiny container of seedy pulp to add to the compost heap! 
(PS- you can skip ALL of the previous mess and steps if you use canned tomatoes!  Find a brand with no added salt or preservatives and it's pretty much the same.)


In a stainless stockpot, combine the tomatoes with 2 chopped onions and 3 chopped bell peppers. (The pot MUST be stainless to avoid a chemical reaction with the tomatoes. Do NOT use aluminum!)  Set on the stove over medium heat, and in a few minutes the tomatoes will give off a ton of liquid. Keep simmering, with an occasional stir, for about 45 minutes.


When all the vegetables are softened, puree them with an immersion blender, or a regular blender, or a food processor, or a food mill- whatever! Just blend the shit till it looks like:









this!  It took 2 batches in Miss Ginger's huge food processor. Once it's all pureed, return it to the stockpot and bring back to simmer. (Real life hint: If stuff has dried on the bottom of your stockpot while you were pureeing, wash it out so it won't scorch when it goes back on the stove!) Simmer for about an hour; the liquid should reduce by about half.

Now add the additional ingredients: 

1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
and seasonings to taste. I used:
1 Tablespoon dry mustard
1 Tablespoon paprika
1 Tablespoon canning salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
a few shakes of Lea and Perrins
a buttload of tabasco

A couple of comments on substitutions, based on my research (yes, I DO research all most some the really complex blog posts!) You may substitute granulated sugar, molasses, honey, or Splenda® for the sugar in the same amounts.  You can use white vinegar instead of cider, but do NOT use malt vinegar, it will make your sauce bitter. Use should be able to safely increase the amount of vinegar, but do NOT reduce the amount! You must have at least 1 1/2 cups per 20 or so tomatoes in order to process safely. Canning salt is pure salt that has no anti-caking ingredients in it, which supposedly can caused preserved foods to appear cloudy. You can get it wherever you get your jars.

Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours more, stirring frequently as sauce thickens to prevent scorching.  Once it's reach the desired thickness, it's ready to use, freeze, or can.  The recipe makes about 2 1/2 quarts of sauce, which is 5 pint jars.  Frozen sauce is far less convenient than jars, since you have to allow time for thawing. I also find the freezing/thawing process thins the sauce a bit, so I end up having to re-cook it, which is a pain! It's worth taking the time to can it, which is about an hour, start to finish. 

By the way, if you've never canned anything, sauces are a great 1st project!  They contain plenty of acid, which is what keeps the food fresh.  And they have long cooking times, so you don't have to worry about rushing things so they don't overcook or get soft!

You can accomplish the process in any pot large enough to cover the jars with simmering water; it does not have to be stainless, since it won't touch the food. Bring the water to a steady simmer, and sink the jars, lids, ladles, and anything that will touch the food in there to be sanitized. BTW, you must use specific jars and lids made for home canning- save your leftover mayonnaise jars for other crafty projects! 





Here's my little "operatory" all ready to go. I've got my simmering canner, my hot sauce, and my simmered pint jars and lids, along with a sanitized ladle and butter knife.  I also have a couple of paper towels handy, a pair of tongs to handle the hot jars, and a glass of wine. Duh! 






Fill each jar, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top. This allows the liquid to expand and contract without breaking the jars.  Once all the jars are filled, adjust the headspace if needed, and clean the top of the rim with a damp paper towel.  Set a pre-simmered lid on each jar and hand tighten the rings to hold the lid in place. Don't over tighten, just finger tight. Using tongs or a jar lifter, place the covered jars back in the simmering water bath, and let them simmer for 20-35 minutes, depending upon your altitude. Use a canning rack or add enough empty jars to fill the pot so your filled jars remain upright.


Keep the water at a steady simmer; if it boils a bit, just turn it down some, no harm done. If for some reason it stops simmering, turn the heat up, and restart timing from zero once it's reached a simmer.  After simmering for the correct time, carefully remove the jars from the water, and let them rest, undisturbed, on the counter for 14-24 hours, until they are completely cool.  Shortly after they begin cooling, you will probably hear each one "ping" as the pressure reverses and sucks the lid down into place, forming the seal that keeps it fresh on the shelf!  Once they are cool, unscrew the rings and lift each jar by the edge of the lid.  If the lid stays on, you know the jar sealed properly and is shelf-stable.  If the lid comes off, you didn't get a good seal.  You can reprocess that jar with a new lid, or keep it in the refrigerator and use it within a week. 


Add a cute label (don't forget the date, as Miss Ginger did on these!) and store them on a shelf in a dark, cool place like your pantry. Once they are opened, keep any unused portion in the fridge for a week or so. 


Concerned about the safety of home canned products? Knowledge is power, and there are 2 important sources of knowledge to help you put up food safely.  The USDA has a website specifically dedicated to helping you safely preserve food at home, and it includes 7 printable guides that form the "bible" for home food preservation.  This recipe is based on the recipe given in guide #3, which is all about tomatoes.

The other website is maintained by Jarden Home Brands, which probably manufactured the jars and lids you are using, at least in America. freshpreserving.com  has a variety of recipes and techniques using Ball® and Kerr® products.  Both sites include processing times for all altitudes, as well as lots of tips to make canning safe, healthy, and easy! 

Fresh barbecue sauce just in time for the summer holidays!  What should Miss Ginger make with it?!

Kitchen Quicktip®: Bell Peppers

Do you know how to get the best value for your money when buying bell peppers?  Momma G taught Miss Ginger years ago, and now she's gonna teach you!

Her secret? Look for the boys! And how do you tell a boy bell pepper from a girl bell pepper?  Same way you would tell with any animal- turn it over!  The boys have 3 distinct divisions, like the peppers in the top of this photo, while the girls have 4, like the pepper beneath.

Why does it make a difference?  Because the boys have a lot more "meat", the green part on the outside that you actually use, vs. the girls, which have a lot more internal "reproductive organs" on the inside that you end up throwing away!  

See?  The girl on the left has lots of seeds and internal structure to throw away, while the boy on the right yields much more edible pepper.  Pound for pound, you'll get more for your dollar if you buy only boys!

Are they really boys and girls, or was Momma G just pulling my leg? May some botanist out there can set the record straight, but you gotta admit: Momma's story sure makes it easy to remember which peppers to buy! 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Stained Glass Bottles and Jars

Here's an easy, fun way to keep glass bottles and jars out of the waste cycle that requires no specialized equipment or skills- just an artistic eye and a few bottles of inexpensive paint!  It's so safe and easy even a kid can do it, but adult artists will also enjoy the ability to recreate "old world" techniques with modern, water-based products! 

Gallery Glass paints are one of those "sleeper" products that sort of "undersells" itself on the shelf at the craft store, with a lot of the example creations looking sort of juvenile and "crafty".  Miss Ginger's taste is a bit more "traditional", so she prefers to use the products to reproduce the look of stained glass, but it just underscores the fact that this craft has something for everyone!



What most of us think of as "stained glass" is actually "leaded" glass; thousands of pieces of colored glass, cut into sort of a mosaic, and pieced together with flux and solder. Beautiful, long-lasting, and expensive, real leaded glass is hard to come by these days. The work is tedious, somewhat dangerous (hot soldering irons, sharp glass, and molten metal!) and requires a lot of patience, practice, and trial and error! 


These products give the look of leaded glass with no lead, no heat, and no sharp edges!  The secret to the most traditional-looking results are the Redi-lead® strips  that provide the look of soldered lead from a self-adhesive vinyl product! The flexible "lead" lines peel off the backing paper with their adhesive intact, ready to smooth onto any glass surface. Easily cut to length with an Xacto® knife, the strips provide a consistent width and depth, similar to the lead wire that would have been used in days of old- but without that pesky problem of lead poisoning- not to mention the hassle of soldering!  With a paper pattern under the glass, it's easy to follow along the lines and curves from the outside to create the "seams" between your "pieces of glass"!

Liquid Leading® provides the look of soldered joints, without the hassle of a soldering iron and the danger of lead solder.  With the consistency of thick black paint, it's easy to dab Liquid Leading® onto butt joints to create the sections that you will paint to mimic colored glass. 













Once the leading is in place and the "solder" has dried, it's time to apply the color to the pattern pieces to finish your project. You don't even need a paintbrush! The bottle has a sharp tip that allows you to flow the product right up against the lead lines, and then quickly flow enough paint across the surface to create a solid section.



The color goes on opaque but dries to a translucent finish, with a wavy texture that mimics old-fashioned stained glass. Keep the surface horizontal until the paint has set, to keep it from flowing to the bottom of your shape.  On a round jar or bottle like this, you will have to apply the color in 4 "strips", rotating the bottle after each strip to bring the next area to the top.  Although the color dries to the touch in a few hours, it doesn't "set" for several days, so as you move from one section to the next, you will need to devise a way to "hang" your project so you can work on a section while the previous sections cure.  If you set it down on an uncured section, it will stick, and you will have a mess on your hands! 


A rod or dowel wedged into a drawer provides a stable way to apply color to the top of your project without ruining the bottom.  You will have to let one side dry for a few hours before you can turn it upside down, but that's better than waiting three days for it to cure completely! 

Once all your colors are applied, you're done!  Here's the pickle jar you saw earlier. With it's lid sprayed green, it makes a beautiful storage jar with a "Craftsman" feel to it. Or, leave the lid off and it can be a period-sensitive candle holder! 

Miss Ginger's first project was these Modrian-inspired spaghetti sauce jars. Instead of using leading, she used masking tape to tape off the sections, then sprayed matte black spraypaint over the whole thing.  When she peeled off the tape, she was left with clear windows. In authentic Modrian style, she left many of the sections clear, and colored only few.  Maybe not museum-worthy, but quick, cheap, and easy- just like Miss Ginger! 

The next project was these wine bottles decorated with an oval-cut jewel pattern.  Here, she used black vinyl in her Silhouette® machine to create the pattern, hence the more modern appearance.  The only problem she found with this technique is that there isn't much depth to the sections, so the paint went on kind of thin.  She's going to fill them with blue Listerine® and put one in each bathroom, so it won't matter if the pattern is kind of weak! 
As she prepared to complete the "fully-leaded" project you see at the top of this post, she realized that the colors dry to a very different hue than the way they appear in the bottle, so she made herself a "swatch bottle" to show how each color looks when dry.


The paints cost less than $2.50 a bottle at Michael's; less when you buy a set.  The bottles you paint are free, so what's stopping you?!  Leave a comment and let Miss Ginger know how your project turned out! 



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