Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mount and Hang Large Maps with Ease

My husband is a map guy. If it was up to him, we'd have maps covering most of the walls of our house.  I like maps, too; but I also love art.  And up until today, we have had all art and no maps hanging in our home. Today, my husband got his way. 

And so did I...because the maps actually look GOOD. They are mounted and hung like art. They really are art, just not original canvas paintings. But definitely pleasing to the eye, and educational to boot!

I can't take credit for coming up with this method of mounting and hanging on my own. I have a good friend who told me about doing it herself, and I used portions of this tutorial from Sugar Bee Crafts to get started. 

FYI: Right now at Costco, they have a great deal on nice maps. For $15, you get 2 laminated maps. The World Map is 61" x 38", and the USA Map is 48" x 38".  My husband had been shopping around (which means he had checked Amazon) when I came across these. He said they were an incredible deal. 

Now on to the tutorial: 

You'll need duct tape, spray adhesive, and 3M Command Strips. These look like Velcro and are pretty much genius. We live in a new home, so putting holes in the walls hurts a little each time. With these babies, you rarely need nails. 

You will also need a sheet of rigid insulation cut to the size of your map. This can be purchased from large home improvement stores. A 4'x 8' sheet cost $7.  We bought ours from Home Depot, and an employee was nice enough to cut it to size for us there (otherwise it wouldn't have fit in our car!).

 If you need to cut it yourself, use a utility knife to score one side most of the way through. Then bend it along the cut, and finish by cutting along the fold from the other side. 

1. Cover the edges of the foam board in duct tape. Carefully place it along one side of the front edge and wrap it around to the back. Do this on all four sides. This took two of us to do well on maps this large. Rub the tape to smooth it out as you go.
We chose white tape because the edges of our maps are white.  The fibers in the duct tape give the edges a canvas-finish look. It doesn't look at all like you duct taped the edges when you are done, I promise!

2. Lay the board out to spray with adhesive.  Read the labels on the adhesive you purchased to see exactly how to spray. You'll want a drop cloth down because you'll need to spray all the way to the edge.  Spray about 1/3 of the surface of the foam board from the top edge down. Place the map carefully on the sprayed portion, lining up the edges. While one person holds up the unattached portion of the map, spray the rest of the board generously. Carefully lay the map down, smoothing as you go. 

Here is our first map after mounting.

Here is a close-up of what the edges look like.

The map mounting is complete! Now to the hanging!

3.  Decide where you are hanging your map, then measure and mark the wall lightly where the top corners will hit.  Place the command strips along the edges of the foam board's backside.  The directions on the package were sufficient for us. Easiest picture hanging EVER.

Here it is with one strip stuck to each corner.  
4. Peel off the paper on each strip and press it to your chosen place on the wall.  My husband and I each pushed on a corner for a count of 30. Then we were done!

The family IMMEDIATELY began enjoying the new maps!

I love education--especially the spontaneous, informal kind--in my home! 

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Homemade Salsa!

I like chips, but this salsa is so yummy, I could really just have a spoon and be happy to eat it alone. And it's a good thing it's so delicious, because along with my neighbor, I canned 26 quarts of it. ¡Olé!

This is my family's "go-to" salsa.  It has qualities the whole family consistently enjoys--lots of flavor, not too much heat.  My neighbor and I originally started out canning with this recipe from We made some changes through trial and error, and we have been thrilled with the final product!

This recipe can be pared down to make much less. You can even skip cooking and canning and just have a yummy fresh salsa. You'd better believe we tasted it before we cooked it, and it was GOOD!

Here's the recipe:

Homemade Salsa
makes 6-7 quarts

15 cups chopped tomatoes (I prefer Romas because they are less juicy)
5 cups chopped sweet yellow onions
5 cups chopped green bell peppers
1 1/2 - 2 cups chopped and seeded jalapeno peppers (see my post: De-Seed Jalapenos the Easy Way for help)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups apple-cider vinegar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
9 oz tomato paste

1. If you are canning, prepare cans and lids. Have a water-bath ready.
2. Mix all ingredients except tomato paste in a large pot. Heat on medium heat until boiling. Simmer uncovered 15-30 minutes, until close to desired thickness. 
3. Stir in tomato paste. 
4. Fill jars for canning leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe rims, place sanitized lids and screw on rings to finger-tight. Place in boiling water-bath and process 15 minutes. 
5. If you are not canning, just mix all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to serve. Mmm, mmm.

My neighbor took this picture of it as it was cooking down on the stove. I love all the pretty shades of red and green! 

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

De-Seed Jalapeños the EASY Way

I've been a salsa making MACHINE lately. I already shared my Zucchini Salsa Verde, and I hope to get a post up soon with the tomato salsa I canned a couple of days ago. But, for now, I wanted to share this super way I came up with of de-seeding the jalapeños for the salsa! 

This is the secret tool: a grapefruit spoon! You'll need one of these, a cutting board, and a knife. Gloves are a good idea, but not a necessity if you are careful. (:

Slice the pepper in half lengthwise. If you can slice through the stem, do it! It helps to have a little stem on each half to hold. 

Holding one half of the pepper in one hand, use the grapefruit spoon in the other to dig into the top of the pepper's insides, and scrape it against the inside wall all the way down.

And you have a cleaned-out pepper! Ready to chop, bake, or fill with yummy cheese, wrap in bacon and roast! (Hungry yet?)

This is so much faster and cleaner than using a knife, a regular spoon, gloved fingers, etc!  If you don't wear gloves, still be vigilant about not touching the seeds and flesh on the inside of the pepper. It will burn your skin. I absentmindedly used my fingertips on my left hand to wipe some stray seeds into the garbage. And they BURNED later. If you make that mistake, here is your solution:
I held sour cream on there for about 10 minutes, and it provided immediate and lasting relief!

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Peach Fruit Leather By-The-Foot

Millions of peaches...peaches for free...

Okay, I didn't get them for free--just on a good sale.  But I was so excited to make something with them.  And this fruit leather has been a hit around here! 

My kids LOVE Fruit By the Foot, Fruit Roll-Ups, fruit snacks--so much so that I rarely buy them. I joke that they are like crack in my house. If my kids know any of these items are in the house, that is ALL they want to have for snacks until they are gone! And they are mostly sugar. Not really a health food.

Well, these fruit snacks ARE healthy.  No refined sugar. Packed with real fruit. And yummy! They actually taste like peaches! Mmm, mmm. 

Here's how to make 'em: 

You'll need: About 10 medium peaches and 1/3 cup of honey; cooking spray, plastic wrap, and cookie sheets with sides.

1. Follow the directions to peel peaches found here on Our Best Bites. 
This process is an AWESOME time saver. 

2. Remove the stones from the peaches, and put the peeled halves in a blender with 1/3 cup of honey.

3. My 10 peaches made about 6.5 cups of puree. I kind of wanted to pour some on ice and just drink it. It looks tempting, huh?

4.  Cover a couple of walled cookie sheets, with plastic wrap. Make sure it is firmly over each edge. Spray it lightly with cooking spray, then pour the puree on to the pan, spreading it until it is 1/4 inch thick everywhere.

5. Place in an oven set to 175-200°.  Bake for 6-8 hours.  You can do this overnight, but I suggest the lower temp, longer cooking if you are leaving it unchecked.  Otherwise, check it at about 5 hours. The liquid content of peaches varies, so yours may take less or more time, depending on how juicy your peaches were. 

6. Remove from the oven when it is the texture of a fruit roll-up--sticky but not wet. This is what it will look like when you remove it from the oven.

7. Once it has cooled, roll it up with the plastic still on. Cut the roll into 1-2 inch pieces. I did this using a pair of kitchen scissors. A sharp knife would work as well. 

These are easy grab-and-go snacks. I store all of them in zip-lock bags in the pantry. Now my kids can snack on REAL FRUIT all they want to!

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Peanut Butter Cup Mini Tarts

A.K.A. "Michele's Amazing Camp Cookies Spectacular!"  

I really like this name better, but it doesn't bode well for this coming up on any search engines, hence the more boring title.  These were introduced to me by my good friend Michele. She brought them to share at the girls' camp where we were both leaders to 30 young women a couple of weeks ago. Everything tastes better when you are camping, but I knew these were actually tasty, and it wasn't just the lack of sleep and too much bug-spray talking. So we decided while at camp that they needed to be blogged in the near future.

And let me just tell you, I might have enjoyed these even more while NOT camping. Why? I could sit on a soft seat and have a glass of milk with them. No bugs tried to land on them in my home. And I got to smell them baking. 

So, on to how to make them. 

Start with a good soft peanut butter cookie recipe. I used this one from Sally's Baking Addiction. I doubled it and made a couple of small changes. My slightly altered version is in the recipe below. 

Preheat the oven to 350 °.  Mix up your peanut butter cookie dough. Using a mini-tart pan and a small cookie scoop, scoop 1 tablespoon scoops into each tart cup.  Bake 7 minutes.  
*This is a good time to unwrap all your peanut butter cup candies if you haven't yet. 

Remove the pan from the oven and press a candy into the center of each tart (cookies won't be done yet). Press until the top of the candy is close to level with the dough. Return to the oven for 2 more minutes. 

Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Remove and cool more on a cooling rack.  Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Cup Mini Tarts
(aka: Michele's Amazing Camp Cookies Spectacular!)

Makes 32

1 cup softened butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1  and 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking soda
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour

32 miniature peanut butter cup candies, unwrapped


1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Prepare a mini-muffin / mini-tart pan with cooking spray (unless it's non-stick). 

2.  Mix butter, brown sugar, sugar, and eggs in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer (paddle attachment).  Add the peanut butter and mix well.  

3. Add the vanilla and the baking soda. Mix well. Slowly add the flours. Mix only until incorporated. 

4. Fill each muffin cup with 1 tablespoon of cookie dough. 

5. Bake 7 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and press a candy into the center of each tart. 

6. Return to the oven to bake for 2 more minutes.

7. Cool at least 5 minutes in the pan before removing. Cool further on counter top or wire rack. 

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Zucchini Salsa Verde--Canned or Refrigerated

You go one morning to check the garden for any ripe produce. There's a zucchini there that is still a bit puny, but should be ready by the next day. You forget to check in the morning, but remember and look after dinner. It has gone from the size of a hot-dog to the size of your arm in less than 2 days! Yikes! What are you going to do with all that zucchini?!

I have the answer! SALSA! My sister canned some delicious zucchini salsa last summer (that I sampled on a recent trip to her house--YUM!), but I hadn't considered a zucchini salsa verde until I stumbled on this recipe from Everyday Southwest. It looked delicious, but with the large quantities of zucchini I had, I was hoping to can some for the coming months. So I found this recipe for canning salsa verde from Ball. I pulled from both to come up with my version. 
We loved it! I hope you do, too!

In a large stock-pot combine finely chopped (I used my food-processor) zucchini, tomatillos, jalapeno and poblano peppers, sweet onion, garlic, and cilantro.  Add lime juice and zest, cayenne pepper, oregano, salt, vinegar, and honey.  Mix well. 

Bring mixture to a boil and simmer for at least 5 minutes, until all ingredients begin to soften.  
Prepare 2 quarts of canning jars.  Fill to 1/4 inch from rims. Process in water bath for 15 min (half-pints), 20 min (pints), 25 min (quarts). 

Or serve it right up. Store unused in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. 

I had two of these soft tacos. And then spooned some more salsa right onto my plate and ate it with a bit of sour cream.  Tortilla chips are optional. :)

Zucchini Salsa Verde
Makes 2 quarts

5-6 cups finely chopped zucchini (adjust according to how many peppers you use)
3 cups finely chopped tomatillos
1 large sweet onion, chopped
4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 poblano pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional, depending on your heat preference)
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup of chopped cilantro
Zest of 2 limes
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (more = hotter salsa)
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp salt
2 tsp honey
1/3 cup white vinegar

1. Mix all ingredients in a stock pot. Heat and stir until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 5-10 minutes, or until all ingredients have softened.
2. To Can: Ladle hot salsa into prepared canning jars (this will make approximately 2.5 quarts).  Wipe rims, place sanitized lids and rings. Process in a water bath for 15 min (half-pint); 20 min (pint); 25 min (quart).  Remove and let cool. Store for 1 year. 
3. To use soon: May be served warm, or cooled and stored in the fridge. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for 2 weeks. (This is my best guess--the vinegar should help it last at least that long).  


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Friday, August 8, 2014

Poncho Shirt Tutorial

I have 6 sisters and one brother. Don't pity him. A boy's favorite thing to do is tease, and he had (and has) all the teasing he could ever want.  Anyway...
Two of my sisters have birthdays this month, so I decided to get back into sewing gear (I haven't done much during summer break), and make them something. 

This idea for a poncho shirt has been swimming around in my brain for a while. I have a shirt from Charlotte Russe that is similar to these, but is not as long as I would like it to be. I looked at the basic construction of that shirt to come up with my plan for making these.  They are easy and fast to make, and oh-so versatile. I could see them with a cardigan over or a long sleeve under in the fall and winter. Enjoy! 

1. Begin with a 27" x 60" piece of fabric. I used a chiffon. A knit would work well too. I would not use anything too heavy or stiff.  You will also need coordinating thread, and elastic thread. 

2. Fold the fabric in half so it is a 27" x 30" rectangle, with the fold at the top. Find the center of that top line and mark it with chalk. Draw out a front neckline as shown--about 8" in diameter (I know it's light--but it is there in white chalk, I promise!). 
Draw the back neckline (not shown). This will dip only about 1/3 as low as the front line does. Both can be drawn on the top layer of the fabric.  

3. Use two rulers to draw out shoulder lines. Start at the ends of the neckline, and angle the rulers down as shown (about 2 inches at the widest part of the triangle above the rulers).
4. Cut along the the shoulder lines through both layers of fabric. 

5.  Cut along the back neck line through both layers of fabric (it is the neck line that doesn't dip very low). Here I have already cut the back neck.  
6. Cut ONLY THE TOP LAYER OF FABRIC across the front neckline. I cut mine halfway, then folded it across as shown and continued cutting, using the folded piece as a guide so it was sure to be symmetrical. 

This is what it should look like at this point. Not cute yet, but soon it will be!

7. Turn the fabric right sides together and pin the shoulders together. Stitch in place with a 1/4" seam allowance. 

8. Once the shoulders are done, turn it right side out again. Find the middle of the base of the shirt and mark it.  Carefully draw and cut a curved line from the base of the shirt to 1/3 of the way up the side.

Here you see one side cut. Notice how I left some flat at the bottom so it doesn't come to a point. 

9. Fold the half that you have cut over to the other side and use it as a guide to cut the other side. 

Here is what your shirt looks like completely unfolded at this point. 
10. Press and hem all the way around this piece. Also press and hem around the neckline. I found that double stitching looked nice around the neckline. It helped it to lay nicely. 

Here it is all hemmed up. :) Almost done!

11. Measure 9" down and 3.5" in from each side of the shirt, and mark it with a pin. 

12. Pin through both layers of the shirt going straight down 12 inches from the the first pin you placed.  Your pinned shirt should look like this. 

13. Put elastic thread on the bobbin in your sewing machine.  If you aren't familiar with elastic thread, it can be purchased in the thread section of the fabric store. You can put it on the bobbin the same way you do regular thread.  The elastic is what gives this shirt the flowing, wavy sides.  Use regular thread on top. 

14. Stitch along the pinned lines through both layers, tying off the stitch at the beginning and end with a back-stitch. 

15. Iron (using coolest setting for fabric), along the elastic thread. This helps it draw up more to add a little more waviness. 

And you are done! I made these as gifts, but I think I may need to make one for me, too!  

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