Friday, July 29, 2011

Canning Tomatoes

Every Summer, since our arrival in Italy, my neighbor asks if I would like her help making "salsa."  Salsa in this case means tomato sauce.  Each year I am overjoyed that she helps me with such an undertaking.  This year we started with 4 crates of tomatoes.  I grow tomatoes in my garden, but I don't have the volume or variety she likes to use for sauce.  So this year, like every other year, her husband purchased suitable tomatoes at a local market for the "salsa."      
The process begins early in the morning, before it is too hot outside, with washing the tomatoes.  Once all the little red jewels are clean, they are sliced in halves or quarters.  
Next, the tomatoes are put into larges pots with a cup or two of water and a teaspoon or so of salt.  The pots are placed on the stove and cooked until they have boiled for a few minutes (3 to5).  The tomatoes must be stirred often to prevent any from sticking to the bottom of the pan and scorching.

After they have boiled for a few minutes, the liquid is drained off of the tomatoes.  
The set up for turning the tomatoes to sauce requires a contraption for removing peels and seeds, a bowl to catch the peels and seeds, a bowl to catch the sauce, and a "C" clamp to hold it all down.  The boiled tomatoes are cranked through on the first run, and then the peels and seeds are run through a second time to remove any of the lingering juicy pulp.   A little sprinkling of sugar can be added at this point, though my mother insists this is not a good idea.

Next, the sauce is put into the jars using a funnel, or "imbuto" in Italiano.  I used mostly 250ml jars, with a few pint jars.  A pint is just a little smaller than 250ml.  
Next, the tops are covered in thin plastic.  I inquired about the reason for this step, and was told to do it because that is the way she was taught to do it.  A word of caution on this year I used American plastic wrap, which was apparently too thick, and ended up with all of the jars coming unsealed around December and all of the remaining sauce rotting....sad, sad, sad...very sad year.  Last year I refused to do this step and everything turned out fine, this year my arm was twisted into doing it again...this time with Italian plastic wrap.  
After the lids are screwed very tightly onto the jars the jars are placed upside down, just to make sure nothing seeps out.
Then the jars are placed into very large pots with about 1 inch of water covering the lids.  A lid is placed on top of the pot, the fire is turned up as high as it will go, and you wait, and wait, and wait for the water to boil, trying to keep in mind that "a watched pot never boils."  After the water has reached a boil, set the timer for 30 minutes.  When the jars have boiled for 30 minutes the pot is removed from the stove and sits overnight.
The next day the jars are removed from the water.  The water is used to water flowers, and the jars are arranged in a precarious tower for photos.  45 jars are featured in this picture. Check each jar to make sure the lid is sealed.  A sealed lid will not "click" when center is pressed down.  If any of the jars did not seal they can be placed in the refrigerator and used sooner rather than later.
After the tower has been disassembled and the jars are tucked safely away, a photo editing program may be used to create super-punny pictures like...the Leaning Tower of Pomodoro.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

L'Orto Botanico Dell'Universita di Padova

In the center of lovely Padova, or Padua as the English call it....
...there sits the University of Padova's Botanical Gardens.... 
...a very inspiring place, indeed. 
I wanted to return with my watercolors and a pad of paper... preferably in the morning, when the light is at just the right angle and the air is fresh and cool.    
  I wanted to dig out all of my herb and flower books and brush up on Latin names and common uses.  
  I wanted to rush home and make leaf and flower inspired hats and skirts.  
 I wanted to sit for hours with a nice soft Ebony pencil and draw the lovely curves of a vine. 

 Instead I took pictures, which as it turns out, I am also very happy to do. 
And instead of playing with watercolors, pencils or fabrics I opted for adjusting lights and contrasts....
 ....color and saturation....
 ...and playing with various filters.  
How divine are the angiosperm with all their amazing color and diversity...
 ...the monocots...
 ...the dicots...
  ...and all their wonderful pollinators. 
 The whole family found something to enjoy.  There were carnivorous plants... 
....tropical plants....
 ...frogs in the lily ponds...
  ...and sweet smelling roses.  

 Love, love, love. 
 When in Padova, if you have the opportunity, I recommend the Botanical Gardens, and if must leave your pencils and watercolors at home, at least bring your camera!

 As an added bonus, with all that time I saved not making any drawings, paintings, hats, or dresses, I had plenty of time to amuse myself with making funny statue pictures. 
Abracadabra - Ala-Ca...ZAMM!

"Hold still!  I am just to my favorite chapter."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Finding the Tooth Fairy

The tooth fairy has been weighing heavily on my mind for over a year now.  My son is 7 and he is bound to loose a tooth eventually.  Luckily for me he has held on to them this long.  I made a tooth fairy last fall, but it was a "girl," which is not cool according to the 7 year old.  So for over 7 months I have been meaning to make a "boy" tooth fairy.  I've been actively looking for the original pattern I made for over two weeks now.  Today I finally did it...I took the plunge and started...dare I say it...organizing!  Surprise, surprise, I found the tooth fairy!  Hopefully soon she will have a male companion to keep her company.
The little exercise in organizing brought to light the fact that I have made over 36 patterns this last year, putting my average at just over 3 a month.  Of the 36, I have written and illustrated instructions for 12.  And how many have actually made it to the Etsy shop...well, right now there are only 2.  I guess finding the tooth fairy is not my only dis-organizational issue!
the illusive tooth fairy...I think she is pretty in pink

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Man Apron

Our resident grill master, Ol’Smokey Beard, needed an apron to protect his lovely attire, hold all of his grilling accoutrements, and free his hands up for other things.  Father’s Day was the perfect opportunity to present Ol’Smokey Beard with the finest Man Apron I could conjure, complete with full manly coverage, lots of handy pockets, and soft green velvet apron strings.   

 Happy Father
 A pocket for his ipod and his timer...sometimes he works on art work, so there are some pencil pockets, too. 
 Grillin' Maniac. 
 The Book Pocket for all his finest reading material.
 Ol' Smokey Beard in action.

One happy man.

The Crochet Lesson

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, my mom taught me how to crochet.  My mom is the champion of crochet.  She can make a granny square with her eyes closed, she can shell, she can make fancy lacy edges, she can crochet snowflakes…she even made a giant crocheted rug, back in the day.  She taught me how to make a granny square.  I made granny square baby blankets for all my baby dolls.   But, I haven’t crocheted since.  My friend Giovanna crochets like mad woman, she makes hats, scarves, blankets, and the cutest little head bands.  Friday the crocheting stars aligned…my mother is here visiting and Giovanna was here for lunch. Giovanna and I had the great fortune of a crocheted flower lesson from the champion herself.   I took one of my finished flowers, one of my mom's finished flowers, and a button from the Great-Grandma collection and turned it into a barrette for Baby Girl, who was most appreciative and now wants to learn to crochet, especially after the story of how Mommy made baby blankets for her dolls.  I am hoping Giovanna turns out some hats in my size with flowers (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)…but just in case I don’t make the flower hat list I decided to pick up the crochet hook again and have started a hat myself…the crochet fire has been reignited.