Friday, November 25, 2011

Toilet Paper Tubes Christmas Wreath

As some of you may know, I love to craft, and I especially love to reuse and repurpose things that were otherwise destined to the garbage. This is why, when I ran into this tutorial, I got very excited.

Speaking of garbage, I have a confession to make. Every time I go to a Michaels store, I walk the silk flower aisles and pick up whatever flowers and leaves are on the ground. I always ask if it is OK to take them home, and the answer is invariably, "Sure, go ahead, they get swept up at the end of the day anyway". Thank you, Michaels, for letting me rescue these perfectly good flowers!

In the last few weeks, with the holidays approaching, many of the flowers I have gathered were poinsettias. I have also found glittery pine cones, red berries, holly, and the usual holiday suspects.

I followed the directions of the tutorial, and made a whole bunch of tp flowers. With glue gun in hand, I assembled them into a wreath shape, and embellished the resulting wreath with my Michaels finds.

My front door is white on the inside, and the red looks great against the white background. I'm very happy with the results. The hardest part was cutting the tubes. I did not listen to the tutorial, and used a pair of scissors instead of the craft knife. It is hard to cut cardboard with scissors, so I only did one tube at a time. But once all the flowers were ready, it took just a few minutes to assemble the whole thing.

It makes me happy to know that pretty much all this was destined for the landfill, and instead it is gracing a corner of my home. I had fun making this wreath, and it may not be the last one I make. I sure have enough tp tubes and flowers to keep going!

Thanksgiving weekend is usually when we start decorating the house for Christmas. On your marks, get set, go!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Curing olives: pickling

I bit into one olive, as promised, after five days. It was nowhere near ready, so I left them soaking the prescribed two weeks, with daily water changes. Now it's finally the time to pickle them.

The olives have lost a great deal of their purple color. They are variegated in shades of green and purple.

The first step is to make a brine, which is nothing more than salt water. How much salt do you need? Enough so that a fresh egg will float.

I added three or four tablespoons of vinegar to the brine, and the rest of my pickling ingredients. There are as many recipes as families are in Andalucía. What I used was:

Cumin seed
Bay leaves
Dried red peppers
Thyme (estate grown!)
Peppercorns (I happened to have a fancy rainbox mix at hand, but black peppercorns are more traditional)

Other key ingredients are:


I don't think the carrot contributes a whole lot of flavor to the olives, but it looks great in the mix, and as it also gets pickled, it's an added bonus.

Other typical spices and add-ins are fennel seed, paprika, oregano, savory, orange peel, red and green pepper, cauliflower florets...

I put everything in the brine, threw the olives in a clay jug, and poured this pickling magic over them.

This jug is now sitting on the counter, loosely covered with a kitchen towel. I would wait for about a week before trying the olives. Legend has it that the longer they sit in the pickling liquid the better they taste, but I have never had olives last more than a few weeks.

Monday, November 7, 2011


My closest supermarket is a Fortune 500 company. It is not an exciting place to shop. When you walk in, you are usually greeted by pyramids of the latest ultra-processed potato chips, semi-artificial cookies, or soda in a new flavor. This is why it is refreshing to walk into a little grocery store catering to a Hispanic clientele and find something like this:

I had never seen cocoa beans before, so I had to buy this. It is somewhat of a cliché that women love chocolate. This woman certainly does. I have been reading about how to process these beans, and I'm going to follow the directions from eHow. Then I hope to make some brownies. Betty Crocker, you can kiss my butt!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Curing olives: score & soak

Olives are very bitter in their raw state. The first thing you need to do is get rid of the compounds responsible for that bitterness. There are a few ways to go about it. You can use lye, a great method if you are impatient. I don't like it because it robs the olives from some of their fruity flavors. You can use salt, which is so much fun, and the olives come out delicious! I wish I had enough olives to salt-cure a few. Next year...

I am going to use water. It's a safe, easy method, and the olives come out great. The basic principle is to soak the olives in plain water, and change that water every day. Little by little, the bitterness will wash away.

To speed the leaching up a bit, I scored each olive using this tool.

I bought this board a few years ago in a hardware store in Seville. It's made of beech wood, and has four little metal "blades" in each of the holes. Each hole is a different diameter. You place the board over a bowl or bucket, and push the olives through the holes.

You can achieve the same results with a paring knife and a bit of patience, or you can smash the olives, instead of scoring them. Smashed olives are super-authentic, and you'll see them in every bar in Andalucia. To smash them, the only thing you need are a hard surface and a mallet. Also, I highly recommend you wear a pair of gloves. Otherwise, you'll sport very black fingers for a few days.

So once your olives are smashed or scored, put them in water, and change it every day. Rule of thumb is about two weeks for green olives. Mine are pretty ripe, so I'll start biting into them around day 5 or so, just to gauge the level of bitterness. I don't mind if the olives stay a little bitter. Every element, in its just measure, adds complexity to the overall flavor.