Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Strawberry Icebox Pie


We did some serious strawberry picking over the weekend with our niece and her 5-year-old son. The fields were loaded with huge, red ripe berries. They were also loaded with people. I've never seen it so busy! After half an hour in the hot sun -- thank goodness there was a breeze -- we left the fields with quite a haul. My husband and I together picked 5 gallons! That meant an afternoon of washing, hulling and freezing berries. I reserved two quarts to make a strawberry icebox pie. More on that in a minute.

My method of freezing strawberries is to rinse and hull them (I use my thumb nail; my husband uses a paring knife). Then I line a few cookie sheets with wax paper and stand the berries on end, side by side, in a single layer, and pop the sheets into the freezer. Once frozen, I put the berries into zip lock freezer bags. We usually pick and freeze enough berries to last a year. In fact, we're almost out of last year's strawberries.

As I was prepping the berries, I remembered a recipe for strawberry icebox pie that I made in 2010. This recipe is very simple to make and is almost no-bake -- only the crust goes into the oven for 12 minutes; the rest is done on the stove top.


The only thing I was unsure of was the graham cracker crust. Since going gluten free, I've avoided wheat-based cookies, including graham crackers. However, I have found that I'm not bothered by some organic wheat products, like Annie's organic mac & cheese and my favorite pizza place, which uses Italian wheat. This has led me to suspect it could be the herbicides used in U.S. wheat crops that cause the symptoms I'd been having -- and I've heard other people suggest the same thing. I decided to try this recipe using organic graham crackers -- a sort of experiment. So far, so good. I might be on to something. Next, I think I'll try baking with organic wheat to see if it affects me negatively.

For now, I'll be enjoying this yummy strawberry pie. Nicely chilled, it's the perfect dessert for warm weather dining.

Strawberry Icebox Pie

Ingredients:

10 organic graham crackers (2.5 x 5")
1 cup sugar, divided
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup no-sugar-added cranberry juice
2 quarts strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor, blend graham crackers with 2 tablespoons sugar until finely ground; add butter and pulse until crumbs are moistened. Press mixture into the bottom and up the side of a 9" deep dish pie plate. Bake until crust is lightly browned, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
2) In a medium saucepan, combine 3/4 cup sugar, cranberry juice, 2 cups sliced strawberries, cornstarch and salt. Using a potato masher, gently mash strawberries. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently until very thick, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Stir in the remaining strawberries. Pour into cooled pie crust. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours, or up to 1 day.
3) In a large bowl, beat cream until soft peaks form. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue to beat until soft peaks return (do not over-beat). Spread whipped cream over pie, leaving a border of strawberry filling around edge. Garnish with a whole berry.
from Everyday Food



 

Friday, May 15, 2015

On the Porch

Time for my yearly porch planter update. There's an adorable little garden shop that I frequent every year for my front porch container plants. I also like to buy houseplants there and it has a great gift shop also.  

Below is a photo I took on day one. Clockwise from right, are:
  • Kong Jr. Lime Vein coleus 
  • Arroyo Grande fuchsia
  • Silhouette Appleblossom double impatiens (a very beautiful pale pink)
  • Alternanthera "Little Ruby" 
  • Asparagus fern

On the other side is Silhouette Cherry Red double impatiens. Lots of buds on this plant! 


Next are photos of the container eight days later. Look how the plants have filled in already, and the fuchsia is blooming beautifully. I think the Appleblossom double impatiens might be my favorite of the bunch, though. With its pale pink color, which is prettier in person than in these photos, and lacy petals, it is so feminine and delicate! At night, the blossoms glow in the moonlight.



Another addition to the porch is this attractive three-panel wood gate by Martha Stewart Pets. Now the dogs can enjoy being with us as we dine and relax on the front porch. This gate is perfect. It's wide enough to span the width of the stairs, but the hinges allow it to fold for easy storage. Two feet, one on each of the outer panels, provide stability. Henry and Ella are very happy about this new purchase, and so are we!



Henry says he hopes you are enjoying these beautiful days of spring as much as he is. Thank you for visiting My Little Bungalow!
 

Monday, May 11, 2015

A New Dryer and Shelving Unit


I'd like to tell you about the new clothes dryer we purchased in February. We had to replace our 16-year-old Whirlpool Gold dryer (we still have the matching washing machine) and had to do so fairly quickly. Our priorities: size, durability and price. Our old dryer was basic; it didn't have fancy bells and whistles, so I didn't feel like I needed a new dryer with all the snazzy features manufacturers offer these days (though I know people who swear by them). We just needed something that would fit the tight space of our "laundry room" (actually a closet in the kitchen), and we didn't want to spend a lot. Durability and quality was also important. 

I asked around for recommendations and one of my coworkers suggested SpeedQueen. He and his wife bought a SpeedQueen washer and have been very happy with it. I hadn't even heard of SpeedQueen until then, so I did some research. Their products are made in the U.S. -- Wisconsin to be exact -- and they are known for their commercial-grade washers and dryers. You can read here what makes SpeedQueen different. One thing I like is that the cabinet is made of commercial-grade steel, not plastic. The company also offers a decent warranty: 5 times longer than the industry standard for models with electronic controls, and 3 times longer for models with mechanical controls. Most new dryers offer electronic controls, but I think they can be more problematic, so I opted for manual.

The verdict? Our new SpeedQueen (or "Steve McQueen," as I refer to it) is great. The first load I dried in it were towels, and they dried a good 15 to 20 minutes faster than in our old dryer. This made me very happy! It's also quieter than our old dryer, though it may not be as quiet as some of the other models on the market. All in all, we're very satisfied.  

The stainless steel interior is lit, which I love (our old one wasn't). And the lint trap is inside the machine at the very front, so it's super easy to clean. In fact, my husband is probably sick of hearing me say each time I do laundry that I love cleaning the lint trap. But really, for 16+ years I hated cleaning our old dryer's lint trap. It was at the back of the machine, on top, so I had to move the clothes hamper each time and pull out that long screen, which sent lint dust everywhere. It was a pain!

Our new dryer is narrower than the old one, so we were able to scoot it over a bit, closer to the washer, giving us some precious room to add a three-tier chrome shelving unit, which I purchased online from Walmart (I'm not a Walmart shopper, but after doing a lot of looking, I selected this one for its size).

When the time comes for us to buy a new washing machine, I will definitely get a SpeedQueen. They still make top-loading machines with an agitator, which I think is hard to find now. But I hear people say the new machines without agitators don't clean clothes as well. What brand and style of washer and dryer do you have? Are there certain features you swear by? Please share!

It's funny, but this little chrome cart has actually made me quite happy. Since we won't have room for the wicker hamper in the mudroom once the new storage cabinet arrives, we needed someplace safe to store the dog food (so Ella can't get into it). We now keep the container of dog food, their bowls, salmon oil supplement and treats on the top shelf (so much handier than our old setup). On the middle and bottom shelves are laundry supplies and my iron. This has freed up space on the shelves above the washer and dryer, which serve as our "pantry." Sometimes all it takes is a little rearranging and rethinking how to use space differently to make a big impact. When you live in a home for a long time, you get used to how things are and don't stop to consider other options. Reorganizing and getting rid of things that aren't used are top on my list right now. And it feels great!


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sheets


Let's talk sheets, shall we? In the winter, I make the bed with flannel sheets. They are warmer than cotton sheets (I can't stand getting into a cold bed!) and they're nice and soft. I bought some quality flannel sheets from Garnet Hill that are made in Germany, and I'm very happy with them. Such a difference on a cold night with flannel sheets on the bed!

Once the weather starts to warm up, I switch to 100% cotton sheets. I vowed last summer would be the last for our old white sheets -- they were soft, but were sporting holes and frayed edges after just two seasons. So I went shopping for new sheets recently, but I wasn't sure whether to get the pricier, higher thread count sheets or go the bargain route. As I was feeling all the different sheet samples, I thought some of the higher thread count sheets had a stiffer feel to them. Maybe they soften after washing, but they just didn't feel good to me. Because of our mudroom project, I decided to save money by purchasing the less expensive sheets seen above. They're labeled 300 thread count but they are very thin. However, they are incredibly soft! I absolutely love the way they feel.

I was joking with my husband one morning about making sure we keep our toenails trimmed so we don't wear any holes in the sheets. We had a good laugh over that! Hubby said they have just enough threads to keep them held together. I'm afraid he might be right. If I add any bleach to the wash cycle they might disintegrate. In the long run, I probably didn't save much by buying these cheaper sheets since I may have to replace them next summer

So tell me, what sheets do you prefer? Linen? Cotton? A cotton/poly blend? I love the look of linen, but they are very pricey and I'll bet they wrinkle quite a bit. What about thread count? Is there a number you swear by? I find the whole subject confusing. I read that anything over 400 is just more expensive and not necessarily better and that frequently the thread count on the packaging is not even correct. I've also read there is no such thing as 1000 thread count.

Here are some interesting articles I found online. There's more to sheets than thread count. One thing I've learned: next time I'll be buying Egyptian cotton.

Linenplace: The Truth about Thread Count
Huffington Post: You're Buying Your Sheets Wrong
Style at Home Buying Guide

What's your favorite brand of sheets/thread count?
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