In the Frame

 

Picture Framing on the Cheap!

by Celia Hayes

In last week’s post I mentioned the gifts that I was intending to give to three people who – because I am in business with, sporadically employed by, or just really, really fond of them – rate something a little more permanent than a jar of pickled pineapple spears and some fig jam. Of course fruitcake is permanent – but it’s not something you can hang on a wall. Among the items that my daughter and I bid on when we went to an estate auction in Fredericksburg this summer was an envelope of prints. They were by two local artists, of Texas subjects, were printed on high-quality paper and rather pleasing to look at, if not particularly valuable. I had the notion to frame three of them properly and present them as gifts – but as as relatively un-famous published author – I had to do this on a budget. But inexpensive does not mean cheap-looking, given some basic materials and a little know-how.

Two of the prints were a fairly standard size – 9×12, and 10×14. The third was a little larger – 14×20 – but even so, finding good-quality frames to fit them was a breeze at Thrifttown, which had a whole rack of picture frames in various sizes for $2-$7 apiece. Of course, all three came with rather awful art already in them, but that is what the trash can is for. One had a nice mat, which I saved. I also saved the hardware to hang it from. Then I peeled off the paper backing and disassembled them all; the frames needed some minor touch-ups, and the glass in each was filthy. Two frames had the contents held in with glaziers’ points, the third with staples, but all were easily pulled out with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers. I used the glass from each frame as a guide to cut three new backs from ¼ inch foam-core board.

The three sheets of glass went into the dishwasher and came out perfectly clean and spotless. The frames were a different matter. From out of the shelf of painting supplies in the garage, I retrieved a can of periwinkle blue spray-paint, one of hunter green, and one with a little gold left in it. The smallest of the frames only needed a little touch-up – gold sprayed onto a paper towel, and then dabbed on the places where it had worn off. I carefully sprayed the other two frames and let them dry … and when they were, I went off to Hobby Lobby with the largest and smallest frames and the large print to see about mats. There’s a good selection of pre-cut mats available, but the print of the deer in the brush needed to have one specially cut because of the non-standard dimensions. Cost – $10 for the two mats.

That accomplished, I set about reassembling them – first with the clean glass put back into the frame. Then I used a Uhu glue stick to lightly coat the back of the mats and center them onto the prints. Each went into the frame on top of the glass, making certain that there weren’t any specks of dirt or lint or anything on the glass, or the matt and print. Pop in the foam-core and secure it with glazier’s points, and then to the next to final step: another swab of the Uhu glue stick all around the back of the frame and press a sheet of brown wrapping paper cut a little larger than the frame carefully onto it. When the glue dried, I trimmed off the excess all the way around with a razor-blade and replaced the hardware … and there’s a lovely and meaningful set off gifts. Two out of the three recipients loved them extravagantly, which proves to me that it’s not the expense, it’s the thought that really counts.

Texas Neighorly Christmas Goodies

Christmas Goodies Neighborhood Style

by Celia Hayes

 

I know, I am trying as hard as I can to get into the Christmas mood – an uphill fight, since I have been sidelined most days by the Cold From Hell. This is the cold that I developed after Thanksgiving, which sends me coughing persistently as if I am about to hack up a large piece of lung. It saps about three-quarters of my energy, and an equal portion of my interest in life, the universe and everything … including Christmas. The good thing is that I got just about all of my Christmas shopping done, thanks to the internet and a nicely-timed and generous payment for some work accomplished … so, on to gifts intended for two good friends. At the estate auction in Fredericksburg this summer, one of our winning bids was for an envelope of pen and ink prints of various local scenes. Nothing especially valuable, I don’t think, but nicely matted (thank you, Hobby Lobby) and framed (thank you, Thrift Town) they will make something personal and attractive … and what the heck, something new to look at on the walls is always appreciated.

Which means that the final gift-giving obligation is to those of our neighbors whom we hold in especial esteem; we went through the standard Christmas cookie selection, and then the small-brick-of-fruitcake several cycles ago. We experimented last year with flavored oil and vinegar, including in the basket one little roundel of home-made cheese and a baguette of home-baked bread, which mostly worked out well, so this year – edible goodies again.

I took a firm stand with my daughter, though – no expensive containers for the goodies; this time, we are using a plain small paper shopping bag, and instead of tissue paper, some gingham-check patterned paper napkins. These we found at the Dollar Tree a couple of months ago – and since I was already thinking ahead, we bought them at once. And my mother’s Christmas basket of Spanish goodies came generously padded in a large round basket with simply heaps of crinkled paper excelsior, which is still perfectly good and useable, and we’re supposed to recycle anyway and have you seen how much it would cost to buy new crinkled paper excelsior, even at the Dollar Tree? And I don’t want to go to a store anyway – I’m sick, people!

So – into the bags will go a selection of the pickles, relishes and jams that we made over this summer, from seasonal fruits and vegetables; the pickled okra came out absolutely amazing, and so did the mixed garden vegetable pickles – what they call in Italy giardiniera. Strawberries – holy moly, did we have strawberries. I’ve lost track of how many; strawberry jam, strawberry preserves. I made the most luscious pickled pineapple spears, over the summer; flavored with cinnamon, allspice, ginger and other spices; as my daughter said admiringly, “They taste like Christmas in your mouth.” We have figs to offer, too – thanks to the bounteously producing fig trees in the neighborhood, we have on hand whole preserved figs, fig jam and fig preserves… I think the difference mainly between jam and preserves is that the latter is rather lumpier – but anyway, our neighbors will benefit from the bounty, too.

And that will be (cough) our Christmas (cough-cough) gift to our neighbors. (Cough-cough-COUGH!) Hopefully that, and not the Cold From Hell.

Merry Christmas!

Authentic Foods from Spain

More Flavors of Spain

by Celia Hayes

My mother just sent us a basket of gourmet foods from Spain as a Christmas present for us again, since last year’s basket from La Tienda was such a big hit. We loved living in Spain, loved the food, adored grazing from the little plates – the tapas – invitingly set out at bars, loved the fact that a ‘bar’ in Spain was usually not just a seamy joint serving spirituous liquors to an assortment of skeevey low-lives. A bar in Spain was much more likely to be a kind of café, coffee shop and neighborhood club-house, the place housing the pay phones, ATMs, video game machines, and clean bathrooms … and oh, yes – serving snacks and alcoholic drinks of every possible description. It also mildly freaked out many Americans upon discovering that many gas stations on the highway – or autopista – also had very well-stocked bars. Make of that what you will.

Mom’s Christmas basket again revived memories of some wonderful food, although it did not, for instance, include any jamon Serrano – that dried, cured ham which was available practically anywhere, and was a component of so many dishes. It was a rare rustic restaurant which didn’t have a couple of whole curing jamons hanging from the ceiling beams, and a rare bar that didn’t have one on hand for making the little tapas snacks from, with half the flesh shaved away in tissue-paper thin slices. The Spanish equivalent of Costco or Sam’s Club had them for sale in a special section … which it must be admitted, always smelt faintly of cheesy gym socks.
But there was one dish made with jamon Serrano which I loved, and only had once, in a restaurant in Santiago de Compostela to celebrate having followed the old pilgrim road from the Rioja to Asturias – and that was a dish of baby artichokes cooked with jamon. I went looking for recipes for it, and found one which calls for one lemon cut in half, 1 and ¾ pounds tiny baby artichokes – the ones barely the size of a small egg, before the chokes inside have gotten coarse and inedible, ¼ cup of olive oil, 3 Tbsp minced fresh parsley, 8 thin slices of jamon, also chopped, and salt and pepper.

Fill a large pan with cold water, and squeeze the lemons into it, adding the squeezed lemon halves. Trim the inedible stalk and tough outer leaves from each artichoke, and cut each in half, putting them into the lemon-water immediately; this will prevent them from turning brown. When finished processing the artichokes, put the pan on the stove, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 or 6 minutes, until the artichokes are tender. Drain, discarding water and lemon halves. Pat the artichokes dry. Heat the oil in a frying pan large enough to hold the artichokes in a single layer. Arrange the artichokes cut-side-down and fry for 5 minutes. Turn them over and fry the other side for two minutes, then add the jamon Serrano and fry for another four minutes, until the jamon is crispy. Place in a serving dish and top with the parsley and ground pepper. Oh, if it were only the season now for baby artichokes, and if Mom’s gift basked had only included jamon Serrano – I would definitely fix this for our Christmas Eve tapas supper!

Texas Gifts

The Gifts of Texas Are Upon You

by Celia Hayes

It is that time of year again, isn’t it? It’s that happy season when custom commands that gifts large and small, yet always carefully and tastefully chosen, are bestowed upon spouses, children, families, kinfolk, co-workers, neighbors and sometimes even relative strangers. It doesn’t matter much that it’s Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanzaa; custom commands that suitable gifts be exchanged at this time of the year – and in fact, the relative health of our national economy often depends upon lively retail sales during the last fiscal quarter of the year. Coincidentally, I most always have good sales of the printed editions of my books during this time, although that may just happen because I bestir myself to go and participate in seasonal craft fairs then.

This is also the very best time to go out searching for Texas-themed gifts – that kind of gift that is completely and totally uniquely Texas. I mean, I have never in any of the other states I have lived in or visited, seen cake pans or blocks of cheddar cheese shaped like the state itself, or – with the possible exception of Hawaii – seen the state flag and/or map featured in such a wide array of garments.

And if one went for Texas-themed and Texas manufactured foodstuffs of an easily-transportable nature, the sky is the limit. There are so many small local gourmet firms manufacturing pickles, jams and chutneys, salsa, olive oil, BBQ and pasta sauces, herbs and spice mixtures … not to mention smoked and cured meats and sausages, and the output of Texas vineyards … that I firmly believe you could live entirely off the output of them year round. I believe about the only haute-gourmet foods not being produced locally would be Strasbourg-style goose-liver pate and true Russian caviar … and I would not be in the least surprised to find out that some ambitious and more than usually ambitious Texas capitalist is having a go at those, too. These enterprises have a happy knack of going large, too. Once upon a time, when we were newly-arrived in San Antonio, the only place where we could find Fisher & Weiser sauces and jams was a couple of outlets in Fredericksburg – and now they are in HEB stores everywhere, and even – miracle of miracles – available through Amazon.

This year, we are going to do good gifts for our neighbors again; last year, it was flavored olive oil and herb vinegar, with a little round of home-made cheese and a small baguette of home-baked bread. This year, it’s going to be a selection of home-made preserves, especially the ones that we made as a cheaper and healthier alternative … and then discovered that, wow, they were really good: A jar of mixed vegetable pickles, or okra pickles, packed in with spiced pineapple spears, and a small jar of either strawberry or fig jam. The jars will be packed into small craft-paper shopping bags, and padded with red and white gingham pattered tissue paper – something simple, tasteful and inexpensive. It’s always good to get back to basics – and something edible is always welcome.