Tomato Ketchup Chronicles

Tomato Ketchup Chronicles

by Celia Hayes

I was inspired by an old blog and Facebook friend, Katie Barry, to have a go at making home-made ketchup this weekend. I had often intended to try it before, as this condiment is one that we (as Katie points out in her own housekeeping blog) all have in our condiment collection. I was put off some of the recipes for it in my own collection of canning books, because they called for simply awesome quantities of fresh tomatoes, and unless and until my garden starts producing tomatoes by the ton … well, I like fresh home-grown tomatoes too much to condiment them. But Katie’s recipe started with canned diced tomatoes, and I thought … oh, that is doable. One six-pound can of diced tomatoes from Sam’s Club, and I am in business. I took a recipe from one of the canning books, since I do want to can the resulting ketchup for later use … and I would also like to duplicate the splendid spicy Whataburger ketchup, too. Excellent stuff that is, but home-made might be even better. On consulting the listing of contents on the label of Whataburger Spicy Ketchup it seems that the secret ingredient is red jalapeno pepper puree … and red jalapenos were not available in my local HEB … although I may have my own from the garden in a month or so, by allowing the jalapeno pepper plants to ripen all the way. But I had it in mind to make ketchup this very weekend, and I thought that adding a smidgeon of smoked chipotle peppers in adobo sauce would certainly amp up this batch to an exciding degree of spicyness.

So – amend the recipe in Sunset Home Canning for spicy ketchup, by using canned diced instead and pureed the entire six-pound can of diced tomatoes with a whole onion and one peeled and seeded red bell pepper … which had been peeled, sealed in Foodsaver bag and frozen.

Simmer and reduce the resulting puree over medium heat for about an hour or until reduced by half. Tie into a piece of clean cheesecloth 1 ½ teaspoon each of mustard seeds, black peppercorns and dry basil, 1 teaspoon whole allspice, one dried cayenne chili pepper, a large dried bay leaf and a 2-3 inch length of cinnamon stick. Add the spice bag to the reduced tomato puree with ¾ cup packed brown sugar and ½-2 teasp. Paprika. Continue to simmer, lowering heat gradually and stirring frequently as it reduces to approximately 1 quart. In the last fifteen minutes, I stirred in ½ cup cider vinegar, which had been pureed with 1 3-oz can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Salt to taste – and we agreed that it did have a rather pleasant chipotle smokiness. If it had been just for myself, I would have put in another 3-oz. can. It came out to three pints and a bit – the recipe said it would yield two pints. Likely I could have reduced it a bit more, but it did seem quite thick enough already. Katie’s recipe called for powdered herbs and spices, rather than the whole version steeped in a cheesecloth bag. I’ll experiment with this in the next batch, and see if it makes a difference in flavor.

I poured it all into three sterilized pint jars and processed in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. The extra bit went into a plastic freezer container – waste not, want not. It came out a very nice red color, and a bit grainer than the commercial version – but well-worth the effort and the Number 10-can.


Good Stuff Preserved – Sauerkraut

by Celia Hayes

I swear, I had never really eaten sauerkraut in any form when I was growing up. Why Mom never had a go at making it herself is a bit of a mystery, since the basic ingredients are cheap and plentiful, the process pretty simple and the results quite tasty. Likely this was because our own ethnic background is English and Scots-Irish, and it’s just not one of those things. Cabbage being a sturdy green vegetable and well-adapted to the frozen northern hemispheres, it’s a mainstay in peasant cooking from Germany, through Eastern Europe and Russia – and even into Korea, where they make a high-octane variety spiced with garlic and hot red peppers known as kimchi. But the ordinary sauerkraut is the simplest to make at home; basically, it’s thinly-sliced fresh cabbage and Ball pickling salt.

At some point a couple of years ago, we were buying a brand of pickles or marinated artichoke hearts at Sam’s Club which came packaged in massive glass jars, which hold 6-quarts to two gallons. I saved out two of them to store bulk foods in, although they had to go through the dishwasher several times to entirely remove the smell of pickle brine. They’re perfect for fermenting the shredded cabbage in the first step.

Trim of the outer leaves of four heads of cabbage, quarter the heads and cut out the solid core, then either thinly sliver the quarters, or cut into eights and run through a food processor fitted out with a slicing blade, or a mandolin – or even an old-fashioned sauerkraut slicer. It was customary back when to make massive quantities of kraut at a time – a friend of mine in Fredericksburg recently an old-fashioned 5-gallon crock which would ferment enough to feed a small army. I have a huge metal mixing bowl made for restaurant use, so the shreds of cabbage from four heads fill it rather nicely, but you may have to process it one or two heads at a time. Mix the shreds of cabbage with ¾ cup of pickling salt, kneading it gently, as the salt dissolves and the cabbage begins to give up liquid. Let sit for a few minutes and then pack it tightly into the jars until just to within an inch of the top. One of the cabbages I used this week was rather large – so the cabbage shreds filled both big jars and then a quart canning jar. One of the big jars also had two teaspoons of caraway seed added, for extra flavor.

There should be enough brine from the salted cabbage to cover – if not, mix 1 ½ Tablespoons of salt in hot water, allow to cool, and top the jars with the additional brine. The cabbage has to be below the level of the brine. Another recipe I saw for this recommended cutting a cabbage leaf to size, and using it as a topper, to keep the cabbage shreds underneath – or just use a smaller jar filled with weights to keep the cabbage submerged. Cover the tops of the jars with cheesecloth held on with a rubber band, and let sit and ferment in a sheltered cupboard for 3-6 weeks, removing the scum which forms every day or so. When it’s ready, either refrigerate it and eat fresh, or empty the sauerkraut into a big pan and bring to a gentle simmer – not a boil. Pack it into clean hot canning jars, leaving about half an inch of head-space, seal and process in boiling water; 15 minutes for pint jars, 20 for quarts. We have finally finished off the sauerkraut that I did last summer – so time to pickle again!

Clay Pottery

Paint Your Own Clay Pottery

by Celia Hayes

In our never-ending search for interesting things to write about in, and around San Antonio, serendipity took a hand last week. We were actually heading for WingStop in Embassy Oaks for our monthly Red Hat gathering, but we were early. With some time to kill, we wandered into the nearby Clay Casa, a paint-it-yourself pottery studio – just to see what was on hand. I understand that the popularity of this as a hobby has never really gone out of style; in Victorian times it was called china painting, and was considered a suitable hobby for genteel young ladies, the kind of thing taught in finishing schools. From there, the urge to ornament pottery and china segued into the hands of professional artists and skilled amateurs in the Arts and Crafts movement – to art potteries like Rookwood, Van Briggle, Newcomb, Grueby, Rosewood and the rest. Vases, tiles and plates from these studios often show up on the Antiques Road Show and command quite astonishing prices.

Currently it seems that the china-painting hobby – like a great many other home-making hobbies – has come around again. I usually blame Martha Stewart for a lot of this busy-little-hands-at home stuff, but I do have to admit that in the right hands, and given a simple design and a degree of skill, the results can be quite pleasing. The Martha’s designs for dot-painted pottery are really quite attractive on their own, although I don’t think they could come anywhere near to redeeming the Clay Casa pottery blank that represented a box of fast-food fries. Not even Martha herself could do much with that.

But the Clay Casa isn’t just set up for single ambitious artists to work alone on their project; their focus is on group events for friends and congenial strangers: Sundays are a family fun day, and during the weeks of summer, they have an art project summer day camp for kids, regular classes in mosaic and fused glass, Girl Scouts can earn a patch … and Clay Casa can even host kid’s birthday parties. (There are actually a number of DIY art studios in San Antonio offering these kinds of activities, especially for kids. When my daughter was in high school, she used to work for a place called ArtWorks, in Carousel Court, in Alamo Heights. If it is still the same enterprise, they have two outlets now.)

We hung around for about half an hour, talking to the duty staff, and admiring some of the finished projects. Some of them, especially the fused-glass projects were quite beautiful, and reminded us of Howard Redmond’s glass bowls and ornaments … or at least, a fair start on the way to creating something along the lines of what he does, professionally. The work areas were large, well-lit and welcoming to customers and aspiring artists. When and if I can ever tear myself away from a hot computer, I might just come back and try my hand at pottery-painting. That dot-painted china from Martha Stewart did look very nice, and I am certain that I could do something like it, in white and blue.

Staging Tips for a Quick Home Sale

10 Home Staging Tips for a Quicker Sale

by Joe Eitel

When it comes to selling your home fast, staging it correctly is probably the most effective strategy. In fact, studies conducted by the staging experts at showed that 94-percent of staged homes sold in 29 days or less compared to 145 days for homes that weren’t staged.

So, what exactly is staging? In short, staging is preparing your home to be sold by cleaning, arranging and optimizing the space. According to published national surveys, real estate professionals rank cleaning/decluttering, lighting and electrical/plumbing as the top three most important areas to address when staging a home. There are several other important staging tips to consider as well. Here are 10 of the most important tips to keep in mind:

Potential buyers will not get a great first impression of your home if there’s clutter everywhere. Remove as much “stuff” as possible from your home prior to an open house or showing. You can donate, rent a dumpster, rent a temporary storage unit, or recycle. The key is to get rid of as much clutter as possible.

Furniture Arrangement
Arrange the furniture in a way that makes the space more user-friendly and promotes an open feeling. According to HGTV, an effective strategy is to pull furniture away from walls. This will help make the room feel larger.

Room with a Purpose
Make sure each room of your home resembles what it was originally intended for. In other words, the dining room should resemble a dining room and not a storage area or home office.

Fresh Paint
The least expensive way to freshen up a home and make it more attractive to a potential buyer is with a little paint. Choose neutral colors to appeal to more buyers. Also, consider painting adjacent rooms the same color to promote a greater feeling of open space.

Accessorize Correctly
Accessories can really improve the look of a room, but over-accessorizing can do just the opposite. To avoid a cluttered appearance, accessorize in threes. This means sticking to three accessories per shelf, tabletop and on the walls. Try to vary shapes and sizes as well.

Don’t Ignore the Floors
Fix flooring that’s damaged, cracked or stained. A potential buyer will instantly be turned off by damaged floors. estimates that sellers can achieve a 250 percent return on investment by fixing up floors.

Clean like Never Before
Your home should sparkle during open houses and showings. A little elbow grease goes a long way when selling a home. Be sure not to ignore discreet areas, such as moldings, window trim, walls, ceilings, tile grout and inside cabinets.

Appeal to all the Senses
Your home shouldn’t just look good, but it should also smell good. Remove any signs of pets from the home, including litter boxes and pet stains. It’s a good idea to have your carpeting professionally cleaned and deodorized. Remove anything that may give off a foul odor, such as moldy material or old furniture. Nobody wants to buy a stinky home!

The first thing a potential buyer sees is the outside of your home, so make a good first impression by addressing the landscaping around the home. Make sure the lawn is manicured, trees/bushes are trimmed, and flowerbeds are clean of debris. Landscaped areas should be decluttered (twigs/leaves/trash) and made to look fresh and new.

Turn all the lights on during a showing, and open all curtains/blinds to let as much natural light into the home as possible. A dim, dull interior isn’t appealing to most buyers.

Joe Eitel is a web content writer for Hometown Dumpster rental, the nation’s leading provider of roll off dumpster rental and junk removal services.

Christmas Baskets for the Neighbors

Sing We Now of Christmas

by Celia Hayes

And of Christmas presents, and decorations on the tree and mailing out the cards and all … we really don’t have to go shopping actually, since we do that throughout the year. What we do at this time of the year is to turn out the contents of the ‘gift closet’ – where we had stashed all the things purchased throughout the year with an eye towards this season, wrap them suitably and send them on their merry way. That done, we turn to the entrancing question of ‘what to give the neighbors’ for Christmas, or more particularly, those neighbors who are also friends. Something to eat is the standard, but fruitcake is … well, does anyone actually eat fruitcake? Cookies are … well, everybody does cookies, and I am beginning to suspect that no one actually eats them either. I am pretty certain that no one ate them that year I did gingerbread cookies from an old Joy of Cooking recipe and they came tasting something like ginger and looking like what we have to pick up after the dog.

Fortunately for our neighbors, there’s a whole world of home-made edible possibilities out there, and this year, we’ve been exploring them. We decided upon gift-baskets of flavored olive oil and spiced vinegar, with a mini-wheel of home-made cheddar cheese, and a small loaf of home-baked fresh bread. (I, in a moment of backing frenzy some years ago, bought a number of mini-loaf pans.)

The recipe for the flavored oil is fairly straight-forward: three or four fresh springs of rosemary (picked from the bounteous rosemary bushes growing in the front yard) washed and carefully dried, and ¼ to ½ teaspoon of dried and crushed red pepper flakes. Place in a bottle, and fill to near the top with good quality olive oil, heated until just barely warm. Cork the bottle, and store in a cool dark place for at least a week. (Refrigerate after opening.)

We did garlic and chili pepper vinegar, also. This recipe came from Sunset’s Home Canning recipe book. We used dried red cayenne peppers from the pepper plants which grew so lavishly in the topsy-turvy: four to six dried peppers, three to four dried bay leaves, and three fresh cloves of garlic per bottle, filled to the top with white wine vinegar. As with the oil, store in a dark, cool place before use, and refrigerate afterwards. The very best deal on the small bottles that we chose for the vinegar and oil was at Home Brew Party, on Nacogdoches and Judson.

The homeade cheeses were made from a recipe for farmhouse cheddar, in Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheesemaking, but instead of making one large wheel, I made three little ones. But if you don’t want to venture that far into D-I-Y territory, any small flavorful cheese would do. My daughter, the Queen of All Thrift-Shopping found inexpensive baskets to hold it all at the Dollar Tree, but really, any attractive container will do – even just a plain brown bag with a checkered napkin. So, our gift baskets will look pretty much like this – don’t you wish you were our neighbors?


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Plain Sandwich Loaf Recipe for a Bread Machine

A Simple Bread Recipe for a Bread Machine

Written by Randy Watson

It is not really winter here in San Antonio, yet. We have not really had any days that have stayed below 50 yet for the whole day. Yea, we did have some really cold days the other day when it got down to 31 overnight. It is 51 degrees at 4:00 this cloudy Sunday afternoon. It was less than a month ago, we were still hitting the century mark on the thermometer, so no, my blood has not thickened up yet.

Although, we are not always known for arctic cold winter snaps in South Texas, sometimes we do get into the twenties or rarely into the teens overnight. Anyway, ever since I was a kid, one of the things my mom started us doing to keep us out of trouble was bake bread when we could not go outdoors to play. I have been baking bread ever since. I have tried baking many different styles and flavors of breads.

Nowadays, most of the breads I make are just the typical sandwich loaf or dinner bread. But, I have experimented with French and Italian rolls, cinnamon and raisin breads and even some gluten free breads. I have made breads with mesquite flour, rice flour, bean flour, wheat flour and even regular bleached white flour. You name any kind of bread, I have probably tried to make it. At home I usually bake a loaf or 2 every week. I may have given up on the cinnamon swirl, buns. rolls and croissant breads. But I still make a pretty darn good plain sandwich loaf, once or twice a week.

Over the years, I have learned what works for me and what does not when it comes to baking bread. Sometimes, I am lazier than other times, so for the lazy times, I use a bread machine. I can mix up a dough batch and have it in the bread machine in less than 5 minutes. (Here is a hint. If you want a loaf of bread in the summer and you are not already using the oven, just use the bread machine. It will help keep the kitchen cooler in the summer time.)

For my bread machine, I use a really simple recipe that works and does not fail me too often. The recipe is just a plain and simple white or white/whole wheat loaf. When baking bread I usually use bread flour, instead of general purpose flour. Bread flour has more gluten in it to keep the dough from collapsing. The bread flour will also cause the bread to look a little bit yellower than if you use just the general purpose flour.

My bread machine makes a 2lb loaf. Adjust to 3 cups of flour if you have a 1 ½ lb loaf bread machine.

Here is my bread machine recipe:

  • 1 ½ cups of room temp to warm water (75-100 degrees)
  • 4 generous cups of bread flour (may use 3 cups white bread flour and 1 cup of red wheat flour)
  • 1-2 teaspoons of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of dry yeast (do not proof yeast)

Pour the water in first, then flour, sprinkle in the salt and dry yeast. Set the machine for a plain white loaf or wheat loaf. (Wheat flour takes longer to rise.) I like to set my crust to dark, turn it on and let it run. Check the machine after about 5 minutes. If the dough is too watery, add a tablespoon of flour, if too dry, add a tablespoon of water and start the machine again. Once the consistency balls up and is not soggy or gooey, close the lid and let it do its thing. In about 1 ½ hours the house will be smelling really good. In about 3 hours, (3 hrs 40 min for a wheat loaf) you will have a hot loaf of bread.



Homemade Cheese Waxing

Waxing the Cheese

by Celia Hayes

That is something which sounds vaguely like something which only ought to be done by consenting adults, in private and behind closed doors, but . . . well, it’s really rather prosaic, in the process of making cheese. It’s the final thing done, before stashing the wheel of cheese in the lower shelf of the refrigerator to age for the required number of months. Well, to all but the parmesan; that variety ages, dries and hardens bare and un-waxed for a year, before getting a slathering of olive oil. It will be another ten months before we can even sample it and know if it is any good, but it already is looking dry and waxy, rather like the less expensive supermarket parmesans.

This months’ cheese-making expeditions have been enlivened, as we are trying to make a half-dozen or so small wheels of farmhouse cheddar. These are about the size of a tuna can, and we intend to give them as Christmas presents to San Antonio neighbors. Two gallons of milk produces three small cheeses; and farmhouse cheddar must age for at least a month. Our neighbors are all nice people, and we like them very much, but after fifteen years of alternating butter cookies and fruitcakes, it’s probably time to up our game, and I am almost sure everyone has forgotten about the ginger-molasses drop cookies which came out looking like they had come from the back end of the dog, and tasting like ginger-flavored flour. No, I do not often make mistakes in the kitchen, but when I do . . .

We even ventured into the purchase of some small, lidded pottery crocks for soft cheese, although the only kind of soft cheese we have accomplished this far has been by accident. My daughter has made gouda, smoked gouda, cheddar, fennel-flavored cheddar, and a couple of the other more complicated varieties . . . but just cannot get the hang of what is supposed to be the easiest: mozzarella. Aside from the very first batch, which she did from a kit – every other batch has come out disastrously. Once, it emerged from the hot whey bath as a hard waxy yellow baseball-sized bolus; every other time, it’s come out as . . . well ricotta. Something goes wrong, even though the curds form and separate very satisfactorily.

She’s tried the method of heating the curds on the stovetop as she folds them together: they are supposed to go all elastic, and pliable, rather like taffy. No luck. Not even the ‘nuke in the microwave for ten seconds and knead them like bread dough’ has the desired effect. Invariably, the curds granulate and just sit there, sullenly defiant. This has sent my daughter spare with frustration, not being able to conquer what is supposed to be the easiest cheese of all. Every time – it turns into ricotta. Sometimes rather nice ricotta, especially when fresh herbs are added – and of course, we can use, for lasagna, and to fill manicotti and pasta shells, but there is a limit.

I did suggest one day that she follow the recipe for ricotta and maybe it would spontaneously turn into mozzarella.

She so did not learn those words in Catholic school.


Wine Brew Fun with Fruit

Fun with Fruit Brewing Wine


Like many of these things that I am reluctant to do at first, but get talked into and eventually start having fun – getting into the home-brewing and cheese-making was my daughter’s idea. Many months ago, I had noticed that storefront location in a local strip mall was now taken up by an enterprise called Home Brew Party. I was unwary enough to mention this to my daughter. At the next opportunity, she dragged me inside . . . and was promptly carried away by the possibilities of making home-brewed beer and wine.

A portion of one of her intermittently ginormous but infrequent paychecks went towards buying two equipment kits – one for wine, one for beer: a couple of food-grade six-gallon plastic buckets with gasket-sealed lids, or a single bucket and a huge glass bottle – a carboy, bungs and air-locks. The two kits came with accessories – a siphon for transferring the liquid from one bucket to carboy; the wine kit came with corks and device ram them into the necks of bottles, the beer with caps and a capper to crimp them tightly . . . and some basic guidance.

We did wind up buying some other things – cleaning brushes on long handles, nylon bags for steeping fruit, and a little device to squirt cleansing solution up into bottles. We started with some ingredient kits, until we got the hang of it. They were expensive . . . and it was much more fun to see what we could do with in-season fruit, or what my daughter could bring home from her occasional job at Edible Arrangements. One of the fruits they use is pineapple, cutting ornamental shapes out of the center of the whole ripe fruit – and the scraps are waste, and so the workers may take away as much as they like of it. My daughter and I came home with what amounted to about twenty pounds, once the usable portions were cut from the rind.

Any fruit that is in season and free, or less than a dollar a pound; a gallon of fruit wine usually needs between two to four pounds of fruit, and about two pounds of sugar, plus some other bits of this or that by teaspoonful: powdered tannin, crushed Campden tablets, yeast nutrient, enzymes. Chop up the fruit, and freeze it overnight – this is key; the frozen fruit will yield up every possible drop of juicy essence. Put the frozen fruit in a fine-mesh nylon bag, add the sugar, the bag of fruit, water, and other required ingredients in the brewing bucket, cover it and attach the airlock. The next day, sprinkle a packet of wine yeast over the whole . . . and every day thereafter for as long as is called for, stir and mash the bag of fruit against the side of the bucket. This week, I started a batch of pear wine, since pears were on sale at HEB for 88¢ a pound.

Sixteen pounds of pears dissolved away to about a quart of fiber and skins. I put the nascent pear wine into the carboy today – it’s cloudy and pale yellow, and smells divinely of pear-essence with a touch of yeast. There was a thin layer of sticky sediment at the bottom of the fermenting bucket. As the pear wine ages in the carboy, more sediment will fall out over the next few months, as it clears. Then, we will bottle it – possibly having to sweeten it again. And there you go – pear wine.

The pineapple wine made the best summer cooler ever: half pineapple wine, half mineral water, over ice with a splash of grapefruit juice. Heaven in a glass on a hot day!

by Celia Hayes




Root Beer Home Brew Making

The Home-Brew Gateway Element

by Celia Hayes

So, my daughter and I have been experimenting with a lot of do-it-yourself food, lately;  Breads and cheese, beer and wine, mostly. It’s part of our family culture, or it might be in our DNA, an ancestral proclivity to have a go at something, since it really can’t be all that hard. Well, some things are a bit tricky, and require a lot of instruction and experience: fine cabinet-making, for instance. And installing HVAC systems. And automobile maintenance – just not interested in that. But we have found that we have had pretty good results with many of our own D-I-Y projects, especially the food-based ones. What’s so complicated about following a recipe, and making a food-product for the household just as our ancestors did?

OK, so without an electric stove, indoor running water, refrigeration and food-grade PVC containers, but the results are extremely satisfactory  . . .  in fact, some of them are more than satisfactory. The home-made honey mead was ambrosia in a wine-glass, and the stuff that aged a little actually came out of the bottle with a slight fizz to it. The first wheel of farmhouse cheddar cheese came out very well, too – although it came out slightly crumbly, with a texture rather like feta. And when you’ve made it yourself from scratch, you certainly do know exactly what went into it.  In the case of the wheel of Parmesan I made last week – four gallons of whole milk, and not much else. It has to age for almost a year, so I won’t know until then how close we’ve come to the real thing.

One of the other big reasons for doing this is that we actually do appreciate the good stuff, when it comes to food and drink; champagne tastes on a beer budget. The solution is to either drink mineral water on six nights and champagne the seventh, learn to like beer, or learn to make champagne. Or cheese, or multi-grain breads; many of the necessary ingredients for making something at home are now widely available either in the grocery store, a specialty store, or on line: wheat gluten, rye flour, liquid rennet. I really can’t say if we come out ahead, comparing the cost of ingredients for our home-made stuff,  against the retail price of the cheapest available commercially mass-produced foodstuffs at HEB or Walmart, but we certainly come out ahead in comparison to the cost of the top-line gourmet products from Central Market or Whole Foods.

So, this last weekend, we expanded our repertoire just a little – to root beer. My daughter had a yen for some, but the case lot at Sam’s Club just cost to darned much, and I suddenly remembered seeing the ingredient kits for root beer at Home Brew Party – and I needed a packet of champagne yeast for the pear wine we just started . . .  (anything under $1.00 a pound, we’ll have a go at making wine out of it). So, today – a vat of root-beer, about twenty bottles, done up in a two-gallon lot, bottled and capped, and waiting for the fizz to develop. Which it should, in a day or so.

And I just had a thought  . . .  what would a root-beer float taste like, made from home-made ice-cream and root-beer. I’ll bet it would be fantastic.

The San Antonio Home Brew Party Shop is located in the strip-mall at the corner of Judson and Nacogdoches, 210-650-9070. The Home Brew Party log is “A Place to meet with your friends and discuss beer, wine, mead, cider, cheese, and bread.” They even have a discussion forum online to talk about brewing. These sound like mighty serious folks about perfecting their brews.

Razzle-dazzle the Red Hat Ladies in San Antonio with a homemade bottled Easter egg basket gift

Created Tuesday, 19 April 2011 14:46

Bottled Easter Basket

by Julia Hayden

Having as we do a monthly Red Hat Ladies in San Antonio event where we are expected to razzle-dazzle the other members with our skill and creativity when it comes to doing a token gift, my daughter and I have gotten very, very good at creating something out of nothing . . . well, almost nothing. Last month, though – we did get a little carried away with the Texas-themed basket, so we vowed this month to keep it simple and fairly inexpensive.

The theme of the gift this month is Easter . . . and my daughter thought up a new and interesting variation on an Easter basket. Last month at the New Braunfels Saturday farmer’s market, she sampled pickled quail eggs for the very first time. It used to be that pickling hardboiled eggs was a way to preserve them for long periods of time without refrigeration. You don’t often see pickled eggs any more, except maybe in the more high-end delicatessens . . . so my daughter had never even tasted one before. She thought the pickled hard-boiled quail egg tasted like rubbery pickled something. It’s kind of like eating snails; once is enough, just to say that you did it. But anyway, the vision of pickled eggs stuck in her mind, and merged with the vision of Easter eggs . . . and produced the Bottled Easter Basket!

We started with two large glass jars, which had once held dill pickles and marinated artichoke hearts, in the 32-ounce size, or the Sam’s Club quantity. We save them, to use in storing bulk quantities of macaroni and things, although they often have to be put through the dishwasher over, and over, until the smell of the pickling brine is completely banished. We already had a half a bag of green cellophane grass, left over from something or other, and some rolls of pastel ribbon that, IIRC, were in a bag of sewing notions that my daughter bought at a yard sale for a dollar or so.

For the main contents of the Easter Basket in a bottle, my daughter and I hit the local Dollar Store. For a whole ten dollars or so, we came away with three packages of plastic Easter eggs, five bags of foil-wrapped chocolates, a packet of Easter-egg shaped suckers, and a bag of gummy Easter eggs in individual wrappers. From the Hancock Fabrics outlet – a short length of pastel madras-patterned cotton, although I would have preferred a calico print with Easter eggs, or chicks or rabbits printed on it.

Assembly – a snap. The longest and most tedious task was filling every one of the plastic eggs with the chocolates. Then, pad the bottom of each jar with cellophane grass, carefully stack the filled eggs inside, fitting in the suckers and the little packets of gummy eggs in the interstices. We put the lids on the jars, and cut two rounds of fabric with pinking shears, and secured the fabric with a length of ribbon – and there you go: Bottled Easter Basket. It’s original, anyway – and recycles the glass jars!

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