Tag Archives: gift

Lavender Neck Roll

When I was a kid, my mother had a lavender neck roll: a long skinny pillow filled with rice and lavender. When you had a headache, she would put it in the microwave then wrap it around your neck. It was perfect for soothing tense muscles and the smell was heavenly. It was also fantastic for keeping you warm on a chilly winter’s evening, so one of my brothers and I would fake headaches to be able to use it. Since I’m prone to headaches, I decided to buy one for myself. However, everything I found online was at least $20, which thought was a bit much. So, I decided to dig through my stash of fabric and come up with my own version. Fortunately I have a ton of lavender from my garden this summer. Don’t have access to lavender or don’t like it? Use another herb, like chamomile or mint, or infuse your rice with the essential oil of your choice.


  • 30 in by 9 in strip of fabric (flannel would be fabulous here)
  • 2x 9 inch piece of cotton webbing
  • 7 cups of rice or rice/herb mixture
  • needle, thread and straight pins

Start with a 30 in by 9 in piece of fabric.

Fold long ways so good side faces inward, pin long raw edges together, and mark 1/4 in.

Sew along that edge, then turn right side out and fold the edges of one of the short ends inward.

Tuck in the ends of one piece of webbing and sew them down while closing the end of the tube. You could probably leave the webbing off, but I like it because this thing gets really hot.

Next fill the tube with your rice mixture. I went with almost half and half rice and lavender, and it’s pretty powerful, which I love. You don’t want to completely stuff the pillow, because you want it to be able to curve around your neck.

Close the other short end by repeating the steps above.

Now that your neck roll is done, simply pop it in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes and enjoy. These things make great presents. I actually made two and sent one to my sister for her birthday and she loves it!





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T-Shirt Tote

As I mentioned last week, a friend has challenged me to tackle some of the numerous t-shirt crafts I’ve added to my Pinterest boards. This week, I’ll show you my version of a t-shirt tote bag. It’s a great way to use that shirt that has that awesome graphic on it that you never wear or just doesn’t look quite right on you.

First, find a men’s or kids’ t-shirt with a graphic you like. Cut off the sleeves, then cut out the neckline in a wide U. This will form the handles of your bag.

I would recommend making those handles wider than I did: I neglected to factor in how much un-hemmed jersey rolls in on itself.  Next, flip the t-shirt inside out and sew a straight seam just above the bottom hem. If you want to be fancy, take the corners, spread the sides out from the hem seam to form points, and sew across to create boxed sides to your bag.

Curse yourself for using a black t-shirt since it photographs so poorly and wish you had a better command of English for describing such techniques. Finally, turn your creation inside out.

Ta-dah! You have an adorable, washable tote bag that squishes up small to fit in another bag. Take a final picture and be glad the hair your white dog decided to rub on your finished product doesn’t show up.


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The Black Holes in My Kitchen

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but I’m short. Not kind of short, but really short. As in I haven’t been measured without shoes on in years and I’m still only 5′ 3/4″. Even standing on my tippy toes on my step ladder, I can just reach the edge of the top shelf of my pantry and the cabinets over my refrigerator. As a result, those spaces have turned into black holes. Every time I go to put something away up there, I kind of just shove it in and ignore whatever else is getting shoved around or tipped over in there.

Yesterday evening for my last step in cleaning out my kitchen, I decided to tackle those spaces. My Swiffer has a rubberized handle which helped me to kind of push things towards me, which I set out on the counters and table to sort: 3 water bottles, 3 thermoses of various sizes, some serving dishes, a never used butterfly covered tea set, an Easter basket, Christmas cookie tins, a selection of bento boxes, paper plates and napkins, plastic cups and silverware, disposable cake and pie tins, and a ridiculous array of empty glass jars. Not Mason jars, but random jars that I’ve emptied and saved just in case.

Water bottles were put on a lower shelf where I’ll use them more often, the tea set has been set aside to give to my niece for Christmas, a Goodwill box has been started with Easter basket and some thermoses, and a lot of jars went into the recycling bin. A few tall ones from oils and sauces got set aside for a future project and everything else was returned to the cabinets within reach. Mission accomplished and all within 30 minutes.

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No Sugar Blackberry Jam

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Deborah saying that her blackberry hedge was ready. Did I want to come pick any? Hah! Silly question, of course I did! So after work on a 100+ degree day, I went to go pick. In about 45 minutes I had 9 pint baskets filled with blackberries and a girlfriend headed to my house to help can. After eating a pint between the two of us and a glass of red wine or two, we decided we were going to go wild and leave all the sugar out of this jam, and oh my goodness, I’m so glad we did. This doesn’t taste like most jams; instead it’s super tart and tastes intensely of berries. I wouldn’t do this with anything but the freshest berries you can get your hands on. I don’t think even stone fruits would hold up well to this version.

As for the technical details, as always with canning, follow the directions for sterilizing and setting up a water bath that I put in my first canning post. To make this a truly sugar free jam, without subbing in artificial sweetners, the only pectin I’ll use is Ball RealFruit Pectin, low or no-sugar needed variety, in the flex batch size. In general, I really love Ball products, since they’re reliable, high quality and very affordable.

No Sugar Blackberry Jam

  • 8 cups blackberries
  • 1 1/3 cup water
  • 6 tbsp pectin
  • 8 half pint glass jars with seals and lids

In a large non-reactive pot over medium heat, combine blackberries and water. Stir frequently, mashing the berries with the back of a large spoon, as the mixture comes to a boil. Add pectin and allow to simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, while continuing to stir. Pour into prepared jars, leaving 1/2 in head space, and water bath process for 5 minutes.


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Brandied Plums

Have I mentioned how much I love preserving fruit in booze? Because I do. It’s so simple and the results are so impressive. The other week when I was processing all those pounds of plums, I decided I didn’t want to make all 10 pounds into plum sauce. Then I remembered hearing about brandied plums. I did some searching, looked at a lot of recipes, and came up with a combo that sounds good to me, and most importantly was the simplest and would last for the longest amount of time.

Brandied Plums

  • 1 lb plums, washed and destemmed
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 1/2 cups brandy
  • 1 quart glass jar with tight fitting lid

Prick plums all over with a needle, then place gently in the jar. Top with sugar and stick in cinnamon stick. Add brandy until plums are covered by at least an inch of brandy. Close jar, and store in a cool dark place and swirl every few days. Plums will be ready to eat after 3 weeks of soaking. Use within 6 months.

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Strawberry Vanilla Jam

Last weekend, I helped with the food at my friend’s lovely garden wedding. As a thank you, I got sent home with all the leftover strawberries, all six pints worth. Fortunately, I love to make jam, and I have a friend who has a long-standing request to join me whenever I make strawberry jam. She came over, and we spent a fun hour and a half slicing berries, stirring and boiling away. We each ended up with 5 jars of jam for our efforts, and only had to pay for the jars (which we can reuse), sugar, and pectin.

Canning is probably the most complicated way to preserve food, but once you’ve got the hang of it, it isn’t too hard. It is important, however, to follow the directions exactly in regards to amounts of sugar, salt, and acid, and to do the hot water bath. In order to do this, there are a few tools that are either essential or incredibly useful. The absolute must is a canning rack or basket for boiling the jars in: without it, your jars will rattle around and possibly break. In order of what I love, but could possibly live without, there are also jar lifters (particularly essential if you’re using a canning rack rather than a basket), canning funnels (cuts way back on the mess, particularly with small jars), and lid lifters (helps prevent burned finger tips). As for the jars and pectin, I find those in my regular grocery store, and the tools I got at my hardware store.

According to the government, these batches are good for a year, so this could make great holiday gifts, or just provide an amazing taste of summer in the middle of winter. Or you could be like my friend and run through your entire batch in a month of so.

Please note that the first three steps are for sterilizing your jars and lids, and preparing your hot water bath. If possible, try and time having the lids and jars done at the same time as your jam is ready to can. This is probably the trickiest part.

Strawberry Vanilla Jam

  • 6 pints or 12 cups of strawberries, halved
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 packet low sugar pectin
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 8-10 glass half pint jars with good lids and rings (err on the side of more, rather than less)
  1. Run jars through an otherwise empty dishwasher on the hottest water and dry settings OR place on a cookie sheet in the oven at 225 F.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Make sure the pot can hold your canning rack or basket and has enough water to cover your jars by 1 in.
  3. Put lids in a small pot, bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.
  4. Measure 3 1/2 cups sugar into a bowl. Into a separate bowl mix remaining 1/2 cup sugar with packet of pectin.
  5. Place berries in another large pot, preferably enameled, and stir in sugar/pectin mixture.
  6. Slowly bring berry/pectin mixture to a boil, stirring frequently.
  7. Once the mixture boils, stir in remaining sugar and vanilla extract, bring back to a simmer, and allow to cook for another minute or two, then turn off the heat.
  8. Ladle jam into clean jars, using canning funnel if you have one, leaving 1/2 in of head space (i.e., stop when there’s 1/2 in of empty space in the jar). NOTE: If at the end there’s a jar with more than 1/2 in of headspace, do not water bath process it. Store in the refrigerator and use within a few weeks.
  9. Wipe off rims of jars with damp paper towel.
  10. Drain lids and place one on top of each jar.
  11. Place rings on top of jar and tighten
  12. Put jars in canning basket or on canning rack in your pot of boiling water, making sure they’re covered by at least 1 in of water.
  13. Leave jars in boiling water bath for 5 minutes.
  14. Place on counter to cool. If lid hasn’t popped inwards within 24 hours, store jam in refrigerator and use within 2 weeks. Otherwise, store in a cool dark place.



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No, that is not a made up word in my title. It’s one of my projects for the summer and should make excellent Christmas presents. One of my favorite parts of summer is all the amazing produce. Working on a farm, and being a huge fan of the farmers market, I sometimes end up with more than I can eat before it goes bad. That’s when I turn to food preservation, which can mean making jams and pickles, but can encompass a lot of other methods.

One of my favorite methods, and the simplest, is to use alcohol, which brings me back to the title of my post. Rumptopf is a German dish, which involves layers of fresh fruit, topped with sugar and dark rum. As the summer progresses and different fruits come into season, add another layer of fruit, with more sugar and rum. Or, you can buy all the fruit and make it in one go.

I divide this recipe into 4 1-pint jars to give out as presents, but you could be selfish or generous, and put it all in one giant jar, that would hold a half gallon of water. Just use glass, which won’t transfer any flavor or chemicals to the fruit.


  • 2 cups (1 pint basket) strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 2 cups peaches, sliced 1/2 thick, pit removed
  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 2 cups plums, sliced 1/2 thick, pit removed
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 liter dark rum
  • 4 pint glass jars
  1. Divide strawberries evenly between jars. Sprinkle 2 1/2 tbsp sugar over each layer of strawberries, then cover with rum, about ¼ cup.
  2. Repeat with each type of fruit, creating layers. At the end, make sure the fruit is completely covered with rum.
  3. Store in a cool, dark place (not the refrigerator!), and periodically swirl to help the sugar dissolve.  If the fruit floats to the top, occasionally flip to make sure everything is equally saturated with rum. Allow to soak for at least 3 weeks, though the longer the better.

Serve over pound cake, use the fruity rum in cocktails or just have a ridiculously tipsy fruit salad.

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