I’ve run smack into winter here in the Twin Cities. And I am not happy about it. Minneapolis, you had almost lured me into liking you. Nice parks, good restaurants, a fantastic art and music scene and decent public transit – it has been a lovely summer and fall. Why did it have to end? I mean, really, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet and there has been snow, ice and temperatures in the teens. I am asking myself, why would anyone, and more importantly, I, live in such a place? Snow emergency routes, long johns, double coats … it all seems like such a hassle. Why am I living here again?
I mean it. This is not a rhetorical question that I will consider and come to some well-reasoned conclusion. Winter sucks in the Midwest and nothing can convince me otherwise. I had no notion or inclination of what exactly I was getting myself into when I decided to move here last March. I have been denying the existence of the Minnesotan winter and now its punched me in the nose and I am not ready to forgive. Especially since it will continue to kick me while I’m down for the next four months. La-ame.
After six years in North Carolina, I am woefully under-prepared for winter here. Before last Sunday, I didn’t even have an ice scraper for my car. I still don’t have the proper coat or gloves. I walked to the coffeeshop and thought my face was going to shatter. I have slipped on the ice and nearly fallen about 87 times. On campus there is a sad little sign on the sidewalk that declares it “closed for winter.”
What’s a girl to do? Luckily, people are taking pity on me and I greatly appreciate it. I was presented with a pair of SmartWool socks from a fellow post-doc. My adviser sent me home with a microwave heating pack. I am getting bombarded with advice and suggestions everyday. However, I think they only way that I am going survive the upcoming season is by escaping it. I am starting by heading to Atlanta for Thanksgiving, a plan that I am extremely thankful for.
As we move quickly towards winter here in Minneapolis (I have already seen snowflakes once – luckily they didn’t hang around), my dining room has quickly become my favorite room in the house. The morning sun shines on the warm yellow walls and the whole room glows. It is really quite spectacular. I can sit while drinking my coffee and checking my email and feel perfectly happy … except that is Puck has all but destroyed one of my dining room chairs in rebellion for me not letting him outside to go play in the sunshine.
As you can see my chairs have become well-used scratching posts (and damned if my cats don’t use the ACTUAL scratching post they have). I had to do something about it. It not only has been driving me crazy to see it everyday, but it is only getting more destroyed. So I headed to the fabric store found some upholstery fabric that suited my taste and budget and got to work.
There are just a few supplies you need for a task like this: fabric, a hammer and upholstery tacks and a staple gun. It didn’t require any careful measuring or sewing, just some elbow grease and a little attention to detail. I started by covering the back of the chair, tucking it into the crease between the chair seat and chair back and then stapling the fabric down on the backside of the chair.
The top corners were a little tricky, but after a little finessing, I got them worked out. Once I got the seatback of the chair recovered I moved on to the chair seat. Again, I tucked one edge of the fabric into the crease of the seat and the seatback, then I flipped the entire chair over and stapled the fabric down on the underside of the seat and folded the fabric under around the chair legs, almost like you would when making your bed.
Then all I had to do was cover the back of the chair. While it was still laying down, I stapled a piece of fabric (with the right side facing the floor) to the top of the chair, right above where I stapled the first piece of fabric. Then I could flip the chair right side up, fold the sides of the fabric under and tack them down with upholstery tacks.
Ta-da! A new and doubly improved dining room chair as it (1) no longer looks like a scratching post and 2) is now purple. All it took was a few of hours (and perhaps more than a few swear words). Now, I must admit to having some guidance. While my mother was in town last month she actually reupholstered one of my dining room chairs, showing me how to do it. It’s taken me a month to get to the second chair, mostly because I’ve been pretty swamped with work (a welcome change) and because I was hesitant to work on it by myself for fear of messing it up. Overall, I am pretty pleased with the result. I am sure there are more sophisticated and less messy ways to reupholster a chair, but I think this did the job well enough. Even the cats approve (as long as they only keep to napping and not scratching).
Kudzu, enjoying a Sunday afternoon nap
Next, I have my eye on a overstuffed living room chair …
As much as my pseudo-Southern self wants to deny it, autumn is here in the Twin Cities. And I’ll admit, I am a little bit excited for it. Fall means cool, crisp mornings and lightweight sweaters. It means an abundance of root vegetables and winter squash at the grocery store (butternut squash on my counter – I have some delicious plans for you later this week). And it means stocking up the pantry for the long (and I mean long), cold (and I mean cold) winter ahead by preserving the tastes and smells of summer.
Now, I’ve never actually made preserves before. Sure, as a kid I would watch my mother can just about anything she could get her hands on … peaches, pears, applesauce, green beans, zucchini relish … and to be perfectly honest, that pressure cooker scared the living daylights out of me and I have since avoided all sorts of canning activity. But, as I have just discovered, you don’t actually need a pressure cooker to make jams, jellies and preserves. So I decided to try my hand at some spiced blueberry jam this cozy Sunday afternoon. I think it was a great starting point into the world of canning – although, I do admit, to having made a couple of emergency calls to my mother…
I like how few ingredients can go into making a jam. This particular recipe (found in the book aptly named Jams and Preserves by Gina Steer) called for 1 1/2 pounds of blueberries, 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (about two small juice oranges), a cinnamon stick and vanilla bean and about 2 1/2 cups of sugar. First, simmer the blueberries, orange juice, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean over low heat for about 20 minutes. It will turn your wooden spoon and pot a lovely shade of purple…
Next, add sugar until it dissolves. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil for about 3 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in 3/4 cup of pectin (aka Sure-Jell or Certo and good luck finding it in your grocery store – it may be hiding in the baking aisle, the kitchen gadget aisle or with the tupperware and lunch bags). Let cool slightly before pouring into sterilized glass canning jars (place right-side up in a 285 degree oven for 15 min). To ease the pouring process, I first put the jam into a large batter bowl with a handle and a spout and that worked really well. My batch made about 5 1/2 cups. Cover with lids and screw on the caps. After a few minutes you should a hear a “pop” indicating that the lid has sealed. Hopefully the jam will set in a day or so and you will be good to go.
I think I might try mine with some baked brie and walnuts…