Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mike & Rhonda Take a Vacation

Guests are always asking us what we do for vacations.  The truth is, we don't go on too many trips any more, partly because this life ties us down some, and partly because we used to travel a lot before and now are ready for "home" time.

And maybe we became innkeepers in order to tie ourselves down as we have a reputation when it comes to traveling. No one was ever anxious to go with us.

There were sailboat trips with freak storms and multiple mechanical failures ("Mike, is water suppose to be coming up through the floor?") There were camping trips to Padre Island with second degree sunburns, food poisoning and getting trapped inside a very expensive borrowed tent. (It was dark and the zipper was jammed).  We have sat on hilltops while flood waters raged around us. And we have searched for food and lodging during all the wrong times. We didn't know it was the tri-state horse show, or the big college event, or Columbus Day (which is a big deal up in New England).

We also had a reputation for getting lost.  Pictures in our photo albums say "somewhere in Maine as we were lost at the time."  We would leave Dallas and end up in Houston when headed for Austin.  Or, we left Colorado headed for the National Grasslands in the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas and ended up in (this is so embarrassing) KANSAS.

The following is a story I wrote after flying to Colorado to attend our son's graduation from college at Western State in Gunnison in May of 1999.   (Flying would usually at least insure we got to where we were trying to go!) We tacked on a few nights to stay in a luxury suite at a resort in Crested Butte. 


Not only does one have to be careful of what one wishes for...but one must also set a timetable!!

I got my Christmas snow for Mother's Day.

And, of course, I had no warm clothes.  In my usual fashion of striving against stereotype, (women who pack too many bags), I went away for four days in the Rockies with only one very small suitcase.  I had 3 summer dresses, 1 pair of sandals, 2 pair of socks, (my one concession to the possibility that the weather would be anything other that what I deemed
it should be), and an all weather windbreaker-kind-of-jacket that I always have to take to appease Mike lest we get stranded somewhere.

We get to the hotel and there is snow everywhere. What was truly bizarre was that Cory's graduation, 20 miles down the road, was perfect; green grass on the field, sunny blue skies, mild breeze and temps in the 70's.

Now, when I say DOWN the road, that is exactly what I mean...down. Like, 1,200 feet down.  And for the record I don't do altitude well.

Crested Butte is a charming little place but as different from Jessiville, Arkansas as one can get.  Here you have lots of grey hair, plaid golf pants, Lincoln Towne Cars, AARP memberships and funny hats.   Crested Butte is the natural habitat of Jeeps, LL Bean clothing and all things healthy.  All vehicles have some manner of rack on top for skis, kayaks, bikes, you name it, and they are as mandatory there as a bottle of Ben Gay on the night stand is here!

But, their hats are funnier!

Plus, they are ALL in REALLY GOOD SHAPE!  I was the only fat person in at least two counties.

I think I am going to quit trying to plan my vacations and see if serendipity works better.  I mean, I made all these plans MONTHS in advance so all would be just right.  You know what is coming - another one of Mike and Rhonda's Vacation Disaster stories.

First, we check into our suite that is to overlook the mountain and it is looking into the courtyard and 100 other balconies.  I call them up and in a voice somewhere between irate and pitiful, and explain they have ruined my life.  They find two other rooms I can look at and one is perfect with a wonderful view and we take it.

We check into our perfect room.  The phone doesn't work so I go downstairs.  "Oh, I'm so glad you came down. I just realized why we didn't give you that room to begin with. That whole wing is being worked on starting Monday at 8 am and the plumbers will be turning the water off."

I assure them that we will be leaving early on Monday and want to keep the room (and its beautiful view).  They agree to let us stay there and turn on our phone.

I should stop here and explain that Crested Butte is a ski town.  We were there on the "Off Season."  Remember that term.

The whirlpool tub is calling to me.  I go in to run water and find that it takes about 15 minutes to get hot water to come on (which could explain the plumbers).

By now, the 9,000 + foot altitude is starting to do it's damage on me. I have enough oxygen to do only one of the following at any given time: walk, talk, digest food or breathe.  Doing any one of the first three was followed by two hours of lying down trying to do the later.  All moisture was completely sucked out of my body. My mucous membranes became non-existent.  I plugged in the two humidifiers supplied by the hotel on either side of the bed, slathered up and down with lots of lotion and tried to survive.

These two days were for us. We would enjoy the roaring fire, the magnificent view and each other. We would call for room service whenever we wanted food.  It was with great disappointment, when we did call, to discover they didn't have enough staff during "off-season" to deliver food.  I was ready to leave that instant...and would have had I not been sprawled on the bed "breathing" for the next go round of walking to the bathroom.

The pizza delivery place told us the same thing. So sorry but no delivery during off-season.

Mike then calls downstairs to at least get a to-go order for the room and stumbles across some sweet young man named Brian who made our weekend by assuring us that we could, after all, have food brought up.

The next morning (Sunday) is all ours.  We are not leaving the room.  I wake up early and watch the sun coming up over the mountains...a truly glorious experience, as many of you know, as the sun brings different snow covered peaks into brilliant focus as the morning progresses.  I had tip-toed out to the living room (leaving Mike to his much deserved slumber), started the logs burning in the fireplace, and had a cup of coffee along with my book, a blanket and a pillow all ready on the couch.  I decided the only thing interfering with the perfection of the morning was the tray of dirty dishes sitting there from the night before.  I looked a fright...hair standing up on end and my comfy nightgown (you know the one, we all have them...holes, stains, misshapen but they fit so perfectly and feel so good), and bare feet. But I decide to risk the 15 seconds of exposure in the hallway to set the tray outside the door. I carry the tray out and leave my foot in the jam...or, at least, I thought I did...until I heard that almost prison-like clank of metal on metal that takes my brain only milliseconds to translate into "Oh, s**t!"

Here I am on the outside of a locked door.  Mike is two rooms away behind two closed doors.

I know my knocking will be heard by the couple whose door is immediately next to ours way before Mike wakes up. And I have already encountered them once...beautiful ski-bunny and hunk. Well, if I wake them up, I can at least get them to call next door and wake Mike up. They weren't that impressed with me the first go-round so who cares how I look!   I knock louder. Then began pounding. Neither of the doors is opening.

How bad do I look if I have to go down to the lobby and borrow a phone? At least I'm not naked.

About that time I hear a faint "Rhonda?" coming from the other side of the door.  My soft answer opens the door to a completely confused Mike.  And I so wanted to let him sleep late!

The rest of the day went well.  We sat and talked for hours (something we haven't really had a chance to do in ages,) we read books, we called for food and we listened to the snow melt.  Snow of that volume makes an incredible amount of noise...amazing.  And we watched the reverse of the sun's play on the mountains as it set that evening.

Monday morning I woke up early (to get done with all "water" activities before the plumbers turned it off) and looked out the window.  I turned to Mike and said "Honey, it looks like we are fogged in." Then I realized this fog had lumps! We were in the middle of a blizzard! In the middle of May!!  We managed to get off the mountain without a problem.  It wasn't until we got to Monarch Pass that it got scary.  They had ice on the roads there. And even though the road had been sanded, you would look down those steep, deep, drop-offs and just pray.

We made it home OK and have only taken one "real" vacation since then.  It was to the Pacific Northwest. That was the time my back went out due to the long plane trip and not being able to move around too much. So I spent our vacation in a wheel chair being pushed through museums of stuff Mike wanted to see. (He was in heaven and I was drugged and couldn't escape.)  But that's another story.

Sometimes it is just as easy to stay home.

Bring pictures from your fun vacations so we can live vicariously. I think that is the way to go!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Making Your Own Linen Napkins

          ~ and mitering corners

[This is a stack I made about ten years ago.  Some are wearing out,
hence today's tutorial.]

Innkeepers need a lot of things, and linen napkins is one of them.  Buying ready made can get expensive when you have 16 people for breakfast every morning. Fortunately, making your own is a breeze....really.

First, find the linen.  Lots of places sell it online and, if you live in a place like Dallas, there are great fabric outlets to wander through.  You should be able to find a nice medium weight linen for $15 a yard or less (unless you want the very best Irish linen). 

Take the width of the fabric (usually about 54-56") and divide that in thirds (unless you are wanting very large dinner napkins - half it, or cocktail napkins - quarter it) and then figure out how many napkins you want to make.  For one dozen, you will take 18" (one third the width of 54") and multiply it by 4 (the number of rows of three you will cut out) = 72"  Divide that by 36" (inches in a yard) and you get 2.  You need two yards of fabric to make 12 napkins = less than $30 or $2.50 per napkin.

 Now cut your fabric  If you have exactly 2 yards, straighten fabric with selvages together and cut in half and then cut those two pieces in half...which leaves you with 4 - 8" pieces.  Now cut each of those pieces into thirds.  Folding the fabric in a triangle guarantees you a perfect square (or almost). The same quality that makes linen wrinkle also make it very easy to iron in nice straight hems. And the open weave makes it easy to cut the fabric evenly.

I fold it over once more so all four sides line up an trim anything that is a bit off kilter.

Next, with a hot iron, fold over a nice, straight 1/2" hem on all four sides.

I am making a one inch hem.  If you want a deeper hem, adjust accordingly. Fold right sides together at the corner. This will create a triangle with the point at the bottom. With a ruler, go down from the tip so that there is 1 1/2" in a straight line and mark off a triangle with washable marker (I just used soft lead pencil).

Next, disect that triangle with another mark (which should be about one inch long).

It should look like this.

Sew down the middle line...

Snip off the excess...and do the other three corners the same.


And press, keeping the finished hem as straight as you can.

At this point, you have a pretty nice looking napkin.  You just need to decide how you want to finish it.  You could just machine or hand stitch a hem stitch in white for a nice elegant look.  Or, you could embroider on all kinds of fun borders.

I just sew a long running stitch in the color of our blue tablecloths.  This not only adds a nice touch but also prevents me from having to hem stitch to finish. (I know, my stitches aren't even...such is life!)

One hint for hand sewing:  When you thread your needle, do so BEFORE you cut the thread from the spool.  This guarantees less twisting and knotting.

Note: All of our tablecloths and most of our napkins are made this way (linen and cotton).  It is easy to do and makes for a nice finished product.

Don't hesitate to let me know if these instructions are not clear.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fresh Gingersnaps

Remember that ginger that we froze in the last blog?  Set it out now and preheat the oven to 350.

Mountain Thyme Gingersnaps

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
 (you can add more fresh or 1 tsp dried ginger for snappier snaps)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup dark molasses
Combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into mixing bowl.

Place shortening into a mixing bowl and beat until creamy. If you are't aware, they now have this in stick form for easy measuring.  Do not use the butter flavored kind for this recipe.

Gradually beat in white sugar.

Beat in the egg and dark molasses.

Add 1/3 of flour mixture into the shortening mixture; stir until thoroughly blended. Sift in the remaining flour mixture, and mix together until a soft dough forms.

Pinch off small amounts of dough and roll into 1 inch balls. Roll each ball in cinnamon sugar mix, and place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet.

Bake about 9-10 min until tops are rounded and slightly cracked. Cool and store in airtight container. These, when cooled, are slightly chewy.  If you like your snaps crunchy, cook a bit longer.
NOTE: We keep a cinnamon/sugar mix on hand for several recipes.  Since we make these a lot, I have a tupperware bowl in the pantry for just this use.  I can put a dozen cookies in at a time and shake to coat.  Also, I store the extra dough, rolled in a ball and wrapped up in plastic wrap.  It keeps in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for longer.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ice Cube Trays Revisited

Over the years I have collected quite a few things to do with my old ice cube trays.  Now, I wouldn't know what to do without them.

It started when Mom showed me how to freeze homemade pesto in individual servings and store them in zip lock bags.  Now I look for all kinds of things that will come in handy in small portions.

Here is a list of ideas:

~ Make ice cubes from leftover coffee. They are great for cooling down iced coffee without watering down your drink.  I go ahead and add cream and sweetner before freezing for the perfect summertime cooler.

~ Any beverage like tea, cola or lemonade that is left over or going flat can be frozen to add to the same drink next time. And, you can plan ahead and freeze slices of citrus and/or flowers in cubes to decorate iced drinks.  Or freeze big portions in butter tubs for pitchers or bundt pans for punch bowls.

~ Didn't use up all of that store bought chicken broth for a recipe?  Freeze the remainder and add a few cubes to water when steaming vegetables or cooking rice. [Note - I save and freeze all my vegetable scraps in a gallon size ziplock bag.  When the bag is full, I cook it down in water to make vegetable broth.  I save large amounts for soups in plastic butter tubs but also freeze small amounts for above use.]

~ Egg whites freeze well and ice cube trays are perfect for portions. I have some great recipes for meringue cookies so start saving those whites!

~ I never use all the fresh herbs I buy (mostly cilantro as we grow most everything else).  Snip it up and put in cubes, cover with water, freeze and store in zip lock bags.  These are great for adding to pinto beans, soups, or recipes not requiring the fresh greenery.

~ Buerre Manie, or "kneaded butter" is a paste made from equal parts of flour and soft butter and is used to finish off soups and sauces.  Make up a big batch and freeze by the tablespoon.

And while we are talking about freezing, here are more hints:

* Fresh ginger freezes well. Just peel and seal in a small bag.  Set out for a few minutes before grating.

* Freeze grapes for a perfect summertime snack.  Just clean, dry and remove from stems. It helps to have these on hand when I am craving ice cream.

* Cookie dough can be made in large batches, rolled in balls, frozen on cookie tray and stored in bag. Unfortunately, frozen cookie dough in ball form is way too easy to sneak!

* Buy in bulk and freeze portions.  We do this for hambuger meat and canned pineapple (for our Scalloped Pineapple recipe).  The trick is to flatten out the gallon bag as flat as you can get it.  Not only does it store easier in the freezer but it takes no time at all to thaw.

* I buy pork loin when it is on sale and cut it three different ways to freeze: I slice thin pieces to pound out for schnitzel, thicker pieces for stuffed pork chops and one end stays whole as pork loin.

* Save those wrappers from sticks of butter and use them to grease baking dishes.

My advice - before throwing out any food, consider if it would be good added to a soup, a drink, a recipe down the line. If so FREEZE IT!

And one of my favorite ideas came from my long time friend, Margie.  When we were in elementary school, she gave me a birthday present of a jar full of frozen pennies so I would always have some "cold hard cash." Cute idea.

I bet you have some ideas I don't know...post and share with us all!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Making Button Napkin Rings


They are fun and easy but take a little time.  I made these to co-ordinate with our multicolored floral tablecloths.  You could use school colors, holiday green & red or blue & gold, or all natural bone. I just happen to have several tins of old buttons from Mom, who used to make all our clothes when I was growing up.  I recognize many of the buttons on these rings and it brings back happy memories when I am setting the table with them.

First, cut the number of rings you want out of waistband elastic, about 4.5" long for each.  You can get the width that works for you. I happen to like the wider kind.

Sew on individual buttons, making sure to knot off each one.  This will ensure they don't all come off when one invariably does.  The flat buttons are easier to work with but use different kinds, shapes and colors for interest.  Be aware that metal buttons tend to eat through the thread quicker so double sew those for stronger attachment.

 When you get close to the end, leave a little bit of elastic so you can whip stitch the ends together. The mistake I made with the my first try was not allowing the the elastic to drape around my fingers.  When I went to finish it and brought the two ends together, the buttons were all popping up and I had to go back and tuck in more buttons to keep the elastic from showing. If you keep forming the elastic into a ring as you go along, you get a better idea how the buttons will lie.

After you attach the two ends together, finish sewing buttons over the seam and..volia!
I like being able to stretch the rings but, if you would like for the inside to be more finished, you could cut a strip of felt the size of the inside and glue it in after sewing.

If this short tutorial is not clear, please don't hesitate to send questions.  The great thing about blogs is I can edit and update them after the fact!