Hello!

Welcome to American Homestead. I'm happy you have found my blog. Make yourself comfy and see what's been happening around here. I write about the things that interest me ~ creativity, travel, food, nature and a happy life. I'd love to read your comments.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Can, Can, Canning!


This weekend I pulled out the canning equipment 
from a back shelf in my laundry room.  I haven't 
used it in years!

I didn't grow up with much canning in my family.
If we came home from Bramhall Woods with a pail
filled with blackberries and the scratches to show 
for the effort, my Mum would take pity and whip
up a batch of jam but it wasn't something that 
happened on a regular basis.

Her brother on the other hand was mad for gardening
and always put up some of the fruits of his labor.  Uncle
Ed would make the best zucchini pickles and once we 
said to him, "Unc, the zucchini is great but we fight over
the onions at the bottom of the jar."  Wouldn't you know,
the next season he put up jars of just the onions.  We 
would pull off a piece of Italian bread, spread it with
some brie and top it with the pickled onions ~ it was
heaven!

When I moved to the Midwest twenty-five years ago
(25!), I was in my Country Living phase.  I dreamed 
of living in an old farmhouse and going down to the
cellar to shelves lines with jars of things I canned 
from my garden.  Of course, I didn't know how to can
but I was moving to the Midwest and thought I would 
learn.  About 30 minutes away from where I lived at 
the time was Muncie, Indiana, the home of the Ball
Corporation, the canning jar people.  I marched into
their corporate office building one day and admired 
all the old jars in their lobby and asked where do I
find out information about canning?  They looked at
me like I had two heads.  They had no idea.  I told them
they should...

I had to teach myself through books and I generally
stuck to just fruits.  I would go to the strawberry farm
every June and pick 30 pounds of strawberries and make
jam.  When the kids were little, we had friends who 
lived in the country who had grapes on their property.
We would fill the station wagon with boxes of grapes and
go home and make a big mess and enough grape jelly to
last us all year.

Then life got too busy for canning but luckily we had our
Uncle Jamie who was a mad scientist in his kitchen and 
he whips up all sorts of chutneys and pickles and preserves.
Every Thanksgiving he comes with boxes filled with goodies

so we really relied on his delicious efforts.  

When we were at his house after the big trip this summer he
served us a snack that used his Pike County Tomato Preserves.
Kate and I were crazy for it and we said we'd make some for 
ourselves this summer.


It is tomato season in our neck of the woods and this
was the weekend to "put up" some preserves.  I went 
to the Farmer's Market at Minnetrista yesterday
morning which coincidentally is where the Ball Brothers
lived years ago, their mansions still stand on the property.

The first table I went to had a display of Ball canning items
and the ladies were making Bread and Butter pickles. 
They gave me some good info on where to find the best
stores with the largest selection of canning items.  We
picked up some tomatoes from another vendor and also 
stopped at a farm stand near our house.


I made two batches of Pike County Tomato Preserves.
The recipe calls for tomatoes, an orange, a lemon, sugar,
salt and pumpkin pie spice.  Mine aren't as good as
Uncle Jamie's but I'm happy for my first attempt.


We like to eat ours on a thin cracker spread with whipped
cream cheese and topped with the preserves.  Num!


In the stores I was happy to see a big selection of
canning supplies.  There must be a resurgence of 
interest for major retailers to give up that much shelf
space to canning.  I had to take home these little jar
toppers.  They are made to look like a fabric and 
ribbon top that we have all used at one time or
another but they are made of silicon so they keep
your jams or jellies fresh in the fridge since it keeps
the jar airtight.  

I'm already thinking about zucchini pickles...






Friday, July 17, 2015

Asia Through the Back Gate and The House of Waris


With such a limited time in Istanbul we knew 
our days would be busy.  We started the day 
with a beautiful Turkish breakfast.  Mr. Wonderful
and I had stayed at this hotel the first time we were
in Istanbul.  We told Midi about it and he stayed 
here the next time he was in town.  It is a small hotel, 
the rooms are small but nice but the reason we stay
here is for the breakfast, it is fantastic.  It is such a 
spread that our first time we stayed here we had to
make two trips to the buffet just to be able to taste 
everything.


This is the honey dispenser,  I'd love to
have this at home.


But enough with the food, we had sites to see.
The first stop was the Hagia Sophia,  I told my
kids that the first time I entered the vast room
I gasped and I hoped it would have the same 
effect on them.  Sadly, there was construction
scaffolding on one side so that took away from
the soaring impact of the space.


We could still enjoy the beauty of the architecture.


And enjoy the beautiful mosaics.


After leaving the Hagia Sophia we strolled
over to the Spice Market and stocked up on
some of our favorites.


And who could pass up the Turkish Delight?


Afterwards, it was time for lunch and we decided
to go to Asia.  Asia you may ask?  Yes, Istanbul is 
the only city located on two continents and it is 
only a short ferry ride away.  


We arrived in Kadikoy on the Asian side of the
Bosphorus and I was looking for a particular
restaurant.  We hiked up and down winding lanes
trying to find it.  Locals were happy to help us, one
young woman google mapped it and even called 
the restaurant to confirm the directions.  


When we finally arrived I told the man at the
door that I had read that some said it was the
best restaurant in Istanbul ~ he countered with,
oh no, the world.  We weren't disappointed.
There were no tables outside though and since
it was such a nice day we wanted to eat outside, he
said no problem, we have a few restaurants on 
this street and all the food is the same.  He took 
us over to one of the other restaurants and gave
us a description of each of the dishes.  The food
was fabulous.


We walked off lunch with a stroll back through 
the winding streets to the port to catch a ferry
to Karakoy on the other side of the Golden Horn.
From there we took the funicular or mountain
tram as they call it and walked up the hill until we
reached the Pera Palace Hotel.


The Pera Palace is a grand old hotel and it
was especially interesting to us since we are
Agatha Christie fans and this is where she 
wrote Murder on the Orient Express.


The grand tea salon was being used for a private
party so we headed out to the terrace.  Kate and I 
headed inside to find the wash room and came into 
the tea salon as the turbaned and bearded Waris
Ahluwalia of the House of Waris was giving a 
speech about creativity and our need to take time 
for tea.  Waris is a some time actor, designer and
now I suppose tea peddler.  This event was part of
Istancool, an international arts and culture festival.
The crowd had gathered in the middle of the room
and Kate and I were stuck in the crowd so we stayed 
for the speech.


Back on the terrace we enjoyed some lovely
beverages and desserts.  Following this we
headed back to the hotel for a rest.


Later in the evening we went back to 
Sultanahmet for dinner.  On our way 
to find a restaurant we came upon a
Whirling Dervish performance.


Brennan chose the restaurant this evening, he
wanted one of the places where you sit on the
floor on pillows.


Thankfully, the food was good too.

Then we stumbled back to the hotel and
fell into our beds.  A grand day in a grand city.




















Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Return to Istanbul


Midi and I were returning to Istanbul, we had
both been here a few times though never together.
I  was so excited to introduce my kids to this vibrant
 city for the first time.  When you exit the metro from
the airport at Aksaray, you are nearly blown over by the
fact that you are in a new and different place.  The flags
and banners are waving, the warm air smacks your face,
the foreign music that is blasted from speakers is so 
unusual, the delicious aromas from the food vendors
on the street, it is all a reminder of being in a faraway
land and you are still in Europe, at least in this part of
the city.


We took a short rest and freshened up and then it
was time to get out on the streets, we would only
be here for a short time and we had a lot to see.
We took the tram down Divan Yolu to the
 Sultanamhet district and walked around a bit to
see the Hagia Sofia...


...and the Blue Mosque.


Then we took a short stroll up Yerebatan to 
find one of my favorite little restaurants in
Istanbul.  I told the man at the door that I
had been there a few times before but it was the
first time for my family.  He asked if I had ever 
been to the roof garden ~ well, no,  hadn't.


And he led us up a winding stairway to this
funky, folky roof garden painted like a gypsy
caravan.  I could move in!  


We were only here for drinks and an appetizer
since we had so little time and so many places 
we wanted to go.  The appetizer was a fabulous
cheese plate with cheeses and turkish cucumbers
and tomatoes and dried fruits and nuts.  It was
delicious!  We watched the sky turn dark blue as
the sun set and then it was time to move on to 
our next stop.


On my very first night in Istanbul I passed this 
restaurant and said I wanted to eat here and I
had never gotten around to it.   So tonight was
a first for me too.


In this type of restaurant the food is already
prepared and you point to what you want.
Honestly, the salad plate had filled us up so we 
just shared one plate between the four of us.  


Since it was such a lovely night we decided
to eat outside, there are tables set up along
the side street.  This is a great spot for people
watching as it is in the historic district and it
is always crowded.  After dinner we were 
exhausted so we jammed ourselves into the 
packed metro and headed home to sleep.









Monday, July 13, 2015

Going Old World in Prague ~ Cafe Slavia


We were exhausted after returning by train from a 
day spent out of the city in Kutna Hora.   Though we
all could have fallen into bed for a nap we also realized
we were running out of time in Prague.  The next day 
we were traveling to Istanbul so if we wanted to see 
everything on our list, we had to slap ourselves awake 
and get to Cafe Slavia.


Cafe Slavia opened in 1881 and has been the place to 
meet for writers, artists, poets and performers.  It is
located along the river right across the street from the
National Theatre.  It is the type of place to gather and
discuss and debate politics, art and the latest projects
of the movers and shakers in the art world. Vaclav Havel
 used to hang out here.


As we were enjoying our hot drinks, Midi nodded to a 
nearby table and said, "Check out this guy, looks like a
truck driver, sounds like an opera singer".  Yeah, it's 
that kind of place, a few tables away a beautiful woman 
was being interviewed by a nervous guy.  The woman's
cute cocker spaniel ended up jumping up on the guy 
for a taste of his dessert and that broke the ice and 
allowed the guy to relax and get on with it.


As you enter the main door be sure to check out the
sweets case and remember the number of the item 
you want to order.


Try to get a table along the river for great views 
of Prague Castle.  It is lovely to sit and watch the 
boats on the river and the people walking by.


It is nice to go late in the afternoon for a
snack and coffee.  A piano player performs 
late in the day and it is a perfect place to relax 
and soak in a bit of Prague history.

For us, the guys headed home afterwards but Kate
and I took one final stroll over the Charles Bridge
to say goodbye to Prague.






Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Where in the World is Elena Maria?

A Traveler's Reality Check


For those of you that follow my blog, you may be 
asking, "Is she still in Prague?" since that is the only
place I have posted from so far.  The answer is ~ far 
from it ~ literally,  We are on the other side of the
world in Japan right now.  I have not been blogging
much because I have been having a wonderful time
on my trip.  I learned a big lesson on my last round
the world journey, it all goes by so fast and you should
enjoy every minute.  So that means I have not posted 
everyday as we have been traveling.  On the last trip
I often missed dinner or another fun thing to do so
I could edit photos and write the blog so I could get 
up to the minute reports out.  I learned that was foolish,
there will be plenty of time to blog once I'm back home.
I'm imagining sitting in the gazebo with an iced coffee
and a cute doggie at my feet.  So stay tuned, more photos
and info of the sights, the food and the adventures are
to come.  Including bumping into a friend in Turkey,
riding elephants up to the Amber Fort in Jaipur, India
and getting assaulted on the street in New Zealand.
But now it's time for a nap...

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Kutna Hora, Czech Republic


As a day trip from Prague we decided to head
out to a lovely village called Kutna Hora.  We 
left early in the morning and took the tram to 
the main train station in Prague.  From there 
we took the fast train for about an hour to the
main train station at Kutna Hora.


There is a Visitors Center at the station that
can give you maps and advise you as to what 
you can see in the time you have.  We took a
short walk to the Cathedral of Assumption of 
Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist at Sedlec,
This is a Unesco World Heritage Site and has a 
very interesting history.  


  The city was prosperous due to silver mines and the 
area reflects the wealth of times gone by.  The town 
was the cultural center of Bohemia and became a royal 
city.  The cathedral was built in the late 13th century
 and was burned in the 15th century, it was a ruin for 
over 300 years.  When the church was restored it was
 done in the style called Baroque Gothic.


Then it was a short walk up the road to the
Sedlec Ossuary.  The ossuary is said to contain
the skeletons of 40,000 to 70,000 people.


The bones are artistically arranged into swags 
and a chandelier.  I confess I found it to be a
bit creepy and hightailed it out of there pretty
quickly.


We then took a short bus ride to the town center
of Kutna Hora.  While we were on the bus we 
stood up to get off at one point and an older gentleman
in the back of the bus motioned for us to sit down, it 
wasn't time to get off.  When it was the correct stop, 
he motioned for us to get up.  He also told us through
hand signals where to walk and to not turn at the 
crossroads but to continue walking.  We shook hands
 and thanked him and thought we were following his
 directions but we turned at the wrong street and a lady
who was also on the bus yelled to us to keep going
straight.  Now, of course, neither of these people spoke
English but they were happy to assist us through hand
movements.  We find this all over the world, so many
lovely people who help us find our way in remote cities
and villages.  This is often our best memory of a place.
The churches and museums can all blend into one but 
we always remember the people we meet.


We did find the beautiful Cathedral of Saint
Barbara.  This is one of the most famous gothic
churches in central Europe.  Saint Barbara is the
patron saint of miners which is appropriate since
this is a former silver mining town.


The glass windows in the cathedral are stunning.
The color and design are so vibrant.


Within the town you can enjoy a wine garden
right along side the vines.  The views of the 
valley are lovely.


We found a restaurant with a garden terrace 
and enjoyed a lovely lunch.  The Czech Republic
is known for their beer and I have been told it is
very delicious if that is something you might like.
Personally, you couldn't pay me to drink beer, I
have never liked the taste.


Be sure to stroll through the town and look at
the pretty buildings.  Then it was time to get to
the train station to head back to Prague.











Friday, May 29, 2015

Prague Castle


On our first full day in Prague we decided
to tour Prague Castle.  The castle sits high 
on a hill and is visible from many parts of 
the city with a particularly good view from
Charles Bridge.


We got our jet lagged bodies moving amd took
a taxi up to the castle.  At the entrance to the
castle we were greeted by this lovely sculpture.
Not the most welcoming...


,,,and only to be outdone by the brawny guy
with the club.  I guess it sent a message in 
days of old saying don't mess with us.


Much of the castle facade is under 
construction so I tried to crop the ugly 
blue plastic out of the photos.  Due to 
all of the wrapping we weren't able to
get the full view of what this looks like.


Prague Castle is considered the largest
ancient castle in the world and dates
back to the ninth century.


The reality of Prague today is it is no longer
an eastern European outpost visited by few
travelers.  Nowadays it is packed!  We found
this at the castle, throngs of tour groups are
weaving their ways behind a leader holding a 
ratty old umbrella with a scarf tied on to it.
We saw the long line at the church and all 
decided we had no interest in waiting.


So, instead we wandered around and
enjoyed the architecture.  The kids 
found a tower they wanted to climb.


Meanwhile, Midi and I followed our
noses.  Someone was cooking something
that smelled delicious ~ like something 
that would come from Grandma Kosty's
kitchen.  We ended up in a cafe, watching
the world walk by, admiring the view and
dreaming of what we would have for lunch.


I would say the best part of the castle
is the view.