Just who is the Chicken Salad Crafter anyway?

The question may have come up, just who is the chicken salad crafter? Well y’all know its me!!  (haha ok that was not helpful)  Seriously though, this post is about who I am and what I am about.

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The quilt I’m working on is trying to kill me

I am from South Carolina (I know the y’all didn’t give it away right?) and have lived my entire life in South Carolina, though I have been to other places (Hawaii, Seattle, Canada, the Bahamas, etc)  The hubby and I even did a whirlwind trip last fall driving my sister’s car from Maine back to South Carolina in 4 days. I got to see Gettysburg and Appomattox and where my mom grew up and the hubby got to see the baseball museum.  It was a heck of a trip, and New England in the fall!!

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The view from a the war monument in Bennington, VT

Anyhow, in two days I will have been married 8 years!!  (Time flies when you are in love).  But lets go further back…

I grew up in a little town called Pauline.  It was named after my great great aunt by my great great grandfather.  We lived next door to one grandmother and a few miles from the other.  My mom loved to sew.  She was amazing, she could look at something and then go home and make it. I am not even kidding. She got me into woodworking, sewing (though I’m no good at it), paper crafts, and the list goes on and on. My dad owned his own business and that’s how I learned the craft of “the sale” as well as more about cars than most women care to know.

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A Polish Princess shirt my grandmother got me. Wasn’t I adorable?

I graduated from a local university in 1999 with a BA in history and elementary education.  I lasted three semesters teaching before I told the principal at the end of the school year “screw this, I’m going to go be a fireman!”  And I did.  I worked and volunteered for several departments over my 11 years in the fire service.  I got more training as a firefighter than most because I worked at an airport. And at airports you get to be a jack of all trades.  It wasn’t an easy life. It wasn’t.  I had a captain that was just a terrible human being (and I am being too kind) who made my life and others hell on wheels.  I met my husband while I was a firefighter, and we got married and left the church in a fire truck.  I started my masters degree program while I was in the fire service. I have a master’s in Special Education, though I never found another teaching job.

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Leaving the church.  My mom made that dress by the way!

So I LOVED being a firefighter.  We had down time during the day, especially on weekends, so I often brought quilting or knitting projects into work.  It was work that gave me the name for this blog “chicken salad out of chicken s**t”.  They used to say that all the time about the rigged up old equipment we had to work with.

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This was not long before I got sick. Note the burnt patch on the sleeve…

Then I got sick. I was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease. Its a hearing and balance disorder and it landed me out of the fire service on disability. My first wedding anniversary was my last day as a firefighter.  It was a while before I found a job with benefits. In that time we each lost a parent, and struggled to make ends meet. I lost my mom and he lost his dad, both to cancer.  We would battle illness, deaths, infertility, and just the day to day life stuff.

We have settled into a cute house in the foothills with 5 cats and tons of books.  I love to craft and spend way too much money doing so.  I found a job an hour away that I adore. its close to where I grew up.

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This is our polydactyl Maine Coon mix, Nike.

What makes us different? Well, we are also SOLAR powered!! (and nerds just sayin’)

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Installation day. There are more on the other side too.

We got solar panels on the house last year (another post for another day) and we love them.  We also recycle, upcycle and generally try to be good to the world God made.  The upcycling ideas are often experimental and kinda fun. I got started doing this when the local recycling places quit taking glass because it wasn’t profitable.  But I do like taking things that were old and making them new again. 🙂  That’s the historian in me. 🙂

So that’s the chicken salad crafter in a nutshell I guess.  Not much else to say.  I’ll write more about the cats, the best husband in the world, and crafty things.

Have fun y’all!

Vanilla. That’s it, this post is so Vanilla.

After the Chicken Salad Husband melted the Crockpot we got as a wedding present some 7+ years ago, (I left it on the old stove…) I decided I needed an electric pressure cooker.  I’ve made some amazing, just amazing Indian dishes, and some pretty good ribs.

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Worth every penny.

Being the Chicken Salad Crafter that I am, I got to thinking about making stuff for Christmas. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how the vanilla obsession started, but it did.
Apparently we are in the midst of a full on vanilla crisis. Between farmers getting out of the vanilla market in Madagascar and then a cyclone, well the price of the vanilla bean has just gone through the roof.  There are a few places in the world that grow the vanilla orchid. Uganda, Mexico, Madagascar, India, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia to name the main ones.  Each vanilla region has its own special favor, even though they all originated in Mexico.  And its the only orchid that produces something edible.
So some genius figured out how to make vanilla extract in the Instant Pot. 6 months worth of seeping in booze cut down to about an hour.
Count me in.  Then I saw what the beans cost, IF you could find them.  Long story short, I found a store here in town that had both Tahitian and Madagascar beans.  I bought all of them then drove an hour to another store to clean them out too. The price was much lower than anyplace else I had found.
To try out this procedure before I risked my precious beans, I made mint extract.  I used the cheapest vodka (not even a Russian sounding name cheap) and basically I made spider spray (spiders hate mint, but I digress).  So it worked.  So I bought Popov vodka, which I was told was the bestest cheapest vodka around. It didn’t smell like jet fuel (and I would know) so I figured I’d give the vanilla a go.

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Nike and the goods

I used 8 oz of Vodka and 5 cut and split Madagascar beans. I put them into a jar with a lid, pressure cooked it for 30 minutes with a natural pressure release and let it cool.  (This CAN NOT be done on a stove top pressure  cooker and because of the alcohol you should keep away from open flames when making this)
The taste test was amazing.  I let it seep another week then strained the beans from the vodka and tested the proof.  (the FDA says pure Vanilla extract must be 35% alcohol or 70 proof)  My vanilla was well below the standard at 20% alcohol, or 40 proof.  I either need to reduce the pressure time, or buy a higher proof to use.  I used a hydrometer and testing cylinder to check the alcohol content of my extract.  The higher content of alcohol helps make it keep longer.  20% will keep, but I want it to meet the standard.
So what to do with those beans I have left?  I put them in an airtight bowl of white sugar and let it sit a couple days.  (I scraped the caviar (the inside goo in the beans) into butter for vanilla butter)  The vanilla sugar is just amazing.

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The alpaca approves!

And I bottled up the first batch to test cook this week.  I found a great price on bottles from Specialty Bottle online.

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Vanilla Potion Bottle!!

So why is the Chicken Salad Crafter making vanilla extract?  Pure vanilla extract is expensive. I can make it WAY cheaper, and I am in control of the ingredients. Do you know what is in artificial vanilla? Crap, that’s what.  It is made from wood pulp and coal tar. (Google it if you don’t believe me)  Plus it only has one of the 250 flavor compounds found in the real deal.  Vanillin, the compound we love so much, is the only of the 250 that don’t cook out.  So if you are adding this to an uncooked beverage or item you get the full roundness of the flavor.  Unlike the fake-o stuff that is so flat once you taste homemade.

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I make it cheaper, and better!

I have some perfecting to do.  This experiment is not complete.  I have different beans from other regions to try, and I need a lower temp or higher proof to make it just so.
Other extracts are in the works too.  But this, oh Vanilla, is the queen of all.  I will NEVER go back to store bought.  But stay tuned for more, this is a Chicken Salad craft to be sure.
Have fun Ya’ll!!

Cat Proofing 101

A few months ago we bought a new couch.  The old one was green and we had bought it our first Christmas, something like 7+ years ago.  I had re-stuffed it and honestly, it had had a good life. So 600 bucks later (believe me we shopped around), this lovely couch entered the Chicken Salad household.  At that time we only had four cats. (**Only**)

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The Chicken Salad Husband approves (as do three of the four cats)

This couch sits well and is way bigger than we anticipated. Like, WAY bigger. But we like it.  The weird-o delivery man showed up with this tied to the back of his pick-up truck (I paid for this?!)  The “non-woven material” underside had a slight tear and I noticed the monsters (specifically Nike) spending a LOT of time hiding under it.
So, like our box springs, I knew I had to “Cat Proof” the couch.  Especially after cat #5 came home.
I have a heavy-duty upholstery staple gun and staples for it, so all I had to buy was the canvas painters cloth.  (I also had a hammer and glue)
The underside looked like this:

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The legs have been removed for your entertainment… 

This “non-woven” fabric is the same kind of stuff they make those cheap “reusable” bags our of.  I really hate the stuff and it tears pretty easily.

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Chicken Salad hands

I stapled the drop cloth along the wooden frame.  I kept the staples close together and did both the horizontal and vertical parts of the frame.  I tried to keep the material pulled tight.  It didn’t have to be perfect, but it the less sag the less playtime the kitties will have. I also used a hammer to beat the staples deep into the wood so kitties (and Chicken Salad toes) don’t snag a staple and rip open some skin. This part took a little time, and my hands were cramped after I was done, but all in all, it is an easy job.

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Sirius attempting to assist.

The legs were kind of tricky.  I cut a little hole where the screws on the legs go into the couch and added a little glue to prevent fraying.  Fray-Check (available where fine sewing goods are sold) would have been better, but I couldn’t find mine and I am impatient.

 

I gave it a couple of minutes to dry, kinda.  And put the legs in place.  This is just Elmer’s Glue-All.  Nothing fancy.  Just a little protection for the hole.

 

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All Done!!

The bottom of the couch AND the ottoman were done in this way.  Had I to do it over, I would have sewn a strip of fabric along the edge, kind of like a quilt binding, to give the cut edge a little more strength.  As it was I folded it under and stapled the raw edges along the bottom and sides where I made a cut.  I put the legs back on and its cat resistant, if not cat proof.
I highly recommend the heavy duty, not medium duty canvas drop cloth.  It will hold up better and its just a few dollars more. This was medium duty and under our bed we have heavy duty.  Our cats loved to run around inside the mattress support at night through a hole they tore.  So the canvas helped BIG TIME.
This project was under $20 and took around an hour.  The original “chicken S**T” material was replaced with something more “chicken salad”.  And the cats, ah they don’t notice or care!

Have fun ya’ll!!