Tuesday, October 16, 2012

For my Granny

There comes a time in your life when, if you are as lucky as I am to have three of my grandparents still alive as I turned 36, you must face the cruel realization that humans aren't immortal. 

People age - sometimes at a seemingly exponential rate compared to all but the very young.  Their bodies get creakier and move slower.  Ailments show up with greater frequency.  Surgeries, routine for someone half their age, come now with more complications. 

I remember my Granny as a spry woman.  When I was a kid, she and my Papa would host "the cousins" - all five of us - for a week at their house in the Berkshires every summer.  It was a magical hundred-plus-year house on beautiful grounds.  We'd swim.  And hike.  I knew Granny spent time playing tennis.  And golf, which she still occasionally plays all these years later.  My Granny was hardcore in ways that I didn't fully appreciate when I was a kid but that I do now.  She was fiery, with a head of bright red hair to match. 

Her opinions, her fire, is still as strong as ever.  But her body isn't.  I find myself once again being in the helpless position of wanting to horde as much time as I can with a grandparent but being 3,000 miles away from them. 

I loved that magical house that Granny lived in all those years ago.  It's been decades since I've been in it, but I feel like I can still trace every step of that house in my memory.  One of the most prominent memories I have of that house is the kitchen.  It was a huge room complete with a wood-burning fireplace and a wall filled with blue and white china.  It is the one thing that I associate with my Granny more than anything else - that china.  Those dishes, along with the house, have long-since been sold, but they are seared in my memory.
 

It's hard being so far away from the ones you love.  Distance stands in the way of the meals I'd like to make for her and the visits I'd like to have.  But the love in a quilt travels the miles easily.  So I created a quilt for her made with fabric that looks just like that china.  It's blue and white with patterns so swirly and varied that you get lost in them and can only focus on the colors.


It's only five weeks until my next visit with her, but until that time, and after I leave, I hope this quilt reminds her that she is always in my thoughts even if I can't always be in her presence. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Whereby I Create a Jam Recipe

I started canning in earnest a bit over a year ago.  I progressed from the sugar-laden and pectin-set recipes on the back of the Certo box to recipes that featured interesting and unique flavor combinations.  I learned how to set my jams without boxed pectin.  I was evolving. 

I started reading the Food in Jars blog and bought a copy of Tart and Sweet.  Both taught me a lot of the basics of canning as well as some more sophisticated techniques.  I have since made a lot of delicious jams - all using someone else's recipe. But Marisa recently challenged her readers to create their own small-batch jam recipe, and here I am today. 

I found Italian Prune Plums at my local Farmer's Market last week and quickly loaded up my basket with them.  I love plums, as do my kids, and I couldn't wait to introduce them to these little gems.  But while they gobble up fruit of nearly every kind, they turned their noses up at these.  "They're too small, Mommy."  "They got all banged up in my lunchbox, Mommy.  They're too soft."

While I had eaten my fair share of them, I had bought enough for three people and only one was eating them.  They were starting to get too soft and there was no way I could eat them all before they were too far gone.  Jam seemed like the perfect solution.



After they were pitted and chopped, I had 14oz. of plums.  While plain plum jam is one of my most favorite jams, these plums were crying for a bit more.  I opened up my spice drawer and looked for inspiration.


Ummmm.... Bay leaf?  Yes. And??  Uh.... Balsamic. Yes, balsamic.  It was such a small batch that it cooked in no time - not more than 10 minutes in my very wide jam pot and it was ready to be canned. 

 

The finished product is a gorgeous ruby color.  It's slightly spicy and very earthy.  Complex and deep.  I kind of love it and wish I had more than just three 4oz jars of it.  It was delicious on warm popovers this morning.  Sweet and jammy and a lovely addition to brunch with a dear friend.  The very same jam was seemingly transformed this afternoon when paired with with whole grain toast and some shaved pork tenderloin that was left over from last night's dinner.  The sweetness of the fruit and the savory notes from the bay leaf paired perfectly with the lightly seasoned tenderloin.



I love the versatility of this jam, and I hope you do, too.  A huge thank-you to Marisa for expanding my horizons and showing me that I can create a recipe nearly as easily as I can follow one.


Fresh Prune Jam with Bay and Balsamic
14oz. of Italian Prune Plums, chopped
5oz. of sugar
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

Combine chopped fruit, sugar, and bay leaf.  Leave to macerate at room temperature for an hour.  Add balsamic vinegar and cook until jam sets using whatever testing method you prefer (I am partial to the spoon sheeting test).  Because this jam cooks so quickly, the fruit doesn't have a lot of time to break down - you might find that you need to use a potato masher to make the syrup and the fruit a more homogenized mixture.

Once jam is set, pour into sterilized jars and process for 10 minutes.  This tiny recipe yielded a mere 3/4 pint - just enough to enjoy a bit now and have a half-pint waiting for me in my pantry on a dreary winter day. 



Monday, May 28, 2012

Twins

I was recently asked to make quilts for twin girls.  Beyond being told that the twins' room is painted grey, I was given free reign to make two quilts that were complimentary but not exactly the same.  I thought about using two different quilt patterns and the same fabrics and colors, but ultimately decided that a single quilt design with two different color palettes would look more cohesive.


After searching Flickr and Pinterest for inspiration, I decided to make two lattice quilts - one in turquoise and pink and one in turquoise and purple.  Both quilts feature a Kona Coal background and a stripey (*love*) binding in the quilt's accent color. The nearly-identical backs are a solid piece of a Michael Miller grey and white damask with a feature strip of the quilt's accent color.
 

I was really torn on how to quilt them, but after much deliberation, I decided to take a risk and try something totally new to me.  I used Elizabeth's Orange Peel quilting design.  Firstly, I need to say that Elizabeth is a rockstar to be able to FMQ this pattern - there is no way I could do it that way.  I used my regular foot with my feed dogs up to achieve this design.  That said, I love the effect of this pattern and it was surprisingly easy to accomplish.  I do see myself using this style of quilting a lot in the future.   



After a nice wash and a hot dry, these quilts finished at a soft and crinkly 47" square.  They'll be on their way to two sweet little girls tomorrow and I hope they'll be loved dearly and used often.
 



Saturday, May 12, 2012

Silly Sally Walked to Town, Picking Berries Updside Down

These are Sally's mulberry trees.


Sally is my neighbor and I remember her name only because I made my kids memorize a little mnemonic device based on this oldie but goodie.  Sally lives in my neighborhood and her trees are in the alley (note the abandoned car bumper) on the edge of her property.  Her trees are old and heavy with fruit.  Sally didn't even know the fruits were edible and happily agreed to let me harvest them this year.  For that, I love her. 



Every other day, I swing by her house and pick berries - as many ripe ones as I can reach.  Within two days, the tree will be full of ripe fruit all over again.   Mulberries aren't easy or fun to pick.  They stain my fingers.  They stain my shoes.  Mulberries are a much higher reach than a bush berry like blueberries or raspberries, so I often have to use a ladder to pick them.  And they aren't as large as strawberries, which only take a dozen or so fruits to yield a pound - it takes forever to pick a pound of mulberries.  But you can't get them at stores.  Or even at the farmer's market.  And their season is short.  So when they come into season, I pounce on them.


Have you ever had a mulberry?  They are insanely good.  So juicy.  And sweet - almost cloyingly so.  I have fond memories of picking them as a kid - not caring how messy they are and trying to stuff as many of them as I could into my mouth.



I'm desperate to preserve as many of these delicious berries as I can.  I started to make jam with them, only to realize that their sweetness is nearly overwhelming when combined with the sugar required to properly set the jam.  But the addition of rhubarb is spectacular with them - it cuts the sweetness of the berry without overpowering it's taste.


For the life of me, I couldn't find a mulberry-rhubarb jam recipe online.  There were a bunch of strawberry-rhubarb recipes that looked promising, but called for more sugar than I was willing to add to those already-almost-too-sweet mulberries, so I cobbled together a recipe myself.  I am so not an experienced enough jam maker to commit my recipe (and I use that word in it's most loose interpretation) to the internet, but I reduced the amount of sugar that most recipes call for, tossed in some lemon juice and zest, and added half a package of liquid pectin as an insurance policy that it would set.  It came out perfectly. 



I also put up some Mulberry Lemongrass Syrup using the recipe for Blueberry Lemongrass Syrup in my copy of Tart and Sweet and subbing out a bit over 2lbs of mulberries for the blueberries.  It's very sweet, but delicious on some unsweetened yogurt, as the author suggests. 



Conventional wisdom tells me to remind you not to eat any wild berry that you can't identify with 100% certainty.  But if you can verify that the berries you have are mulberries, enjoy them while the season lasts or put them up to enjoy later.  You won't be sorry.

Friday, April 27, 2012

KCWC - Spring 2012 v2

Today I finished up another dress for Sprout as part of Elsie Marley's Kid's Clothing Week Challenge.  She's newly in love with her American Girl doll, who is called either Julia, Juliette, or Kazzi, depending on the day.  I decided to make matching Popover Dresses for Sprout and her doll. The dresses are going to be a gift for Sprout's fourth birthday in July, so I don't have a photo of her modeling her new duds. 


The bodice is made using some DS Quilts fabric and the contrast is a vine print that I ABSOLUTELY DIE FOR that I picked up at Superbuzzy earlier this month.  It couldn't be a more perfect match.  Sprout's dress features a bit of yellow ric-rac and her doll's dress is identical except white lace replaces the ric-rac.


I think between now and July, I'll add some Velcro to the doll's dress straps so that Sprout can dress the doll herself.  Beyond that, it's a perfect pattern.  As with all Oliver + S patterns, it's well written and the finished dress is simple and classic. 


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thumb Print Cookes

My husband has been traveling for business this week.  He'll be back tonight, but I've been missing him in his absence.  Earlier this week, I promised someone that I'd pass along my recipe for Chocolate Thumb Print cookies - they don't call for eggs and she had mentioned that she was baking egg-free lately.  These cookies were my husband's favorite as a kid - he had an egg allergy and this cookie recipe was in high rotation in his home.

I always smile when I come across this recipe.  It was one of the first things I ever made for my husband when we were dating.  We'd been together for about 6 weeks and I was head-over-heels in love with him.  When he happened to cc me and his mother on some random e-mail, I began plotting a way to ingratiate myself with his mom.  I ended up sending her a private e-mail asking for one of my sweetie's favorite recipes to surprise him with.

She sent back this cookie recipe and it did the trick.  I scored mega bonus points with the woman who would eventually become my mother-in-law and after settling down from the mental freak-out that I'd been cavorting with his mom, my sweetie was also pleased.

Anyway, after digging up this recipe, I decided I had to make a batch for his arrival this evening.  They made a delicious mid-afternoon snack for me and I think he'll enjoy them tonight after a long week of food on the go.  That is, if there's any left by the time he gets home.


Chocolate Thumb Print Cookies

Batter:
1/2 c. butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. brown sugar
1.5 c. flour
2 Tbsp. milk
1/4 c. mini chocolate chips

Dusting:
powdered sugar

Filling:
3/4 c. mini chocolate chips
1 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. corn syrup

Mix butter, salt, vanilla, and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add flour and milk until batter comes together.  Add chips.  Shape into 1" balls and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Flatten slightly with your palm and then make a thumbprint in the center.  Bake 10-12 minutes at 350 or until slightly golden.  [I like to re-press the thumbprint while still hot.]  Cool and then roll in powdered sugar.

Melt chocolate, butter, corn syrup, and vanilla in a double boiler.  Heap into center of cookies and cool to set. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

KCWC - Spring 2012 v1

Are you familiar with the bi-annual Kid's Clothing Week Challenge over at Elsie Marley?  I love it - it's always the kick in the pants I need to start working on a summer (or winter) wardrobe for my kids.  The challenge is to sew kids clothing for at least one hour each day for a week. We are two days in and I've put together this lovely twirly dress for Sprout. 


When we saw this Popsicle print by Lisette at JoAnn Fabrics a few weeks ago, Sprout was smitten.  She immediately asked for a popsicle dress and I knew I wanted to make a twirly dress for her - the girl loves to spin.  This dress is made by combining two patterns - the Henny Penny dress that the lovely and talented Ramona created, and the twirly skirt tutorial from This Mama Makes Stuff.    Apart, they look like this and this, and both are lovely, but they are especially fun combined. 


That said, I don't think I'm going to add the twirly bottom to Ramona's pattern again.  I love her dress as the pattern is written and the dress really does have a full enough skirt to begin with.  Plus, it was kind a pain to attach a different skirt to the bodice of her dress - it is much easier to just cut out the a single piece dress pattern.   But I do see myself making the Henny Penny dress lots more and also using the twirly skirt tutorial again and again - both patterns are so awesome. 

I'd love to hear about what you're making as part of KCWC.  Do drop me a note and let me know....

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Things That Have Been Keeping Me Busy

I've been so busy lately - things just feel like they've been going nonstop and I'm not exactly sure why.  I don't *think* that my life has been any more busy than usual, and yet I can't get enough of a handle on things to find time to blog.  Plus, I've been very active on my Instagram feed and I feel like I'm keeping up with people that way even though it's not nearly as comprehensive as a proper blog post.

In the past month, I've...

...spent my time urban foraging for enough mulberries to make jam later in the season.  They are a bit of a pain to pick and are messy as anything, but so sweet and delicious that it's totally worth it.



...gone on a ladies weekend with some dear friends and found some quilty inspiration as I stared at the ceiling of the steam room for a [glorious] hour or so.  It's not easy to take a photo in a very dark and very steamy room, but this image is seared in my head and I hope to be able to translate it to fabric sooner rather than later.



...been working diligently to keep my dastardly neighborhood squirrels out of my garden.  I have new snap peas that are showing up and my blueberries are starting to ripen, but I am fighting a very uphill battle to keep my goodies out of the paws of the wildlife. 



...finished up a commissioned quilt.  I made a quilt very similar to this one a few years back and was asked if I could recreate it with brown centers for a soon-to-arrive little boy. I don't think I'll ever tire of HST quilts.



 ...participated in the LAMQG Earth Day market bag swap.  I made this Jane Market Bag (which is an awesome pattern and a very versatile finished product).  I used the new Lisette popsicle print, which I am totally smitten with.  I paired it with some pink handles and a brown selvage pocket.  It now lives with Missy - I hope she enjoys it!


I do hope to get a better handle on blogging, especially since I still have lots more percolating in my sewing room and because next week is the Kids Clothes Week Challenge over at Elsie Marley.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Second Selvage Quilt

I've just been informed by Blogger that I haven't posted since February 4.  Yowza.  I've been busy - there will be lots of quilts to show off in the next week or two - but still....  Lame.  Very lame.  Maybe I can return to your good graces with some selvage eye candy??


You might remember my first selvage quilt and my many other selvage projects.  With 2012 came the desire to make a second selvage quilt.  I started this the third week of January.  Maybe the second week.  Thanks to all of my lovely friends who trade selvages to me and helped make this quilt come together in such a short amount of time.


I decided to send this quilt out to be quilted - after seeing the beautiful quilting on Ashley's quilt, I knew I wanted Lindsay to quilt this one.  She did such an awesome job and was so easy to work with - I can't wait to work with her again one day. 


The back is single piece of some Amy Butler Love flannel.  I simply adore a flannel backing - so cozy. Binding is some Riley Blake micro dots yellow.  Finished size is 53" x 73" - a lovely size for me and a kiddo to cuddle under on the couch, which is exactly my plan for the cold and rainy weekend we're expecting.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Private Swap with Jacey - Part II

If you had been in my house at 11:25am yesterday (thankfully my kids were not), you would have heard me gasp and say, "Oh, Jacey - no fuckin' way."  Remember how I sent out a parcel to her last week?  This was the week that she sent one back to me.

She knit me an awesome hat to match the mitts she made for me last year and it is so perfect.  It is the perfect size for my [unnaturally long] head.  It's made with the same wool that she used for my mitts, which is maybe the most perfect color for my coloring.  This new hat is so fantastical, especially with cooler weather headed this way.  Oh, I love the pattern and am crazy thankful to have such a talented friend. 


But she didn't stop there.  She also made me a mug cozy, which I've been sorely needing, as I prefer to drink my coffee straight from a mason jar.  I never bought any Prince Charming fabric but do love it so.  Don't all of the prints look pretty together?  You'd think that would be more than a lovely parcel already, but then Jacey went a little bananas on me.  She sent me this awesome calendar panel.  Totally fun!


But then, this.   A FQ bundle of Innocent Crush Voile.  It is soft and beautiful and amazing.  And I just met Anna Maria Horner at the LAMQG meeting last night and I fell in love with her fabrics all over again.  I actually had the bolt of Maybe voile in my hands last night but after much deliberation, I walked away from it.  It is so serendipitous to have received these awesome fabrics today.  I am so. in. love.  They are amazing and I am already tossing plans for them around in my head. 


And as though none of this was enough already, she sent a hefty piles of selvages for me.  I am spoiled rotten - thank you so much, Jacey.  You're a great friend and I'm already looking forward to next year's swap.



Friday, January 27, 2012

Private Swap with Jacey

Jacey and I arranged a private swap last year and we both had such a good time with it that we decided to give it another go this year.


Jacey asked me for a little selvage goodness and I was happy to oblige.   I started with a mini quilt.  I'm a sucker for ROYGBIV and I've been lovin' on the Plus Quilts that are all over Flickr, so decided to combine the two.  I really love how it came out.  The pluses aren't all perfectly defined, but the flow of the top to bottom rainbow makes up for that.

I quilted it with some very dense X-shaped straight-line quilting.  I typically lean towards less dense quilting than this, but I am so in love with the look , and I hope that Jacey is, too.


From there,  I made Jacey some selvage potholders.  I've drooled (more than once) over a lot of her delicious dishes, so I know she cooks.  I hope she likes having these in her kitchen.


I threw in a few extras to complete her package and sent it off.  Jacey is maybe one of the sweetest people I've never met and it was such a pleasure to sew for her.   I'm a bit early in sending off my parcel, but I was too excited to wait before sending it off.  I know that whatever Jacey sends back is going to be awesome, but sometimes it's so much fun to give a gift that getting one in return is gravy.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Winter Gardening

This is the first year that I've gardened and while my summer garden was a hit, I fear that I put my winter garden down way too late, even for my toasty warm Zone 10 climate.  The garden has been slow-going, but nearly three months after planing my winter seeds, I'm finally starting to see the fruits of my labors. 

Of the billions of broccoli seeds I planted, I have a single head ready to be harvested.  There are a few more that look promising.  Broccoli is one of the few green veggies that both of my kids will eat, so I'm looking forward to this harvest.


The carrots have been great and plentiful.  My son has never eaten so many carrots in his life as he has this winter.  He gets such a kick out of dangling them out of his mouth and asking "What's up, Doc?" in his best Bugs Bunny voice.  We've already just put down some more carrot seeds in the hope of getting a second winter harvest of these sweet, crunchy gems.  If we get a big enough harvest, I might consider trying to pickle some of them.  






The pumpkins are trying to make a good showing, but the hard freeze we got early last month seems to have taken it's toll on them.  We finally have a tiny fruit forming.  I'm not sure if it'll ever ripen fully.  We'll see.


And lastly, the blueberries are starting to bud.  I planted four plants last summer, each a different varietal and plan to put a few more plants in this year.  I envision a proper blueberry orchard in my wee backyard... 

 

I'm already looking towards spring and summer veggies - the new seeds will be ready to go down in just another month or so.  Bean has requested that we grow peanuts (that's what I get for giving him the Burpee catalogue and asking him what he'd like to grow) and Sprout wants tomatoes - the one thing that failed to thrive last summer.  As for me, I'm looking forward to lots of peas and asparagus this year.  How about you?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Out With the Old, In With the New



The Rainbow Fence Quilt was my last of 2011.  It had been sitting in my WIP bin for a few months - just waiting for me to quilt and bind it.  But there were holidays and related sewing and before I knew it, I was staring down the end of the year.  I really wanted to finish this one up (as my 14th start-to-finish quilt for 2011) so powered through the quilting and binding with just hours to go in 2011.


I used up tons of scraps from my scrap bin that I had cut into strips earlier in the year, as well as some purples that I had to trade for, as my stash is woefully short on purple.  This is my second rainbow quilt of the year using those scrappy strips, and I love it tons.  It's so bright and cheery and every little scrap has a story to tell.



I bought some new fabric for the back - all from JoAnns and most on clearance.  I feel like the back is the perfect compliment to the front.  It's lightly quilted in a chevron pattern - I'm finding lately that as much as I love the look of stippling, I really, really, really like the drape of light straight-line quilting.  It's bound in some KJR stripes and finished size after a run through the dryer is 40”X59”.  It’s listed in the shop.

And with the completion of the Rainbow Fence quilt came the beginning of Laura’s quilt.  A dear friend, the woman who introduced me to my husband, is expecting her first child next month.  She’s one of the nicest people I know and is going to make such an awesome mama.  I really wanted to make something special for her babe.  She’s decorating the nursery with an African animal theme, so this is what I made for her.












I used two Michael Miller animal prints as my jumping point and continued from there.  I love the colors in this quilt – I had been worried that the animal theme might start to get too twee, but I feel like this group of colors keeps the quilt looking sophisticated and modern.  My inspiration for the quilt was this - I love on pointe squares.  The finished size after drying is 40"x48" - perfect for a new baby but big enough to grow with him.  That's my six year old holding it up in the photo above  - it's just about as tall as he is now.  Congratulations, Laura!

I'm excited to have my first start-to-finish quilt of the year done already with 359 more days of quilting ahead of me.  Next on the docket - Jacey's mini (I know you're reading this, J!).