Friday, September 28, 2012

Crooked Stitch - A drink

A little over five years ago we moved from Arizona to Washington State.  Before we left, we gave all of the hard liquor to friends and neighbors.  We didn't want to mess with packing and moving the open bottles.  We don't drink a lot, so going without for awhile was no big deal.  Our plan was just to restock at Costco after we got settled in.

For 6 months I wandered the aisles of Costco looking for liquor thinking I was missing it somehow.  Then I learned that liquor was only sold at state run stores -- at more than double the price we could buy it for in Arizona!!!  Needless to say, we didn't restock. 

My mom heard about this, and on one of her visits a few years ago, packed an entire suitcase full of liquor.  A friend of ours also came out for the visit, and we decided to experiment with all these bottles.  We came up with something pretty tasty, but never named it.  I made one of these yummy tropical drinks tonight and my husband came up with a cool name ... the Crooked Stitch.  If I have too many of these tasties, I will most certainly have crooked stitches!

In a shaker combine:
6 oz. pineapple juice
2 oz. coconut rum
2 oz. banana liqueur
1 oz. light rum
2 oz. cream or half and half

Pour over ice and...

~ Enjoy ~

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Update: Homemade Pillowcases

I know it's only been, what, a week since my pillowcase post, but I have an update.  First of all - I realized I did my french seam wrong.  I watched the tutorial, but not all the way to the end.  I saw her put the fabric right sides together ... and those of you that have made french seams probably already know what I did wrong.  The exterior of the case had a 5/8" wide strip that should have been on the inside of the pillowcase!  So, to anyone doing a french seam for the first time, start with wrong sides together, sew a 1/4" seam, turn inside out so right sides are together, press and then stitch a 1/2" - 5/8" seam.  Turn inside out again and you will have hidden seams.

Custom pillowcase using the sausage roll method
Next... this sausage roll method has a really nice accent strip between the pillowcase body and cuff.  I discovered upon washing that this accent piece can fold over on itself, and you don't want to donate a pillowcase to a foster child or senior citizen that they will have to press after washing.  I'd recommend running a top stitch over the bottom end of the accent piece so it stays flat.

Custom pillowcase using the sausage roll methodI made another pillowcase out of some scrap fabric, and because of that first failed french seam, I just overcasted the seam on this one.  It worked so well, I took out the french seam on the first and did an overcasting stitch on the first pillowcase.

Merry Merry Snowman - Block 2

applique and hand embroidery
I'm about to pick up block 7 from Pacific Fabrics, and I just finished block 2.  Whew, this was a lot of work.  Many hours went into this one little block.  Putting the background together went fast - well, once I quit making cutting mistakes anyway.  :) 

Each block comes with just enough of the fabrics needed to make it.  For the upper light colored fleur-de-lis, I cut that piece a 1/2" too small on one side.  I went to the fabric store for a new piece of fabric, and cut that one with the fleur-de-lis' going the wrong direction!  Aye!  Instead of driving back to the store, I cut that piece in half and pieced it so they went the right way. 

The reindeer (ear, tail, antlers), bird, sleigh, snowmen, present, scarves, sign, purse, hats are all applique.  There were many evenings watching tv hand embroidering snowman arms, reins, purse strap, noses, eyes, and sign text.  For this block I learned how to do a slip stitch and chain stitch.  Thank goodness for YouTube video tutorials!

Now, on to block 3....................

Review of black bean burgers

Looking for meatless alternatives to meals is new to me.  Not that I'm going vegetarian, but goodness, having meat two times per day can get a bit much.  And ok, just something I'll touch on, I'm getting so picky about meat that most prepared, purchased meat foods gross me out.  I need to purchase the raw meat and prep it myself. 

Additionally, I want some healthy lunch alternatives.  I used to eat Lean Cuisine meals, but I'm getting tired of the few meat-free options, and I have to wonder if eating food microwaved in a plastic tray everyday is healthy.  Just about every time I go to Costco I linger in the frozen food aisle looking at the Morningstar Farms Chipotle Black Bean Burgers and think I should try them.  But, that's a big box of burgers if I'm not a fan.  I LOVE black beans, but chipotle is a flavor that can easily be overdone.  Last night, I finally jumped.  I bought the big box. 

The first time I cooked them, I decided to follow the recommended cooking directions, which is to bake.  With three minutes left on the timer, I added some colby jack cheese.  Just in case it wasn't great - cheese makes everything taste better!  :)  I prepped a bun with mayo/mustard, and with both trepidation and excitement I served my first black bean burger for lunch. 

It was GOOD!  It was really good.  It had a nice crispness on the outside edges and a wonderful soft inside.  It had a delicious black bean flavor, with a hint of chipotle - just the right amount.  It's also made with corn and brown rice.  It comes in at only 7 grams of fat and 210 calories.  Of those 7 grams of fat, one is saturated.  The other six are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated - which are both 'good fats'! 

Result: these are a winner! 

~ Enjoy ~

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Oven roasted meatball marinara

Fresh cherry tomato, homemade meatballs, oven roasted.It's fresh tomato time and the cherry tomato plants are very happy.  My favorite way to use them is to make an oven roasted marinara with meatballs.  This is easy enough to do on a weeknight if you get started around 4:30-5:00.  I had an awesome soux chef, Daryl helped with gathering items, and chopping.  In summer, this is on our menu at least once per week. 

1 package spaghetti

For the meatballs:
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 egg
1/2 cup heavy cream (half/half or whole milk will work too)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
2 T. dried parsley
1 t. dried basil
2 garlic cloves chopped
1/4 - 1/2 t. crushed red pepper
salt and pepper
1 lb. ground sirloin

Preheat oven to 425.  Stir together all ingredients except the sirloin.  Add sirloin, and mix.  Roll into meatballs, set aside. 

For the marinara:
3 lbs. cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 - 1 large onion, chunky chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, smashed (we really like garlic)
2 t. italian seasoning
2 1/2 t. sugar
2 t. salt
1/2 - 1 t. crushed red pepper
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1 t.  ground black pepper

Put all ingredients in a dutch oven, mix together, top with meatballs and bake, uncovered, for 40-45 minutes. 

After it's cooked remove the meatballs.  I like to skim off some of the liquid so my sauce isn't too runny.  With a blender, or immersion blender, mix until smooth (or your desired consistency).  Add 1 package cooked spaghetti to the sauce, mix well.  Serve, top with meatballs, a teaspoon of mascarpone cheese, and fresh grated parmesan reggiano. 

~ Enjoy ~

Monday, September 17, 2012

Homemade pillowcases!

Homemade pillowcase using the sausage roll method
This past weekend I dedicated my time to working on block 2 of the Merry Merry Snowman block of the month.  I'm so behind on them.  Last night I finished all the applique and only have the hand embroidery work to do on it.  So, today when I got home from work and had a little time to play in my sewing room, I decided to try a custom pillowcase.

Homemade pillowcase using the sausage roll method eliminates exposed seams
If I'd known how easy and quick it was, I would have made 'sew' many of them by now.  A few weeks ago I read about the 1 million pillowcase challenge that All People Quilt is sponsoring and put it on my to-do list.  A few internet searches and a YouTube tutorial and I was on my way.  Rather than type out all the directions on how to make a pillowcase with no exposed seams, I'll just link you to the video I used.
Custom pillowcase using the sausage roll method.Give it a try yourself, and drop some pillowcases off at a participating shop to donate to the pillowcase challenge. I know I'll be making more!!

Also - these make great gifts for kids or family members in the hospital, care homes, hospice, etc.  A great idea I heard in one of the videos I watched is to make a pillowcase that matches a quilt you are giving away and then use the pillowcase as 'giftwrap' for the quilt.  'Sew' many ideas to use these....

~ Enjoy ~

** I've added an update

Monday, September 10, 2012

Custom Burp Cloths

Burp cloths made from cloth diapers
Rayma, recent recipient of the Bunny for Baby quilt and a nursing cover, asked me to make some custom burp cloths.  I used Gerber 6-ply cloth diapers and made strips to run down the center from various fabrics.  For two of them I did a quilted 4-patch using the fabrics from her blanket.  On one of them I used the flannel from her nursing cover, and the others were random cute girly fabrics.

The 6-ply diapers are more expensive, but I really like the thickness, especially down the center, for more absorbency.  I could probably get the regular 3-ply, but they just seemed flimsier to me when I opened a package in the store.  Many online reviews talked about these falling apart or not washing well, and people didn't seem to like them.

To make: pre-wash diapers and fabrics.  Cut fabric the length of the diaper and as wide as you'd like.  I made them just a tad wider than the extra thick strip down the center.  On some of them, the edges wrap around to the back side about an inch and others it goes right up to the edge.  For the quilted ones, I made five 5" x 5" four patches, and stitched them together into a strip (1/4" seam allowance).  Press a hem on all sides of your strips and stitch on.
Burp cloths made from cloth diapers
Burp cloths made from cloth diapers
Burp cloths made from cloth diapers

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lasagna al Forno

Traditional baked lasagna al forno
For many years my husband refused to eat lasagna.  It's one of my favorite meals.  This was a problem.  He didn't like it because most recipes have ricotta or cottage cheese.  Then I discovered the traditional way of making it, and there could finally be peace in our house.  Lasagna al Forno is simple.  Still takes half a day when making from scratch, but the result is worth it.  Fresh pasta sheets, bolognese sauce, bechamel sauce and parmesan cheese.  That's it.

Daryl and 2 of his buddies were heading out to canoe/kayak Ross Lake in the North Cascades National Park for a week over Labor Day.  I wanted to send them off with a great dinner the night before they left.  I was thinking I would carb load them so they could sleep well that night and have good energy in the morning, and I saw the food they were packing for the week. 

homemade crusty breadI also made a crusty fresh loaf of bread.  This is hands down the easiest and best tasting homemade bread.  I discovered it on Pinterest.  Oh my.  Follow the link above for detailed instructions, options and photos.  In a sentence: Flour, yeast, salt, water; Rise; Bake in a heated cast iron dutch oven.  Crusty on the outside, tender on the inside.  The first time I made it Daryl came into the kitchen and when he saw it said: "Is this the bread you made"?  "It looks like it came from the bakery".  That was a proud moment!

For the lasagna, first make the bolognese.  While that is simmering make the fresh pasta.  Then make the bechamel.  I only have one cast iron dutch oven, something that will be remedied in the near future.  I use this thing far too often to only have one.  First I baked the bread.  Then I used the D.O. for the bolognese:

1.5 pounds ground beef, browned
2 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 pkg thinly sliced Pancetta, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 large onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, finely diced
salt and pepper
1 1/3 cup red wine
1/2 cup cream (or half and half)
2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes (or San Marzano whole peeled)
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves

Directions: Heat the butter and oil in a heavy saucepan or porcelain coated cast iron dutch oven.  Add the onion and cook over moderate heat for 3-4 minutes.  Add the pancetta, and cook until onion is translucent.  Stir in the carrot, celery and garlic.  Cook 3-4 minutes more.
Add the beef and crumble it into the vegetables.  Season with salt and pepper. 
Pour in the wine, raise the heat slightly and cook until the liquid evaporates.  Add the cream and cook until it evaporates.
Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, and the herbs.  Bring the sauce to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered for 1.5 - 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Correct the seasoning before serving/using.

Next make the pasta sheets.  See my homemade pasta blog post for instructions.  Cut the sheets to fit the lasagna pan.  Do not let the pasta sheets dry out before cooking.
Start a large pot of salted water to boil.

Then make the Bechamel sauce:

3 cups milk
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup flour
salt and pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Directions:  Gently heat the milk with the bay leaf in a small saucepan.  Melt the butter in a medium heavy pan.  Add the flour, and mix it in well with a wire whisk.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf, pour the hot milk into the butter/flour mixture, and combine smoothly with the whisk.  Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring constantly, and cook for 4-5 minutes more.  Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Set aside, but cover with the lid to keep a skin from forming on the bechamel.

Both sauces
Homemade Pasta
Shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400.  Once the water is boiling, add pasta sheets 2 at a time and cook for about 30 seconds.  Remove from water to drain on wax or parchment paper.  Start the layering process with a scoop of the sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Place lasagna sheets in the pan, cover with a thin layer of bolognese, then a layer bechamel, and a handful of parmesan.  Repeat the layers in that order ending with a layer of pasta coated with bechamel, and top with parmesan.  Don't make more than about 6 layers.  Bake in the preheated oven, checking after 20 minutes, looking for the top to be nicely browned.  Mine usually takes between 30-40 minutes.  Allow to rest 10-15 minutes before serving.

Sauce recipes (slightly adapted) from Italian.

~ Enjoy ~

Apples and Pancakes

freshly harvested applesIt's been a great start to the day this first Sunday of regular season football.  My favorite Packer's fan requested chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, but I didn't have any mini chips, so I made chocolate pancakes instead.  They were rich and delicious. 

1 cup sifted whole wheat pastry flour
2 Tbls sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tbls unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup milk
1 beaten egg
2 Tbls oil

Mix dry ingredients together, make a well.  Mix wet ingredients together, add to dry.  Stir just until combined, let rest about 5 minutes.  Cook on warmed cast iron griddle.  ~ Enjoy ~
 freshly harvested apples fill an 80 quart cooler!

Next we harvested the apple trees and filled an 80 quart cooler!  I'll be spending at least a day canning... There will be lots of homemade apple sauce in my future. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

New sewing room

I used to have a home office.  Then I didn't need the home office anymore.  At that point, the piles started to grow.  If I didn't know what to do with something it went into that room.  I decided I needed a dedicated space to sew in... so I carved out a little area in that room for the machine.  The closet was full of junk so my fabric and materials ended up in bags on the floor.  This vicious cycle went on for more than a year, and the room continued to pile up.  When friends came over to sew, I moved all my stuff out to the dining table.  Any readers that have been to my house know that door was always closed.  You're about to see why.  I'm almost embarrased to show this photo, but I figure if I want to show the good, the room I'm proud of, then I also need to suck it up and show the bad, where I started.  So, here goes...........
Ok, so now you've seen this room at its worst.  For a long time I wanted to clean it up, do something with it, I just never knew what exactly I wanted or where to start.  The job seemed too big, too intimidating.  My mom is a great cleaner outter and decorater, so I thought I just needed to wait for her to come visit.  But then, when she's here I don't want to spend days working on a room. 
Recently, my husband and I sat down to have lunch and watched a PBS special about quilting.  Yes, I have a great husband that humors me on occasion.  On the show the host talked about a design wall, and that is what finally got me to tackle the room.  I started by researching design walls and how to make them.  Then I looked at hundreds of pictures and many blogs for sewing room ideas.  I wish I could give specific credit to the blogs where I got each of the wonderful ideas I incorporated into the room, but I visited so many great ones I lost track. 
I knew I couldn't hang a design wall until I cleared out and cleaned up.  That Monday I was on a mission.  For a week I didn't sleep well because I was so excited about the room, and ideas kept swarming in my head.  I wanted, I needed, to finish the room.  By the end of Day 1 most of the stuff on the desk, floor and closet had been sorted.  The hallway had 2 piles, one for donation and the other was boxes of old business files that needed to be shred.  The seat and floor of my car held office supplies that were to be dropped off at one of the schools where I'd worked.  The sewing stuff was all in the closet. 
Day 2, I finished working through the stuff; I'd sorted it all and put things that were staying in the closet.  I picked up paint samples and was about ready.  By the end of Day 2 the furniture was moved to the center of the room.  I never imagined, even at that time, I would end up loving the room as much as I do.  I had three color samples: a purple, light green and soft yellow.  I took a picture for mom and she liked the yellow best, my husband also liked the yellow.  It was at the bottom of my list.  But, trusting my advisors I went with the yellow. 
Day 3 I painted, and by the time my husband got home from work I was pulling the masking tape off and about ready to move furniture into place.  My mom and husband were absolutely right about the color.  Daryl made some great suggestions about furniture placement.  I certainly wouldn't have done as well.  I was so happy with the room at this stage.  It got so much better though.  Now the decorating work started.  I bought a curtain rod to go over the closet with clips so I could hang my projects for photos (idea from a blog).  I got a valance rod, found absolutely perfect fabric for the window, got coordinating fabric to recover the bulletin board on the desk, added under cabinet lights to the hutch, made the design wall (with help from Daryl and my friend Dionne), found some cool wall decorations, and last but not least made a pegboard (idea from a blog).
I found a really clever tip for organizing fabric from Maggie on the Smashed Peas and Carrots blog.  Right away I ordered the comic book storage boards so I'd be ready when the closet was empty.  I'd love to find a cabinet similar to hers for the fabrics, but for now they'll be hidden away in the closet.  My scrap fabrics are sorted and stored in containers by color.  I still have a little more organizing in the closet, and I will be replacing the furniture with different tables someday, but for now I have a whole new, pretty, organized sewing room for about $200.
sewing room with pegboard
design wall made from foam insulation wrapped in batting
sewing room with pegboard
organized sewing room closet with mini bolts
Yes, Captain Jack Sparrow stayed with the room re-design.  There was no way I could take him down.  Last, but certainly not least I have to say a HUGE thank you to my wonderful husband for all of his help in making this room happen.  His input and getting things hung for me was invaluable.  It was really special to me how excited he got at each stage in the process to see the changes take shape.  He took an active role in making my vision a reality, better than I thought it would be.
I've been so anxious to share this with all of you.  I hope you've enjoyed my ramblings and photos.  I'm happy to answer questions... and I'd love comments or suggestions.  Oh, and the table under the window is for guests (though my friend Dionne wants a nameplate someday), and I love to craft with friends!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Day at the Beach - Quilt #8

comfy couch quilt representing a fun day at the beachI work in a local school district, and one student that I worked with a lot graduated this past June.  A few of us in the office sew and quilt, so we'd always bring in our completed projects to show each other.  The day I brought in my beach blanket she saw it and asked if I would make her a blanket for graduation.  She requested a beach theme, but something more tropical.

Fortunately she is patient, and understanding.  I wasn't able to get the blanket done on time, but I promised I would have it to her as soon as possible.  Since my husband went out of town for Labor Day weekend, I had plenty of time to play in my sewing room.  I finished it in a few days.  I'm so glad to be able to to give her this blanket in honor of her graduating high school.

close up of a blockI had a pattern in mind when I started this project, but due to the size of the blocks in the beach themed panels I knew I would have to make modifications.  In addition, I try to pre-wash my fabrics before starting a project, and I did with these.  What I didn't realize at the time, is that washing panels is bad.  They come out all skewed.  So I had to further modify my plans.  Ultimately, I made it up as I went along, keeping the original pattern in mind for inspiration.  The finished blocks ended up 13.5" x 13.5".  There are nine of them with a border at the top and bottom.  Since the blanket would be far too busy with those blocks sewn directly together, I added a 1" border around each block.  Finished size of the blanket is approx. 44" x 60".

Some firsts for me:
Using directional fabric (top/bottom border) - seaming them together to make them long enough, and keeping it straight when attaching to the blanket.
Free motion quilting.  I just did one line of it to practice, I made a wavy line in the bottom border piece, to mimic water.

The end result is a very fun, colorful, tropical blanket that has everything representing a fun day at the beach.  I may want to make one for myself!  :)
close up of the bottom border