Sunday, January 31, 2016

January Snowflakes

I'm not one of those people who gets overly sentimental when the Christmas tree goes down each year. To be honest, as much as I look forward to getting the Christmas decorations up, I'm actually eager to get them put away after January 1. Perhaps it has something to do with mentally setting the tone for taking on the new year. That being said, I find that the house does feel a little empty after the boxes are put away. My solution has been to reserve some of my house decorations that have more of a "winter" rather than "Christmas" feel to them for January and February. Last year, I shared the snowman quilt that hangs in my parlor this time of year. This year I will share a newly completed wall banner that is hanging in my dining area.
The project that I am sharing in this post is a wall banner that features English paper-pieced snowflakes. Although I adjusted the banner to be horizontal for this post, it actually hangs vertically.
This row of snowflakes is a row that was part of the 2014 Row by Row experience and was designed by Stylish Fabrics in Logan, Utah. 
For those of you less familiar with English paper piecing, it features paper templates, often in the shapes of hexagons. The quilter bastes fabric around the paper templates and then stitches the shapes together. In my March 2015 post, I described my work on a Block of the Week project: Shapes and Pieces. That post also describes some of the basics of paper piecing.
This snowflake project included not only hexagon paper templates, but also triangles, pentagons, and diamonds. Some of the pieces were rather small and a bit challenging, but I put the shapes together. 
After I stitched the shapes together to create the snowflake patterns, I removed the paper templates and stitched them to the background fabric using a blind stitch. As you are about to see with the next set of photos, each snowflake was further embellished with hand embroidery stitching using white perle cotton. I elected to machine quilt this piece myself using the walking foot for my machine. I haven't yet decided whether I want to add additional quilting. For now, this is what I have in place. My goal was to accent the snowflakes without detracting from them.

Here are two other pictures of winter-themed decorations that I have around the house. How do you decorate once the Christmas season is over?

This year in the Intermountain West, our snow has persisted since Thanksgiving. Although we are looking forward to the spring, these verses from Isaiah remind us of the purpose of the snow and how it accomplishes its purpose. Likewise these verses remind us of God's Word accomplishing its purpose.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:10-11

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Who doesn't like a grilled cheese sandwich on a cold, dreary day? We decided to attempt our own "gourmet"-style grilled cheese sandwich to pair with some of the tomato basil soup that we made last fall. Whether or not it truly fits the definition of a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich may be subject to further judgment. 

Here is a short narrative of our effort as well as some information about the cheeses we selected. We opted to combine sharp cheddar and Taleggio cheeses in our sandwiches. These cheeses are produced in rather beautiful regions of the world. If you are a cheese connoisseur and enjoy traveling, you just may wish to include these destinations on your itinerary.

Cheddar cheese is regarded as the world's most popular cheese. It originated in the English village of Cheddar. The history of the village of Cheddar dates back to Roman and Saxon times. 
Cheddar is known for its gorge, which is the largest in the United Kingdom. The region is also home to a number of caves which are available for touring. These caves provided the ideal humidity and and temperatures for producing cheese. Producing a strong, mature cheddar cheese requires up to 15 months. Here is a picture of cheddar cheese maturing in the caves in the Cheddar region.
To be honest, I hadn't heard of Taleggio cheese until just recently. As you might surmise from its name, its origins are in Italy. To be specific, it originated in the Val Taleggio, which is in the Lombardy region of Italy.

The Val Taleggio is an alpine region which is incredibly beautiful. Like Cheddar, it also has a gorge region. 
The temperatures and humidity of the Val Taleggio provide the ideal environment for producing this soft cheese. The history of this cheese dates back to the ninth century, and it was even used as currency in the thirteenth century. I should also caution that Taleggio cheese has a VERY strong aroma. The taste is relatively mild, but the smell can overwhelm you if you aren't prepared for it.

Now, on to how we assembled our grilled cheese sandwiches …
Here are the cheddar and Taleggio cheeses we used. Mind you, we didn't use all of them.
We elected to use a brioche bread, which is a French bread that includes eggs and butter. We had the loaf sliced at the grocery store. Although the thick slices seemed a good idea at the time, we will probably ask to have the loaf sliced a little more thinly in the future. 
We started by buttering the outsides of the bread slices.
Next, we grated, rather than sliced the cheddar cheese and loaded up the bread with it.

The next step was to add the Taleggio cheese. Be aware that this soft cheese does not "grate" well, so you will just have to do the best that you can. From this next picture you can get an idea as to just how much we added in relation to the cheddar. Even though this is a milder cheese, our goal was to use it to enhance the flavor of the sandwich.
We then repeated the cheddar cheese, topped the sandwiches with the remaining slices of bread, and toasted them until the cheese was melted, and the bread was nicely toasted.
Here is one of our sandwiches ready to be consumed.
Have you tried your own "gourmet" grilled cheese sandwiches?
What cheeses do you like to include?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A lesson on machine quilting

I certainly do not claim to be an expert in machine quilting. I am working to develop my skills and thought I would share some of what I am learning. Please consider this to be more of a very basic presentation of some of the fundamentals.
I should also add that I will be talking about machine quilting that involves the use of a walking foot rather than free motion quilting. While I have attempted some projects with a free motion foot, my skills are very limited. Perhaps I will continue to develop them in the new year.
A walking foot is a sewing machine attachment that provides a top set of feed dogs. This allows the upper and lower fabrics to move through the machine at the same rate. When you are working with a quilt with its back, batting, and top, you definitely want to avoid the layers shifting as you work. My walking foot came with my machine accessories. If you don't have a walking foot, they can be purchased for around $20 to $40. Looking at the online pictures, this accessory doesn't appear to be machine brand specific, but you could always ask at the store.
The project that I will be sharing in this post is a miniature quilt made with Civil War Reproduction Fabrics, which are some of my favorites. This quilt pattern is titled, "Small Joys," and is featured in the book, Civil War Legacies II
I picked up the kit for this quilt from a darling shop, Corn Wagon Quilts, in Springville, Utah. This shop is in a historic building which adds to its charm. This shop features reproduction fabric projects as well as wool appliqué projects. It's probably a good thing for my budget that this shop is about an hour and a half from my home. Here are some of the miniature 9-patch blocks that are featured in this quilt.
When contemplating having a project quilted  whether you are quilting by hand or machine, doing it yourself or having someone else do the work, the first question to ask is "How do you want it quilted?" I found myself a bit puzzled the first time I was asked that question. I was thinking, "You are the expert, that's why I'm coming to you." Here are a few things to think about as well as the rationale for some of the choices I made in relation to this project.
  • The style of the quilt. The overall style of the quilt itself is going to help drive decisions about quilting. The choice of quilting pattern should match the quilt's style. A more geometric pattern may be appropriate for a quilt with more modern colors and larger blocks. For this particular quilt that only measures about 18 x 22 inches, I wanted a more simple pattern and one that would fit with the reproduction style fabrics. I opted to go with a cross-hatch pattern that essentially made Xs through each block. This is also the pattern that was featured on the example in the book. It is also a pattern that is rather forgiving for a novice machine quilter.
  • Choice of batting. I tend to like an 80/20 blend batting for my quilts. This tends to provide warmth without too much bulk. Given that this was a small quilt, I had a scrap leftover from a larger project that was just the right size.
  • Choice of thread. Again, you want to think about the colors in your quilt and how "visible" or not you want the quilting thread to be. I have some quilts with darker colors for which a lighter thread that stands out is a nice option. In this case, my quilt had a mixture of dark, light, and medium colors. My goal was to have the quilting blend in with the quilt itself. I opted to go with a coral thread that blended in with the flowers in the dark red border. It also blended in with the solid pink blocks within the quilt and didn't provide too high or a contrast with the light fabrics in the 9-patch blocks. As you can see in the picture, I unrolled the spool of thread a little so that I could lay the strand of thread out on the quilt to see how it might look before proceeding with the project.
  • Choice of backing. This really can be anything you want. You can even sew two or more pieces together to get the size of backing that you need. Your backing does need to be about 2-3 inches wider all the way around relative to your quilt top. For a smaller piece such as this one, you can go closer to 2 inches. I elected to use a reproduction style fabric that was different from the fabrics in the quilt itself yet still fit with the larger theme. A solid color also would have worked just fine. Remember that this is the back and not the side people will be looking at. It's also your quilt so feel free to also select a design that is completely different and distinct from the quilt top.

Now it's time to put the quilt together. Here are some steps that I 
have learned along the way that I hope will be helpful for you, too. At this point in the process, you will need to make sure that you have a nice large flat surface. You also want the surface to be one that can withstand working with safety pins.
  • Mark the design on the quilt top. There are multiple options for marking quilt tops. The main thing is that you don't mix heat-soluble and water-soluble marking pens. For a mostly dark top like this one, my marker of choice is a white Clover brand marking pen. This is a heat-soluble marker that looks like chalk on the fabric. The marks didn't show up very well in any of the pictures I took, but they were adequate for sewing. Since I was using a cross-hatch design on this top, I just used a large ruler and drew the lines across the quilt going both directions.
  • Secure the backing to the work surface. This is where I like to have a work surface that can tolerate safety pins. I have a couple of plastic-topped tables that I like to work on when doing this phase of the work. Painter's tape is also a great accessory for this phase because it will hold the fabric in place without leaving a residue behind. You want to have the quilt back tight and secure. Here is a picture of what mine looked like. 
  • Lay the batting and quilt top on top of the back. These two pieces do not need to be secured as tightly as the back. Lay the batting out on top of the back and then smooth out the quilt top on the back and batting layers. You can see from the picture how the batting and back extend beyond the edges of the quilt top.

  • Pin the three layers together. This is what is going to secure the quilt layers together and allow you do do the machine stitching. As you can see from the picture, I have placed safety pins every 2-3 inches across the quilt top. You just remove them as you sew along so don't be intimidated. I'm also featuring a picture of my favorite tool for securing the safety pins. This tool definitely helps prevent broken fingernails and punctured fingertips in the pinning process. You can buy one at a local quilt shop.

  • Machine quilt along the marked lines. The marked lines didn't show up well in any of my photographs, but they were sufficiently visible for me to see them and stitch on top of them. When sewing, start near the middle of the project (in my case, I started near a middle edge), and move outward. This also helps keep the project smooth. With the cross-hatch design, I would sew one diagonal line across the quilt, pivot the piece, sew along the edge until I reached the next marked line and then proceed back across the quilt. I more or less repeated this pattern until the quilting was complete.
  • Bind the quilt and enjoy. I cut my binding 2 1/4 inches wide and then double fold it. Feel free to use your preferred technique to bind your quilt. I also tend to add in a muslin sleeve (or loops) for hanging so that I can decide later how I wish to display my quilt.
As much as I enjoy Civil War history as well as the fabrics and styles of this era, I am troubled at this divisive time in our nation's history. I will close out this post reflecting on some of the final earthly words of the Prince of Peace. In the midst of divisive, troubling times in our world, they provide a source of perspective on true peace and the assurance that believers have. Wishing you a truly blessed 2016.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. John 14:27
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. John 16:33.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Weinachten in Deutschland

I realize that German dinner may not be the most appealing to everyone, however, a traditional German meal has become part of our family's Christmas traditions through the year. I am actually part German, so this has become a fun way to honor our heritage. We typically have our German dinner about a week before Christmas. This year, like most, we enjoyed rouladen, red cabbage, and potato salad. In case you might enjoy preparing any, or all, of these dishes, here are the recipes.

Red Cabbage:
The style of this red cabbage recipe is patterned after the Danish style. While the traditional German versions tend to feature spices, and sometimes apples, the Danish version is a bit simpler. I'm half Danish, so I don't mind including a bit of my Danish background into our dinner as well. This is a dish that I think tastes better each time it is rewarmed.

  • One head of red cabbage
  • 4 tbsp butter or margarine
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Finely shred the cabbage. Here is a picture of how I cut mine up. Essentially, I divide the head of cabbage into fourths and then thinly slice up each one.
  • Place all ingredients in a large cooking pot or crock pot. Slowly simmer for about 2 to 2.5 hours or so. 
  • Add additional vinegar and sugar to taste during the cooking process. 
German Potato Salad
My family found this recipe years ago in an issue of the Ruralite magazine. This is a magazine targeted at the rural western United States and was initially developed with the goal of reaching member-owners of electric cooperatives in the Western US. Over time, I have continued to adapt this recipe. Our revised version follows.
  • 6 to 8 potatoes
  • 4-6 slices of bacon (we like pepper bacon, but use what you wish)
  • One medium yellow or sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 to 1.5 cups thinly sliced celery
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp celery seed
  • 2/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp dried mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Boil potatoes in their skins until fork tender. When done, peel, slice about 1/4 inch thick and set aside in a large bowl.
  • Cut up the bacon and fry in a large pan until nearly done.
  • Add in the onion and celery. Saute until the vegetables have become soft. 
  • Stir in the parsley and celery seed (here is what the mixture will look like in the pan)
  • Pour the bacon/vegetable/seasoning mixture over the potatoes and toss together
  • Boil the vinegar, water, and mustard together (I just use the microwave). 
  • Stir the liquid mixture together, and pour over the potato mixture. I generally start with about 1/3 of the liquid and evaluate little-by-little. More often than not, I don't need the entire amount of liquid. 
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
For those of you unfamiliar with rouladen, they are essentially beef rolls that are wrapped around a pickle. Oh, and they include bacon as well. This year, we were fortunate to find a local grocery store that was able to provide us with some thinly cut slices of beef roast - perfect for making rouladen.
  • Thinly sliced beef. Take a look at the picture below to get an idea as to how thin the beef should be sliced.
  • Bacon slices
  • Pickles
  • Mustard
  • 3 tbsp shortening or cooking oil
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • Spread the mustard on the slice of beef. Lay a slice of bacon on the beef. Place a pickle on one end and roll it up. You can either tie the roll together with string or use a couple of toothpicks to hold it together. (I typically opt for the toothpicks.)
  • Prepare as many rouladen as desired.
  • Heat the shortening or oil in a large frying pan. Brown the rouladen on all sides. It can get a little tricky if you are using toothpicks.
  • Place the browned rouladen in a baking pan and pour the water over the top of them.
  • Cover with foil and bake in a 325 degree oven for about one hour. 
  • After the rouladen have cooked through, remove them from the pan and whisk the flour into the remaining liquid. Place the rouladen back in the pan and heat until the gravy is bubbly. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
Here is our 2015 German dinner. We wish you all a froehliche Weinachten!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Cheery Christmas Cardinals

Given that Christmas is fast approaching, this post will be a brief one. The quilt that I am featuring in this post is an "impulse buy." In early November of this year, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post from Anderson Fabrics, a shop in Blackduck, Minnesota, that I have visited on past Minnesota vacations. The post included a partial photo of this quilt. I was drawn to this quilt for a couple of reasons: it featured cardinals, my favorite birds, and rich north woods colors. I called up the shop and asked if kits were available. Fortunately, one was, and ordered it by phone.
This is a pattern that was relatively easy to put together. The fabrics that were included in the kit were from the Winter's Song fabric line from Moda fabrics. The pattern is from Antler Quilt Design. I was also very fortunate to find a local machine quilter who was able to complete the quilting for me. I chose an overall pattern that featured pinecones and pine needles. Here is what the back looked like.
Here are a few other close ups of one of the 4-block units and an individual block of one of the cardinals.
Although we don't see cardinals here in the Intermountain West, they are still my favorite bird. I think I am drawn to their cheery red color which provides  a lovely contrast to the white winter snow. They also have a distinct cheery call. 
If you look closely in this picture, you will see that my Christmas tree features a number of cardinals. In addition to the many ornaments we have accumulated through the year, the cardinals give our tree a bright "birds and berries" theme.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and will share these same words of cheer that were first delivered to shepherds over 2000 years ago, but still are a message of cheer for all of us today:
Fear not: for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be unto all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cranberry Creations … featuring sweet potatoes

To be honest, sweet potatoes or yams haven't been one of my favorite Thanksgiving foods. I'm not quite sure what it is about them. I remember having been served candied yams (probably the type out of the can) when I was little and that I didn't like those at all. I've never been crazy about having them with marshmallows or even just plain for that matter. I do, however, love cranberries in about any context.
A few years ago, I had some sweet potatoes that had been prepared with cranberries at a church dinner. During the past couple of years, we have done some experimenting with cranberry/sweet potato recipes. Here is one that we like and hope that you will as well. We like the added tart taste of the cranberries along with a little added sweetness of the glaze or sauce we pour over them.

First, a quick word about sweet potatoes and yams. My source is the North Carolina Sweet Potatoes web site
Sweet potato 
Although the terms "sweet potato" and "yam" are often used interchangeably, they are actually distinct from one another and belong to different botanical families.  Yams are native to Africa and grow primarily in tropical climates. Sweet potatoes are believed to have originated in South America where they have been grown for at least 5,000 years. Today they are grown in warm, temperate regions across the world, including the southeastern United States. Sweet potatoes are a great source of Vitamin A and beta-carotene. Although the dark orange-fleshed variety is the best known, sweet potatoes come in a variety of colors
Varieties of sweet potatoes
Now, on to the recipe. This is one that you can prepare ahead of time and then warm through in the oven just before serving.
5 sweet potatoes
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Lightly spray a 2-quart casserole dish with non-stick spray.
2. Boil the sweet potatoes until fork tender. If you want, you can stop just before they are fully cooked since they will cook a little more when you bake them.
3. Peel and cube the sweet potatoes and place them in the casserole dish. 
  • You can see from this picture, that I used two different varieties of sweet potatoes. When we went shopping at the commissary Sunday afternoon, there were only 3 of the dark orange ones left. I think that's because they were selling for 59 cents a pound and we were late to arrive. As a result, I picked up 2 of the more expensive ones. I actually like the variety and slight differences in taste, so it's all good by us.

4. Now to prepare the sauce, glaze, topping, or whatever you wish to call it.
  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla until well combined. Stir in the cranberries and bring to a low boil. Allow the cranberries to "pop" open as you would if you were making cranberry sauce. Remove from heat and stir in the pecans. 
5. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes.
6. Bake in a 350 degree oven until heated through. If you wish, you can even do the "prep" work the night before, put the sweet potatoes & sauce in the refrigerator overnight and then heat through the next day before dinner time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A small fall project …

Here we are at Thanksgiving Eve. Although Thanksgiving week is one of my favorite times of the year, I think that this November has sped by much too quickly for me. Just the same, I am still enjoying the season and am looking forward to good food and a day full of family tomorrow.
This post will be brief and feature a small project that I completed a few weeks ago. The pattern is from Buttermilk Basin, and I purchased the kit from my local quilt shop, K & H Quilt Shoppe
This project is one that appealed to me for a number of reasons - the fall colors, the primitive style, wool appliqué and a chance to incorporate some hand quilting in the process. 
Here are a couple of "tools of the trade" related to hand quilting - a marking pen and a stencil. There are multiple types of marking tools out on the market - some are heat-soluble and some are water soluble. I don't know that one is necessarily better than the other. The main rule of thumb is to be consistent in your choice of tool within the same project. For example, with this project I used both dark and light marking pens, both of which were heat soluble. I used the dark pen on the light triangles and the light pen on the darker fabrics. 
These next pictures feature some completed hand quilting and a pattern that has been traced. The choice of thread color is really up to the individual quilter. I chose to use a light thread for both the dark and light triangles in the center of the project, and I chose a brown thread for the pattern on the edges. 
In the below picture on the left, you can see some of the stitching within the triangles as well as the traced pattern. I stitched over the white lines using brown threads. When I was finished, I ironed over the area; and the marking disappeared, leaving only the stitching (below right picture).
After the hand quilting was complete, I tacked down the mini-quilt. It features the churn dash block which is one of my favorite traditional block patterns. The next step was to appliqué the owl in the lower left corner of the project (see the very top picture). I then sewed on the binding and a hanging sleeve so that we could have this mini quilt hanging in our house for the Thanksgiving season.
As I said at the outset, this is a short post. I wish you all a very blessed Thanksgiving Day. I am going to close with these words from the psalmist:
O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD
Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms
For the LORD is a great God
And a great King above all gods.
Psalm 95:1-3