Saturday, April 30, 2016

Miniature Spring Flowers

As the saying goes, "April showers bring May flowers." As such, a post on flowers seemed appropriate for closing out April and welcoming in May. The flowers that appear in the late spring also are some of my favorites. 
This month, I thought I would share a project that I recently completed.This project is one that took me three years to complete. In all honesty, I didn't work on this project steadily over the past three years, but rather in two major bursts about three years apart. I purchased this Primitive Gatherings project in early 2013 after I was introduced to wool appliqué. I actually finished the appliquéd flowers fairly efficiently that spring. After that, the project pretty much stalled. 
Enter 2016 … I made the commitment in 2016 to buckle down and get back to work on projects that were sitting around "in progress." This project was on my priority list to get finished. To give you an idea as to how small the flowers in this project are, take a look at the picture below that includes a quarter as a frame of reference. Yes, these flowers really are quite small; and, yes, I did hand appliqué around all of the flowers, leaves, and stems.The sashing strips around each of the flowers measure about 1/4 inch wide.
Part of what got me stalled on the project was the half square triangle border. I'm really not a fan of creating half square triangles. This project called for using Thangles, paper strips that are used to help you create more precise half square triangles. This finished project called for more than 90 half square triangles. Here is a sampling below at their unfinished dimensions of 1x1 inch square. That means that in the finished project, they are only 1/2 x 1/2 inch - lots of itty bitty triangles. The thought of creating that many half square triangles is probably why the project stalled.
Here are a couple of additional pictures that provide a more zoomed in look at the featured flowers. In addition to spring flowers such as iris, tulips, and daffodils, the project also includes late summers such as asters and sunflowers.
I thought I would add a few pictures of some of the April/May flowers around my own backyard. I do wish that they lasted longer than just a few short weeks.
Here are some tulips …

Miniature iris, the larger ones won't be blooming until later in May …
And finally, some lilacs that are just barely starting to bloom …
The fleeting beauty of these spring flowers brings to mind a memory verse from my early Sunday school years. Even though the flowers don't last, we can be secure in the constancy of God's Word that does last forever. In today's uncertainty and tense times, these are particularly comforting words. As Isaiah spoke …
The grass withers, the flower fades, 
But the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah 40:8

Monday, April 25, 2016

Cuban Black Beans and Rice

We are always game for a warm, filling meal that will last us several days. A few years ago, we found a recipe for Cuban black beans and rice that we have come to enjoy. I'm not quite sure how true-to-style this recipe is, but we like it just the same. 
The Spanish name for black beans and rice is Moros y Christianos which translates as Moors and Christians. The name of this dish may be a reference to the 8th century Islamic conquest of Spain and then the 15th century re-conquest. Both of these events impacted Spanish language and culture, including food. 
Similar to the red beans and rice, which are popular in the southeastern United States, the black beans and rice are prepared separately and then served together. Some serve the beans over the rice, while others serve a scoop on top of the beans. We tend to go with the former but then stir the two together.
With the blending of cultures from Europe and Africa in the Caribbean, Caribbean cuisine has its own unique flavor and blends of spices. In looking through other recipes for Cuban black beans and rice, I've seen ham hocks substituted for the sausage we use in our recipe. Also, as you will see, this recipe uses turkey sausage, however, I'm doubting turkey sausage is typical of Cuban cuisine. Feel free to substitute another type of sausage or smoked meat if you wish.

A word about black beans … You can use either canned or dried black beans in this recipe. Typically, we just use canned, but we weren't able to find any at our Neighborhood Walmart Market when we went shopping for the ingredients to make this batch. We opted just to go with dried beans instead. I found that one pound of dried beans was the equivalent of about 4 cans of beans. If you opt to use the dried beans, you will need to allow time to soak them and then cook them until tender. 

Please also note that the amounts I am stating below make a pretty large batch. Feel free to cut in half if you wish.
Cuban Black Beans & Rice
Olive oil
1-1.5 pounds turkey sausage - we tend to use sweet Italian seasoned sausage; you can buy bulk sausage or links. If you use links, you will need to remove the casings.
1 chopped onion
3 cloves garlic
8 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 quart chicken broth - you can either buy it in a can or make it using a bouillon cube or chicken base
1 chopped bell pepper
1-2 teaspoons cumin
1-2 teaspoons oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 or 2 bay leaves 
4 cans of drained black beans or 1 pound of dried black beans, soaked, cooked, and drained
Cooked white rice

1. Heat a teaspoon or two of olive oil in the bottom of a large skillet. If needed, remove the casings from the sausage and cook until nearly completely browned.
A few years ago, I purchased this handy-dandy star chopper tool from a Pampered Chef party. It is probably one of our best-used Pampered Chef products. It does look a bit like a medieval torture device, and its taken a few beatings through the years, but it works great at chopping up ground meat for browning.
 2. Once the meat is almost browned, add in the onion and garlic. I had two half onions - one yellow & one red on hand so I just went with them. Feel free to use whatever type of onion you like. 

3. Continue cooking until the meat is cooked through and the onion is soft and nearly translucent. If needed, add a little additional olive oil to prevent the mixture from sticking. At this point in the cooking, your house will be smelling great.
4. Stir in the tomato sauce and broth and bring to a boil.
5. Add the remaining ingredients. Feel free to start with the lesser amounts of the spices and increase to taste. Regarding the bay leaves - if the bay leaves seem particularly strong, I will just use one - again, it's really a matter of personal taste.

6. Simmer for about 20 minutes or so until the bell peppers are fully cooked.
7. Add additional seasonings as desired
8. Serve with cooked rice.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Sheep, Sisters, and Basketball

By now, I think I have established that I like projects that involve sheep. I thought I would use this entry to share another sheep project - this one has ties to my sister as well as to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. I know this may sound a little strange. Hopefully, I can tie all of the pieces together.
Although my sister and I enjoy a number of the same things, we are also quite distinct in our interests and skills. I've come to describe myself as the "frou frou" sister. I like the frills and dressing up. I also am the one who is more inclined toward the handwork projects. My sister is the more outdoorsy one and is the one who excelled in team sports. In more recent years, she has been putting her outdoor skills to good use by participating in Disaster Relief teams to help minister to people who have been affected by natural disasters. While she has become adept with a chainsaw, you wouldn't want to be around me if I was the one holding it.
Some things we both enjoy are sheep and watching sports together. Here we are feeding a couple of our bottle lambs. I think we were about 4 1/2 and 3 years old.
As teenagers, I think we watched about every televised moment of the Los Angeles Olympics during the summer of 1984. Among our favorites was watching women's volleyball.
Somewhere in our high school years, we also started paying attention to the NCAA basketball tournament and all the fun of March Madness. Our favorites have been, and still are, the underdog teams. To be honest, sometimes, we just go for the team with the cutest mascot. Last year, we found ourselves rooting for the Wofford Terriers. They didn't make it out of the first round, but they did put forth a good effort against a higher ranked team. You have to admit, the statue featuring their mascot really is cute.
So now, how does this all tie together …
For each of the last two years, we have been getting together for a March Madness weekend during the first week of the tournament. That week really is my favorite with all of the games and upsets going on. 
In 2014, I gave my sister a small quilting kit that featured a sheep. (I got one for myself as well.) During our 2015 March Madness weekend, we began working on our projects. We got the top portion pieced together and then packed our kits up and stored them in my sewing room for another day. The picture below shows the initial piecing along with the machine quilting to hold the top, batting, and backing together.
This year, we continued our work on the kits. We added the wool appliqué sheep and the log cabin block for the upper right hand corner. 
Now, the question remains, will we finish these projects completely before the year is over, or will we leave that task for the 2017 tournament. As King Solomon might say, to everything there is a season …
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Cinnamon rolls and a new mixer …


This past Christmas, our children surprised us with a Kitchenaid mixer. To be honest, I really hadn't ever thought about getting one for myself. I know of others who have acquired them and enjoy using them. Over the past few months, we have definitely but ours to very good use. We have particularly enjoyed making bread-related products with ours. 

This post features homemade cinnamon rolls. I wish I could take full credit for the recipe, but it is one that is a Paula Deen recipe from the Food Network's site. Of course, I will be including some of the ways we have individualized this recipe.
We enjoy Saturday morning breakfasts, probably because our weekday schedules don't allow us to sit down to enjoy breakfast together. Back in January, I decided that cinnamon rolls sounded like a good idea. We first thought of buying some Rhodes bread dough to roll out. That thought was rather short-lived when we realized that, with the new mixer, we could easily just make some from scratch. 
Here is the recipe. I'm also featuring the attachments to the mixer that we use when making the cinnamon rolls.

Dough ingredients:
1 package of yeast 
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup warm water (105 - 110ºF)
1/2 cup scalded milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3 1/2 - 4 cups flour

Directions
1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and 1/2 tsp sugar in the warm water. I'm someone who  does take the time to measure the temperature of the water before adding the yeast and sugar. I've had too many failures as a result of the liquid being either too hot or too cold for the yeast. If the yeast "blooms" as in the picture below, you have a marker of success. Note, you can substitute Rapid Rise yeast if you wish - just note that the temperature of the liquid will need to be 120-130ºF.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the milk, 1/4 cup sugar, melted butter, salt, and egg. To mix these ingredients together, I use the general mixing attachment pictured below. Mix until they are smooth.
3. Switch to the dough hook attachment and mix in 2 cups of flour until smooth. Add the yeast mixture and enough additional flour to make a dough that is easy to handle. Here is where the best part of the dough hook comes in. Instead of taking the dough out and kneading it, let the machine run for about 5 minutes or so to do the work of kneading for you. The result will be an amazingly smooth dough.
4. Remove the dough from the bowl, spray the bowl with cooking spray, spray the top of the dough, cover with a towel, and let rise for about 1 to 1.5 hours, until the dough is doubled in bulk. Our oven has a proofing setting which is great.

5. After the dough has doubled, punch it down and roll it out in the shape of a rectangle, approximately 15 x 9 inches. Don't get anxious about measuring the dimensions, just do your best not to get the ends too narrow. Now it is time to make the filling.

Filling ingredients:
1/2 cup melted butter
3/4 cup melted sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup raisins and/or nuts (optional)

6. Mix the butter, sugar, and cinnamon together either in the microwave or on the stove. Spread them out over the dough something like this. If you are going to add raisins and/or nuts, you can stir them into the mixture or sprinkle them on top of the butter, sugar, and cinnamon mixture. 
7. Now it's time to roll the dough up. There's now way around it, the process is going to be a bit messy. I have a couple of large cutting boards that I sometimes use since I can pick them up and run them under the sink. I find that I am doing a combination of rolling and lifting to keep the butter, sugar, and cinnamon mixture from pouring out onto the counter top. When I am nearly finished, I bring the remaining side up and do my best to "seal" it to the rest of the roll to keep the filling mixture tucked in.
8. Cut the roll into 15 or so slices. The width of each slice is really up to you. I typically can get 18 slices. 15 will fit nicely inside a typical baking pan. I just put the others in a bread pan. Prepare the pan by rubbing it down with some butter and then sprinkling it with sugar, much as if you greasing and flouring a pan for baking a cake.
9. Let the rolls rise for about 45 minutes and then bake at 350ºF for about 30 minutes or until they are nicely browned like this. The cinnamon rolls have finished baking, but they are not quite ready to eat. Now, it's time to make the frosting.
Frosting ingredients:
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (if you are using a stronger preparation such as Watkins, you can cut the amount in half)
3 to 6 tablespoons hot water

10. It is also time to change to a new attachment for the mixer. I like using this mixing paddle with the silicone blade to scrape the sides of the bowl. This attachment doesn't come standard with the mixer, but it is available at most stores. 
11. Mix the butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla together. Add in the water, one tablespoon at a time until it is the desired consistency.

12. Spread the frosting generously over the rolls once they have cooled slightly. Eat and enjoy!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Stitching Sheep

As I've shared in several of my past blog posts, I like sheep. Whenever I'm in a stitching or quilting shop, I'm naturally drawn to any project that features sheep. My favorite Super Bowl commercial from earlier this month also featured sheep. In case you missed it, here is the link: 
Now that you've had a little smile, let's get back to this post  …

I've mentioned the topic of UFOs in a few previous posts. For those of us who enjoy quilting and stitching objects, this means "unfinished fabric objects" or, more simply, "unfinished objects." Even though I try not to have too many unfinished projects around, sometimes they accumulate. Sometimes I am in the midst of one project when some other project comes along that requires my attention - perhaps something that is to be a gift or some other type of seasonal project. Other times, I get to a part that I find rather tedious or find that I need a given resource, work surface, and/or other condition to keep the project moving along. The project that I will be sharing in this post is one of the latter. 
Three years ago, I was introduced to wool appliqué at a winter quilt retreat sponsored by Village Dry Goods in Brigham City. In addition to the projects that were included as part of this retreat, we had the opportunity to purchase other kits featuring designs by the featured teacher, Lisa Bonjean of Primitive Gatherings. I quickly finished a table mat that included pumpkins, and then eagerly began work on the project that is the topic of this post.
The work began without too much trouble, I started with the houses. Even with the doors, roofs, windows, and chimneys, they were fairly easy and straightforward to complete.























The next pieces to include were the four green hills. They were pretty easy to add as well. I was even starting to wonder if I was working through these new projects a little too quickly. Then … it was time to start working on the trees. The brown tree trunks were narrow, long, and harder to keep in place, even with the fusible backing. I started stitching them down with one shade of brown, decided I didn't like it, and switched to another color. Another challenge with the tree trunks is that I really needed to be still and have a flat work surface. This meant that the project was no longer amenable to toting around to work on while traveling. I also got myself intimidated by the thought of having to draw the branches so that I could outline stitch them and add lazy daisy accents. I also didn't feel eager about working on the relatively small sheep bodies and the even smaller sheep heads (the heads were smaller than a dime). So, this project sat for almost 3 years.
Enter 2016 - and a time for setting quilting resolutions. Last year, my resolutions focused around organizing my quilting resources with a new sewing machine desk/cabinet and a closet makeover. This year, my focus has been to finish projects, specifically those that I have started and then set aside for whatever reason. Around the start of February, it was time to pick this one up again. My resolve was to take it on one small step at a time. First of all, I had to tackle the tree trunks. Step two was to get over my issues with having to free hand draw the branches based on the example and to mark the locations for the lazy daisy stitches. I really didn't mind the stitching; my issues were with being able to replicate lines that would resemble willow tree branches and leaves.
Finally, it was time to take on the sheep. One of the big challenges with very small pieces such as the sheep heads is to be able to trace and cut them out with sufficient detail so that the shapes are recognizable. Here's a closer look at one pair sheep. 
Although this post relates to a sewing project, some of the principles relate to the spiritual walk as well. Last summer, I shared some perspectives from a Beth Moore Living Proof Live weekend. Much like Peter, it's easy to get distracted and weighed down by the circumstances of life that can detract our focus. Perhaps that is why the writer of Hebrews reminds us to set aside these encumbrances and to fix our eyes on Jesus. 

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A warm, winter curry …

Even though the snow and the cold can get tiring, the winter season offers the opportunity for warm and filling dishes. This post features a curry dish we prepared a few weeks ago. Back in October, I shared the curry that we like to fix for our Halloween dinner. The basis for creating this curry is that we found ourselves with extra half and half on hand. I decided that a curry sounded good so we went out in search of curry recipes that included half and half. We found a starting template and embellished from there. We rather liked the end result, and I hope that you will, too.

One of the key adaptations for our recipe is the addition of potatoes. We really like the way that the starch in the potatoes soaks up the curry flavor. 

This recipe also features ginger. Earlier this season, I found this lightly dried ginger for sale in the grocery store. I have found that it is a great substitute for either fresh or dried, ground ginger in recipes. Even though fresh ginger root isn't that expensive, I find that I never use all that I purchase and throw most of it away. This preparation of ginger can be stored in the refrigerator. I like that it still adds a fresh taste in the recipes. During the holiday season, we used it in pumpkin scones and gingerbread biscotti. I found it in the produce section near the fresh herbs. When preparing this recipe, we used 2 teaspoons. You can use more or less - it's a bit of a matter of personal taste.



Here are the ingredients and instructions for our Chicken Curry with Tomatoes and Potatoes:

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons cooking oil (add more if needed during the sautéing process)
1 large coarsely chopped onion
2 heaping spoonfuls of finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons of lightly dried ground ginger root
1 tablespoon Hot Madras curry powder
30 ounce can of diced tomatoes with their juices (you may also use a quart of home canned tomatoes)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups half and half
1.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
1 teaspoon salt (feel free to use kosher salt or sea salt if you wish)
2 pounds of potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes (we used Yukon gold potatoes; russet potatoes would also work well)

Directions:
1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Note: you may want to consider using a deep pan as you will be using an immersion blender to mix some of the curry ingredients together. We have a heavy aluminum dutch oven that we like to use for dishes like this one.
2. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger. Stir fry until the onion is light with a caramel brown color around the edges.
3. Sprinkle the curry powder over the onion mixture and stir together. Within about 10 seconds, your kitchen will smell amazing. 
4. Pour in the tomatoes and stir into the mixture. Stir in the sugar and baking soda as well. (The sugar and baking soda help reduce the acidity of the tomatoes.) Leave the cooking pan uncovered and stir occasionally to soften the tomato pieces and to allow some of the extra liquid to evaporate. Cook for about 5 to 7 minutes or until you see some of the oils from the onion and spice mixture dot the edge of the sauce.
5. Pour in the half and half and stir the bottom of the pan a few times to remove any bits of onion or spices that may have stuck to the bottom. This will help release these flavors back into the curry.
6. Now it's time for the immersion blender to puree the mixture. If you don't have an immersion blender, you can always transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender to puree. We bought an immersion blender a few years ago when we started making butternut squash soup, and it's been a great investment.
7. Stir in the cubed chicken and potatoes and allow to simmer until the potatoes are soft and the chicken is cooked through.

We like serving our curry over steamed rice. Feel free to serve with lentils, naan bread, or however you wish.

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