Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Harvest Season

The project I am featuring in this blog post isn't new, but it is one that seemed fitting to close out September. I really did write this post in September, it took me until early October to get the pictures included. Throughout September and October our weekends tend to be filled with harvesting the produce from our garden. Here's a quick look at some of the tomatoes that became roasted tomato basil soup earlier this season. 
Last week I pulled some of the beets from our garden and chopped them to make borscht. In case you don't know what borscht is, it is a Russian beet soup, and it is very good despite what my daughter may say. You can also see some of the acorn squash from our garden behind the beets. We will be making them into stuffed squash with sausage and wild rice. 

So, let's get back to this project. This table runner is one that was included in a pattern published by Red Rooster Fabrics back in 2010 for use with their Harvest Town fabric line. Although the pattern is still available as a free download, the fabric is a little harder to find anymore. As August fades away, I'm one who is eager to bring out the fall decorations. That being said, the more overt Halloween items need to wait until October. For me, designs like this one are great for filling that gap during September and can continue to celebrate fall even through the Thanksgiving season.
This is also a project that features some of my attempts at machine quilting. I've shared some of the techniques for machine quilting using a walking foot, a machine quilting technique with which I am becoming more confident. I also used free motion machine quilting on this project, a technique with which I am much less confident. 
Free motion machine quilting can be thought of as drawing by having the pencil remain in place while the artist moves the paper around. The above picture illustrates the foot that is placed on the machine. Free motion quilting also requires that the feed dogs on the machine are lowered so that the quilt "sandwich" can be maneuvered more easily. Another challenge with this technique is keeping an even speed and motion so that the stitch lengths are equal. Let's just say that I am still developing with this technique. Here are a few close ups of my efforts. For some of the free motion work, I tried to trace along the print of the fabric. In other areas, I used more of a freestyle approach.

Over the past few weeks, I've become more convicted of a different type of harvest - this one involving people. Through some recent conversations, I've seen evidence of how God is at work in the lives of people, seeking them and drawing them to Himself. These encounters have reminded me of Paul's instruction to Timothy to "be ready in season and out of season." I've also been reminded of the need to pray for others to join in the work of the harvest and that the harvest is not mine, but God's. I will close with Jesus' instructions as he was sending out the seventy:
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Luke 10:2

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

As we move into the harvest season of late summer and early fall, keeping up with the abundance of produce from the garden can be challenging. I always appreciate recipes that will quickly use large quantities of whatever is currently "on." This weekend, I found myself with nearly 10 pounds of ripe tomatoes and resolved to put them to good use. 
That "good use" turned out to be a triple batch of roasted tomato basil soup. We certainly enjoyed it, and I hope that you will, too.
Before I proceed to the recipe and instructions, here are a few background comments about tomatoes and basil – 
Tomatoes actually had their origin in the Western Hemisphere and were cultivated by people living in Mexico by around 500 BC. The Spanish conquistadors brought the tomato to Europe in the 1500s and also distributed it among their colonies in the Caribbean and even the Philippines. In the mid-1500s, tomatoes were cultivated primarily as ornamental plants in Italy, however, by the end of the 1600s, published recipes using tomatoes began to appear. By 1710, tomatoes were being grown in present-day South Carolina. Whether they arrived via Great Britain or the Caribbean is unclear.
So are tomatoes fruits or a vegetables? Although, botanically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit, that question became significant for financial reasons in 1887. At that time, US tariff laws placed a duty on fruits but not vegetables. To address that issue, the US Supreme Court declared the tomato a vegetable based on its use in 1893.

Basil seems to have a little less controversy regarding its classification. It is believed to be native to India and has been cultivated there for about 5,000 years. Basil grows best in warm, dry climates and is very sensitive to cold. This probably explains its widespread use in Italian and Southeast Asian. Here in the Intermountain West, I generally wait until late May to plant mine. Although sweet basil is the most commonly grown type of basil, over 160 varieties are available. The term basil is derived from the Greek word basileus, meaning king, and many regard it as the king of herbs. 
Now, let's put this soup together. This recipe will yield about 8 servings.
3 pounds of fresh tomatoes cut into halves or quarters
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
6 minced garlic cloves - feel free to use less if you wish
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes or 1 quart of home canned tomatoes with the juice (Note: if you have additional fresh tomatoes that you want to dice up and substitute for canned ones, I anticipate that would be just fine)
1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves (depending on your preferences, you can use more or less)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 quart chicken stock or water (I use chicken stock)

1. Combine the fresh tomatoes, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic together such that the tomatoes are coated with the oil. Spread the mixture out onto a baking sheet and roast at 400ºF for 45 minutes. What to do about the tomato skins: I kept the skins on for about 2/3 of the tomatoes and peeled the other 1/3. I chose to peel the ones with cracks or rougher areas on them. As you boil the ingredients together and then use the immersion blender, the skins really don't become an issue at all. Here is one of my pans ready to go into the oven.

Here they are after having been roasted. I really liked tossing the minced garlic in to be roasted along with the tomatoes.
2. Saute the chopped onion in 2 tbsp olive oil, the butter and red pepper flakes until the onion becomes translucent.
3. Stir in the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, chicken stock, and the roasted tomatoes (including the juice). Don't worry about cutting up the basil leaves, you will be blending them later. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 40 minutes. Here is my soup simmering on the stove. Remember that I made a triple recipe - hence the large, nearly full cooking pot.
4. Allow the soup to cool and blend with an immersion blender to desired consistency. I blended ours to be fairly smooth with a few tomato pieces remaining.
5. Enjoy with a grilled cheese sandwich or some good warm toasted bread.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Summer Flowers

August has been described as the gateway to fall. Even though we are still in the full swing of summer, we experience those subtle reminders that summer's days are numbered. Here in the Intermountain West, ninety-plus degree days are on the decline, and the evenings become cooler. As we find ourselves now at the end of the month, the sun has not fully risen as of 6:30 in the morning, and we find the sun setting by 8:00 pm. 
Although some aspects of summer are fading away, I find that the colors of the annual flowers become deeper and richer in August and September. Perhaps it is more of my imagination, but I do enjoy these lingering colors as the countdown to the first frost of the season begins.
This post features another row. This one features the row that Sewing Seeds Quilt Company in New Ulm, Minnesota created for the 2014 Row x Row experience. The theme for 2014 was seasons, and they created a row that featured wool appliquéd flower baskets on reproduction-themed fabrics. Considering that this combination features some of my favorites, it was rather enjoyable to put together. The machine quilting was provided by Utah Valley Quilting. If you look closely, you can see some of the detailed flower motif in the corners of each block and the stippling around the flowers in each basket.
Here we have some avens,
Some daisies, 
And, carnations.
For fun, I thought I would add a few pictures of some of the flowers in my garden. Each year, I plant a color border around our garden. I hope that you enjoy them. I am grateful for my husband's photography to be able to share them with you.

In light of the turmoil of recent weeks and the ongoing aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, I was hoping to provide some type of uplifting or encouraging words, but I seem to be at a loss. As Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for every event under heaven. Presently, it appears that we are in a time of mourning in light of what has been torn down. Perhaps these current events also remind us that our time here on earth is also but a season and that the deepest desire of our hearts lies elsewhere. I will close with King David's sentiments in Psalm 27.
One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek;
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in His temple.
Psalm 27:4

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Zucchini Bread in a Bundt Pan

Ah August. That time of year when garden produce is in abundance, and about everywhere you go, someone has zucchini to offer. The zucchini in my backyard garden isn't exactly thriving, so I was actually glad to find an opportunity to bring home one of these summer squash. By the time I had made my way over to claim mine, only the largest was left. Just the same, I brought it home, peeled and shredded it, and have been making multiple batches of zucchini bread - hence the topic of this post.
Zucchini belongs to the plant family Cucurbitacea, which includes other squash species, pumpkins, and cucumbers. Like other squash, zucchini has its origins in the Americas, however, the development and harvesting of the zucchini, as we know it today, occurred in northern Italy sometime around the second half of the 19th century. Its description first appeared in a publication in Milan in 1901. The first description of zucchini in the United States dates to the 1920s. It is assumed that immigrants from Italy brought seeds with them and began cultivating zucchini after their arrival. 
Although zucchini can grow to be rather large, most are harvested at around 8 inches in length when the flesh and seeds are still soft. Zucchini is most often cooked, however, I have seen some vegetable trays with very young, raw zucchini. Zucchini can be stewed with tomatoes and onions, deep-fried, or baked. Larger zucchini can be sliced, have the seeds removed, and then stuffed with a mixture of meet, rice, and herbs.
Of course, zucchini bread is always a popular option for managing a surplus of large zucchini. Multiple recipes exist, but here is one that we have come to enjoy this summer. I like baking it in the bundt pan mostly for the effect of presentation. It's also pretty easy to slice a small wedge for breakfast or a between meal snack. 
Zucchini Bread
4 eggs
2 cups brown sugar - If you like it a little less sweet, feel free to decrease the amount of sugar to 1 1/2 cups. Depending on your preferences, you can use regular or dark brown sugar or even a combination of both
2/3 cup oil
2 cups shredded zucchini (I just use the grater attachment on my food processor)
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 

1. Beat eggs together until nice and frothy. I use the whisk attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer to do this.
If you are using a Kitchen Aid mixer, switch to the regular mixer attachment for the rest of the process.
2. Mix in the sugar and oil at medium speed.
3. Mix in the shredded zucchini at low to medium speed. Don't worry that the batter is rather stringy in consistency.
4. Fold in the dry ingredients. If you have been using a hand mixer, just stir them in with a wooden spoon. If you are using a Kitchen Aid mixer, use a low speed to more closely approximate stirring them in with a spoon.

Prepare the bundt pan by generously greasing the Bundt pan with Crisco and then flouring it. 

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 to 55 minutes. After baking, place the pan on a wire rack to cool and allow it to cool completely. After cooling, invert the pan on the rack. If the cake doesn't release right away, allow it to sit and let gravity help release the zucchini bread. I've had pretty good luck with this one releasing without too much trouble.

Enjoy! I would imaging that this would taste good with a light cream cheese icing or even with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. We just tend to eat it for breakfast.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

New York, New York

Over the past years, my family has come to learn that going on vacation also means adjusting our travel routes to accommodate trips to quilt shops. This aspect of vacationing has its current origins in our trip to the east coast 10 years ago this summer. During our visit to New York City, we stopped by the City Quilter quilt shop in Manhattan. Sadly, this store closed in October 2016, however, they are now an online shop only and focus on New York City-themed fabrics.
My purchase from this shop was a bundle of six different New York City-themed fat quarters. For those of you who don't know what a fat quarter is, it is 1/4 yard of fabric that has been cut in the dimensions of 18 x 22 inches versus 9 x 44 inches to allow for a more versatile piece of fabric. Granted, at the time, I didn't have the slightest notion how I would use those fabrics, but I decided they would make a nice souvenir for me.
Fast forward about another year, and I decided it was time to decide what to do with these fabrics. I took them to a local quit shop to get some ideas. Fortunately, the owner had some time and helped me find a pattern that would accommodate the prints and helped me find some coordinating solids that would bring out the key colors in the prints and also tie them all together.
Here are some close up views of the blocks and prints in the quilt. I really like the variety of prints from art deco to graffiti, from the Statue of Liberty to taxis, an uptown Manhattan print, and some greyscale scenes around New York City. I was very pleased at the end result and they all fit together into a larger whole.
This picture gives you a close up of the art deco print and the graffiti print. You can also see the silhouettes of the Statue of Liberty on the dark blue print. The greyscale is of the fountain in Central Park.
Here is another close up. The greyscale print is of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Because of the sizes of the images on the greyscale print, that piece was the most challenging to cut up to include in the quilt blocks. 
 Here's a close up of the taxis. You can also see some of the detail in the quilting. An all-over crown-type pattern in the center of the quilt and then stars in the inner border.
For fun, I thought I would also share a few images from our trip to New York City. Of course, our trip included a visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
This is among the buildings at Ellis Island where the immigrants were received. I don't have access to official records, but I anticipate that several of my own family line came through Ellis Island.
 The Manhattan skyline as viewed from the ferry to Ellis Island.
Little Italy in the evening. I loved how the streets were blocked to traffic in the evenings to allow the restaurants to extend seating out into the streets.
The Apple store in Manhattan. We visited the day after the release of the iPhone.
One of the most fascinating things about New York City is that, more than any other place in the United States, one can encounter individuals from so many different parts of the world. Although each individual is distinct, collectively they add to the beauty of the city - similar to the manner in which the distinct patterns of the fabric add to the whole of the quilt. 
Among my favorite memories of church as a young girl was learning to care about people in other places around the world. I was fortunate to be part of a faith community that emphasized missions and God's love for all people and His desire for all to come to faith in Him. I love the imagery in the revelation that the apostle John received of the multitude of believers who will be present in heaven. By his describing them of being of "every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, I can't help but believe that we will somehow be distinguishable based on our ancestry here on earth. I look forward to seeing the beauty of all of these faces as we worship around the throne.
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands, and they cry out with a loud voice saying, "Salvation to our God who sites on the throne, and to the Lamb." Revelation 7:9-10.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Summer Stand-by Salad

As I've shared over the past few summers, our family enjoys cool salads as we cope with the peak heat season. One of our standbys is, what is for us, a traditional macaroni salad. The recipe I will be sharing is my attempt at quantifying the recipe that I have been using since my elementary school days.
For fun, I tried to get a sense of the history of the macaroni salad. In general, a "macaroni salad" differs from a "pasta salad" in that the macaroni salad is traditionally a mayonnaise-based salad whereas the pasta salad is traditionally a vinaigrette-based salad. 
I was able to locate a recipe for macaroni salad dating back to 1916. This recipe uses a combination/mixture of whipping cream, horseradish, sugar and salt in place of the mayonnaise. Another interesting thing about this recipe is that it seems that, at that time, macaroni was sold in long sticks. After the sticks were cooked, they were then cut into pieces for use in the salad. Another interesting thing is that the cooked pieces were placed in pickled beet juice to "dye" them a pink color before mixing them into the salad.
I've also found a wide variety of ingredients that have been included in macaroni salads. These include chopped eggs, onions, potatoes, shrimp, sweet or dill pickles, olives, or chicken. Most sources indicate that the typical pasta that is included in macaroni salads is elbow macaroni. I've typically made my salads with ditalini (also called salad macaroni) or small shell macaroni.
Here's how I put my salad together:
First, a picture of the ingredients. Trying to quantify what I have just put together over the years is a bit challenging. A picture of what will go into the salad might be more helpful.
16 ounces of pasta - I have a preference for small shells but use what you like
1 bunch of green onions
1 bunch of radishes
1 chopped cucumber
Chopped, cubed cheese
Salt and pepper

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, rinse, and chill.
2. Slice the green onions and radishes. I like to include some of the green parts of the onions. Depending on how big the radishes are, I may cut the slices in halves or quarters.
3. Now to cut up the cucumber and cheese. Here you can get an idea as to how much cheese I typically use and the size of the pieces I use.
4. Stir in some salt and pepper and mix the ingredients together.
5. Stir in the pasta and the mayonnaise - use as much mayonnaise as desired to moisten all of the ingredients.
6. Serve with a favorite main dish. We enjoyed our salad with some grilled teriyaki burgers.
Happy summer and happy eating!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Gettysburg Sun

One hundred and fifty-four years ago today, Union and Confederate forces were gathering on the eve of what would prove to be a 3-day battle that would result in the largest number of casualties in a single battle, the most in United States history. This battle would also prove to be the turning point in the United States Civil War.
The quilt that I am sharing in this post is titled "Gettysburg Sun." Its pattern is featured in the book Civil War Legacies II, and I purchased the kit to make this quilt at Corn Wagon Quilt Company in Springville, Utah. On a side note, this is an absolutely wonderful quilt shop in an historic building in Springville. 
During this 3-day battles, temperatures became progressively warmer each day. A math and science professor at Pennsylvania College, now Gettysburg College, recorded the temperatures three times daily during the course of the battle. The mid-day temperatures were 76 degrees on July 1, 81 degrees on July 2, and 87 degrees on July 3. Rain would fall on July 4 which would result in flooding in low-lying areas and contribute to even more deaths, this time from drowning, among those stranded in these areas.
The progressive heat along with the fatigue of the battle certainly would have added to the misery of all involved. At the end of the three days, the armies had suffered combined casualties of more than 50,000 casualties. As the armies pulled out, the citizens of Gettysburg were left to quickly bury those who had been killed and to begin to recover from the devastation left behind.
Fifty years later, in July 1913, more than 50,000 Union and Confederate veterans would  gather at Gettysburg at what would be the largest ever Civil War veteran reunion. Despite concerns of animosity, the event was a peaceful one. President Woodrow Wilson addressed those in attendance. His remarks included the following: "We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten - except that we shall not forget the splendid valor." 

With that thought in mind, let's move on to some of the features of these quilt blocks.

Each sun block began as 31 individual pieces. Here are all of the pieces for a single block set out on my design board. I thought it might be fun to illustrate how these all come together to create a sun.
Let's start by making hourglass blocks from the triangle pieces. We will need four pieces (two in each color) to create two hourglass blocks.
After sewing these two sets of triangles together, we will cut them in half.
Now, we need to pair up the matching sides to create our hourglasses. (Otherwise, we would just be sewing the original block back together.)
These pictures gives a better perspective on how the matching sides pair together to create the hourglass.

Now, we are going to move on to a tool that will make some of our next steps much easier. The piece of plastic that is taped down is a great resource for sewing diagonal lines. (Sorry for the rather dark lighting.) After aligning the tool, you will position your fabric squares so that the points follow the vertical lines to support the stitching. The sides of the fabric square will align with the marked diagonal lines on the plastic.
This picture probably makes a little more sense. In this picture I am attaching a gold square to a blue rectangle. You can see how the points of the square align with the center vertical line. As the stitching advances, you want to keep the lower point aligned on the center line. The sides of the square advance evenly along the diagonal lines.
I'm hoping that you can see the stitching lines for these eight units. You will see that for four of them, the diagonal proceeds in one direction. For the other four, the diagonal proceeds in the opposite direction.
After trimming the dog ears, and pressing the gold piece over the seam allowance, here is what these pieces will look like. You can also see that our total number of individual pieces is decreasing.
Let's move on to construct the center of our sun. This center block is also what is known as a "snowball" block. As shown in the picture on the left, we will place four square pieces in each of the corner of the gold patch. We will use the angler tool to stitch along the diagonal of each corner square. We will then clip the dog ears and press the navy pieces out. 

Let's get back to our hourglass blocks and the set of eight units that were created by stitching on the diagonal. Now you can see why the diagonal went one direction for four of them and the opposite direction for the other four. We are going to create a total of four units by combining sets of these three pieces.
We will also stitch two solid patches to the sides of two of these units.
Now, it's time to combine these units into our block. When all is said and done, this block actually mimics a traditional nine-patch block. The differences are that five of the nine patches needed to be constructed and that the nine patches are not equal in size.
Here is our completed sun.
Earlier this year, I shared that I have been working to memorize the verses in Ephesians chapter 6 that address the armor of God. Over the past few weeks, in particular, I have been reflecting on how applicable these verses have been to me in the midst of a given season of my life. Specifically, I've been reminded that the battle is not against individual people and that I need not to view given individuals as the enemy. I've also been keenly reminded that I need to rely on Christ's righteousness and not my own to guard my heart. The portion of the armor that has been most pertinent to me has been the footwear. While this may seem odd, it is the purpose of the footwear, with the preparation of the gospel of peach, that has resonated with me over the past few weeks and months. For me, this means going out each day as a peacemaker who is conveying the message of the gospel through my words and actions. As I prepare to leave the house each day to face the challenges that may come, I need to check my spiritual footwear to ensure that I am prepared to face situations with the preparation of the gospel of peace rather than with contentiousness. As we close this post and this month, I will leave you with this verse.
and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Ephesians 6:15