Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February Fancies

Given that February is a rather short month, it seems only fitting that I close it out with a rather short post. Believe it or not, I did have good intentions of having both posts up by mid-month. 
I'll start off with a photo of a "make it and take it" heart that I created at K&H Quilt Shoppe in Kaysville, UT. The idea of a "make it and take it" is that the project is a small one that can be completed in in a rather short period of time. You just drop by the store at the designated time that the project is happening, pull up a chair and the materials, make the project, and take it home. This heart is only about 6 inches wide and can be used to accent a table or to serve as a "mug rug" or coaster. I had fun combining wool appliqué and embroidery techniques to create it.
This second project is actually one I created a year or two ago. This little wool mat is only about 9 inches across. The cats and hearts are made from wool scraps. They are one of the reasons I justify holding on to even small scraps from my varied wool projects. You never know just when you might need a piece the size of a quarter or even smaller.
If you look closely around the edge, you will see that the stitching in the border features a variegated thread. About the time I was working on this project, I was introduced to "twisted tweed" Valdani pearl cotton. Rather than just buy one ball, I opted to purchase a box with different shades and combinations of colors. They have been fun to incorporate into different projects.
Some of you know that we have a cat who we are rather crazy about - one might argue, against our better judgement. He is actually coming up on his eighth birthday - time definitely flies!
I said from the start that this would be a short post, and so it is. I hope that February has been a good month for you. Given that we associate love with February, I will close out this post with a definition of love, courtesy of the apostle John.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A grilled Reuben sandwich …

During the cold winter months, who doesn't love a warm grilled sandwich? Last year, I shared about our adventures with a rather smelly, but tasty grilled cheese sandwich. We've been enjoying these grilled Reuben sandwiches over the past several years, and I thought I would share our recipe as well as the great rye bread recipe we used to make them.
First, a little background on the Reuben sandwich. In short, it is a hot sandwich featuring corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing served between slices of rye bread. Although the Reuben sandwich is regarded as an American sandwich, the exact specifics of its origin are not clearly known. One account attributes it to a Lithuanian-born Jewish grocer in Omaha, Nebraska. Another account attributes it to a German-born Jewish delicatessen owner in New York City. Regardless of which account, if any, is correct, the Reuben is a pretty great sandwich.
First of all, we need to make some rye bread. You can also buy some at the store, but we decided to try our hand at making our own rye bread. 
Rye is a grass that is grown as a grain. It was first domesticated in what is modern-day Turkey. Today, it is predominantly grown in central and eastern Europe. Here is also a quick look at how it compares to other common grains. 

Rye flour can be a bit challenging to find. We found ours at a local grocery store that is known for carrying more specialty-type items. We also found the vital wheat gluten that is included in this recipe at the same store.
Rye Bread:
1/2 cup lukewarm water (approximately 110 degrees)
1/2 dill pickle juice
1 cup rye flour
4 teaspoons sugar
1 package yeast
1/2 cup sour cream
1 to 2 teaspoons caraway seeds (you can use more or less as desired)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten

Now for the steps to make the bread.

  1. Combine the water, dill pickle juice, rye flour and yeast so that they form a soft batter. Allow the mixture to sit for about 20 minutes. This will allow the rye flour to absorb some of the liquid, resulting in a dough that can be kneaded more easily.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients. This is where we use the dough hook of our mixer. Allow it to mix together until smooth. A quick note - rye dough tends to be a bit sticky so avoid adding extra flour.
  3. Rub some cooking oil over the dough, cover it, and slow it to rise about 60 to 90 minutes.
  4. After allowing the dough to rise, punch it down in the middle and shape into a loaf. Place into a lightly greased bread pan. 
  5. Cover the loaf and allow it to rise for about 90 minutes. 
  6. Before placing the loaf in the oven to bake, lightly spritz it with water and slash it down the middle, about 1/2 inch deep.
  7. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 45 to 50 minutes.
Here is a picture of our first attempt at baking rye bread. I'd say it turned out rather good.

While the bread is cooling, let's stir up some Russian dressing. It only takes a little extra time and is so much better than what you will buy at the store:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1.5 tablespoons ketchup
1.5 tablespoons horseradish
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 
salt and pepper to taste
Stir all of these ingredients together.

Now we can slice the bread and assemble the sandwiches. We typically use about 1/4 pound of thinly sliced corned beef for each sandwich. You can use more or less, depending on your preference. Layer the sandwich components in the following order
  1. Slice of rye bread
  2. Thin slice of Swiss cheese
  3. Half of the designated amount of corned beef for the sandwich
  4. Desired amount of sauerkraut - squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can
  5. One tablespoon or so of the Russian dressing
  6. The other half of the designated amount of corned beef for the sandwich
  7. Another thin slice of Swiss cheese
  8. Slice of rye bread. 
They will look something like this with all of the layers in place.

Now it's time to grill them. We have found that buttering the pan, rather than the bread results in a better grilled sandwich. Brown on both sides, serve with deli chips and a dill pickle, and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A warm winter row

To be quite honest, I really don't mind taking down the Christmas decorations in early January. To clarify, the work of taking them down and getting them put away isn't that appealing; however, getting the house cleaned back up and back to normal is somewhat refreshing. As eager as I am to start decorating the day after Thanksgiving, I am ready to begin the cleaning up process on New Year's Day.
Once the Christmas decorations are down, I do have a need for something to fill the empty feeling in the house. As I shared two years ago, I reserve my snowman decorations for January and February. Here is a picture of the snowman quilt that I featured in my January 2015 post.
This year, I have added a winter-themed quilt row. This one was designed by My Girlfriend's Quilt Shoppe in Logan, Utah, for the 2014 Row-By-Row event. It just took me a while to get it finished and then to decide whether to incorporate in a larger quilt or have it as a seasonal wall quilt. As you can see, I opted for the latter.
This row featured some fun textures and techniques. I'm not sure if you can tell from the picture, but the snowman is made from a scrap of batting for a more snow-like appearance. The mini quilts measure about 3 inches finished. I used my machine's walking foot do do the quilting on them. For more about using a walking foot, refer to my December 2015 post. These two mini quilts were made using two 4.5 inch squares of fabric. The instructions for making these little jiffy quilts can be found here.
I'm not sure about the weather where you are, but we've had more than our share of snow this season. The Salt Lake City airport has had just over 23 inches of snow for the month of January. Our little hollow has definitely had more than that. Here are a few glimpses of the snow accumulation around our neighborhood.
Here you can see some of the banks resulting from the aftermath of the snowplow.
I like this perspective from standing in the driveway and looking down the sidewalk. These are the banks of snow from the aftermath of the snowblower.
 A glimpse of my backyard. Here you are seeing the snow reaching the top of the fire pit with an additional foot or so of snow on the top of the fire pit.
 Another glimpse from the backyard looking toward the snowy mountains.
One of my resolutions for 2017 is to work on Scripture memorization. I'm so very grateful for my childhood Sunday School days and my weekly memory verses that have stuck with me through the years. At the present, I'm working on Paul's description of the armor of God in Ephesians 6. As this passage reminds us, our battle is not against flesh and blood. As a result, spiritual foes require spiritual tactics. We are also reminded that we need the full armor, not just selected pieces. My current memorization strategy is to add a new verse on the 1st and 15th of each month. Here are the verses for the month of January:
Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 
Ephesians 6:10-11.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Spinach artichoke dip … a warm treat for football playoff season or really any time of the year, especially during the winter

Over the past few years, in particular, I've been observing that right on the heels of the New Year's diet resolutions come the pitches and promotions for football playoff and Super Bowl treats. Personally, I tend to be one who goes for "moderation in all things." I've never been one to adopt a "paleo" diet or to eliminate sugar or grains from my diet. Just the same, I'm also not one to advocate for munching down on deep dish pizzas or bowls of guacamole. 
With my University of Utah Utes not in this year's playoff picture, I really don't have a favorite team, although I am more partial to Clemson for this year. My favorite post-season college football game is still the 2009 Sugar Bowl.

For those of you who are looking for a warm treat for tomorrow's College Football Championship game or just a treat that is always welcome, especially during the cooler months of the year, here is my spinach artichoke dip recipe. I've had a friend from the South describe it as, "Slap ya Mama good," and I hope you will enjoy it as well.

A quick word about artichokes - they are actually part of the thistle family and are native to the Mediterranean region of the world. They were actually part of the diets of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The artichoke was introduced into England in the 1530s and ultimately made its way to the United States during the 1800s, courtesy of French and Spanish immigrants.
By Jamain - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20737898
Spinach Artichoke Dip

16 ounce bag of frozen spinach, cooked and drained
One can (13.75 ounce) artichoke hearts 
24 ounces of cream cheese (use the real stuff, no reduced fat substitutes or the dip won't set up)
6 ounce bag shredded parmesan cheese

For this recipe, I use a 2-quart Pyrex casserole dish. 
1. Cook and drain the spinach.I empty the bag of spinach into the casserole dish and heat it in the microwave until cooked. I don't add water - there is enough liquid within the spinach as part of the freezing process. I typically use a slotted spoon to squeeze out as much liquid as I can.
2. Drain the artichoke hearts and stir them into the spinach. If you purchased a can of whole hearts, you will need to quarter them. Also, be careful not to use marinated artichoke hearts. 
3. Add the cream cheese and parmesan cheese. I usually buy a 16 ounce tub and an 8 ounce brick of cream cheese. The main thing is to use the original cream cheese and not a whipped or reduced fat product.

 4. Stir everything together. Your mixture won't be entirely smooth at this point in the process, but don't worry. Just do your best to stir everything together for now.
5. Bake at 350ºF for 30-40 minutes. Stir the mixture at about 15 minutes into the heating process to make sure all of the ingredients are mixing together well.
6.  Serve with sliced baguette bread, crackers, pita chips, vegetables or any combination of these that you like.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A TARDIS for a fangirl

Here we are bringing 2016 to a close. I will use this post to feature one of my daughter's Christmas gifts. Over the past few years, she has become a bit of a connoisseur of British sci-fi series, specifically Dr. Who and Sherlock. 
Our 2016 summer vacation found us visiting several, okay multiple, quilt shops through the Midwest. The main purpose of these visits was to collect quilt row patterns as part of the 2016 Row by Row Experience. One of my favorite stops along the journey was New Ulm, Minnesota. This is a medium-sized town of about 13,5000 people in the south central part of the state. It was named after the city of Neu-Ulm in Bavaria, and its German heritage is still very evident today. In my October post, I related our visit to the Sewing Seeds Quilt Co. Our second stop in New Ulm was to The Thimble Box. They created a vertical row titled, "Home is Where Your TARDIS Lands." 
For those of you less familiar with Dr. Who, it is a British science fiction series that has been in existence since 1963. The central character, "The Doctor," is an alien time lord from the planet Gallifrey who travels through time and space in his TARDIS. TARDIS is an acronym for "Time and Relative Dimension in Space." The exterior of the TARDIS is a blue police call box. Its interior is larger than its exterior.
I have to admit that I have had a difficult time following the logic within individual episodes of the Dr. Who series. My daughter, however, has no problem following along and can easily fill in what I perceive to be missing aspects of the story line and logic behind them. Perhaps my trouble is that, for me, watching TV or a movie is an opportunity to work on a project - not an excuse to sit in front of the TV with the lights out in the room.
Here is a close up of the top portion of this row. It features a snail trail quilt block. The lettering on the top of the TARDIS was my first attempt at machine stitching letters. I took the advice of the ladies at the shop and drew the letters with a chalk marker and then stitched over the with a tight zig-zag stitch. From a distance, they don't look too bad.
Here is a quick look at the back of the row. The machine quilting was completed by Kerrie Curtis from Utah Valley Quilting. She did a great job of incorporating science themes into the sections of the quilt.
Here's a quick close up of the label at the bottom of the quilt. The borders of this label blend into the back of the quilt. Perhaps in a future post, I will share some of my strategies for creating quilt labels.
As the hours of 2016 wind down, here are a few verses from Lamentations to offer hope and a renewed perspective in the new year. 
This I recall to mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The LORD's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:21-23

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Christmas Candy Chemistry Part I: Caramels

I've often joked about someday writing a book called The Chemistry of Christmas. Many of the recipes I enjoy this time of year, mostly for candy, involve one or more aspects of chemistry. Even though "science" predominates with these recipes, the "art" of managing extraneous variables also plays an important role.
When it comes to candy making, some of these extraneous variables include the humidity in the atmosphere, the calibration of the thermometer you are using, the altitude, and even the rate at which you are raising the temperature. Another key aspect of candy making is to not substitute ingredients - for example using a low-fat substitute. The chemical structure of substitute ingredients will differ from the intended ones. As a result, the structure of the end product is unlikely to be what was initially intended.
Here are a few other tips related to candy making

  • Use a heavy-bottomed pot. It needs to be one that will hold all of the ingredients without a risk of boiling over. A heavy material such as aluminum also conducts the heat evenly during the boiling process.
  • Use a candy thermometer. We have had several through the years, and I currently use a digital one that clips to the pan. Yes, you can use the old-style method of evaluating how the mixture holds together in a cold water test. I prefer a more objective measure.
  • Make appropriate adjustments for altitude. Remember that the boiling point for water is 212ºF at sea level, and it boils at lower temperatures as altitude increases. The temperatures for candy types are based on temperatures at sea level. Boiling to the specified sea level temperature results in increased evaporation of water and an end product that is going to be harder than desired. Here is a table with some guidelines for making adjustments based on altitudes. I will say that, through the years, as I have used different thermometers, I have also made multiple notes on my recipe cards regarding the final temperature that produces a candy consistency that we like.

    Sea Level2,000 ft5,000 ft7500 ft
    Soft BallFudge, fondant234-240230-236224-230219-225
    Firm BallChewy caramel242-248238-244232-238227-233
    Hard BallNougat, marshmallow250-268246-264240-248235-253
    Soft CrackTaffy, butterscotch270-290266-286260-280255-275
    Hard CrackToffee, brittle, lollipops300-310296-306290-300285-295

    • Do not allow your candy mixture to boil too quickly. This also alters the chemical structure and can allow crystals to form. You also run the risk of scorching your mixture and having it stick to the bottom of the pan. Use a medium low temperature and be patient as the mixture boils to the desired temperature. On another related note, don't decide to make candy if you are in a hurry to get somewhere else.

    This caramel recipe is one I acquired from a friend over 20 years ago. It is one we have enjoyed year after year. I hope that you will enjoy it, too.

    1 cup butter (just use the real stuff!)
    2 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
    1 cup light corn syrup (light in color not lite as in low fat)
    1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
    1 tsp vanilla

    Coat the pan you will be pouring the caramel mixture into using butter or a non-stick spray. (This is one case where a low-fat option is acceptable.) I have a 7 1/2 x 11 inch pan that I have used with this recipe through the years. A 9 x 9 inch pan would also be just fine.

    Melt the butter in a heavy 2-3 quart saucepan. Add the brown sugar and stir thoroughly, doing your best to ensure that the brown sugar dissolves into the butter. Stir in the corn syrup. Gradually stir in the sweetened condensed milk. Here is what the mixture will look like as it comes to a boil.
    Cook the mixture over medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Boil until the mixture reaches a firm ball stage. We have found that at 242ºF produces a caramel of the consistency that we like. Of note, we also live at about 4,500 feet above sea level. 

    Remove the mixture from heat and stir in the vanilla. I always like the sizzling sound as the alcohol burns off. 

    Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and allow to cool.
     When cool, cut into squares and wrap in waxed paper. Here is what our pan of caramels yields.
    The wrapping in waxed paper is my children's least favorite part of the process - probably because this is the task I assign to them. I tear off strips of waxed paper that are about 4-5 inches wide. I then cut the strips into thirds to get pieces the right size for the caramels.
    Let me know if you try out this recipe. Stay tuned for another "Christmas chemistry" post next year.

    Wednesday, November 30, 2016

    A few cheerful birds …

    Here we are closing out November and entering the Advent season. For this post I thought I would share a couple of projects that illustrate the close of fall and beginning of winter. These projects are from a block of the month series by Bonnie Sullivan called Bertie's year. In case you haven't guessed from the top picture, Bertie is the little bird that is featured in each of the monthly quilts. Each of the small quilts (only about 12 x 18 inches) in this series features a wool appliqué center surrounded by a pieced border of half square triangles. As you will be see in the pictures below, each quilt arranges the half square triangles in a different way to create different border patterns. 
    2016 has been my year to focus on finishing projects so these two were on my list to complete. I had actually purchased the winter-themed quilt pattern first and had even ironed the fusible web to the wool pieces over a year ago but had just never taken the time to fuse them to the background flannel and start stitching. Although this quilt was designed for January, I think it also works well for December. I added the tassel to the top of the bird's hat and sorted through my button jar for the red buttons. What do you think about the heart-shaped one? Here is an up close picture of this quilt.

    Here is the November quilt. I completed the wool appliqué part during our summer vacation road trip. For good or for bad, it took me until just after Thanksgiving to put the top, batting, and back together and then add some hanging tabs to the back. I love the little scarf that Bertie is wearing in this quilt.

    I'm going to keep this post short and sweet. Before I sign off, I thought I would share a few of the birds on my big Christmas tree. As I shared in last December's blog, our big tree has a bit of a "birds and berries" theme to it. Here they are along with their stories.
    This first little bird in its nest is one that my husband and I bought for our first Christmas tree in 1989. His tail has become a bit bent, but he still has his place on the tree.
    Starting in my teenage years, I began collecting Hallmark ornaments. Sometimes my collecting focused around a given animal, such as a seal, or a given series of ornaments. I dot believe this little partridge was part of a series. I think we just saw him and liked him and bought him. 
    Cardinals are one of my favorite birds. I love their bright red color and am of the opinion that you can't "not be happy" when you see one. A few years ago, I bought a cardinal ornament for an ornament exchange. I liked it enough that I bought one for myself, too.
    As we welcome the Christmas season, I pray that you will be of good cheer. Even though this isn't typically thought of as a Christmas-themed verse, these words of Jesus still reflect the cheer and comfort that only He can bring. Jesus alone is the one whose Advent can truly bring cheer and cast out fear.
    Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. Matthew 14:27 (KJV)